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How to Keep Score in Bowling

by Tracy Hieb

Bowling ball about to hit the pins

Scoring in bowling can seem complicated to a beginning bowler, but like other team sports, it really is very simple once you learn a few basic rules. In keeping score, you are adding up the number of pins knocked down in each frame, but there are special rules for getting bonus points, which can increase the score substantially. A game of bowling has 10 frames, or turns, per player. There are 300 possible points per game in bowling. Just adding up the number of pins knocked down during a game would give a maximum score of 120, so understanding how the bonus points work is the key to keeping accurate score.


  1. Each frame, a player has two attempts to knock down the ten pins at the end of the alley. If you get a "spare" or "strike" in the tenth frame, you get an extra attempt. If you knock all of the pins down in one attempt, it is a strike. If you knock down all ten pins using both attempts, it is a spare. If you achieve a strike or a spare, you receive a bonus scoring opportunity. This bonus scoring causes the most confusion when keeping a bowling score.

  2. When you bowl a spare, you get to add your next attempt to your score. For example, it is the first frame of the game and you knocked down six pins on your first attempt; then on your next attempt, you knock down the remaining four. You have earned a spare. So instead of writing down 10 for your score as you would in most sports, you place a diagonal slash mark on the score sheet, indicating a spare. On your next turn, you get to add the number of pins you hit on your first attempt to your score for the previous frame. Let's say you knock down five pins on your next attempt. Your first frame is now worth 15 points (6+4+5=15), and those five pins count towards your second frame score as well. If you then knock down the remaining five pins, you can get another spare and add bonus points to your second frame as well.

  3. Strikes work in a very similar manner as spares; except with strikes, you get to add the next two attempts to your score. When you bowl a strike, knocking down all 10 pins with one ball, you mark the score sheet with an "X" and add the next two attempts to your score. So if you get a strike and then you knock down seven and then two, the frame you got your strike in is worth 19 points (10+7+2) and the next frame is worth nine (7+2), earning you 28 points in two frames by knocking down only 19 pins. If you bowl three strikes in a row, it is called a "turkey," and the first strike is worth 30 points. If you continue to get strikes, each frame will be worth 30 points, making 300 the best score possible in one game.

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