How to Score Bowling

How to Score Bowling

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With machines doing all the work, you're surely not the only one who's clueless about what their bowling score really means. How is it calculated? Why does it count my score on the next frame if I knock down all the pins? Once you understand the special bonuses that a strike or spare give you, scoring will become much easier.

A game of bowling is calculated on 10 frames. Each frame is totaled and added to the cumulative score. On every frame you're allowed two rolls to try and knock down all the pins. If you knock down all the pins on the first roll it’s called a “strike”. If on your first roll you knock down a few pins and on your second roll you pick up the rest of them, it’s called a “spare”.

Understanding Bowling Symbols

There are a few commonly used symbols in bowling that you should know before we dive into how bowling scoring works.

“X” represents a strike, meaning you knocked down all ten pins on your first roll

“ / ” represents a spare, meaning you knocked down any remaining pins that you left after your first roll

“F” represents a foul, meaning that your foot went over the boundary line on the approach. When you receive a foul, that roll will be marked a zero no matter how many pins you knocked down.

“S” represents a split, meaning that a sizable gap is left between two or more pins making it more difficult to knock down the remaining pins.

What a Strike is Worth

A strike can be worth 30 points at its highest and 10 points at its lowest. This is because a strike counts the 10 pins that you knocked down, plus bonus points equal to whatever you knock down on your next two rolls. So, for example: if you get three strikes in a row (aka, a turkey) your first frame will be scored as 30 because 10 + 10 + 10 = 30.


Or, let's say you got a strike on the first frame. Now on the second frame you knock down 9 then on your second roll you hit the remaining pin (a spare), your strike would count as 20 because 10 + 10 = 20


Another possible scenario could be that you got a strike on your first frame then on the second frame you roll a 4 and 5. Your strike would be worth 19 because 10 + 9 = 19.


What a Spare is Worth

A spare can be worth 20 points at it’s highest and 10 points at it’s lowest. This is because a spare counts the 10 pins that you knocked down plus whatever you get on your next roll. For example: If you bowl a 9, spare in the first frame, then a strike in the second frame, your spare in the first frame would count as 20 because 10 + 10 = 20


Now let’s say you rolled an 8, spare in the first frame, then on your second roll you got a 3 and a 5, the spare would count as 13 because 10 + 3 = 13


Understanding the Tenth Frame

The tenth frame is the last frame in bowling and this is the only time when it’s possible to get 3 rolls in a frame.. This is because, as we now know—a strike is worth 10 points, plus the extra bonus points earned on your next 2 rolls, and a spare is worth 10 points, plus the extra bonus points earned on your next roll. If you bowl a strike or spare in the tenth frame, you get the extra rolls you earned to calculate your strike or spare accordingly.

Scoring a Full Game

Now that you have the basics down, let's run through a full game. Let’s say, you start off strong with a strike. We can’t calculate anything yet because you have to roll 2 more times before we do any math.


On your second frame you get an 8, 1. Now we can go back and calculate your strike for your first frame: 10 + 8 + 1 = 19. In the second frame, you bowled a 9, so in the second frame, your score will be 19 (first frame) + 9 (second frame) = 28


On the third and fourth frames you get strikes. We can’t score the third and fourth frames until you roll to calculate your bonus points for these strikes.


On the fifth frame you get a 7, spare. Now we can score the strikes in your third and fourth frames. For the third we have 10 + 10 + 7 = 27. Now we add this to your score in the second frame 28 (2nd frame) + 27 (third frame) = 55. The fourth frame is 10 + 10 = 20 and 55 + 20 is 75. (fourth frame)


On the sixth frame you roll a 5, 3. Now you have 10 + 5 = 15 and 15 + 75 = 90 (fifth frame) For the sixth frame it’s 90 + 8 = 98 (sixth frame)


On the seventh frame you mess up and step on the foul line, that counts as a zero for your first roll and for your second roll you get 6. That’s 98 + 6 = 104 (seventh frame)


Getting down to the end of the game, let’s finish it out strong. In the eighth frame you get a strike, In the ninth frame you get 7, spare. Now the in the tenth frame you get a strike, 8, 1. To calculate the eighth frame we do 10 + 10 = 20 then 104 + 20 = 124 (eighth frame) Then the ninth, 10 + 10 = 20 and 124 + 20 = 144 (ninth frame) And finally the tenth would be 10 + 9 = 19 and 144 + 19 = 163 (tenth frame) So you end up with a final score of 163.


The Perfect Game

Every bowler strives for a perfect game. This is done by rolling 12 consecutive strikes in one game which gives you a final score of 300. The math looks like this: 30 (max per frame) x 10 (total number of frames) = 300


Other Resources

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    • Chicken Nuggs

      This really helped me but its kind of a hassle to even calculate this…

    • John Miller

      I’m quite sure that the people who programmed these automatic scorers are not bowlers.

    • Robert

      As a kid I kept score in leagues and tournaments for pocket change. Automatic scoring machines changed everything. They do make mistakes if pins left are off spot.

    • Eric

      Automatic scoring was first designed and implemented to speed up gameplay and allow for more concentration during competition. Unfortunately what was designed for good intentions backfired and has hurt the future of the sport. It’s staggering to see how many youth bowlers can’t keep score or even know how to. They can’t even tell you on what they need to close out an opponent or at what pace they are going. Knowing how to keep score is a vital part of the game, plus sharpens your math skill. It also keeps your focus higher because your brain is staying stimulated watching and counting everyone’s pin counts, adding, ect….. As a kid growing up through the early 80s through 90s I couldn’t tell you how much extra money I made as a scorekeeper from earning tips at tournaments. Plus again made me extremely fast and accurate with processing information. Automatic scorekeeping is a cool concept but in my opinion has had a negative impact in our sport. If your a novice just starting out or just don’t know how to keep score please do yourself a favor and learn it.

    • Danny

      I now understand how much a strike in bowling is worth and after understanding that, everything else fell in place. Thanks for the article, it really helped!

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