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The rules of ten-pin bowling


Here are a few rules and regulations that you should read in case you want to go out with your friends for a casual bowling night or you’ve decided to become a pro. Start with the equipment, so that you get prepared.



Bowling balls can have no more than 27 inches in circumference and must weigh a maximum of 16 pounds. Professional players use approved bowling balls, but during various competitions, they, too, can use house balls like most recreational bowlers. These are usually available for free at the bowling alleys.

The ten pins at the end of the lane must weigh between 3 ounces, 6 ounces and 3 pounds, 10 ounces. They’re 15 inches tall and sitted in 4 rows on numbered spots. The head pin is in the first row, followed by 2 pins in the second row, 3 pins in the third row and 4 pins in the fourth row.

A special type of shoes is required for bowling so that the floor doesn’t get damaged. Bowling shoes have a specific sole, depending on whether you’re a left-handed or right-handed player, as one of the shoes has a sliding sole while the other is equipped with a breaking sole.


Game and score

A game of tenpin bowling consists of ten frames. A player delivers two balls in each of the first nine frames unless he scores a strike. In the 10th frame, the player has three chances in case he scored a strike or bowled a spare.

The frames have a small box in the upper-right-hand corner, and symbols in the square have different meanings. An X marks a strike, an F is for foul, a slash is a spare. The dash shows that no pins were knocked down.  

Each of the players will bowl his own frame after which the pins they knocked down will be marked in the upper right-hand corner of the frame.


Delivering the ball

A player makes a delivery when he lets go of the bowling ball across the foul line into playing territory. If the officials haven’t declared a dead ball, then all deliveries count.

As you can imagine, you must make the delivery by hand, without devices incorporated in or fixed to the ball.

Only a player that has lost his hand or the use of it can receive approval to use special equipment to help him grasp and deliver the ball.


How the play evolves

There are various terms you should be familiar with when you’re playing bowling. For instance, you should know what a strike, a double or a triple turkey means. Other terms are explained as well.

A strike is performed when the full setup of ten pins is knocked down with the first delivery. Once you’ve made a strike, you can count at least 10. The number of pins from the next two deliveries is subsequently added to the count.

A double means you’ve managed to get two consecutive strikes. The count for the first strike is 20 plus the number of pins that you’ve knocked down with the first delivery after the second strike.

A triple or turkey is hard to get. It means you got three successive strikes. In this case, the count for the first strike is 30. If you want to bowl the maximum score of 300, then you must knock down all pins and reach 12 strikes in succession.

The spare is what you usually see in the bowling alley. Bowling players score a spare when pins left standing after the first delivery are knocked down with a second delivery in the same frame. This is also marked on the frame using a slash in the small square.

Sometimes you get to knock down only the head pin and one other pin with the first delivery. If the rest of the pins are left standing on the lane, then it’s called a split.

One circumstance you should avoid is scoring an open. The open is recorded when a player fails to knock down all pins after two deliveries in a frame.


Fouls and consequences

As in any other sport, you must be careful not to make any fouls. They occur when a player’s body or part of their body goes beyond the foul line and touches the lane. For a foul to be declared, this must be happening during or after the ball is delivered.

Otherwise said, the ball has to be in play. It stays in play after a delivery until the same player or another one is on approach, in position to make a successful delivery.

The foul line could be marked on the wall, posts, division boards or other structures on a line with the regular foul line, so if you look carefully, you might spot it.

When you make a foul the delivery counts, but you’re not credited with any of the pins knocked down by the delivery.

When referring to fouls, you should know that footwear and clothing are considered part of the body, while other foreign objects that fall from a person’s body or clothing, like jewelry, coins, pens are not considered so.


Pins that are credited to a player include those knocked down or off the lane surface by the ball, by another pin, by rebounding from a side partition, a rear cushion and so on.

The pinfall is considered illegal if the ball leaves the lane before hitting the pins, rebounds from the rear cushion, hits any of the equipment or a pinsetter. Under such circumstances, the pins don’t count, but the delivery does.

It’s the players that have to check if the setup is right. If the pins are set incorrectly, they’re also responsible for taking the matter to the organizers so that the pins are re-spotted before delivering the ball.

After the player’s first delivery no changes can be made to affect the position of any pins that were left standing.

It’s not a frequent occurrence, but some pins could be rebound. If they stand on the lane, then they count as standing pins. Broken pins must be replaced after the pins that have been knocked down are counted.


Dead ball

Although a dead ball is rarely declared, you should know why it happens and what is being done about it.

A ball is declared dead if the following circumstances. In case immediately after a delivery, someone calls attention to the fact that one or more pins were missing from the setup.

If the player has physical contact with another person or moving object as the ball is being delivered and before the delivery is completed, then the player is facing an option. He can accept the result of his delivery or call a dead ball.

When a dead ball is called, the delivery doesn’t count, and so the correct pins must be re-spotted. In this case, the player is allowed to re-bowl that delivery.



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