How To Keep Score In Bowling

How To Keep Score In Bowling

Most people have no idea how the scoring system works in bowling, however, it actually isn’t too complicated. This article will break down all the rules of scoring and how it works.

Bowling scores used to be kept track of with pencil and pen, but today we have the luxury of automatic, digital scoring systems which display your score in real-time. This luxury has made the actual rules of scoring happen behind the scenes so these days most people trust the system and never learn how it actually works. Let’s break it down:

A bowling scorecard, digital or not, consists of ten frames. Every frame is exactly the same, with the exception of the 10th frame which we will discuss at the bottom of the article. In each frame, there are three possibilities: Open Frame, Spare, and Strike. An open frame is when you fail to knock down all ten pins in a frame. A spare is when it takes both throws to knock down all ten, and a strike is when you knock down all ten on your first throw. We will cover each of these possibilities in detail.

Open Frames

When you begin a frame, a new rack of ten pins is placed on the lane in front of you. You get two chances to knock down all ten pins before the next frame begins. In general, knocking down a pin gives you one point. When you manage to knock down all ten, things get a little tricky, but we’ll get into that a bit later. If you don’t manage to knock down all ten pins, the amount of pins you did knock down is your score for that frame. If you hit 5 pins your first throw, and 3 pins your second throw, you will have 8 points in the first frame.

5 pins first throw + 3 pins second throw = 8 points in the first frame


Spares and strikes are where it can get kind of tricky. We’ll start with spares. A spare is when some pins are left standing after the first throw, but you manage to knock down the rest of the pins on the second throw. In addition to the ten points from knocking down all the pins, a spare frame also gets the points from your next throw. If you’ve ever wondered why your score doesn’t show up when you get a spare, it’s because the total amount of points for that frame isn’t decided until you make your next throw. For example, if you get a spare, and knock down 8 pins on the next throw, the spare-frame will have a score of 18. 10 from the spare-frame + 8 from your next throw = 18 total points in the first frame. The scoring system has no way of knowing how many points you get for a spare-frame until you’ve completed your next throw.


Strikes are scored similarly to spares, however, instead of a frame getting points from your next roll, a strike-frame gets 10 points for the strike in addition to the points from your next two rolls. The maximum amount of points you can get in a frame is 30. To do this, you need to get three strikes in a row. 10 points for the initial strike-frame, 10 points from your next roll, and 10 points for the one after that. That’s why the maximum score in bowling is 300. 30 points per frame X 10 frames = 300 maximum points.

Special Exception: 10th Frame

The 10th frame is different from the other nine frames. The points received in the 10th frame is simply a total of all the pins knocked down in that frame.  You get a set of new pins to start the 10th. If you strike, you get another set of pins, and if you strike again, you get a third set of pins. This is a total of 30 points available in the 10th frame. A spare in the 10th is a bit different. Like I said, if you get a spare or a strike in the 10th, you will get a total of three throws. If you knock down 8 pins on your first throw and spare your second throw by hitting the remaining 2 pins, you will get another fresh set of pins to throw at, but without the second chance to hit them all down.

What this entails, is that in order to get the maximum amount of points in the 8th frame, you need to strike the 9th, and the first throw of the 10th.

In order to get the maximum amount of points in the 9th frame, you have to get two strikes in the 10th.

So, the first shot of the 10th frame can affect the number of points received in the 8th and 9th frames, and the second shot in the 10th can affect the number of points received in the 9th. The third shot of the 10th doesn’t affect any other frames, so it is often referred to as the “fill shot” or “bonus shot”.


Scoring in bowling is kinda confusing when you first start, but once you know how it works, it is quite simple. I hope this article has allowed you to understand how it works. One realization I had when I learned this information is the importance of spares. Leaving open frames can dramatically drop your score. Those extra points received from getting spares and having your next roll count on that frame REALLY adds up. If you got “9/” on every frame and got “9/9” on the 10th, you would have a total of 190 which is not a bad score by any means. The way I see it, strikes-especially in a row-boost your score, while spares hold it all together.



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