For a bowling newbie, the game’s scoring system is likely to be a bit confusing. Ten pins don’t always mean ten points, especially when bonus points are factored in. Sometimes, you can count the pins knocked down in each frame individually. Sometimes, you have to factor in the first ball thrown on the next shot.

And sometimes, you have to consider the pin carry from the next two shots. The number of pins knocked down is only part of the story. When you knock down all ten pins in a bowling frame, the game’s scoring gets a bit complicated.

Luckily for you, we’ve created this easy-to-understand guide about strikes and spares in the game of bowling. What happens when a bowler knocks down all ten pins in one shot? In two? How is scoring affected by multiple strikes in a row? Do scoring rules change in each of the ten frames of a bowling game?

We’re here to answer all those questions and more with…

A Look At Bowling Scoring Basics, Strikes and Spares Included

What are the two different ways to score ten pins knocked down?

If you knock down all ten pins in a single shot during a frame, that’s considered a strike. If you leave at least one pin standing on your first roll and knock down all ten pins in two shots during a frame, that’s considered a spare. On bowling score sheets, spares and strikes are the most sought-after scoring events. From the first frame to the final frame, the task for amateur and professional bowlers is to try and knock all the pins down in as few shots as possible.

Is a spare equal to a strike?

Technically, a spare and a strike are both worth ten points to start — the number of pins knocked down in the individual frame where the strike or spare occurred. However, a spare is not equal to a strike because of the difference in bonus points awarded.

Each frame consists of two potential shots, except the tenth frame which can have up to three. You are rewarded with bonus points for using fewer shots, making a strike more desirable than a spare.

Is a strike worth more than a spare?

Yes. When you take just one chance to knock down ten pins and frame a strike, you are awarded a bonus equal to the value of the next two shots you take? Those shots might occur in the next frame or the next two frames, and the pin carry is added to your strike frame no matter how many pins are left standing.

When you take two chances to knock down ten pins and get a spare, you get a bonus equal to only the first ball you throw after the spare is recorded. The difference in value between a strike and a spare is the value of the second ball thrown following a strike. The third shot of the total sequence, this bonus pushes scoring averages up towards the elusive perfect 300 mark.

How do you score a spare in bowling?

The total value of a spare is ten plus the value of the first shot you take after recording it. Thus, if your second roll is an eight after a spare, you’ll receive 18 points for the spare. If you knock down five pins on your next shot, you’ll receive 15. And if you record a strike, you can receive a maximum of 20 points.

The remaining pins standing after this second shot will not increase or decrease your spare bonus. Your pin count from the next roll is all that matters for assessing the bonus for the previous frame.

How do you score a strike in a bowling game?

A strike awarded in frames one through nine comes with a bonus equal to your next two shots. So, you get an added scoring boost from both your next ball and the throw after. For example, let’s say you throw a strike in the second frame. You’ll receive ten points for the strike plus a bonus equivalent to your next two shots in the third frame or third and fourth frame.

This extra ball bonus is pivotal when trying to up your scoring average. For example, a strike followed up by another strike and an eight gets you 28 for the first frame of the sequence — a huge jump from the maximum of 20 you can score on a spare.

Three shots are better than two and can land you a maximum of 30 points in a frame with consecutive strikes factored in.

How do you mark a strike or spare on a bowling score sheet?

A strike is denoted by an “X” on bowling score sheets, both digital and paper. The running score with the subsequent bonuses factored in is tallied once those bonuses are fulfilled.

A spare is denoted by an “/” on bowling score sheets, both digital and paper. The running score with the single-ball bonus factored in is tallied once that bonus is fulfilled.

How do you calculate the bonus in the third frame after two strikes?

Consecutive strikes are what bowlers’ dreams are made of. When you get two strikes in a row (when both don’t each occur in the tenth frame), you now have two bonuses to factor in — the end of your first bonus for the first strike and your upcoming two-shot bonus for the second strike. The pins you knock down on your next shot will serve as the second bonus for the first strike and the first bonus of two for the next one.

Three strikes in a row? Four? Six? That’s how you start piling bonuses up for big scoring boosts! Knock down as many pins as you can and watch your average climb and climb.

What is an open frame?

An open frame occurs when you fail to knock down ten pins in a given frame. An open frame might come with two pins knocked down, six, or nine. Open frames are killers for bowling scores as they lack the bonuses associated with spares and strikes.

How do you score an open frame?

An open frame is scored at face value. It might be used as a bonus for a previous frame if a spare or strike was thrown, but the full value of the actual frame is equal to the number of pins felled. In a single game of bowling, open frames are the biggest score killer. One single frame with an open can spell the difference between a big score and a mediocre one.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the maximum score you can accumulate with all strikes thrown?

A perfect score of 300 is awarded to a player who throws nothing but strikes in a given game. A player achieving bowling perfection has to throw twelve consecutive strikes — a single strike in frames one through nine and three in the tenth. Each fill ball after the first strike of the tenth is used to settle bonuses and determine if a perfect game occurs.

What is the maximum total score you can accumulate with all spares thrown?

If you picked up a nine on all of your first shots and finished them off with spares, you could score a maximum of 190 with all spares thrown.

What is the minimum score you can accumulate with all spares thrown?

You can score a minimum of 100 with all spares thrown. It’s really hard to do though! The only way to score a 100 with all spares thrown is to gutter the first shot after each spare thrown. Essentially, you’d have to try hard (and be really good at bowling) to score a 100 with all spares thrown!

Is scoring different in the fifth frame compared to the tenth frame?

It can be. The two fill balls thrown after the first strike of the tenth frame are used to settle bonuses in previous frames. However, they do not add bonuses to the first strike of the frame.

In the fifth frame, the next two shots will serve as a bonus — regardless of if they take part in one frame or two. Thus, scoring is somewhat different in the last frame compared to the first nine.

Closing Thoughts

Each game of bowling consists of ten frames and plenty of potential bonuses. Each shot exists as its own thing but could lead to major points with bonuses factored in. If you’re still a bit confused about scoring in bowling, don’t worry. That’s common.

Check out a sample score sheet and ask questions to fellow bowlers. If you read a score sheet as it’s typically rendered and use this guide, you’ll be able to figure things out!