The Strike

The whole concept of a strike is to effectively roll a bowling ball in a path where the ball hits the pins and knocks them all down.  If all the pins are knocked down, the bowler is credited with a “Strike”.  Pins may be hit directly by the ball, or when hit, the pins may be deflected into other pins until all the pins are struck and knocked down. 

Left Handers

Normally, on a strike hit, the ball only hits four pins: the 1, 2, 5, and 8.  The 1 pin hits the 3 pin, which in turn hits the 6, which then hits the 10.  After the ball hits the 1, it is deflected into the 2 pin which hits the 4 pin, which in turn, hits the 7.  After hitting the 2 pin, the ball is deflected back into the 5 pin, then again into the 8 pin.  The 5 pin is deflected into the 9 pin.

Right Handers

Normally on a strike hit, the ball only hits four pins: the 1, 3, 5, and 9.  The 1 pin hits the 2 pin, which in turn hits the 4, which then hits the 7. After the ball hits the 1, it deflects into the 3 pin which hits the 6 pin, which in turn, hits the 10.  After hitting the 3 pin, the ball is deflected back into the 5 pin, then again into the 9 pin.  The 5 pin is deflected into the 8 pin.

But what happens if you don’t knock all the pins down?  The next best thing is to knock down whatever pins remain standing with a second try.  In bowling, bowlers may bowl once or twice in order to knock all ten pins down, and this process completes the bowler’s turn and is called a “Frame”.  When a second ball is required, if all the remaining pins are knocked down, the bowler is credited with what is called a “Spare”.  A spare is awarded if no pins are left standing after the second roll of the ball.  Spares are sometimes referred to as a half-strike, and indicates that all the pins have fallen after the second ball of a frame.

The Spare

The process of picking up a multiple pin spare utilizes the same concept as the strike.  The task is to effectively place the ball where the hits the remaining pins, or where the pins that are hit directly are deflected into the remaining pins until all the pins are struck.

Effective Spare Shooting

Even when bowling well, bowlers don’t normally strike in every frame. While emphasis is placed on bowling strikes, and that is certainly the objective of the game, most games, and the highest averages, are most oftenattributed to picking up the spares. 

The fact is, spares do matter if you want to be an advanced bowler.  Establishing a reliable method of picking up spares is a part of the game that most bowlers ignore, even though it is key to achieving a higher average. Routinely leaving open frames has a devastating effect on your scores.  Sparing is more effective than striking if you leave open frames in between.  Effective spare techniques can easily raise your score.

Hints For Sparing

a.  Use a Spare Ball

Generally, it is advisable to consider using a non-hooking spare ball for many spare shots.  The advise of rolling a straight ball for most spares is based on the fact that lane conditions routinely change as carrydown affects the back ends and dried out front ends affect the predictability of the lane.  Using a non-hooking spare ball enhances the consistency of rolling a ball that won’t over-react or under-react as the lane conditions change throughout the game.  If you prefer not to use a spare ball, the difficulty of consistently picking up spares is more difficult and should be considered. 

b.  Cross-Land Principle

The first rule of spare shooting involves simple geometry – the cross-lane principle. When pins are on the left side of the lane, the best starting position is on the right and vice-versa. You can develop a separate spare line for each of the back row of pins (7, 8, 9 and 10) or you can use the arrow-dot alignment for these shots. This simple spare system can be effective, and you’ll get better at executing these shots with practice and experience.

While there are varied spare shooting techniques, this text presents the four most commonly utilized methods: the Target Pin System, the 3-6-9 System, the 2-4-6 System, and the KISS System.  Each method has merits and should be understood and the merits of each  considered.

c.  1 or 5 Pin Leave

If there is a 1 pin or 5 pin left standing (alone or in a combination), line up and aim the same as you would for a strike ball.  This is your “Strike-Line”.

d. Listening to the Lane

If your strike ball is hitting too high or even Brooklyn, consider adjusting both your strike ball alignment as well as your spare ball alignment.  This assumes, of course, that you accurately delivered your strike ball, and lane conditions alone affected the path of the ball.  Shift your starting point 2 boards and target 1board as your ball path dries up and your strike ball begins to move higher on the head pin. 

Now, let’s look a few of the most commonly applied spare techniques.  There are many systems, and some of them work, and of course, some don’t.  The system that works for you is the correct one.  The most scientifically correct system is the 3-6-9 Spare Targeting System, and even there bowlers modify it to their individual preferences.  Review these spare targeting systems, and stick with whatever fits you best. 


Learning what to choose, and how to choose,
may be the most important education you will ever receive.