How to Keep Score in Bowling

A simple introduction to the basics of the game and how to keep score.

The Game Itself

The sport of bowling is played by rolling a ball down a playing surface (called a “lane” or an “alley”), with the goal of knocking over as many pins as possible. It might sound easy, but the pins are 60 feet away! Each game consists of ten frames, in which the bowler has two attempts to knock down all ten pins. Should the bowler knock down all ten pins on their first attempt, a second roll is not necessary and so they proceed to the next frame.


Scoring in bowling is quite simple, once you understand the basics. Each pin knocked down counts as one point (points in bowling are still called pins or sometimes pinfall). So, if in the first frame, the bowler knocks over 5 pins on the first roll, and 3 pins on the second roll, the score for the first frame is 8. Leaving pins standing after the second roll is known as an “open” or “open frame.”

Open Frame
Scoring an open frame


Should a bowler knock down all the remaining pins on the second ball (no pins are left standing), then the bowler has made a “spare,” which counts as 10 pins, plus the pin total of the next ball rolled. So for example, in the first frame, a bowler knocks down 7 pins on the first roll and knocks down the remaining 3 pins on the second ball, that bowler has made a spare. So for now, the bowler has 10 pins for the first frame, plus the pinfall of the next roll. Then in the second frame, the bowler knocks down 6 pins on the first roll and 3 on the second roll. This means we add 6 to the 10 earned in the first frame, meaning the score for the first frame is 16. Since the bowler did not make a spare (or a strike, which you’ll learn about shortly), we total the frame and add that to the previous frame. So 16 + 9 = 25. The score in the 2nd frame is 25.

Scoring a spare


A strike occurs when a bowler knocks down all 10 pins on the first roll of a frame. Scoring for a strike is 10, plus the pinfall of the following two rolls. So, for example, in frame one, the bowler rolls a strike. Then in frame two, the bowler rolls a 6 and 3. So the first frame is scored 19 (10 + 6 + 3) and the second frame is scored as we learned earlier, 9 plus the value of the previous frame, which totals 28.

Scoring a strike

The 10th Frame

The 10th frame in bowling is unique to the rest of the frames in that if a bowler rolls a spare, he gets one additional roll, and if he rolls a strike on his first roll, he gets two additional rolls, for a total of three rolls. Scoring for the 10th frame follows the same basic rules, except that there are no additional frames. So if the bowler rolls a strike on the first ball of the 10th, he gets 10 pins plus the next two rolls, which could also be strikes, for a possible 30 pins.

10th frame spare
Scoring a spare in the first ball of the 10th frame

10th frame double
Scoring strikes in the 10th frame

Here is an example of a complete game

Complete game
Complete game

The maximum possible score in bowling is 300, which is done by rolling a strike in every frame, including three in the 10th frame. In bowling, this is called a “perfect game.”

Perfect Game
Perfect game


If you want to play around with keeping score in bowling, check out Bowling Genius. The site has a neat little tool to enter pins knocked down per ball, giving you the chance to see how this affects your score.