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Candlepin Bowling: A Basic Guide on Candle Pin Bowling

Candlepins on a bowling lane with the words candlepin bowling guide in black letters

As you’re learning about the variations of traditional bowling (ie. tenpin bowling), let’s move on to Candlepin Bowling. It’s important to get to know about the rules, the equipment, and how they differ from traditional 10-pin bowling.

In this article, we’ll give you the basics of candlepin bowling.

What Is Candlepin Bowling?

Candlepin bowling is a variation of bowling that uses different shaped pins and different ball sizes. It originated in the 1880s in Worcester, Massachusetts. The game’s objective is to knock down as many pins as possible – you’ll gain points on par with the number of pins knocked down.

Note: Though the National Duckpin and Candlepin Congress played a substantial role in designing the game equipment and opening up leagues in the UK (among other things), the International Candlepin Bowling Association (ICBA) is the main governing body for the sport.

Key Takeaways

  • Candlepin Bowling History: Candlepin bowling began in New England and made its way to Worcester, Massachusetts, in the 1880’s.
  • Equipment Differences: Candlepin bowling uses ten pins that are thinner, taller, and don’t have a bottom weight. Because of this, they bounce more when hit. The balls weigh up to 3 lbs and don’t have finger holes, making rolling the ball different and challenging.
  • Scoring System: In bowling, you get a strike if you knock down all the pins with one ball. Strikes give you 10 points plus the points from your next two balls. A spare is when you knock down all the pins with two balls. Spares also give you 10 points, plus the points from your next ball. If you don’t get a strike or a spare, you earn points based on how many pins you knock down. No one has recorded a perfect game, and the highest score is 245 out of 300 points.
  • Gameplay and Etiquette: When playing candlepin bowling, there are particular tactics to remember. These include taking three steps in the approach and using aiming strategies. It is also important to follow etiquette rules. To play fair, remember not to cross the foul line or throw the ball too high. Also, be respectful of others’ turns.
  • Difficulty and Accessibility: Candlepin bowling is harder than the standard tenpin bowling. It’s because of the smaller ball and tricky pin arrangement. Candlepin bowling is less popular than ten-pin bowling. So, finding an active location can be difficult.

Candlepin Bowling Equipment

The Pins

The pins used in Candlepin bowling have a triangular shape formation. They are thinner and taller and resemble candles (hence the name). The pins are cylindrical and taper slightly at each end, making them more likely to bounce around when hit.

The Balls

The candlepin balls are unique. They’re smaller, lighter, and holeless. It fits in the palm of your hand. The maximum weight of a candlepin ball is about 3 lbs. These factors make for a whole different bowling experience. 

Interested in getting your own candlepins to practice at home? Visit this article to learn how much they cost.

The Ball Return

The ball return for Candlepin bowling has a smaller chute and ball trail.

Candlepins are about 15 inches in height and sitting on lane

How to Play Candlepin Bowling

Candlepin bowling is slightly different than you might be used to if you normally play traditional bowling. Though the bulk of gameplay is similar to tenpin, it’s worthwhile to get a handle on the differences. Here’s how a typical game of candlepin bowling goes: 

  1. Gather a few of your favorite people and head down to a candlepin alley. Not every bowling alley will be able to support candlepin bowling. If the bowling alley doesn’t have candlepin bowling balls on hand, you’ll need to bring your own. But chances are they will have them if they offer this bowling variation.  
  2. Rent your lanes and bowling shoes. You won’t be allowed to go to the lane approach (the stretch of flooring before the bowling lanes) without proper footwear. 
  3. Enter your names into the scoring machine and get the game started. 
  4. Understand the point of the game. The main goal of candlepin bowling is to knock down all 10 candlepins. You’ll get three chances to do so per frame. And there are 10 frames total in a game. 
  5. When it’s your turn, get into position. To do so, you’ll begin by standing at the end of the lane where you feel comfortable. Be prepared to take 3 steps before releasing the ball – this is standard in the candlepin bowling world. Ultimately, the number of steps you take will depend on your own personal preference. 
  6. Now, begin your approach by taking your three steps. As you’re doing that, swing your bowling arm back and then forward. Before releasing the ball, aim for either the headpin (front pin) or the spot between the headpin and the number 2 or 3 pin. 
  7. Release the ball and continue swinging upward. Following through is incredibly important if you want to hit your target. 
  8. Wait and see what happens. No matter what the result is, keep track of what’s happening and make changes as needed to get better results. 

The scoring, too, is a bit different, with players getting three balls per frame instead of two. This game of skill and precision offers a fun and refreshing twist on the traditional bowling experience.

  • If you knock down all pins in one roll, it’s a “strike,” and you get 10 points plus the points from your next two balls.
  • If you knock them all down within a frame (but not on the first roll), it’s a “spare,” and you get 10 points in addition to the points from your next ball.
  • If there are standing pins at the end of the frame, you score points for the pins you did knock down. It’s for this reason that you should be shooting for as many downed pins as possible.
  1. Repeat this process for the length of the game – 10 frames. The person with the highest score wins.
Bowler rolled red candlepin ball and hit several pins

Candlepin Bowling Etiquette

Candlepin bowling is about more than just knocking down pins. Using good etiquette enhances your experience and the experiences of others during the game.

Keep reading for some tips all beginners need to know: 

  1. Don’t step over the foul line before or after delivering your ball. The space after the foul line is dangerous.
  2. Never lob the bowling ball (throwing the ball high in the air). The impact of the ball on the floor can damage the lane.
  3. Don’t approach the lane or deliver the ball at the same time as your neighbors. Candlepin bowling (and all other types of bowling) requires concentration, so it’s courteous to allow people their space as they throw. 
  4. Remain silent while someone else is delivering their ball. 
  5. Be conservative in your celebrations or lamentations after throwing the ball. You don’t want to be a distraction to the other bowlers. 
  6. Refrain from using colorful/foul language. 
  7. Be a good sport. 

*This isn’t a complete list of bowling etiquette tips. To learn more, read this article

Is Candlepin Bowling Harder Than Bowling?

Candlepin bowling usa lane25 rs 1

Yes, Candlepin bowling is harder than regular tenpin bowling.

Smaller targets are harder to hit. The slender pins are tougher to knock down. There’s a lot more space between the pins for your ball to simply roll past rather than make contact with the pins.

Add to that the fact that the ball is smaller and lighter. It’s has less power and doesn’t command as much space, so it’s not very easy to knock down many pins with one ball. Even with the extra roll, the fallen pins (aka “wood”) stay on the lane and can either help or hinder your next shot.

Is Candlepin Bowling Still Around?

Yes, candlepin bowling is definitely still around.

However, it does lack popularity. So, it’s not going to be easy to find a bowling alley that offers this bowling variation. As of 2017, there was only one company making candlepin bowling balls in the States. This may put things into perspective.  

If you are having trouble finding a candlepin bowling alley in your area, there are resources out there. For instance, if you go to the, you’ll find candlepin bowling centers in the U.S.

Has Anyone Got a Perfect Game in Candlepin Bowling?

Candlepin bowling usa lanes rs version two

No- no one has scored a perfect 300 in Candlepin Bowling.

Candlepin bowling is extremely difficult to score high in, and the proof is that no one has ever gotten a perfect score in the game. The highest score you can get in the game is 300 and the highest sanctioned candlepin score is 245.

ICC 2023 Singles: KNOCKOUT

Related Articles

Originating in Massachusetts in the 1880s, Candlepin bowling is different and hard compared to regular bowling. The game has special equipment – thin pins and light balls with no finger holes. It needs skill and planning, not just strength.

Scoring is different as well. Strikes and spares aren’t changed, but you get three balls per frame, and the standing and fallen pins matter strategically. Scoring high in the game is challenging, as shown by the impressive highest score of 245.