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How to Score Duckpin Bowling: The Bowling Scoring Guide

These are the balls used in duckpin bowling played at the local alley

Duckpin bowling is a super addictive ten-pin bowling variation. And more and more people are noticing just how fun it can be. One thing that differentiates duckpin bowling from other types of bowling has to do with scoring.

If you want to learn about duckpin bowling rules around scoring, how to score a strike in duckpin bowling, and more, you’re in the right place. In this article, we’ll tell you how to score duckpin bowling and answer other questions that might come up for you.

Let’s get right into it!

How to Score Duckpin Bowling

Scoring duckpin bowling can be a little difficult to understand at first. That’s why we’ll start with the most basic rules around scoring in the bowling variation. Here are a few duckpin bowling rules you need to know upfront:

You’ll roll three duckpin balls each turn (also called a frame). Each roll is an opportunity to knock down pins, and you get 1 point for each pin you knock down. You might knock down 1 pin with your first ball, 2 with your second ball, and 4 with your third ball. In that case, your score for the frame is 7 points.

There are 10 total frames in a game of duckpin bowling. This is also the case with traditional bowling (ten-pin). So, your score will be made up of the number of pins knocked down across those ten frames (with some variation for special shots, like strikes and spares).

Each frame’s score is added on top of the previous one to arrive at your official score. Similar to regular bowling, the most points available in any frame is 30 points.

Duck pin bowling uses smaller balls than regular bowling but are played on ten pin bowling lanes
image source

Strikes in Duckpin Bowling (Duckpin Bowling 1st Box)

A strike occurs when you roll your first ball and knock down all 10 of the pins (learn more about pins in duckpin bowling in this article). If you manage to score a strike, you’ll earn 10 points upfront for that, and then you’ll earn points equal to the number of pins you knock down with the next two balls from your next frame. The symbol for a strike is “X.”

Spares in Duckpin Bowling (Duckpin Bowling 2nd Box)

Spares are earned with your second roll. If 2 pins are knocked down with the first roll, 8 pins remain in the frame. You knock down the remaining 8 pins with your second ball, earning yourself 10 points for the spare. Then, from the next ball, you’ll earn points equal to the number of pins you knock down from the first roll (only).

The maximum number of points you can get for a spare, including any bonus pins, is 20. A spare’s symbol is “/” and occurs when you knock down all ten pins with your first two rolls.

Total Pins Knocked Down (Duckpin Bowling 3rd Box)

If all 3 rolls are used, your score will only consist of the total number of pins knocked down in a frame. There is no “bonus” or any extra to earn from the next frame. If you knocked down 3 pins on roll 1, 6 pins on roll 2, and 1 pin on roll 3, your total score for that frame is just 10 (3+6+1).

Understanding the boxes on Duckpin bowling is a tremendous help to further explain how the point system works. So, you can’t get a strike on your 3rd ball, nor can you get a spare in the 3rd. Those are reserved for rolls 1 and 2, respectively.

Here’s how we remember the scoring for the third roll: “What you hit is what you get”, Kira Byrd. Jump to the differences between Regular and Duckpin bowling

Duckpin bowling has a tenth frame, similar to regular bowling

Taking Score Manually and Online for Duckpin Bowling

Keeping score in bowling can be difficult for some to handle, especially in the midst of a game. And that’s why you’ll find automatic scoring machines in bowling alleys everywhere. You won’t have to concern yourself with your score – it’ll pop up on a screen above the lane as you bowl. 

Bowling Scoring Apps

If you’re not going to be playing duckpin bowling at a bowling alley and you don’t have access to scoring technology, you still don’t have to break out paper and pencil. You can try an online bowling scoring app – there are many of them available online, and all you need to do is enter the number of pins knocked over after each roll. The application will show your running score and update it every time there’s new input.

Manual Scoring with Paper and Pencil

Even if you decide to use an automated scoring system, it’s always smart to understand how scoring is supposed to work. Get yourself a pencil and a piece of paper, create the 10 frames, and divide the paper based on the number of people who will be bowling on a lane. As each person bowls, record their score according to the following instructions below.

Like regular bowling, you write the scores down in frames numbered 1-10. If you knock down all 10 pins in the first two rolls, it’s called a spare. Then, the pins knocked down from the next roll are added to the previous frame’s total. If it takes all three balls to knock down all 10 pins, you simply record the total number of pins knocked down in that frame (1 point per pin).

If you get a strike (all pins knocked down on the first roll), you’ll add the number of pins knocked down in the next two rolls to that frame’s 10 points. The way you organize your scoreboard is up to you. You can model it after the scoreboards you see in the bowling alley or freestyle.

It all depends on what feels right to you and enables you to consistently track the score accurately. To help, we’ve created the Serpentine method, which is easy to understand, even for beginner bowlers.

Understanding Duckpin Bowling Scoring: A Step-by-Step Guide *NEW METHOD*
The Serpentine Method is our new way to keep scoring in Duckpin bowling

How Do You Score A Strike In Duckpin Bowling?

As you might imagine, getting a strike in this sport is difficult to do – it’s rare. To get a strike, you’ll need tight technique and probably some luck to knock down all of the pins at once in the first throw of your frame.

But there’s no reason to think that you simply can’t do it. One of the most widely used strategies for getting a duckpin bowling strike is targeting the headpin. The head pin is the pin that sits in the front of the triangle, the only pin in the row.

But you won’t try to hit it straight on – you’re trying to hit it at an angle. The hope is that when you hit the headpin, you’ll set off a chain reaction where that pin hits one or more pins, and those pins knock down the rest. It’s not a foolproof strategy, but it has worked for many.

To target the headpin, you’ll take the following steps:

  • Get into position in the middle of the lane approach.
  • Plan out your delivery using the guide arrows or lines on the lane to help.
  • Roll the ball towards that headpin with the goal of hitting it off-center.
  • Look at your ball as it travels down the lane. If it doesn’t hit the target off-center, you can make some improvements.
  • Take note of your body position, release, and anything else about your shot. Even if you’re unsuccessful, you can use that information to change up your strategy to try for a strike the next time.

Though most people will find success with the above method, there are some other tips you should keep in mind to try to score those strikes.

Grip For Duckpin Bowling

First, be sure to get a good grip on the ball. Doing so will ensure that you retain a good measure of control over your delivery and resulting throw. If your grip is too loose, you may find that your results are a little more unpredictable, and you may even see more gutter balls.


Also, it’s a good idea to experiment with how much force you’re throwing the ball with. Sometimes, you may need to use a little elbow grease and put some power behind your throw to get that strike. There may be times when you get your aim totally right, and your ball runs out of steam and doesn’t have enough force to knock down all the pins.


It’s equally important to mind your footwork – which foot you start with, how many steps you take, which foot you land on when you release the ball, and more. Being inconsistent with your footwork could stall your progression within the sport.

Get into a groove of your own and keep it relatively consistent, changing it only when you deem it totally necessary.

Upper Body and Release

Your feet aren’t the only thing to be mindful of when going for a strike. Your upper body position and movements are crucial as well. Keep your shoulders level and positioned towards the lane, and use a swinging motion (pendulum-like) to swing the ball.

Try to release the ball at about eye level and adjust accordingly, depending on your results.


Above all, the more you play duckpin, the more of an opportunity you’ll have to hone your skills. So, remember the above tips and get on that lane and bowl.

Most amazing duckpin bowling strikes ever!! Incredible match w/ triple strikes

What’s the Maximum Score in Duckpin Bowling?

The maximum score you can get in the sport is 300, and you’d have to get a strike in every frame to get that score. If you’re wondering whether you might get a perfect score in Duckpin bowling, there’s a chance. No one has ever bowled a perfect game of duckpin, but one bowler did come close in 1992 with a final score of 279. 

As a beginner, it’s important to concern yourself with your personal technique. Once you get a good handle on that, it makes total sense to focus on building your scoring average. 

Why Duckpin Bowling is Different From Regular Bowling

There are a few differences between Duckpin bowling and regular Tenpin bowling. For instance, the number of rolls you get per frame, the bowling balls size and number of finger holes, and the type or size of the bowling pins.

In Duckpin bowling, there are three rolls per frame. In regular bowling, you get only two rolls per frame. A similarity both games share is a maximum possible score is 300; that equals 12 strikes in a row.

The differences in the balls rolled are two-fold; the weight of the ten pin bowling balls ranges from about 6 pounds to 16 pounds and can include finger holes. That’s not the case with the Duckpin bowling ball. They are much smaller and lighter than regular bowling balls, weighing in at about 3.75 pounds, and don’t have any finger holes.

What’s more, is that the pins used in Duckpin bowling differ in shape and weight. They are shorter and weigh less. This is likely why you get more chances to knock down pins per turn (3 instead of 2). The duckpins will be arranged in the same triangle pattern as regular ten-pin bowling pins. There’s no difference in the pin formation.

Is Duckpin Bowling Harder?

Duckpin bowling is believed to be harder to score in than regular bowling. Here is why we think so: the ball and the pins are smaller. And on top of that, the pins are shorter and don’t weigh as much as typical pins.

For those reasons, you may find that your scoring average is lower for duckpin bowling than it is for regular bowling. But that doesn’t mean that you won’t naturally have a knack for the sport. For some unknown reason, some people are just better at some sports than others.

You could be that person who churns out strikes with little prep or practice. Still, chances are you will find that this variation of bowling is a little harder than the original. According to the Washington Post, even the executive director of the governing body of duckpin bowling – National Duckpin Bowling Congress – states that “duckpin is a very difficult game.” Even though you have the extra roll per turn, you may struggle to knock all the pins down. 

So, it’s important to keep this in mind as you get into the sport. Welcome the challenge, do your best, and have fun over anything else. 

A Good Score in Duckpin Bowling 

If you’re just starting out, chances are you want to know what a good score looks like in Duckpin bowling. Bowlers tend to be happier with lower scores because it can be more difficult to score well in duckpin bowling than in 10-pin bowling.

For instance, depending on who you ask, you may hear that a good score for new duckpin bowlers is anywhere from 100 to 150. This may seem low, especially if you’re no stranger to Regular bowling, but given the jump in difficulty, you’ll need to cut yourself some slack. 

It’s incredibly important to consider your experience level when setting your scoring goals, especially if you’re a newbie.

History of Duckpin Bowling

Duckpin’s history is muddled with several origin stories, so there’s no 100% accurate record of the start of the sport. However, most people accept that the sport originated in Baltimore in the 1900s at a gaming hall. The gaming hall owners, Wilbert Robinson and John McGraw, were the fathers of the sport.

Though this origin story is most trusted, some believe that the sport was birthed in Boston or New Haven, and these aren’t the only places credited with the start of the sport.

Mistakes People Make When Playing Duckpin Bowling

When you’re new to Duckpin bowling, you just don’t know what you don’t know. We’ve gone over the things you should do to increase your chances of getting a strike. But another great way to improve in the game and accelerate your progression is to learn what you’re not supposed to do.

Here are some duckpin bowling tips based on mistakes people make:

Acting as if They’re Playing Regular Bowling

One of the biggest mistakes newbies make when crossing over from regular bowling to duckpin bowling is forgetting that duckpin bowling is different from what they’re used to.

They might go up to the lane and try their usual approach, swing, and delivery and be disappointed when they don’t get the results they’re expecting. You will probably need to rework your bowling style to get the results you’re looking for. 

Young man at the bowling alley with the ball on ten pin bowling lanes

Gripping the Bowling Ball Incorrectly

An improper grip ruins the game for many new duckpin players. They might hold the ball too tightly, loosely, or inconsistently. While you’re getting used to the game, you may want to experiment with several grip styles until you find one that works for you.

But, in general, holding the ball too tightly or failing to get a secure grip on the ball could lead to some wonky throws. 

Not Planning Your Shots 

There’s a science to bowling, and Duckpin bowling isn’t an exception. You may have a specific shot, aim, and stance that you use initially to go for a strike. But if you don’t get the strike and you’re trying to pick up a spare, you’ll need to plan a bit before throwing your next shot.

You may need the ball to enter from the side or hit a specific pin in the hopes that the pin will hit another. Don’t let strategy fall by the wayside when you’re playing duckpin bowling. 

Leaning Too Far Into Power Shots 

We mentioned needing to put some power behind your shots to get a strike, which may be necessary in most cases. However, you shouldn’t forego strategy or aim for power when playing the game. You need a good mix of skills and strategy to do well. 

How Many Turns Are There In Duckpin Bowling?

Duckpin bowling has 10 frames, or turns, per person. If you’re playing alone, there will be 10 turns. If you play with another person, there will be 20 turns. And every person added to the game will result in an increase of 10 turns. 

Shows duck pin bowling ball and pins at the end of the lane.
image source

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you score points in Duckpin bowling

A single duckpin at the end of the lane

By knocking down as many pins as possible with 3 balls (attempts) per frame.

In general, every pin knocked down is worth 1 point. If all the pins are knocked down on the first roll (strike), you get 10 points plus the number of pins knocked down with the next two rolls. If a bowler knocks down all the pins with their first two rolls (spare), they will get 10 points, plus any points from pins knocked down from the next roll. If all 3 rolls are used, you get what you hit.

Has anyone scored 300 in Duckpin bowling?

Duckpin bowling highest score


There is no record of a perfect 300 in Duckpin bowling. However, the closest recorded score is 279. In 1992, Pete Signore, in Newtown,
CT, earned a score of 279. Making him the highest-recorded score according to the National Duckpin Bowling Congress (NDBC).

How many turns in Duckpin bowling?

Duckpin played on bowling lane


In the game Duckpin, you have 3 chances to knock down the shorter, thinner, and lighter pins within a frame. There are a total of 10 frames. Similarly, Candlepin bowling also has 3 turns. Whereas in Regular bowling, you have 2 rolls to knock down the pins.

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Scoring duckpin bowling may seem like a lot to grasp initially. But once you continue to play duckpin bowling over time, it’ll all become second nature. Then, you’ll be all about increasing your scoring average.

We hope you found all the information you were looking for in this article, and we wish you the best as you explore this cool variation on traditional bowling!