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What Is a Spare in Bowling? Are Spares Better Than Strikes?

Three lanes show spares that resulted after the bowler rolled their second ball and left the pins remain standing.

If you’re new to bowling, you may have been confused when you first heard about spares. Spares are extremely important to the game, so you need to know everything there is to know about them.

So, what is a spare in bowling? Are spares better than strikes?

In this article, we’ll not only teach you what spares are, but we’ll share specific tips to increase your chances of picking them up.

Read on for all the information you need!

What Is a Spare in Bowling?

A spare is when you knock down all ten bowling pins within two tries. This can happen in one of two ways: hitting the pins directly or knocking them over when your ball rebounds from the gutters.

When you get a spare, it counts as ten points plus any additional pins you may knock down during only the first ball of your next roll. Typically, you don’t have to keep up with a score sheet, it’s automatically captured by the bowling alley’s computer system.

Why Try for a Spare?

While it may not seem like it initially, picking up a spare can be easier than trying to get a strike. This is because you have two chances to knock down all the pins, so even if you don’t hit all the pins on your first roll, you can still pick up the spare on your second.

Still, it’s best when you get a strike. It earns you ten points plus the number of pins you knock down over your next two rolls.  However, trying for a spare, the maximum score you will get is twenty.

If you bowl a spare in the tenth frame, they earn one bonus ball for extra points. However, in the tenth and final frame, no bonus points are rewarded.

The five pins remaining in the tenth frame after their second ball and the third roll is also known as the fill ball.

How to Bowl a Spare

Now that we’ve gone over what a spare is and why you should try for one, it’s time to learn how to actually bowl one. Here are some tips:

  • Take a look at the pins and decide which one you’re going to aim for. This is called the “target pin.” Shift your stance to the left or right, depending on the pin(s) you intend to knock down.
  • Use a ball that rolls straight versus a ball with lots of hooking potential. For most spares, you want to be able to roll the ball straight down the lane and knock down those remaining pins.
  • Be sure to roll your ball with sufficient force so it won’t change directions on its trip down the lane.
  • Ensure that you’ve got good bowling shoes to protect your feet and give you the best possible grip on the lane.

Note: This will not work for all spare situations but can make it easier to pick up the spare in some cases.

Also, remember that many factors such as the weight of your ball, the type of lane you’re bowling on, how the lane is maintained, and your own personal bowling style all affect how you bowl.

Things Keeping You From Picking up Spares

Having trouble picking up spares? It’s time to talk about some things that might be hindering your success. Here they are:

  • One of the most significant issues is not aiming for the correct pin. When you don’t aim for the right pin, you could miss the pins entirely or end up with a gutter ball.
  • Another big issue is not using the right ball. If you use a ball that’s too light, it may simply bounce off the pins. Conversely, if you use a ball that’s too heavy, it may be difficult to control, leading to a gutter ball. 
  • Not following through properly can also lead to your ball veering off course and into the gutter. Make sure you’re following through in the direction of the target pin to ensure that your ball stays on course.

With these tips in mind, you should be able to start picking up more spares. Practice makes perfect, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t see results immediately. Keep at it; pretty soon, you’ll be much more capable. 

The bowler rolls their pink ball down the bowling lane into the ten standing pins. Pins knocked are bonus pin count for the previous frame.

Are Spares Harder to Get Than Strikes?

Some will find it harder to get strikes than spares, and vice versa. However, through logical deduction, one might conclude that spares are harder to get than strikes.

This is because you might be aiming for very few pins on your second roll – sometimes just one. Knocking down just a few pins requires good aim, which most just don’t have.

Whether you think it’s easier or harder to get a spare, the fact remains that strikes are worth more points.

So, if you’re trying to improve your bowling game, focus on getting more strikes. But don’t forget about those spares – they can come in handy when you need them most.

What’s the Hardest Spare in Bowling?

The answers may vary considerably if you ask several seasoned bowlers which spare is the hardest to pull off. But across the board, die-hard bowlers know that there are tough spares.

They’re avoided at all costs but still happen to even the most skilled bowlers. Achieving the hardest spares comes down to skill and—some may argue—dumb luck.

Three pins were knocked down, and the bowler achieved a spare, and on their next roll, they will have bonus points of however number of pins are knocked over on the first roll of the next frame.

The Most Common Spares That Frustrate Bowlers

  • The 7-10 Split (also known as bedposts): The ten pins are arranged in a triangle shape at the end of the lane. On the first shot, the bowler knocks down all pins except the ones at the far back in opposite corners. To pull off a spare, the bowler has to clip one pin and send it across to the other side of the lane to knock the other pin down. This is known to be the most challenging spare to pick up, and it takes enormous skill to make it happen.
Anthony Neuer Converts the 7-10 Split During U.S. Open Stepladder Finals
  • The Big Four (also known as 4-6-7-10): Bowling pins are arranged with the tip of the triangle pointed toward the bowlers, with the number 1 pin at the tip. The order of numbers flows from left to right until the number 10 in the back right corner. With the Big Four split, pins 4, 6, 7, and 10 are left standing after the first roll. Pro bowlers know that more pins don’t mean greater success for a spare with this split, making this one of the more dreaded situations in a bowling game.
Walter Ray Williams, Jr. Picks Up Big Four Split on Television
  • The Greek Church: According to the Professional Bowlers Association, the Greek Church is a 4-6-7-9-10 split after the first roll in a frame. The name of this split came from the way the remaining pins remind bowlers of a cathedral church. Another type of Greek Church is when the first shot leaves three pins on one side and three on the other.
Sean Rash Converts Greek Church to Make Chameleon Cut

The more someone bowls, the more they learn about the pitfalls they’ll want to avoid from both seasoned bowlers and personal experience.

While the above may be the most recognized tough spares, the hardest situations can vary from bowler to bowler. This is because each bowler has their own strengths, weaknesses, and preferences.

Be Easy on Yourself While Learning the Ropes

Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been bowling for a while, remember to give yourself a break. Have fun with it and take your losses in stride – they happen to everyone.

Spares and strikes will come with time and practice.

With more experience, you’ll be able to better anticipate which shots will result in spares and which ones won’t. So, relax and enjoy yourself while you work on perfecting your bowling game. Who knows, you might just end up being a pro!

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Ready to try for a spare? Head to your local bowling alley and give it a shot! And if you’re still unclear about anything, don’t hesitate to ask one of the employees – they’ll be more than happy to help.

And don’t forget to keep researching and learning about the sport. The more you know, the better you’ll bowl!