How to Pick Up Bowling Spares for Right-Handed Players

Bowling in Iceland
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Ideally, you'll throw a strike every time. Realistically, that's not going to happen. Picking up spares is an essential part of putting up high bowling scores, and this tutorial will show you one simple way to do so.

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Find Your Strike Ball

A bowling ball rolling toward the pins.
A ball on its way toward the pins.

Most advanced bowlers will use an additional plastic ball to pick up certain spares, but it’s not always necessary. Plenty of talented bowlers use only one ball and have no trouble picking up spares.

In order to do this, you first need to establish your strike ball.

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Evaluate Your Leave

Norm Duke throws two balls at a 7-10 split.
Norm Duke evaluated his leave, a 7-10 split, and thought he should throw two balls at it (during the 2009 Trick Shot Invitational). Photo courtesy PBA LLC

Obviously, you hope to throw a strike on your first shot. But if you don’t, the adjustment you need to make is simple math. You will keep the same speed as your first shot, and aim at the same target. The only adjustment you need to make is your starting position.

After throwing your first ball, make sure you know exactly what pins are left standing. Then, apply the advice in the upcoming steps.

Note: the upcoming system for shooting spares is a good starting point for league bowlers on house patterns. From here, you can figure out your own systems for shooting spares, especially as you bowl on more difficult lane conditions.

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Adjust Your Starting Position

A bowling approach.
A bowling approach.

Depending on what pins you leave, you’ll move left or right, four boards at a time. This is because of where the pins are placed on the lane. If you start your approach four boards to the left of your usual starting position, and aim at the same target and use the same speed, your ball will hit the pin deck four boards to the right of your normal shot.

Some intangibles, like how the oil is laid out or breaking down, will affect your ball, and thus the four-boards-for-four-boards statement is not ​an exact science. But it’s an excellent starting point you can use to hone your shots as you gain more experience.

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Pick Up the 1, 3, 5 or 8 Pin

The 1, 3, 5 and 8 pins.
The 1, 3, 5 and 8 pins.

Use the same starting position as your first ball. You may have missed your mark the first time, but if you throw the ball as if you’re trying for a strike, you will pick up these pins.

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Pick Up the 2 or 4 Pin

The 2 and 4 pins.
The 2 and 4 pins.

Move four boards to your right. The ball will hook earlier and take out the 2 and 4 pins.

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Pick Up the 6 or 9 Pin

The 6 and 9 pins.
The 6 and 9 pins.

Move four boards to your left. The ball will hook later and take out the 6 and 9 pins.

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Pick Up the 7 Pin

The 7 pin.
The 7 pin.

Move eight boards to your right. The ball will hook into the 7 pin. Eight boards is a big move, and especially for beginners, you might find yourself uncomfortably in line with the gutter or even farther to the right.

If this makes you nervous or uncomfortable, you can reduce your move to, for example, five boards, and choose a target a little bit to the left of your usual target. For instance, if you usually aim at the second arrow from the right, you’d want to aim between the second and third arrows from the right.

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Pick Up the 10 Pin

The 10 pin.
The 10 pin.

Move eight boards to your left. You might feel like you’re throwing directly toward the gutter, but if you use a proper release and speed, the ball will hang on and knock down the 10 pin.

This is often the most difficult pin to pick up, especially for beginning bowlers and is frequently the sole motivation for a bowler to purchase a plastic spare ball. With practice and minor adjustments, you’ll figure out your best option, and may not need to purchase a spare ball.

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Use Common Sense

Walter Ray Williams, Jr.
Walter Ray Williams, Jr.'s 88.16% spare-conversion rate in 2004-05 is the all-time PBA record. Photo courtesy PBA LLC

The explanations throughout this tutorial deal with pins standing alone. But, as you know, you’re not always going to leave just one pin. Sometimes, you might leave the 1 pin, which requires no adjustment, along with the 2 pin, which requires you to move to your right.

Using common sense, you know you can aim at the 1 as normal, and it will deflect into the 2. Or, you can move 2-3 boards right and the ball will hit both the 1 and 2 pins.

The information in this tutorial is meant as a guide, but you’ll have to use common sense and experience to pick up more complicated spares.

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Your Citation
Goodger, Jef. "How to Pick Up Bowling Spares for Right-Handed Players." ThoughtCo, Oct. 26, 2017, Goodger, Jef. (2017, October 26). How to Pick Up Bowling Spares for Right-Handed Players. Retrieved from Goodger, Jef. "How to Pick Up Bowling Spares for Right-Handed Players." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 22, 2017).