rulesof the game

Basic Rules

Duckpin bowling has rules similar to tenpin bowling. In a 10-frame game, bowlers try to knock down pins in the fewest rolls per frame. Bowlers have three balls per frame, instead of two in tenpin bowling, to knock over a set of 10 pins. If a bowler knocks down all 10 pins with their first roll in a frame, it is scored as a strike. If all the pins are knocked down in two rolls, the bowler has made a spare. If all the pins are knocked down in three rolls, it is scored as a ten, as in candlepins, with no bonus. If pins are still standing after the third ball, the bowler gets one point for each pin knocked down. All deadwood (pins knocked down) must be cleared between rolls.

A foul is committed when any part of the bowler's person or clothing touches the foul line or touches any point past the foul line, during or after release of the ball, this shall be considered a foul. If any object falls from the bowler's person and breaks the light beam during or after release of the ball, this shall be considered a foul. If the light beam is not broken, no foul shall be called. Upon notification to a member of the opposing team, a player may cross over the foul line to remove any obstructions. If, for whatever reason, a bowler goes over the line or touches any point beyond the line but does not release the ball, no foul shall be called.

A loft is any ball delivered in anger that, while in the air, passes the furthest ducktail, dot, arrow, or 15 ft.

How to Bowl

The most common type of approach and delivery in duckpins is the Four-Step Approach and One-Handed Pendulum Swing Delivery. For step-by-step instructions on how to teach (or learn) the proper art of duckpin bowling, see the NDYA site ("Teaching the Art of Duckpin Bowling").

Lane Specifications

A duckpin bowling lane is 41 inches wide and 60 feet from the foul line to the center of the headpin (the same as in tenpins). The gutters on both sides of the lanes are narrower and shallower than in tenpins.

Ball Specifications

The balls used in duckpin bowling are 4-3/4 in (12 cm) to 5 in (12.7 cm) in diameter (which is slightly larger than a softball), weigh 3 lb 6 oz (1.5 kg) to 3 lb 12 oz (1.7 kg) each, and lack finger holes. They are thus significantly smaller than those used in tenpin bowling, but are slightly larger and heavier than those used in candlepin bowling.

Pin Specifications

The pins, while arranged in a triangular fashion identical to that used in tenpin bowling, are shorter, smaller, and lighter than their tenpin equivalents which makes it more difficult to achieve a strike. For this reason (and similar to candlepin bowling), the bowler is allowed three rolls per frame (as opposed to the standard two rolls per frame in tenpin bowling).

Pinsetting Machines

These US Patents regarding duckpin pinsetting machines are available for viewing:


5 different forms of bowling
From left to right: Rubber Duckpins, Duckpins, Canadian Five Pin, Candlepins, Tenpins

Rubber Band Duckpins

In 1905 a variant called rubber band duckpins was introduced in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area by William Wuerthele, in which the pins are circled with hard rubber bands to increase action and scoring. Wuerthele observed bowlers wasting their third ball as well as flying pins injuring pin boys, so, according to a defunct publication called "The Ducks", Wuerthele added the rubber band to increase scoring. The American Duckpin Congress was formed in the 1920s to govern the game of rubber band duckpins. The organization later became the American Rubber Band Duckpin Bowling Congress in 1945 and became an affiliate of the National Duckpin Bowling Congress. The rubber band game is now almost extinct, with most of the lanes located in private clubs. Rubber band duckpin is the only version of duckpin played in the province of Quebec, where it has retained a certain degree of popularity. Bowlers tend to throw slowly with their fingers facing forward to give the ball backspin. There have been perfect games bowled in rubber band duckpin, including the largest duckpin prize ever won on television, C$50,000 in 1994. Since it is easier to knock down pins in rubber band duckpin, its rules are identical to those of standard tenpin bowling.

Duckpins on Strings

A smaller version of duckpin bowling where the lane is considerably shorter and the pins are attached to strings. This is not considered duckpin bowling. You might find this game in smaller establishments (bars, pubs, game centers) and places like the Great Wolf Lodge.

Five-Pin Bowling

Five-pin bowling is a bowling variant which is played only in Canada, where many bowling alleys offer it, either alone or in combination with tenpin bowling. It was devised around 1909 by Thomas F. Ryan in Toronto, Ontario, at his Toronto Bowling Club, in response to customers who complained that the tenpin game was too strenuous. He cut five tenpins down to about 75% of their size, and used hand-sized hard rubber balls, thus inventing the original version of five-pin bowling.


Candlepin bowling was developed in 1880 in Worcester, Massachusetts, by Justin White, a local bowling center owner, some years before both the standardization of the tenpin bowling sport in 1895 and the invention of duckpin bowling, said by some sources to have been invented the same year. Today the game is enjoyed in many diverse places such as California and Germany in addition to New England. As in other forms of bowling, the players roll balls down a wooden pathway ("lane") to knock down as many pins as possible. The main differences between candlepin bowling and the predominant tenpin bowling style are that each player uses three balls per frame, rather than two (see below); the balls are much smaller (11.43 cm or 4½ in diameter) with each ball weighing as much as only one candlepin and without finger holes; the pins are thinner (hence the name "candlepin"), and thus harder to knock down; and the downed pins (known as "wood") are not cleared away between balls during a player's turn. Because of these differences, scoring points is considerably more difficult than in tenpin bowling, and the highest officially sanctioned score ever recorded is 245 out of a possible 300 points, by Ralph Semb in 1984, who is currently the head of the International Candlepin Bowling Association. This score was matched on May 13, 2011 by Chris Sargent of Haverhill, Massachusetts, at the Metro Bowl Lanes candlepin center in Peabody, Massachusetts, and accepted by the ICBA.

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