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Pick Up Spares More Effectively in Bowling with the Target Pin Method

Even if you’re bowling well, you won’t get a strike every single frame. Learning how to pick up your spares is a part of the game that most beginning bowlers completely ignore, even though it is very important.

Most people think practicing spares is no fun, but regularly leaving open frames will have a devastating effect on your scores. In fact, you’ll be much better off stringing several spares together rather than getting more strikes and leaving open frames in between. Good spare play can easily be the difference between a 150 game and one 200+.

Even bowlers who understand they need to pick up their spares usually don’t approach the situation with any strategy; they just roll the bowling ball and pray that they’re lined up correctly. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to greatly improve your spare pickups.

Making Adjustments to Pick up Spares

In order to pick up more spares, you will need to adjust your stance to the left or right, depending on what pins are left standing. A basic rule of thumb is to move in increments of five boards.

If you move ten boards to the left, for example, and aim at the same target on the lane, your bowling ball should go ten boards to the right of your first ball target (the pocket). Find out which board the remaining pin rests on and make the appropriate adjustments.

Alternatively, when facing a single pin spare, some bowlers like to straighten up their shot and go with less hook. Advanced bowlers even have a special spare ball, usually plastic so it stays as straight as possible.

It’s up to you whether you want to keep your same shot and adjust your target or switch to a straighter track. When you’re just getting started, you should try both and go with what feels most natural.

The Target Pin Method

In addition, you might want to try the target pin method, which is meant to take the guesswork out of where to aim when facing a spare. You pick out one pin as your target based on what is left standing, and line up in order to hit just that pin. This will become more clear with an example:

Let’s say you’ve thrown your first ball and knocked down 7 pins, leaving the 3, 5 and the 6 pins (left). The best way to go about picking up the spare is using the target pin method.

Using the strategy, you aim only at the 3 pin, ignoring the 5 and the 6. The idea is if you hit the 3 pin straight on, it will knock down the whole triangle.

This idea should hopefully make sense, but when you face other spares, you must apply this logic even further. For example, say you leave just the 5 and the 6 pin. You should still aim directly at the 3 pin’s spot, even though that pin is no longer standing.

With the target pin method you will only aim your spare shot at one of the 7 pins which form the outside of the pin triangle: either the 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7 or 10 (shown in blue below).

Generally, you identify the pin that sits closest to you and make that your target, as previously demonstrated. Here are a couple more examples which follow the same strategy explained above:

  • If you leave the 2 and the 4 pin on the left side of the triangle, aim at the nearest pin to you, the 2.
  • If you are facing a single pin in the back row, either the 8 or the 9 pin, aim at the spots of the pins closer to you on the outside of the triangle. These are the 2 and the 3, respectively.
  • Even if you face a tricky mini split like the 9-10, don’t panic and aim directly at the 6 pin’s spot.

With some of these spare arrangements, you might feel fine just going just by feel and not thinking about it, but you’ll be clipping the side of the pins frequently, which is complete luck. In order to enjoy more legitimate long-term success, you should employ the target pin method.

The Importance of Consistency

In order to to be effective, you will need to have your bowling fundamentals under control. Your delivery and approach will need to be consistent in order for you to be able to hit your intended target time after time.

Also, your spare adjustments won’t always be perfect because many factors affect the ball’s path, especially the lane conditions. The best thing you can do is take the fundamentals presented here and get some hands-on experience picking up spares.

While it might not be as exciting as knocking down all ten pins with a thunderous strike, working on your spares will pay off big time!

Next Article: The Importance of Oil and Bowling Lane Conditions

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6 Responses to Pick Up Spares More Effectively in Bowling with the Target Pin Method
  1. Christina Grover
    January 25, 2016 | 1:48 pm

    I didn’t know about the basic rule of moving in increments of five boards. I love bowling and want to achieve a game of 300. If I can learn to pick up spares, it will make my game much better. I’ll just have to practice and figure out which strategy works best for me.

    • Joseph (BBT Writing Staff)
      January 27, 2016 | 8:21 am

      Hi Christina,
      Glad you found it helpful. You’re right: working on spares is sometimes a less exciting part of the game, but it’s absolutely crucial and the surest path to getting a higher average. Best of luck with your practice, and hopefully you get that 300 someday soon!

      • Christina Grover
        February 4, 2016 | 2:55 pm

        Thanks Joseph. I hope I get it soon!

  2. George J Amonitti IV
    June 30, 2016 | 8:33 pm

    I had an argument that I want settled. All my life over 40 bowling years I was taught to convert the family of 1-2-4 spares by shooting the left side of the head pin so as to hit all or most of the pins with the ball. I also know that the 1-2-8 is commonly missed when hitting the right side of the head pin (8 pin left standing). This same person has the nerve to advise others to do the same as he recommends.
    My assumption is that we are giving advice to a right handed bowler on a house shot throwing a typical down and in trajectory. By the way I don’t care left right straight or hook. I still say hit the left side of the head pin so as to hit all pins with the ball.

  3. Betty
    July 8, 2016 | 3:59 pm

    I thank u for this website to help me improve my spares using the basic method tired it today 7/8/16 and its works hoping to get a 150 avg by the fall and keep it 134 avg now will keep on practicing to reach my goal thank u again betty

  4. Clustelle Henry
    April 9, 2017 | 7:17 am

    I have never been coached this way for picking up spares. My worse enemy is the 7 pin. So I really should be shooting at the 6 pin spot interesting, practice starts today. Thanks for the tip.

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