What Happens When You Tie in Bowling?


“Spares,” “strikes” and “gutters” are evocative terms known by millions of bowling lovers, whether they play for recreation or compete on the professional circuit. Bowling is a sport that requires a number of skills, including proper tossing form and the ability to spin a heavy ball so that it will strike one bowling pin and ricochet into many others. Many rules govern a bowling game, but there is no standard for tiebreakers.

The Game

A game of bowling begins with 10 standing pins that a player must knock down. A complete game consists of 10 frames, with each player given two turns per frame. However, if a player rolls a strike (all 10 pins knocked down on the first attempt), he is done for that frame, unless he rolls a strike in the 10th and final frame, in which case he receives two additional throws. The object of the game is to knock down as many pins as possible.


A strike counts for 10 pins and is added to the number of pins a player knocks down on his next two attempts. A spare occurs when a player leaves some pins standing after his first attempt and then knocks them down on his next attempt. A spare earns 10 pins and is added to the number of pins knocked down on the player’s next attempt. A gutter ball occurs when a player rolls the ball into the lanes on either side of the pins without knocking any of them down.

Tiebreaker to Determine Games

Depending on the league or organization, several tiebreakers exist to determine the winner of a game. Most games that end with a tie score are split in half, with each bowler receiving credit for having won half a game. Another tiebreaker method is a one-ball roll-off, in which each competitor is given one roll and the one who knocks down the higher number of pins wins. If there is still a tie after the first roll-off, the competition continues until a winner emerges. The roll-off can also be three frames.

Tiebreaker to Determine League Champion

In many leagues, when two or more teams are tied atop the standings with the same number of pins, a playoff is conducted to break the tie. This playoff is treated as a normal game and may continue with extra frames until a winner emerges. In some leagues, the total number of pins a team knocked down during the season, or the team average of pins knocked down during the season, is used to break ties and determine a winner.