Rules for Candlepin Bowling

Candlepin bowling was invented in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1880 and is most popular in New England and eastern Canada. Similar in principle to standard 10-pin bowling, candlepin bowling offers a challenging alternative. For example, according to the International Candlepin Bowling Association, nobody has achieved a perfect 300 game in candlepin bowling in sanctioned play through 2011. A brief look at the rules will prepare you to try the sport.

Physical Contrasts with 10-Pin Bowling

A candlepin bowling ball has a smooth surface with no holes. It weighs 2 pounds, 7 ounces or less and has a maximum diameter of 4 1/2 inches. The 10 pins are 15 3/4 inches high and 2 15/16 inches wide through the middle, then taper a bit at both ends. A pin’s maximum weight is 2 pounds, 8 ounces, making each pin marginally heavier than the ball. The pins are set in four rows, as in standard bowling, but pins knocked down during a frame aren’t cleared until the player’s turn ends, provided the pins are entirely behind the deadwood line when they stop moving. Pins in front of, or touching, the line -- which begins 24 inches in front of the headpin -- are removed before the player rolls again.

Scoring Rules

Except for a potential third roll in each frame -- also known as a “box” -- candlepin bowling uses the same scoring system as standard 10-pin bowling. A game -- or string -- consists of 10 frames in which bowlers roll up to three balls per frame. Bowlers receive one point for each pin knocked down during a frame, plus bonus points after scoring strikes and spares. A bowler must knock down all 10 pins with the first roll of a frame to score a strike. The player receives 10 points in the frame, plus the total number of pins knocked over with the next two rolls in the subsequent frame, or frames. Bowlers who knock down all 10 pins with two balls receive credit for a spare, which is worth 10 points plus the number of pins knocked down with the next roll, which occurs in the following frame. Bowlers who don’t knock all the pins down on the first two rolls then take a third roll and receive one point for each pin knocked down during the frame. All bowlers roll exactly three balls in the 10th frame. A player who begins the frame with a strike must roll two more balls to determine his bonus points. Likewise, a bowler who scores a spare in the final frame rolls a third ball to complete his score.


Players roll from behind a foul line, and the ball must strike the lane before it reaches the 10-foot lob line. A standard right-handed delivery includes three steps. The player holds the ball in front of his body with the left foot slightly advanced. He lowers the ball while taking the first step, with the left foot, brings the ball back on the second step, then delivers the ball at the bottom of his release while sliding his left foot forward. Beginners should roll the ball straight because curves are difficult to control. Because the ball is lighter than a standard bowling ball, there’s a better chance that a ball thrown into a gutter will rebound onto the lane and knock some pins down. Those pins do not count on the player’s score.


All players should remain seated during the game, except when they’re bowling. If two bowlers are ready to roll simultaneously, the player on the right lane should play first. Each bowler in a match should complete his game before any bowler begins another game.

League Setup

Players interested in setting up a candlepin bowling league should first decide how many teams will participate and how many bowlers will play for each team. Additionally, league officials should consider when and how many matches to play, what procedures will be employed when a bowler is absent and whether to set up handicaps.