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Tips for Picking Up a Spare

In a perfect world, every frame you bowled would be a strike. Unfortunately, physics has a way of getting between us and our fantasies, which means that you’ve got to learn how to pick up a spare if you want to score big. The following tips are designed to help you get the most use out of your second attempt in a frame.

What Kind of Spare Do You Need?
Before we can talk about particular spare techniques, you’ve got to figure out which pins are left standing—you won’t approach a single pin spare in the same way you would a split, for example. There are literally thousands of spare combinations that are possible, but we’ll stick to mostly discussing the more common pin formations.

Using a Plastic Ball
Some bowlers opt to use a separate plastic ball for spare shooting since they create less friction on the lane’s surface, which means that they tend to not hook as much as other bowling balls. With a plastic ball, it’s all about making a straight shot for the pins you’re looking to knock down.

The 3-6-9 System
The most common method for picking up a spare in bowling is the 3-6-9 system, which involves adjusting your starting position from left to right, depending on which pins you need to knock down.

Before you can pick up a spare with this system, though, you need to figure out the starting position where you’re most likely to bowl a strike. This spot won’t be the same for everyone, but most people will find they have pretty good luck near the second arrow in the lane.

After you’ve discovered this “sweet spot,” it’s all about properly readjusting by counting the individual boards in the lane. Here’s a quick reference chart for the adjustments (left-handed bowlers should reverse the direction on these instructions):

  • If the 2 pin is the key pin, move right 3 boards
  • If the 4 pin is the key pin, move right 6 boards
  • If the 7 pin is the key pin, move right 9 boards
  • If the 3 pin is the key pin, move left 3 boards
  • If the 6 pin is the key pin, move left 6 boards
  • If the 10 pin is the key pin, move left 9 boards

Other Options
If the 3-6-9 system is not working for you, don’t be afraid to modify it. Some people do better with a 2-4-6 system, or even a 5-10-15! It’s all about finding what works for you and sticking with it.


  1. Phil says:

    It seems to me that the instructions for using the 3-6-9 system listed is for left handers.

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