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Handicap In Bowling


In this modern era of automatic scorers recording open bowling scores, league scores, and tournament or special event scoring, it is surprising how many bowlers, including newcomers or beginners in the game, do not understand the system of handicap in bowling. Our company, bowlingball.com, wishes to point out to newcomers to beginner or new bowlers that the same bowling scoring system is used universally and, therefore, handicap in bowling is fairly universal in its use during competitive aspects of the game.

Most amateur bowling leagues and tournaments utilize a bowling handicap system. Your bowling handicap allows you to compete against other bowlers with varying levels of skill and ability with an equal chance of winning. A bowling handicap is a percentage of the difference between your average and a basis average. If you’ve never bowled in a league, don’t worry. Leagues assign you an average until you establish one or apply your initial average retroactively as soon as you bowl a few games.

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Ask your league or tournament officials what basis score and percentage factor they use. The basis score is a high score intended to be more than any individual bowler’s average. Typically, basis scores range from about 200, 210, or 220.

The percentage factor is used to calculate your handicap and will usually be 80, 90, or 100 percent. To find your average score, add the scores from all of your official league games, then divide by the number of games you bowled. For example, if you have three games with scores of 140, 146, and 156, you have a total series score of 442 pins. Divide your series score by three for your per game average which is 147.3 in this case. Always drop an fraction of a pin. Your official average in this example then works out to 147.

Subtract your average score from the basis score and multiply the result by the percentage factor to calculate your bowling handicap. Suppose the basis score is 200 and the percentage factor is 90 percent. If your average is 147, you have (200-147) X 0.90 = 47.7. Again, drop the fraction. Your handicap in this example is 47 pins per game.

Add the handicap to your actual score for each game. For instance, if you have a game in which you score 160 and your handicap is 47, your adjusted score is 207.

Since the United States Bowling Congress (USBC) defines handicapping as the means of placing bowlers and teams of varying degrees of bowling skill on as equitable a basis as possible for competition against each other, does any handicap used by a league equalize competition? The results of an extensive four year study of handicap leagues -- mixed, all women and all men -- disclosed that the handicap percentages 75%, 80%, 85%, and 90% do NOT achieve this goal.

Even at 100% handicap, the higher average teams or bowlers still have a decided edge. Seventy out of 100 championships are still won by the higher average team when 100% handicap is used. An exact 50-50 distribution of league championships would result only if a 116% handicap was used. You must always look at the difference in averages as well as handicap when constructing a team for an upcoming league or tournament competition.

What does this mean.....when joining a team, try to bowl with members who are higher averages than yourself and who are perhaps among the highest average bowlers in the league or projected to be among the highest averages. Good competition generally breeds success. If you bowl with players who are improving rapidly or who are proven solid average players, then the chances your team will be successful greatly improve.

Of course, the object of a league is to enjoy yourself and have some fun with your teammates and with others in your league. Handicap leagues usually bring out goodwill in most of the bowlers and an atmosphere of friendly competition emerges. Bowling in handicap tournaments can be rewarding both by remaining competitive because of the handicap system and because of the enjoyment brought forth by competing for prizes or monies.


bowlingball.com urges all bowlers to learn the scoring system so you can keep track of your progress while in competition. It is best to keep score yourself until you learn the scoring system during practice sessions. Highly skilled players, for example, typically "strike out the game mentally" while awaiting their next turn to bowl so they can visualize the final score if they complete the game by successfully striking in the remainder of frames. This mental technique prepares a bowler in competition to understand how he or she fares against their given opponent or opponents. The same strategy works in a handicap competition.

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