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Duckpin Bowling Rules: The Little-Known Bowling Game That’s Hugely Addictive

  • Reading time:10 mins read

If you’re new to the world of bowling, you may have heard the term “duckpin bowling” and wondered how it differs from the standard tenpin bowling most people are familiar with. Duckpin bowling is a unique and fun variation of the classic bowling game, particularly popular in the northeastern United States.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll dive deep into the rules, equipment, gameplay, and strategies of duckpin bowling. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a complete beginner, you’ll walk away with a thorough understanding of this quirky and entertaining bowling format.

What is Duckpin Bowling?

Duckpin bowling is a variant of standard tenpin bowling that features smaller balls and pins. Unlike the large, heavy balls and tall, thin pins used in traditional bowling, duckpin bowling utilizes compact balls that players can easily grip and control, as well as shorter, squat-shaped pins.

The objective is the same – to knock down all the pins in as few rolls as possible. However, the smaller size of the duckpin equipment makes it a more challenging and tactically complex game. Duckpin bowling requires a different skill set and strategy compared to the more widely known tenpin format.

While duckpin bowling is played across the United States, it is particularly prevalent in the northeastern region, with strong duckpin bowling cultures in states like Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. Many duckpin bowling alleys and leagues can be found throughout this part of the country.

Duckpin Bowling Equipment

The key pieces of equipment that differentiate duckpin bowling from its tenpin counterpart are the balls and pins. Let’s take a closer look at each:

Duckpin Bowling Balls

Duckpin bowling balls are significantly smaller and lighter than standard tenpin bowling balls. The maximum allowable weight for a duckpin ball is 3 pounds, 6 ounces, compared to the 16-pound maximum for a tenpin ball.

Duckpin balls also have a diameter of around 4.5 inches, much smaller than the 8.5-inch diameter of a tenpin ball. This reduced size makes the duckpin ball easier for players of all ages and skill levels to grip and control.

Unlike tenpin balls, duckpin balls do not have finger holes. Instead, players grip the ball with their fingertips, relying more on touch and feel rather than brute strength to control the ball’s direction and speed.

Duckpin Bowling Pins

Duckpin pins are also notably different from their tenpin counterparts. Duckpin pins are shorter and more rounded, standing at around 15 inches tall and having a diameter of 5 inches at the base. In contrast, tenpin pins are taller (15 inches) and thinner, with a base diameter of only 4.75 inches.

This squat, barrel-like shape of the duckpin pins makes them more challenging to knock down, as they are less likely to scatter widely when struck. Duckpin pins also weigh less than tenpin pins, with a maximum weight of 2 pounds, 8 ounces compared to 3 pounds for tenpin pins.

The Objective of Duckpin Bowling

Like traditional tenpin bowling, the objective in duckpin bowling is to knock down all 10 pins in as few rolls as possible. Players take turns rolling their ball down the lane, attempting to strike (knock down all 10 pins) or spare (knock down the remaining pins on the second roll of a frame).

The game is divided into 10 frames, with each player getting 3 rolls per frame to try and clear all the pins. This is different from tenpin bowling, where players get 2 rolls per frame.

Strikes and Spares in Duckpin Bowling

In duckpin bowling, a strike is achieved when a player knocks down all 10 pins with their first roll in a frame. This is the most valuable outcome, as it allows the player to add the pins knocked down on the next two rolls to their score for that frame.

A spare is earned when a player knocks down all 10 pins over the course of two rolls in a single frame. The player’s score for that frame is then the total number of pins knocked down, plus the number of pins knocked down on the next roll.

If a player fails to knock down all 10 pins in a frame after their 3 rolls, it is considered an “open frame.” The player’s score for that frame is simply the number of pins they managed to knock down.

Duckpin Bowling Scoring

Scoring in duckpin bowling follows a similar format to tenpin bowling, but with a few key differences:

Frame Scoring Each frame in duckpin bowling is worth a maximum of 30 points. Here’s how the scoring works:

  • Strike (all 10 pins knocked down on the first roll): 30 points, plus the total of the next two rolls.
  • Spare (all 10 pins knocked down over two rolls): 20 points, plus the total of the next roll.
  • Open frame (less than 10 pins knocked down after 3 rolls): The total number of pins knocked down.

Game Scoring

To calculate the total score for a duckpin bowling game, you’ll add up the points earned in each frame.

For example, if a player gets a strike in the first frame (30 points), followed by an open frame where they knock down 6 pins (6 points), their total score after two frames would be 36 points (30 + 6).

The maximum possible score in a duckpin bowling game is 300 points, achieved by throwing 10 consecutive strikes. However, this is an extremely rare feat, as the smaller pins and balls make it much more challenging to achieve a perfect game in duckpin bowling compared to tenpin.

Duckpin Bowling Strategies

While the basic mechanics of duckpin bowling are similar to tenpin, the unique equipment and gameplay require a distinct set of strategies and techniques to excel. Here are some tips to improve your duckpin bowling skills:

Ball Placement and Control

Since duckpin balls are significantly smaller and lighter than tenpin balls, players need to focus on precise ball placement and control rather than raw power. Aim to roll the ball straight down the center of the lane, using a smooth, controlled release to guide the ball into the pins.

Avoid throwing the ball too fast, as this can cause it to veer off course and miss the target. Instead, focus on a softer, more controlled roll that allows you to accurately target the pins.

Targeting the Pins

With duckpin pins being shorter and more rounded, the targeting strategy is different than in tenpin bowling. Rather than aiming for the center of the pocket (the area between the 1 pin and 3 pin), duckpin bowlers often try to hit the 1 pin directly or the 1 and 2 pins together.

This targeting approach helps to maximize the chance of scattering the pins and knocking them all down. The rounded shape of duckpin pins also means that hitting them at an angle can be more effective than a direct frontal hit.

Spares and Splits

Scoring spares is crucial in duckpin bowling, as it allows you to build momentum and set up higher-scoring frames. Pay close attention to the remaining pins after your first roll and develop a plan to efficiently knock them down on your second roll.

When faced with a split (two or more pins left standing in different locations), focus on clearing the pins closest to the center first. This increases your chances of knocking down the remaining pins and converting the spare.

Consistency and Practice

Like any other sport, the key to improving at duckpin bowling is consistent practice. The more you play, the more you’ll develop the muscle memory and strategic intuition needed to excel at this unique bowling format.

Be patient with yourself, especially if you’re new to duckpin bowling. It takes time to get a feel for the smaller equipment and adjust your techniques. Stick with it, and you’ll start to see your scores and skills improve over time.

Finding Duckpin Bowling Alleys and Leagues

Duckpin bowling may not be as ubiquitous as its tenpin counterpart, but there are still plenty of opportunities to experience this quirky bowling variation, especially in the northeastern United States.

Many traditional bowling alleys in states like Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts offer duckpin bowling lanes and leagues. Some dedicated duckpin bowling centers also exist, catering specifically to this niche sport.

To find duckpin bowling opportunities in your area, try searching online for “duckpin bowling near me” or checking with your local parks and recreation department.

You can also look for duckpin bowling leagues and tournaments, which provide a great way to meet other enthusiasts and test your skills against experienced players.


Duckpin bowling may not be as well-known as traditional tenpin bowling, but it offers a unique and entertaining twist on the classic bowling experience.

With its smaller equipment, additional roll per frame, and distinct targeting strategies, duckpin bowling requires a different skill set and approach compared to the more widespread tenpin format.

Whether you’re a seasoned bowler looking to try something new or a complete beginner eager to explore this quirky variant, duckpin bowling is sure to provide hours of fun and challenge.

With this comprehensive guide to the rules, equipment, and strategies of duckpin bowling, you’re now equipped to dive into this engaging and unique bowling experience.

So grab a compact duckpin ball, head to your nearest duckpin alley, and get ready to knock down some pins in style. Who knows – you might just discover a new favorite way to bowl!