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How To Identify Bowling Pin Formations

If you are learning how to identify bowling pin formations, then beginning with information about pin locations on the pin deck will be helpful. The pin deck is the portion of the lane at the back end of the lane where the pinsetter sets pins for each new frame of bowling. The triangular formation of the pins is established by the location of the pin spots on the pin deck. Pin spots are round and match the base of a standard United States Bowling Congress certified bowling pin.

Since there are ten pins set each time the pinsetter recycles a frame of bowling, the pins are, therefore, best referred to by an identifying number. The pin nearest you when all ten pins are standing is commonly referred to as the "Head Pin" and is also known as the "No. 1 pin". Since a lane is typically about 40 boards across the lane in width and since the center board is referred to as the "20 Board", the center of the Head Pin is spotted directly on the twenty board, or in the exact center of the lane. The Head Pin is the first of four rows of pins configuring the triangular formation of pins and is by itself in the first row of pins.


The next row back from the foul line is the second row of pins. The second row of pins are identified by the "No. 2 Pin" and the "No. 3 Pin" from bowler's left to right. The center of the No. 2 Pin is located five board left of the head pin and directly spotted on the "25 board" of the lane, if you count boards from right to left at the foul line. The center of the No. 3 Pin is located five boards to the right of the head pin on the "15 Board", if you count boards from right to left at the foul line. The center of each pin spot for the No. 2 Pin and the No. 3 Pin are 12 inches diagonally from the Head Pin spot on the pin deck. The centers of the the No. 2 Pin and the No. 3 Pin are eleven boards apart and are directly positioned across from one another the same distance from the end of the pin deck.

The third row of pins are positioned behind the second row of pins and are are numbered as the "No. 4 Pin", the "No. 5 Pin", and the "No. 6 Pin." In the third row of pins, the No. 5 Pin is aligned directly behind the Head Pin in the first row of pins. When a pin is aligned directly behind another pin and is difficult to see when viewing the entire pin formation from the center portion of the foul line, the pin directly behind another pin, such as the No. 5 Pin is behind the Head Pin, is commonly referred to as a "Sleeper" pin.

The No. 4 Pin is positioned and centered on the pin deck located in the third row of pins and on the "30 Board" of the lane, if you are counting from bowler's right to left, and is 12 inches diagonally behind the No. 2 Pin in second row of pins. The No. 5 Pin is located on the "20 Board" in the third row of pins, same as the Head Pin and directly behind the Head Pin on the 20 Board of the lane. The No. 6 Pin is positioned and centered on the "10 Board" of the lane in the third row of pins, if you are counting from bowler's right to left at the foul line, and is 12 inches diagonally from the No. 3 Pin.

The fourth row of pins contains four total pins in the formation. The "No. 7 Pin" is located to the far left of the formation from the foul line and is positioned directly on the "35 Board" of the lane and is diagonally positioned 12 inches behind the No. 4 Pin in the third row of pins. The "No. 8 Pin" is positioned on the "25 Board" of the lane directly behind the No. 2 Pin located in the second row of pins. The No. 8 Pin is another "Sleeper" pin in the formation, as is the No. 9 Pin. The "No. 9 Pin" is located in the fourth row of pins and is positioned on the "15 Board" of the lane and directly behind the No. 3 Pin located in the second row of pins. The "No. 10 Pin" is positioned diagonally 12 inches behind the No. 6 Pin and is located on the No. 5 Board of the lane, if you count from bowler's right to left at the foul line.

Keep in mind the width of one board on the lane is about one inch wide, close enough for discussion purposes. Although some pins such as the No. 7 Pin or the No. 10 Pin appear to be positioned on the edge of the lane, the pin spots are centered five boards from the lane edges on both sides of the pin deck. Since the lane is about 60 feet from the foul line to the Head Pin, the pins will appear to the bowler closer to one another than they actually are positioned.

It helps to understand that the diameter of a bowling ball is just about nine inches wide across at the ball center. If two pins remain standing in the same row, such as the No. 2 Pin and No. 3 Pin in the second row of pins, it is possible for the ball to contact both pins and knock them over if the pins are in front of the No. 2 and No. 3 pins, such as the Head Pin is not standing. If the No. 4 Pin and No. 5 Pin in the third row of pins remain standing with no other pins are left standing in the first or second rows of pins,the bowling ball can contact both pins is arriving in a centered position at contact and knock over both the No. 4 and No. 5 pins. The same holds true for an example of the No. 5 and No. 6 pins of the third row of pins and for examples in the back row of pins for the combination of the No. 7 and No. 8 pins, the No. 8 and No. 9 pins, and the No. 9 and the No. 10 pins, all positioned in the fourth row of pins.


The pin combination where the ball can contact both pins in the same row of pins and knock them over are known as a "Split" combination. Of course, "Splits" may also be pins remaining standing which are located farther apart or not in the same row of pins than the previous example such as the No. 7 and No. 10 pin, the "Split" with two pins being the farthest apart of any possible combination of pins. There are several other "Split" combination of pins possible and all multiple pin combination leaves, by the way, are known as a "Spare" combination. A "Spare" is defined as a pin or pins remaining standing after the first ball delivery of any given frame of bowling.

Understanding how to identify bowling pin formations will help you learn to align yourself for strike ball deliveries, for spare combination deliveries, and to set overall strategies for lane adjustments for strikes and for spares. We hope this information helps you become more knowledgeable about "Ten Pin" bowling pin formations!

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