Handicap In Bowling – Complete Guide

Handicap In Bowling

There are two main types of scoring systems used during leagues and tournaments: scratch and handicap. In a scratch game youHandicap In Bowling - Complete Guide will take your raw score and compare it to the other bowlers. Winner takes all. So, if you’re exceptionally good at bowling you may want to stick to the scratch leagues and tournaments. In handicap, however, you will take your raw score and then add your handicap. This can even the playing field between beginner and expert bowlers. But how do you calculate your handicap in bowling? Read on to find out!

If you’re a beginner bowler or about to enter a tournament or league for the first time it’s important to understand how to calculate your handicap in bowling. Handicap games allow for beginners or lower scoring players to add a “handicap” to their score during competitive play. This results in all players needing to bring their A Game in order to win. While a scratch match is great if you’re an expert, handicap games can be enjoyed by all.

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Calculate Your Handicap Now

If you want to know your your handicap fast we have created a simple calculator. Simply fill in the values and click “Calculate” to see your handicap.

How To Calculate Your Handicap In Bowling

To calculate your handicap you'll need to know three things. First, you need to know the base value used in your league or tournament. Typical values are 200, 210, 0r 220. Second, you need to know the percentage that is used by your competition. This can range from 80% - 100% with the most common being 90%. If you don't know the values used refer to the tournament organizer or the league's secretary. The third, and last value needed, is your average. You should know this value already. If you don't have an established average then you need to play a few sanctioned games to establish it. For leagues, your average and handicap can be retroactively applied, so don't sweat it if you don't have this when you start.

Now that you have the two values used in your competition you can calculate your handicap. The formula used is:

Handicap = (base value - average) * competitive percent

A Real World Example

Let's see what this looks like using an example. Let's say your a medium bowler with an average of 150. And let's say the tournament uses a base value of 220 and the percentage is 90%. These are some typical values for most leagues and tournaments. Now we can plug this into the formula to find the handicap:

Handicap = (220 - 150) * 0.9 = 63

So with these values you'll have a handicap of 63. Let's say you enter a tournament and roll really well and have scratch scores of 160, 165, and 170. For each of these scores you add your handicap for totals of 223, 228, and 233. These would be really good scores and these are the scores you would use to determine the winner of the competition.

Handicap - The Great Equalizer

In the previous example a medium skill bowler had some really competitive scores.  Let's look at another bowler in the tournament and see how they fared. For this second example we'll use the same competition values of 90% of 220. However, this time we'll compare an expert bowler with an average of 220. To start, we calculate their handicap:

Handicap = (220 - 22o) * 0.9 = 0

The expert bowler would have a handicap of 0. The expert bowler also bowls well with raw scores of 230, 235, and 240 (also an increase of 10, 15, and 20 higher than their average like the first player). Since they don't have any handicap we can simply add up their scores to find their total competition score of 705. The first player had a total score of 684. The expert player won between the two scores.

The Expert Always Wins When There Is A  Handicap In Bowling

The expert bowler always wins. This is a common misconception with handicap play. However, a closer inspection of the reasoning behind the handicap in bowling will show that this is not entirely true. In the example above we compared a medium skill bowler with an expert bowler. We also made them play at the top of their game with scores 10, 15, and 20 points higher than their average. These values were used to illustrate how handicap works. However, this is not practical in real life. A medium skill bowler with an average of 150 has a lot of room for improvement. The expert however, does not have that much room for improvement. This is why the 90% percentage is the equalizer. It ensures that the lower skilled bowlers don't always win in real world scenarios.

If we used 100% instead of 90% then a beginner skill player has a major advantage. If we used 80% then the expert is almost unbeatable. We've summarized these three scenarios with a beginner, intermediate, and advanced bowler in the following tables.

Handicap Percent100%      
PlayerAverageHandicapScore 1Score 2Score 3Total ScratchFinal Handicap Score
Beginner Player100120110115120345705
Medium Player15070160165170495705
Expert Player2200230235240705705

As you can see with a 100% handicap percentage a beginner bowler can easily win the match with only minimal relative performance increase. This is why 100% handicap is rare. If you're a beginner and you find a 100% handicap rate then you should probably sign up.

Handicap Percent90%      
PlayerAverageHandicapScore 1Score 2Score 3Total ScratchFinal Handicap Score
Beginner Player100108110115120345669
Medium Player15063160165170495684
Expert Player2200230235240705705

In this chart it's clear that the expert must still do well in order to win. But such a large range of improvement isn't as easy for an expert player.

Handicap Percent80%      
PlayerAverageHandicapScore 1Score 2Score 3Total ScratchFinal Handicap Score
Beginner Player10096110115120345633
Medium Player15056160165170495663
Expert Player2200230235240705705

This last example shows that the medium and beginner players have to really bring their A Game and the expert needs to choke in order to for the expert to not win. Again, another example of why 80% handicap is rare. If you're an expert and see an 80% handicap rate enroll in the tournament. This is practically a scratch match.

Handicap In Bowling Frequently Asked Questions - FAQ

How Can I Increase My Average Quickly

There are a few things you can do to quickly increase your average. The first is to get your own bowling ball and stop using house balls. If you need a quick overview of your options you can see a full list here: Bowling Ball Stats - Comprehensive List. If you want to quickly find the best new bowling ball you can check out this guide: 9 Of The Best Bowling Balls For Beginners.

The second thing you can do is get some coaching. There are likely some aspects of your form that can be quickly improved by a professional coach.

Lastly, consider getting a wrist positioner so that you have a consistent delivery every time. You can find some options here: Best Bowling Wrist Braces, Guards, and Supports.

What If My Average Is Greater Than The Base Value

This is really a question for expert players. If your average is greater than the base value the common question is whether or not you get a negative handicap. Looking at the formula for someone with a 230 average:

Handicap = (220 - 230) * 0.9 = -9

This suggests that someone who has higher than the base value will have a negative handicap. Fortunately, this is not the case. If a player's average is higher than the base value, then they simply get a handicap of 0.

What If My Handicap Has A Fraction

We can use a more realistic average score of 152 to see what happens when we calculate their handicap again.

Handicap = (220 - 152) * 0.9 = 61.2

In this case, the handicap is rounded down to the nearest whole number. With that in mind, the handicap for this player would simply be 61.

Closing Thoughts

If you want a super quick recap of how to calculate handicap you can watch this video:

Did you learn something about how to calculate your handicap in bowling? Did we leave anything out? Do you bowl in a handicap league or tournament? Let us know in the comments below.

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