This article is a reprinted with permission from Bowling This Month Magazine. Written by Jim King.
I understand your present dilemma, if you have one. Hooking the ball at a spare just seems to be a security blanket for some bowlers, albeit a mostly false one. The first part of this article will be to hopefully illustrate exactly how accurate you have to be to throw it straight and still make that single pin. Later, we will talk about which spares at which to hook it.
Let's use a 6-pin leave and a 10-pin leave as examples to illustrate the margin of error you have when attempting those particular spares. Some bowlers, when going through their pre-shot routine for a single pin are so intimidated that they feel they are rolling a BB at a matchstick. Well, you do not have to possess telescopic vision. You do not have to have space age precision. You do not even have to have a marksmanship merit badge from the Boy Scouts. Believe it or not, you have a rather large margin of error when shooting a single pin to still be successful. For any single pin other than a 7 or 10, you have over 13 inches at the pindeck to still knock it down.
I don't mean from the outside edge to outside edge, but from where the center of the ball sits when you graze a single pin on the right to where the center of the ball sits when you graze it on the left. (See illustration 1) In relation to where the center of the ball is positioned, you have the width of the pin plus half the width of the ball on each side of the pin. Over 13 inches! When shooting a 7 or 10, you still have over 11 inches. (See illustration 2) You have half the width of the ball on the inside, the width of the pin, and to the edge of the lane on the outside.
Now, I know it is impossible to visualize this when standing on the approach, preparing to shoot a 10-pin. So, in photos 3 & 4, we have placed poster boards with a gap in between which illustrates just how much room you do have from outside to outside. If you can fit your ball in the gap, you will make the spare. Photo 3 shows two balls and a 6-pin to hopefully help you realize the actual size of your target area.(Photos 3 & 4 here) Photo 4 shows the same target without the balls. So, give yourself a break. Don't be so hard on yourself when contemplating that next single pin. Maybe it will ease the pressure, when shooting that next 6-pin, if you can visualize throwing your ball through this gap instead of rolling a BB at that matchstick. With repeated practice and repeated successes, you will eventually gain so much confidence that you could hit that matchstick with that BB. You will feel like and odds-on favorite when attempting a baby split and you will feel like it is an upset when you miss a 2-10.
You are probably thinking that while it may be true that you have over 13 inches of room at the pins, you don't look at the pins. You target at the arrows or splices. Well, lets take a look at that. You still have more room for error than you think. Let's assume that you use the middle arrow as your target for a 10-pin and that you release the ball at the foul line. Let's assume also that you are lined up so that if you hit your mark perfectly, the center of your ball will hit the 10-pin exactly in the middle. The middle arrow is 17 feet from the foul line and the 10-pin is 62.5 feet. from the foul line. This is a ratio of 3.676 to 1. Therefore if you missed your target one board (one inch) to either side, this would mean the center of your ball would miss the center of the 10-pin by 3.676 inches (Still a spare). If you missed by 1.8 boards inside, then the center of your ball would miss the center of the 10- pin by 6.61 in. (Still a spare). You can miss 1.25 board outside and still convert the spare. This gives you over 3 boards worth of room at the 4th arrow.
It should be noted that you can and should make small realignments to compensate for a tendency to miss more to one side than the other. Also, if you release the ball beyond the foul line (most of us do) then that gives you a little more room for error as long as you don't lose any accuracy. With this in mind, you can give yourself even more room to make a mistake if you can move your target farther down the lane (splices for example) without sacrificing any accuracy. At the point where you start to lose accuracy, then you should bring your target back a little. On any other single pin (other than the 7), you have even more of a mistake margin. You have more than 1.8 boards to either side of your mark. This gives you 4.6 ((1.8+1(your mark) +1.8)) boards to hit (at the fourth arrow) when attempting a non-corner single pin.
If you are thoroughly confused, just remember the point that I'm trying to illustrate. You don't have to be perfectly accurate to throw it straight at your spares. Of course, multiple pin spares usually require a little more accuracy than a single pin, but you still have bigger boundaries for success than is generally understood.
Now that I've hopefully convinced you to throw it straight at your spares, I would like to discuss which ones and under what circumstances you can or should hook it.
I should state up front that the only time you should hook it at any spare, is if you have a pretty good idea where the oil line and/or breakpoint is. If you are unsure for any reason, then it is better in the long run to use the straight shot, even on clusters with sleepers. For example, you are moving several pairs after each game in a tournament and after a move you leave a 2-5-8 in the first frame. You pulled your first shot and it skidded all the way and barely hit the headpin. Sound familiar? Now, because you did not make a good first shot, you can't really adjust off of that shot to throw a hook at the spare. If you move too far right, you might chop it. You don't know how far out the oil extends, so if you don't move enough, it won't get up to the 2-pin. In either case, you can't deliver the next shot with confidence, so your chances will be much better by just lining up and throwing straight at it. You can deliver this shot with confidence because you have practiced it countless times, right?
Okay. Let's get on to the spares.
These are spares that can be hooked at at least 50 percent of the time:
- 2-pin, 8-pin, 3-pin, 9-pin (It's dangerous to try to go to school on these)
- 1-pin & 5-pin (You can go to school on these)
- 1-2-4 (for righties), 1-3-6 (for lefties)
These are spares you should almost always attempt with a hook (again, assuming you are confident where the breakpoint is):
- All multiple pin spares with a sleeper Ex: 2-8,3-6-9-10 or 2-4-5-8
- For righties (opposite for lefties) 1-2,1-2-8, 1-2-4-7-,1-2-7, 2-4, 2-4-7,5-8,3-5, 6-9, 5-7 split, 2-7 split, 3-9-10 split, 3-6-7-9-10 split
These are spares you should almost always attempt with a straight ball:
- (either hand)-7, 10, 4, 4-7, 6, 6-10, 6-9-10, 4-7-8
- (righties only)-2-4-5, 3-5-6,2 -5, 3-6-10& 3-6,
- (lefties only)-3-5 & 2-4, 2-4-7
- All washouts
- 2-7 split (lefties), 3-10 split (righties) ,
- 5-10 split (for righties), 5-7 split (for lefties)
The only other split I want to discuss here is what I think is the most overrated split: The 2-4-8-10 for right-handers. This split is very makeable if you play it with a hook from the far outside. Try to hit it thin on the left. Today's balls will deflect more than enough for the 4 to hit the 8 and the 2 will take out the 10. I only see about 10% of bowlers try to make this spare. Unless you need 3 of them to win a match in the 10th frame, you should try to convert this one.
Another spare I feel deserves some special attention is the pro washout. The 1-2-4-6-10 for righties, the opposite for lefties. This is one of those "leaves of the 90s" that we hardly ever saw before reactive urethane. I often see very good bowlers trying to go between the 1 and the 3. I think this is a mistake. If you play it this way, you can make a perfect shot and still miss it. You have to get a lucky bounce off one wall or the other to convert it. If you play it to the left of headpin (righties), you can be off just a little and still make it. The percentages are just too great to play it any other way. I know some will disagree, but that's the way I feel.
Finally, I hope you have found something in these three articles to help you be a better spare shooter. Please try to have the same attitude about spare shooting that GBOTs do. Remember to "save those doubles". Try to make time to practice throwing it straight until you develop confidence in your ability to do so. Remember, you don't have to be perfect. And lastly, remember it isn't a test of your spare shooting versus mine or Walter Ray's or anybody else's. Your goal should be to be the best spare shooter and therefore the best bowler that you can be.
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Go back to Spare Shooting Part 2.