How to Adjust to Bowling Lane Patterns


The easiest way to bowl a strike is to hit the 1-3 pocket at about a 30-degree angle from your bowling side, striking the No. 1 pin to the right, then the No. 3 pin, then the heart of the pin formation. To hook the ball into this pocket -- and to make the various shots needed to pick up spares -- you must read your lane conditions and adapt to them. The oil pattern in your lane will determine where your ball will break and where you should roll the ball.

Oil Effects on the Ball

  • Bowling alleys use oil conditioners to protect the lanes from the wear and tear of heavy usage. As durable lacquer, polyurethane and synthetic surfaces became more popular, bowling alleys have used oil to guide the ball action on the lanes. When you roll the ball through oil, it holds its direction. To make a bowling ball hook into the pins, you must place the ball into a dry area for your break. If you miss your mark, the ball may not hook enough, or at all.

The Impact of Oil Patterns

  • Patterns vary in length and shape, but they generally feature more oil in the middle than on the edges. Patterns vary in difficulty, from forgiving house patterns for recreational bowling to more challenging patterns for tournaments. The longer the pattern, the less the ball will hook. Tougher patterns feature even oil distribution across the lane, reducing your margin for error. If you miss your mark left, the ball will keep going left. If you miss right, it will keep going right. The Professional Bowlers Association Tour features 14 intricate oil patterns that demand precise rolls.

Use the Rule of 31

  • The bowling alley is 60 feet long from the foul line to the head pin. It features 39 narrow boards running the length of the lane. The shorter the pattern, the earlier the ball breaks. And the earlier the ball breaks, the further outside you should bowl. The "Rule of 31" provides a starting point for attacking an oil pattern. It defines where you should target your ball. After determining the length of the your lane's pattern, subtract 31 from that number. If the pattern is 41 feet long -- a common length at bowling alleys -- you should target the 10 board to hit the pins correctly.

Adjusting to Oil Patterns

  • The best way to read the oil pattern is to roll practice frames, check your ball's reaction and adjust accordingly. A right-handed bowler wants to hook the ball into the pins from the right side, so he should aim his bowling line between oily conditions to the left and dry conditions to the right. Adjustments vary from player to player based on skill level and the speed, revolution rate and spin of the ball. The makeup of his ball's cover is critical, too, since materials creating more friction afford more hook and harder materials create more power. The type and condition of the lane oil is another factor. Each bowler must develop his own feel for any given lane on any given day.

Adapt on the Fly

  • The lane pattern changes as the lane sees more activity between treatments. The right side of the lane becomes drier because of the volume of right-handed rolls. So a right-handed bowler whose rolls are hitting higher in the pocket should move her line slightly to the left. She may also have to adjust as balls carry oil beyond the back of the pattern. Heavy lane usage effectively lengthens the pattern and forces a bowler to move her break point.

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