New to Nine Pin? – Comprehensive Guide to Rules and Gameplay

Did you know that bowling used to have nine pins instead of ten? Before ten-pin bowling became the standard, there was nine-pin bowling. Even though the modern sport has gained international popularity, its predecessor is still being played today at a professional level.

Nine-pin bowling is primarily played in Europe, and most of the professional teams come from Germany. The game is one of the more popular pastimes for Europeans.

If you are new to the sport and want to learn how to play, it won’t take long for you to grasp the basics since the mechanics are similar to modern bowling. The difference lies mostly in the equipment used and the methods of scoring.

How to Play

As mentioned, playing nine-pin bowling is mainly similar to ten-pin bowling. To understand it more, we will be discussing the details involved as well as the equipment and the mechanics.

What Is Needed


Regulation or official lanes are 19.5 meters long. The width may depend, wherein a narrower version is being utilized in Germany.

Official lanes, unlike the ten-pin version, have no gutters. Also, on the foul line, there is a presence of a string line that is used as the boundary for the bowling ball’s entry.

The narrower version has a “funnel-like” lane in which the width increases towards the pins. Additionally, it has gutters on the side. This type of lane is called “scissor lane” or “Scherenbahn” which is used for non-competitive nine-pin bowling.

If you’re an avid bowler, you already know that all modern bowling lanes are lubricated. However, in nine-pin, the lanes are usually dry, diminishing the significance of the bowling ball’s rotation upon moving. It may be oiled, but it depends on the competition rules.

Automated Equipment

The nine-pin bowling is a bit taxing game since there is no automation involved. The pins have to be rearranged manually, and the scoring is done by pen and paper. Also, the balls don’t return to their holding place once bowled.


The nine-pin bowling being played today stays true to its original theme as much as possible. Even the balls used are not the modern versions. The balls for nine-pin have no finger holes, meaning that a player has to carry the ball in its entirety.

There are balls with two finger holes, but only beginners use this. The regulation ball has a diameter of 16 cm and weighs around 2.85 kg.

Meanwhile, beginner balls have a diameter of 14 cm and weigh 1.9 kg. In the American version, the bowling ball being used is the one also used for ten-pin.


From its namesake, the number of pins used is nine. The pins, also known as “cones” or “skittles”, are different from the ones used in ten-pin bowling. They have a straighter figure than in ten-pin although there are some designs used that are similar.

Each pin weighs 1.3 kg. For the American version, however, the pins used are the very pins also used in ten-pin. The pins are arranged in a square/diamond formation.

The center pin called “King Pin” for the European version and “Redhead” or “12-pin” for the American version is colored red.

Although they are set manually, there is still a pin-setter machine. The said pin-setter, which utilizes strings for movement, has fewer moving parts than the modern bowling alleys’ automated ones.

Nine-Pin European Version


Like in modern bowling, you also have to roll the ball in nine-pin. The string line located in the foul line indicates that the ball must be rolled underneath it. The aim is to hit all of the pins in each turn.

Even though there are no gutters, the ball can go outside the lane if excessive force is applied. The term for that miss is “poodle.” When waiting for the turn, the opposing player is tasked to reset the pins’ formation after each bowl and return the bowling ball to the one playing.

Overall, there are 120 throws to be played in 4 lanes. At each lane, 30 throws have to be made, wherein during the first 15, the pins are reset. On the next 15, the pins are only reset after all are knocked down.

After a player finishes the 30 throws in a single lane, he/she will move to the next lane until all 4 of them are being played. 


Since the game is played in 4 lanes with 2 opposing teams and 6 competing players, the scoring system is very different in European nine-pin.

The more pins are knocked down, the higher the points a player gets. The one who has the most knocked down pins in a single lane gets “1 set point.” In case of a tie, each team is awarded a “0.5 set point”.

As mentioned, the game has 4 lanes to be played, and so, it only takes 3 set points or winning 3 lanes to win the game. A game won equates to “1 team point”. Do note that there are 6 players in each team, so theoretically, 6 team points are the most a team can score.

In case that both teams have 2 set points won in a single game, then the team point is awarded to those who have knocked the most pins. If both teams have the same number of set points and pins knocked down by chance, each team will be awarded “0.5 team point”.

If the competition stretches to a point wherein both teams have four team points each, it will be declared a tie.

The winning team will get additional 2 team points that will factor in the overall tally for league rules. In some championship competitions, the ‘knockout’ format can be adopted, and individual players play the games instead of teams.

Nine-Pin American Version


Nine-pin is played slightly differently in the American version, though it’s only popular in Texas. The aim is the same which is to topple all the pins as frequently as one can.

In the American or Texan version, especially in league regulations, two opposing teams with 6 bowlers will play the game. The competition is played until one team wins 2 out of 3 games, in which each game consists of 6 frames.

The game is played in a “relay” type of bowling. The first bowler will throw twice regardless of the result. After that, the second bowler takes the turn and tries to throw to knock down the leftover pins.

After two tries, if the said bowler cannot eliminate all pins remaining, the third bowler will take the turn, and the pattern continues.

The pins can only be reset in the following conditions: all pins are knocked down, the center pin “Redhead” / “12-pin” remains, or the frame reaches its end (all bowlers completed their turns).

The players’ order can be rearranged at the next frame and is usually supervised by the team leader or “captain.”


In every frame, the game begins with the pins in full formation or “full house.” If a bowler manages to knock down all nine pins at once, also called a “nine-ringer” which is similar to ‘strike’ in ten-pin, then a score of “9” will be given with a “circle” drawn around it.

If a bowler manages to knock down all pins except the “Redhead”, also called as “twelve-ringer,” then a score of “12” will be given with a “circle” drawn around it.

If a bowler’s throw does not translate into a nine-ringer or twelve-ringer, it will be marked with a dash (“–“) or a check (“√”). This means that there is no point earned.

The only exception, though, is during the last throw of the previous bowler in a frame. The bowler, however, will be credited for the number of pins knocked down in his/her throw. If the next bowler can knock all the remaining pins in the following sequence, 9 points will be awarded.

If the “Redhead” remains after the throw, 12 points will be awarded. The total points will be added, and the team with the most points wins the game.

History and Development

Bowling has its origins in Europe. Although there have been games similar in ancient times, the mechanics were only standardized back in the 19th century.

When bowling was played as nine-pin, it became a natural pastime. Like any pastime, it was subjected to gambling to the point that crime syndicates were known to take part in it as well.

Because of such lawlessness, the game was banned in the US, except in Texas. To bypass the ban, nine-pin was reinvented into ten-pin bowling and became the sport we know today. Both versions of bowling currently don’t have Olympic status, but ten-pin is much more popular today.

Currently, championship games for professional nine-pin are held in Europe annually. In Europe alone, there are 130,000 active players, and 90,000 of them come from Germany.  


Although nine-pin bowling has two versions and the gameplay varies, it is still a fun game to play with depending on the region.

If you are good at bowling ten-pin, you might find the European nine-pin easier. In contrast, American nine-pin bowling tends to be more challenging because it requires players to be more strategic.