Playing Poker as a Bowling League Side Game

Turn Your Strikes and Spares into the Best Hand

a person tying a bowling shoe
Maya83/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Small-scale gambling has a huge presence in bowling leagues. From the prize money for which teams compete to strike pots and other low-dollar risks, bowlers are always looking for a way to take a couple of dollars from their friends or, as the cliché goes, make things a little more interesting.

One of the most popular ways to do this during a bowling league is by playing poker. Not a full-fledged, deal-around-the-table poker game, but rather a game that rewards bowlers for performance, while also keeping the element of chance in play.

Many times, individual teams will compete among themselves, and sometimes entire leagues will hold a poker game during each game on league night, leading to larger pots but also a smaller chance of winning due to the larger field.

Sample Poker Rules

Rules vary from league to league and team to team, but the general structure is similar.

  1. All participants pay a small amount of money (often a single dollar) to get into the game.
  2. Shuffle a deck of cards and place the deck face-down on the table (depending on how many people participate, multiple decks are sometimes used.
  3. When a bowler records a mark in a frame (that is, throws a strike or picks up a spare), he takes a card from the top of the deck.
  4. At the end of the game (10 frames), each bowler puts together his or her best possible five-card poker hand. The person with the best hand wins the money in the pot.

Like poker, ​an element of chance is involved in who wins. However, you can increase your chances by bowling well. In a traditional game of poker, everyone is dealt the same number of cards. If you throw a mark in every frame, you'll get at least 10 cards (some bowling-poker games give out a maximum of 10 cards and others reward strikes and spares on fill shots in the 10th as additional cards). If someone else only marks three times, the odds are in your favor of beating that person.

This game can be modified in any number of ways. You can vary the amount of the buy-in, for instance. Also, you can reward two cards for a strike and one for a spare. Some people give out two cards for picking up a difficult split. You can throw in bonus cards for certain achievements (for instance, if you complete a turkey, you get a bonus card after your third strike). You can add in wild cards and other such rules to enhance the fun as well.

The specific rules of your game will be determined by you and the other players. The main goal is to increase the amount of fun you have during your bowling league, and for a lot of bowlers, small-time gambling will do that. Other bowlers want no part of it, which is also fine, as participation is never mandatory. If it is mandatory and you don't want in, you should probably find another league.

Rules of Poker

Don't know the rules of poker? In order to know whether or not you won, you either need to trust someone else or know for yourself. For a detailed look at the hands below, take a look at this tutorial.

Poker Hands, Ranked From Best to Worst

  1. Royal Flush
  2. Straight Flush
  3. Four of a Kind
  4. Full House
  5. Flush
  6. Straight
  7. Three of a Kind
  8. Two Pair
  9. One Pair
  10. High Card