What is a Bucket in Bowling?

Unless you go bowling on a regular basis, you probably don't know what a bucket is, even if you yourself have faced one.

Bowling Pin Layout

In order to understand what a bucket is, it helps to know a little about how bowling pins are set up on the lane. A full set of 10 pins are known as a rack, which is set up in the shape of an equilateral triangle on the deck, or rear of the lane. Each pin is 15 inches tall and must be placed precisely 12 inches from neighboring pins. To aid in scoring and game tracking, each of the pins in a rack is assigned a specific number. If you're facing a rack of pins, the lead or head pin is No. 1. Subsequent pins are numbered 2 to 10, moving front to back, left to right. 

Bowling Buckets

A bucket is a special kind of spare that leaves four pins in the shape of a diamond. Most bowlers distinguish between a right-handed bucket and a left-handed bucket. For righties, a bucket is the cluster of the 2, 4, 5, and 8 pins. For lefties, the bucket is the 3-5-6-9 cluster. The 1-2-3-5 cluster, although less common, is also known as a bucket. Some players refer to these four-pin clusters as "dinner buckets," reserving the term "bucket" for a cluster of three pins (such as 2-4-5 or 3-5-6).

Clearing a Bucket

As with any leave, the goal is to pick up the spare, but clearing a bucket can prove challenging for players. Unless your ball hits the spare just so, not all of the pins will fall and you'll leave pins behind (this is known as an open frame). Most bowlers throw at a bucket using their normal hook shots, adjusting their positioning to have the ball hit the bucket in the same way they attempt to hit the pocket on their first shots.

Other bowlers prefer a head-on shot. Whichever shot you're using, the most important thing to remember is to make direct contact with the lead pin. Both the hook and the straight shot are good strategies on the 3-5-6-9 bucket, landing dead on the 3 pin, with the hook a bit more to the right than the straight throw. For the 2-4-5-8 bucket, even more difficult to pick up, the hook ball is the better shot because it is less likely to be deflected by the 8 pin.


A game of bowling is divided into 10 frames, and a player has two shots per frame to clear all 10 pins. Each pin is worth one point. Knocking down all of the pins on your first ball is called a strike, denoted by an X on the score sheet. If pins are left standing after your first shot of the frame and you clear them all with your second, that's called a spare and is denoted with a forward slash on the scorecard. If, after two shots, at least one pin is still standing, it’s called an open frame.