What Is a Clean Game in Bowling?

Answering the Common Questions About Bowling Clean Games

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At its essence, a clean game is easy to explain: it's a game of bowling in which a bowler has no open frames. To some, that is self-explanatory, but to others (even many within high levels of bowling), there are questions and even debates as to what a clean game truly is.

What is an Open Frame?

An open frame is any frame in which you, the bowler, do not knock down all 10 pins in two shots. That is, you neither strike nor spare in the frame. If you have even one open frame out of the 10 in a game, you have not bowled a clean game.

Are the Rules Different for the 10th Frame?

This is where many people question what a clean game truly is, and where some even debate it. Per USBC rule, a closed frame is any frame in which you knock down all 10 pins in one or two shots, meaning any frame in which you throw a strike or a spare. Because the 10th frame involves extra shots for those who strike or spare, many people wonder: do you have to strike or spare on your final shot of the game in order for it to be considered clean?

Consider this example: you close each one of your first nine frames, then strike on your first shot in the 10th. On your next shot, you get a nine count and then miss the spare. Is that a clean game? By rule, yes, even though it looks glaringly open with that 9- to close you out. Still, you struck, meaning you got your 10 pins in the frame, so it is a closed frame and it is a clean game.

So What's the Debate?

Some people like the aesthetic beauty of seeing an X or / in that last box on the scoreboard. So, even though the rules say one thing, these people hold themselves to a higher standard, making it more difficult to get a clean game. If going by these rules, and you strike twice in the 10th, you have to strike the third time as well.

Still, while it's respectable to hold oneself to a higher standard, it's unnecessary as far as official stats go. Any strike or spare in the 10th, regardless of what happens on fill shots, constitutes a closed frame.