Spare Adjustment Systems

Despite what they say, you really can't make up for missing a spare

There are a bunch of spare systems out there. You may choose one of the methods in this segment for right side spares and have a totally different plan for left side spares. You'll change even that depending on lane conditions. You'll fine tune whatever method you decide on for your game. As long as you have a system that works for you, that you can refine and change as needed, go for it!

We've all lost games because we missed a spare or failed to get count on a split. You have to have a system that works for you and can be adapted to fit what the lane condition demands and whatever you brought with you that day. Let's say you're normally a pretty good right side spare shooter. Today, in this tournament, for some inexplicable reason, you feel like you've never shot a right side spare in your life. Don't panic. If what you normally do isn't working, be abnormal! Perhaps you stand directly in front of the spare instead of shooting cross lane; perhaps you move your eyes instead of your feet; or maybe you stand five boards from where you usually do - whatever it takes to help you get your feel and confidence back.

Some spare adjustment systems imply the use of the same ball you are using for your pocket shot. I'm not much of a fan of that. Unlike a strike shot in that if you miss striking, you get another chance, spares are one shot deals. The big problem with systems of this ilk is that if you have no strike line, you also have no spare game.

Some people think they should have a place to stand and a place to throw for every spare. Since there are 1023 spares, I don't know how you'd ever have time to do anything but plot spares. Let's reduce those spares to only four basic zones: the 4/7, the 2 pin or any of its combinations, the 3 pin or any of its combinations, and the 6/10. I'll give you some general starting positions and targeting alignments.

In all systems I discuss, there won't be a different shot for each of the corner pin spares. For example, you would use the same approach position and target for the 4, the 7, or the 4/7. The same is true of the 6 and 10 pins. You want to put the ball on both pins whether both are there or not. If you should leave a split, you can easily figure how a very slight move with your feet will impact a pin so that you can slide one pin into another. Some variation might be necessary depending on how far from the foul line you stand, how broad-shouldered you are, etc. I urge you to give the suggested alignments a lengthy trial.

The Works Almost Anywhere You Go System

This is a system my coach, Bill Harris, taught me.


1st Shot

The first of the four spare shots is the 4, 7, or 4/7. The inside of your left foot is aligned on the 10th board. Your target is the 2nd arrow. You will be crossing the 2nd arrow at an angle going right-to-left toward the left corner of the deck.


2nd Shot

The second spare shot is the 2 pin or any of its combinations like the 2/4, the 2/5, the 8, the 2/8, the 2/4/5 bucket, the 2/4/5/8, or the 4/5. Move five boards left of your 4/7 alignment so that the inside of your left foot is on 15. Your target is still the 10th board at the arrows. You'll still be crossing it going right-to-left as with the 4/7, just with less angle.

Since you have a place to stand for the 7 pin (the 10th board) and a place to stand for the 2 (the 15th board), what will you do when you leave both of them? Split the difference, of course, and stand on 12!

3rd Shot

The third spare shot is the 3, the 9, or the 3/9. This is the first time we're going to move the target. Since this is a right side spare, we'll move to the left side of the approach. Stand on the 30th board and target the 17th board between the 3rd and 4th arrows.

4th Shot

The fourth spare shot is for the 6, the 10, and the 6/10. Your target is the same as the 3rd Shot (17 at the arrows) with your feet on 35.

You know this drill: since you have a place to stand for the 3 pin (the 30th board) and a place to stand for the 10 pin (the 35th board), where would you stand if you left the dreaded baby split, the 3/10? Why, 32, of course. With this system, you only have two targets, the 10th board and 17th board. Keeps things simple.

                                      SPARE                                     ALIGNMENT
                10th board - 2nd arrow (10-10)
               2 pin or any of its combinations
                15th board - 2nd arrow (15-10)
              Split difference between the 2 pin
                alignment and the 4/7 (12-10)
                 30th board - 3rd arrow (30-15)

For Lefties

I wouldn't forget about you! Alignments are similar for you but not mirror image as is commonly thought. Since the left side of the lane has less traffic, it behaves differently than the right side and mirror images of the right-handers alignment might not work. Thus the ‘where to stand, where to target’ instructions have a little more variety. Experiment to choose what works best for you.

                                    SPARE                                 ALIGNMENT


                 10th board - 17 (10 - 17)
               3 pin or any of its combinations
                 15th Board - 13 (15 - 13)

             Split difference between the 3 pin

             alignment and the 6/10 (12½-15)

              2 pin or any of its combinations
               30th board - 4th arrow (30 - 20)


              35th board - 22nd board (35 - 22)

                 Split difference between 2 pin

                 spare and the 4/7 (321/2 - 21)


            Same as 2/4/7
            Same as 3 pin
Feet 1/2 board left of 3 pinshot
Feet 1 board right of 3 pin shot
Tweak your position depending on lane conditions.


The 4th Arrow System

This is another simple system: shoot everything from the 4th arrow! Oh, it might be 17 for one player and 22 for another. The point is that the target is the same regardless of what spare you get to shoot. You just move your feet.

Let’s take the 6/10, for example. Stand with the inside of your slide foot on 35. You might need to adjust right or left a bit depending on your body size. There are two critical things here. One is that, of course, you’re always going to clearly “see” your ball path across the target toward the 6/10. The other is that you cannot walk toward the middle of the lane. You should end up on about 33 or so. I find the biggest mistake people make with right side spares is that they walk toward the center of the lane. This causes walking “into the wall” and you’ll either miss to the outside or pull the ball back across your body.     

For the 3 pin or any of it combinations, scoot right a couple of boards to 33. Once you get this alignment okay, you’ll easily be able to tell how much to adjust to make the 3/10 or the 3/9 or whatever. You’ll be sliding a couple of boards right of where you started. 

For the 2 pin or any of its combinations, start around 25. For the 4/7, about 20. For both of these spares, you’ll slide three to four left of where you started. If you are accustomed to shooting left side spares from the right, your perception will be that you don’t have any room with this method. It’s true that you have less lane. However, keep in mind that if it didn’t work, people who make their living bowling wouldn’t use it. You can get used to it. Plus, remember the exaggeration trick. Maybe you need to face two or three lanes left or feel like you’re taking your first step dead left. It doesn’t matter what you do to help yourself get the feel as long as you get it .

For some people, it's 20 for the 4/7; five boards left to 25 for 2 pin; another five left for the 3 pin, and another five left for the 6/10. Try them all and see what works best for you!

Left Side Spares from the Left and Right Side Spares from the Right

Whatever system you choose will become comfortable and therefore, your confidence in converting spares with that system will be high. However, when the system fails or your belief in it fails, you need alternatives that are effective. For example, let’s say you always throw cross lane at left side spares. On a reverse block, this system may not work. Your normal alignment misses left.

Get radical. Move left and instead of visualizing the shot going cross lane, change so that your body alignment is parallel to the channels and square to the lane. Roll your shot down the boards instead of up the boards. This means that you are going to play the hook instead of fight it. Duh! If the lane wants to hook, you merely transfer your strike shot attitude to your spare shots. Although not generally recommended since you'd be playing in an uncharted area of the lane, it could be possible that because this side is smoother, your ball will behave more predictably. Playing the left side of the lane for left side spares is sometimes necessary and often desirable.

Occasionally you might need to shoot right side spares from the right side of the lane. When you miss a right side spare to the left, your inclination will be to move more left. As you know, sometimes you'll need to move to the outside to find hold. Move right and line up to shoot the 6/10, for example, across the 10th–12th board. Yes, there is not much available lane. Yes, you might miss. You’re missing now. Might as well give it a try. This is also an excellent alternative method of shooting right side spares if you’re having difficulty keeping your footing on the approach.

Well, that's the segment on spare shooting. I think it's just about the most critical part of your game. You'll never strike enough to make up for having no spare game.