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© Copyright 1996, Jim Loy
There are several secrets of bowling (10-pins, in case you're from Europe). Leave single-pin spares. Pick up your single-pin spares. Bowl cross-alley at your spares. Follow through . . . But, if you want to be a pro (or nearly a pro), you have to figure out the oil on the lanes.
They put oil on the lanes, to keep bowlers from wearing grooves in the lanes. Oil is spread between the foul line and several feet beyond the foul line. Then, bowlers spread the oil down the lanes, merely by rolling their balls over the oil, and that is called "carry down." In the picture on the left, we see dry lane (the darker tan) near the pins. They have oiled from the foul line to a ways down the lane (two shades of lighter tan). Most of the oil in in the middle, less on the outside. I've thrown a few balls, and my "track" (over the second arrow) has dried out some (dark lines in the oil). Someone else is throwing over the first arrow. Besides drying out the tracks, we are carrying oil into the previously dry territory (the light lines in the dry part of the lane).
If your ball rolls on oil, it goes relatively straight. If it rolls on a dry lane, it curves. You are trying to get the ball into the 1-3 pocket (assuming that you are right-handed). The secret is to roll your ball so that if it goes to the left, it is in the oil, and will go straight into the pocket. And, if you throw your ball to the right, it is on a dry lane, and will curve into the pocket.
Unfortunately, you cannot see this oil (you can if you get really close). You have to deduce where it is by the way that your ball reacts, and by how much oil is on your ball when it comes back to you. There are two traditional ways to find the oil (and no oil). One way is to watch other bowlers (and listen to what they say), and throw where they do. The other way is to experiment (be sure to throw your practice balls). Let's pretend that you must experiment. You throw your ball, and it either comes back with streaks of oil on it, or bone dry. You then deduce where some oil or no oil is.
What you want is to have oil on the left of your ball-track, and no oil on the right of your ball-track. You are bowling on the border line between these. Ideally, you want to release your ball just to the left of this border line, and let it roll onto the dry zone to the right of this border line. And so, most of your bowling effort is directed to finding one of these ideal lines (there may be several out there). Why go to all this effort? Because this ideal situation is when you have a huge target; you can miss to either side of where you are aiming and still hit the pocket. That is when the high 200 games are bowled.
But, the oil moves. You are moving the oil yourself. As you wear oil off the lane, the border between oil and no oil moves to the left, (again assuming that you are right-handed). So, you have to move left, as time goes on. When you start coming up high in the pocket (where the splits are), you start moving left.
Sometimes it works to move right, if there is a lot of oil out there. Then you are starting to make your track through the oil, all over again. But normally, you move left.
And, if you are like me, other peoples' balls mess up your line. But, every once in a while, we bowl a 250 or higher. This happens when you are bowling on the border-line between oil and no oil. It is heaven.
In the above article, I forgot to mention that there is a natural line for you to bowl, on newly oiled lanes. When they oil your lanes, they put more oil in the middle of the lanes, nowadays. Normally the ten-board (see those little boards on the lane) is the dividing line between little oil on the "outside" and lots of oil on the "inside". The ten-board is the second arrow from the gutter (on both sides, left and right).
So, on newly oiled lanes, throwing over the 10-board should give you an advantage over other bowlers. Also, they usually put less oil on synthetic (urethane) lanes, but synthetic lanes are normally slicker than wood lanes, so that averages out.
None of the above works, if you throw a straight ball. You must have enough hook or curve, so that your ball moves more (curves more) on the drier parts of the lane.
In one of my leagues, my average is currently 210. This is higher than the averages of most bowlers on the PBA tour. Am I that good? While I long to try my luck (and risk a lot of money) on the tour, I have to admit that I am not better than most professional bowlers. Their lane conditions are a lot more difficult. In the above diagram, the lane is "blocked." That is what it is called when the lane is oiled more in the middle and less on the outside. Many years ago, blocking was a bad word. Some bowling alleys illegally blocked their lanes, and 200 games (and 300 games) abounded. This proved to be very popular with the bowlers. Eventually, the ABC made blocking legal, and I think it has added to the popularity of the sport (bowling alleys depend heavily on leagues, and need to bring in customers). But the PBA oils their lanes drastically different from the easy conditions that I am used to. Averages are significantly lower under PBA conditions.
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