Skittles (sport)

Skittles (sport)

Skittles is an old European , a variety of bowling, from which Ten-pin bowling, Duckpin bowling, and Candlepin bowling in the United States, and Five-pin bowling in Canada are descended. In the United Kingdom the game remains a very popular pub sport in England and Wales, though it tends to be found in particular regions, not nationwide. It is perhaps most common in the south west counties of Bristol, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire. It is also popular in Worcestershire and South Wales. It is very popular in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. In Australia, other varieties of bowling are more popular, but the similar game of Kegel, based on German nine-pin games, is popular in some areas.


*Ball - the wooden ball rolled at the skittles.
*Beaver - when a player knocks down no pins in a hand.
*Broken frame - a frame with some pins knocked over
*Cheese - a round, flattened wooden discus (often made of lignum vitae), shaped like some types of cheese, which in some variants of the game is thrown instead of rolling a ball
*Copper - the pin on the extreme left or right of the frame. The pin at the front of the frame, also known as the king pin .
*Cush - the rails on either side of the alley, usually made from timber. Some alleys have ditches/gutters instead (similar to ten pin bowling).
*Cush Ball - a ball that is bowled & hits the cush. In most variants of the game the pins that are then knocked down are not counted in the players score.
*Down - the scores for all players in one set during a single hand, combined, e.g. "we just got a 24 down"
*Duck - a player who doesn't knock down any pins on their turn.
*Flattener - a ball that knocks down all nine pins.
*Flopper - when a player knocks down all nine pins with one ball or cheese.
*Flopper ball - the ball that achieves a "flopper"
*Frame - the full set of pins (usually nine) standing upright
*Hand - a player's turn at the game
*Hill Gap - The Gap between the Front Pin and the Front Quarter Pin
*King Pin - The pin at the front of the frame. Also name of type of skittles where front pin has to be floored before any pins count
*Landlord - the pin in the centre of the frame, immediately behind the front pin. Also known as "bird in the cage".
*Leg - known as a set elsewhere comprising 6, 8, 9, 10 or 12 players.
*Over / Foul - A ball delivered illegally over the foul line
*Pin - a skittle.
*Strike - hitting over all the pins within one turn
*Pitch - the long rectangular strip along which balls are thrown and at the end of which the pins stand
*Plate - the strip on the floor which the balls have to hit when they leave the skittlers' hands.
*Quarter - the two pins to either side and behind the front pin
*Set - three or four players who play against the opposing teams set
*Sidey / Cush - a ball played that hits the side of the alley.
*Skittle alley - a long narrow building in which skittles is usually played.
*Skittle may be an onomatopoeic word that describes the noise made when the skittles fall.
*Spare - when a player knocks down all nine pins with 2 balls, allowing a third throw with the pins re-set.
*Split - The pins left after the first ball has been played.
*Sticker / sticker-up - a person who puts knocked-over pins back upright
*Sunshine - (New South Wales) / Spider (Worcs)- when a player fails to knock down any pins with his or her three balls
*V/C - used to denote a beaver or sunshine"' when chalking, also an alternative for those names in North Somerset - said to stand for "very close"

Regional Variations



In the Midlands, specifically Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Leicestershire and East Warwickshire, nine skittles are placed on a hooded table, hence the name "Hood Skittles". The hood skittles table is leather bound, and has leather padded walls to the sides and the back, with a curved hood of leather or netting stretched up from the rear like a pram, approximately a metre over the playing surface. Behind the area where the skittles are laid out in a diamond is a lower surface or trough. The table playing surface stands about 1 metre high and the thrower about 3 metres from the front of the table when in a pub around Leicester or Rugby, or about 3.3 metres when playing in Northhamptonshire or Buckinghamshire. The player throws flattened round "cheeses" rather than balls.

The skittles are about 15 cm high, cylindrical at the bottom but widening higher up then tapering to a shallow point, which leaves them slightly top heavy. Traditionally the skittles and the cheeses are made of English hardwood. The cheeses measure about 10cm across, and 4cm high, one and a half inches high.

For each turn a player throws three cheeses at the skittles which start standing in the classic diamond pattern. If all the skittles are toppled after the first or second throws, they are reset and the player throws his remaining cheeses at the newly set skittles, adding his scores together. Theoretical a player might knock down all nine skittles with the first throw and do the same on their second throw, offering the possibility of the skittles being set up a third time for the final cheese and a maximum theoretical score of 27 points.

It is permitted for the players to bounce the cheese off the cushioned side walls and in some places bouncing the cheese off the rear wall is also permitted. In most versions, the toppled skittles are left where they lie while the player continues to throw the rest of their skittles, though in some areas in Leicestershire and Rutland players remove dead skittles before each new throw. Once the player has thrown all three cheeses his total is noted and the skittles are all set up afresh for the next player.


In the [ Tewkesbury and District Skittles League] teams consist of 10 players playing 8 hands each. The league runs from early September through to the following April. The league was formed in September 1960.

In the [ Stroud and District Skittle League] Teams are made up of 10 players (Men's Sections) each having 8 hands of 3 balls. In the Ladies Sections each team consists of 8 players each having 10 hands of 3 balls. Games are played in two equal halves. The league runs from early September through to the following May.

In the [ Cheltenham Skittles League] , skittles is played with either a team of 12 (winter skittles) or 6 (summer skittles). Each player plays 6 hands of 3 balls. However, in Gloucester, the players play 10 hands of 3 balls, and a team is made up of 10 players. Close by in Tewkesbury, the players play only 8 hands of 3 balls, in a team of 10 players

The [ Berkeley and District Skittles League] was formed in 1957 and has in excess of 100 teams playing in 7 divisions in a geographical area of around 8 miles in diameter in the southern end of the county. Teams are made up of 8 players and each player bowls 8 hands of 3 balls. The pins (skittles) used in the League vary in size, but are between 9 and 10 inches high and between 4 and 5 inches in diameter at the widest (centre) point and are either made of wood (traditionally sycamore or beech) or plastic. Balls are between 4½ to 5 inches in diameter and again are either made of wood (lignum vitae) or a composite rubber. Alleys, on which games are played, are between 30 and 55 feet in length and are generally of a wooden construction, although one alley is linoleum over a concrete base. The League runs from September through to the following April.

In the [ Cirencester & District Men's Skittle League] Teams are made up of 9 players each having 6 hands of 3 balls. The league runs from early September through to the following May


In the Hereford area, skittles is played with either a team of 12 (winter skittles) or 6 (summer skittles). In the Winter league each player plays 4 hands of 3 balls, & in the Summer League they play six hands of three balls.


In the [ Devizes Skittles League] , skittles is played with a team of 9 players. Each player plays 4 'legs' of 3 balls. The league runs from August to April.


The rules & team formats of "Somerset" skittles vary. Major skittles areas include Bridgwater, Yeovil, Taunton, Weston Super Mare, Burnham On Sea & Bristol is also included in the "Somerset" skittles "Set". Depending on where the leagues play, there may be 6 a-side (normally in summer leagues), 8 a-side (winter). There are mixed leagues (males & females in each team) and there are all male leagues & all female leagues. In 2008, the new "Huntspill & Highbridge league, possibly for the first time anywhere, started a league consisting of either all male or all female teams.

Bristol alleys have, in the past been known for their "camber". Some alleys were (and still are) raised in the middle making bowling a very accurate art.

Traditionally, Somerset skittles use wooden balls (made from apple wood or similar) and wooden pins. Times have changed and for various reasons, some alleys now use composite (rubber) balls nylon pins.

In North Somerset teams are of 12 (winter leagues) and 9 (summer leagues). Players may be organised in sets of 3 or 4 (teams of 12 only, obviously).

[ Portishead, Pill & District league]


In the [ Worcester Friendly Skittle League] boths the men's and ladies' winter leagues are made up of 12 players, 9 players in the Malvern league, playing 5 legs of 3 balls. Winter leagues and tournaments range from 6 to 12 players.


Also known as ninepins, this version uses 9 pins (made of hornbeam) and a cheese. The cheese is thrown at the pins using a swinging motion whilst stepping forwards. After an initial throw, the remaining pins (the 'broken frame') may end up in a variety of formations - each of which has a distinctive (and usually London-based) name, such as a London Bridge or a Portsmouth Road. Knocking down all the pins at once is known as a 'floorer' and is highly respected. A player who manages to throw three floorers in succession is lauded.

Whilst it was once a popular game played in pubs all over London (generally sited by the river), it is now only played at two venues: one in Hampstead and one in Norbury. The origins of this skittles game are vague, but it is thought by some to have been started by Dutch sailors, possibly playing on the decks of moored barges.


In the [ Sarnia Skittles League] The teams are made up of 6 players playing 6 legs of three balls. Currently there are 3 leagues of 9 teams and each Team plays the others 3 times during the season. Season runs from September to April.


The nine pin skittle game

It is a complicated game, more or less similar to bowling and 'petanque'. It is popular only in the South West of France. It is an indoor game which is played on a hard-packed surface.The skittles are displayed on a square court, each resting on a round piece of wood called "pitere" or "pitet", 2,20 m far from each other.A skittle measures about 96 cm and weighs 3 kg. It is made of beech.The bowl weighs about 6 kg and has a 30 cm diameter; it is made of walnut.


Front Pin First

In this variant of the game, pins are only counted if the front pin is knocked over first. If the front pin is missed, any pins that are knocked over are not reset. In Devon Summer League, this rule is played frequently. In Bristol, this is the form of the game played and "all in" skittles tends to be looked down upon as involving less skill. In Worcestershire this type of game is also known as "King Pin"


In this variant of the game, the player has to nominate the pin that will be hit first before the throw. Unless this pin is knocked over the player will not score. The names given to the pins may vary from region to region, in Wiltshire they are usually referred to as Front Pin, Front Right Quarter, Front Left Quarter, Outside Right (or Right Winger), Centre Pin, Outside Left (or Left Winger), Back Right Quarter, Back Left Quarter and Back Pin.

Four Pin

In this variant of the game, only four pins (the two coppers, the front and back pins) are put up and must be hit with the front pin first. It is often used in conjunction with nomination as well. Currently used in North Somerset Cup games.

London Bridge

A variant of nomination but with only the landlord and two coppers set up, i.e. one has to hit a pin with each ball and nominate which one each time.


A game for any number of people. Each starts with 3 lives. Each bowls only one ball at a time. The first bowls at a full frame and the skittles are not stuck up until all nine are hit down. Each time a player fails to hit a single pin (but they can hit as many as they like), he or she loses a life. The winner is the last one left with a life intact. Usually played for money, e.g. £1 or 50p a game each player - the winner takes the pot.

6-ball Westbury

Another game for any number of people. Each player has "one" hand of 6 balls at a full frame. If all nine pins are knocked down within the hand then they are reset, meaning that a player may score anywhere between 0 and 54. The winner is the player with the highest score. Similar to Killer in that it is usually played for money with the winner taking the pot.

Table skittles

Table-top versions of the game also exist. These include:
* Hood skittles: a miniaturized version in which the pins are on a special table which is closed on three sides with a leather hood; a 'cheese' is thrown at the pins underarm
* Devil among the tailors: another miniaturized version, in which a small ball is attached by a chain or string to a vertical pole, allowing it to be swung through the air in an arc to strike the pins.


A version of Skittles in which all the pins are numbered. Players take turn in throwing the baton at the pins with a view to totalling exactly 50 points. If more than one pin is knocked over, the score received is that quantity of pins. But if only one pin is knocked over, the value on it is scored. If a player exceeds 50, their total reduces to 25. Pins are then placed upright where they stand, thus scattering. Scattles is made by Jaques of London and reminiscent of the older Cornish game, Smite, itself based on the Finnish game Mölkky.

External links

* [ Fédération Internationale des Quilleurs (International Bowling Association)/ FIQ]
* [ DKB: Deutscher Kegler- und Bowlingbund e.V. (German Kegel (9-pin bowling) and Bowling association, German language only)]
* [ Stroud and District Skittle League]
* [ Skittles - History and Useful Information]
* [ Skittles and traditional board game information]
* [ French nine pin skittles game]
* [ Science of skittles]
* [ Berkeley and District Skittles League]
* [ Cheltenham Skittles League]
* [ Totnes Skittles League]
* [ Worcester Friendly Skittle League]
* [ Cirencester & District Men's Skittle League]
* [ Sarnia Skittles League of Guernsey]
* [ Lungy's Legends of Guernsey]
* [ London Skittles]

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