The general strategy for bowling centers around trying to get spares, though a strike is the ultimate goal, of course. This is because the score of the shot after a spare counts for double. To get spares, players try to knock down as many pins as possible on their first shot. On the second shot, they strategically aim for the remaining pins.
The strategy differs for left-handed and right-handed players. Right-handed players bowl from a few steps to their right and throw the ball across the lane from right to left. The ball should first make contact between the one and three pins, and knock down the majority of pins behind them too. Left-handed players do the opposite. They stand slightly to the left and try to hit the ball between the one and two pins.
On the second shot, the strategy is dependent on which pins are left up. If there is not a split, the strategy is similar to the first shot. Players take a few steps to their dominant side and try to hit all the pins with the ball. An example of a second shot where there is not a split is if the two, four, five, seven, and eight pins are left remaining (shown below). The bowler would stand far to the right side of the lane and shoot from right to left, hitting the pins between the two and five pin. Note that the point of contact is similar to a right-handed player's first shot, which hits between the one and three pins.
Possible splits are splits where there is a strategy which, if executed correctly, will result in knocking down all the remaining pins. An example of this is a one-seven split, which is when only the one pin and the seven pin are remaining. In this example, a player would move to the far right, and throw the ball through the first pin, trying to hit both pins with the ball (shown below).
There are also more difficult possible splits. With these splits, the bowler must hit one pin into the other pin. For example, consider a six, seven split. The bowler must stand all the way to the right, and hit the right side of the six pin. Hopefully, they will hit the pin at the right angle to launch it towards the seven pin.
Impossible splits are splits in which the remaining pins are in a horizontal line. An example of this is if the seven and nine pins are remaining. While it is not impossible to hit all the remaining pins, there is no specific strategy for these splits because it takes a lucky bounce to hit the shot. An example of a lucky bounce would be if one of the pins ricocheted off of the back wall and hit the other pin. These type of bounces are extremely unlikely, thus leading to the name impossible splits.
When there is one pin remaining, players shift to wherever the pin is. They aim across the lane with their shot. For example, imagine only the 10th pin remains. The bowler would move all the way to the left side of the lane, and shoot from left to right.
In league games, oil is placed on the bowling lane. When the ball passes through the end of the oil, it will hook more extremely. Professional bowlers are able to observe the effects of the oil throughout the match and adjust accordingly.
Candlepin bowling, popular in the Northeast of the USA, uses smaller bowling balls. However, each bowler shoots three balls per frame rather than two. Because the balls are smaller, it takes more throws to knock down the ten pins. As a result, bowlers focus less on going for spares and instead try to knock down all ten pins in their three shots. The mechanical strategies stay the same.
In team bowling, players have to keep track of not only their scores, but the whole team's score. Knowing the score influences how conservative or aggressive a bowler is. For example, if a bowler knows they need two points to tie the game, they may take a riskier shot. This may mean going for both pins in a six-seven split, rather than just aiming for one, which may be easier. Going for both pins is risky, because the extreme precision required may result in missing both of them.