House Patterns

What’s up with THS? Is it too easy?

Well, yes and no…

Before this sounds like I am waffling, let me explain.

There are many types of house shots out there, but they usually have some predominant characteristics to help the average bowler score better.  First of those characteristics is a crowned oil pattern, meaning higher volume of oil towards the center of the lane and less towards the outside.  This could be a Top Hat pattern or a Christmas tree pattern.


House Patterns
Top Hat ---------------------------------- House Patterns ------------------------- Christmas Tree

Why are house shots easy?

The key is the pronounced crown effect. Even if a challenge or sport shot looks the same as the pictures above, the difference is in the relative volume of oil from left to right. While house shots can be as much as 10:1, more challenging shots will have much more even oil spread left to right across the lane. Take the Top Hat for example. It could be 10 units of oil in the middle of the lane to every 1 unit of oil on the outside 10-7 boards on either side. The Christmas Tree pattern may still be 10:1, but it would compare the heaviest section in the middle to the lightest section outside. The difference between the 2 patterns is the tapering of less and/or shorter oil towards the outside for the Christmas tree, rather than a cliff for the top hat pattern. A challenge or sport shot may get down to 3:1 or even 1:1 for the toughest patterns available.

What does this “crowned” effect mean?

Well it’s rather simple really. The pattern is created to funnel the ball to the pocket by manipulating the amounts of friction. Throw the ball near the gutter with any modicum of side rotation and the friction will quickly steer the ball left (for righties). Throw it down the middle of the lane and the ball will float for a very long time, allowing it the ball to get to the 1-3 pocket. In various tests I’ve performed with Digitrax CATS system, I’ve been easily able to demonstrate up to a 10 board span where the ball will still get to the pocket. That is a whopping 1/4 of the lane. Think about it. Throw the ball anywhere between the 3rd and 1st arrow and the ball will be in the pocket.

So I should be scoring big time!

Well, notice I didn’t say strike. Yes you can get to the pocket with relative ease on a typical house shot, but you will not necessarily strike. Carry is the ultimate end-game when getting to the pocket is easy. I will see a bowler throw the ball up 10 and hit 7 at the breakpoint and strike. Then their next ball, they hit 15 to 5 and they leave a ringing 10 pin. The ball after that, they hit 15 to 11 and leave a flat 10 pin. They grow very frustrated, wondering why they just threw 3 “perfect” pocket shots yet only carried one. That’s the trick. The house shot will guide many balls to the pocket that would have never made it there on a more competitive shot. However, it will not give you freebies for carry. OK, it does a lot, but don’t be fooled. Be true to yourself when assessing your shot and you will understand why you didn’t carry all ten pins.
There is a reason why starting to target the 2nd arrow is commonly recommended when you are first trying to read house patterns. That is almost always where the shot will play best, give or take depending on what type of bowler you are. That’s right in the heart of the “track area”, where most bowlers play. It’s also where the pattern tends to change from higher to lower volumes of oil, allowing you to be close to the friction line, driving your ball to the pocket.

Why are house shots difficult?

Carry, carry, carry. The trick is to really find the best line to the pocket that will carry. I’ve had many nights where I will leave corner pin after corner pin. Depending on the type of corner you leave, e.g., flat or ringer, you should then find the correct adjustment. Ultimately, this is the difference between a 200 or 210 bowler and a 220 or 230+ bowler. The 200 bowler will score 650 on good nights and struggle with carry on other nights and not be able to find the line that will carry. They may not even understand what adjustment to make to carry better. The higher average bowlers may score 650 on nights when they “struggle” with carry and huge 700s when they are carrying. They make quick adjustments based on knowledge.

Who benefits from house shots?

Well, in truth almost all bowlers will score better on house shots than challenge shots. Even when there are carry issues, bad shots leave you single pin spares rather than splits. So you pay less of a penalty for an errant shot on THS. However, some patterns will suit different bowlers.

What about the Top Hat?

In my opinion, top hat patterns benefit strokers and crankers the most while tweeners, less so. Let me explain. I’ve grown to despise the top hat pattern, personally. You could guess that I’m a tweener. There are more complex definitions but I will keep it simple for this article. Generally, stroker will have to lowest rev rate, 300 or less. tweeners/power strokers will tend to be between 300 and 450 while crankers will be 450 and up.
When a stroker throws the ball on the outside 10 boards of this pattern, the lower rev rate allows the ball to react slowly and more smoothly off the dry boards, feeding the ball to the pocket. When they target inside 10 at the arrows and breakpoint, the heavier volume of oil holds the ball online with little to no reaction, again keeping it in the 1-2 pocket. Crankers can get deep into the oil. Their rev rate allows them to play in oil as they will be able to create the necessary friction to get the ball to drive back to the pocket. If they happen to miss into the outside dry boards, the ball will almost always make it back to the pocket with usually a very high entry angle. Then you have the tweener. The tweener has too high a rev rate to play in the dry outside boards of a top hat, yet doesn’t have the high rev rate where they can play in the deep blue and get it back to the pocket.

I’ll take myself as an example. I have struggled to be around 220 on a top hat pattern for the reasons I mentioned above. And as a lefty, the pattern will not break down as quickly as it would for righties. So the margin for error has actually shrunk from that of a typical house shot. At the breakpoint, I can not get outside 7 or inside 10. Obviously that is wider than a sport shot, but not as wide as it is on the same pattern for other bowler types.

OK, so enough of the complaining from me… 🙂

How about the Christmas Tree?

This is where I can have some fun. The shot is still tapered, but without the extreme cliff that you see at the 10 board on the Top Hat, I have multiple angles of attack. I get a softer reaction when the ball goes out to 5 at the breakpoint, allowing me to get to the pocket rather than going through the nose. This is where a stroker will have to be more accurate as they will not get as much friction help from the outside part of the lane. When comparing my scoring as a tweener to the Top Hat pattern, I am a good 10 pins higher on the Christmas Tree pattern while some strokers actually have a lower average. The flatter the pattern, the less help you get from friction on the outside.

So is the typical house pattern easy?

OK…yes. It absolutely helps most bowlers get a funneling effect to the pocket. The more times you are in the pocket, the less complex spare leaves you have. However, lower and higher rev rate bowlers will be able to score higher on top hat, while tweeners and crankers will be able to score higher on christmas tree. The flatter the pattern, the more higher rev rates will help. I’m not saying that strokers can not score well on competitive patterns, but they will have to rely on accuracy more than power. I am not out here to push you to become the next Robert Smith (in fact, I’d personally prefer Norm Duke’s game), but rather trying to explain what’s happening out there on the patterns. Hopefully, this will help you understand a little more about reading lane patterns. Perhaps, even allow you to “whinge” a little when you suffer from carry issues.

3 thoughts on “What’s up with THS? Is it too easy?”

  1. Ok nice comments on house shots. I’m having some issues lately on my house shot. I was averaging 229 for the first 6 weeks. I came in and knew what / where to stand and start throwing. (No 1st, 2nd, 3rd arrow searching). Now lately that average has dropped to 215 because I’m having trouble even hitting 600. my fundamentals are still good and i’m not going to get pulled into ‘what am i doing wrong and mess up my consistency and accuracy or change my game. My opinion is the lane maintenance has changed for the summer season. Maybe they are just applying a pattern over the old pattern without buffing or just putting up a head shot and saving oil and stripper. Anyway, i need to find a good fresh pattern and make sure i’m still able to string the strikes i was consistently doing since January. I just started back bowling in January after being off for 10 years – many reasons.

    Anyway, I come to this site with the hope of updating my arsenal. I believe i really need 6 balls to deal with anything thrown at me – 2 strong balls, 2 weak balls and 2 medium balls. I may even get the same ball for each category and drill them differently (strong vs. weak drilling). Does this make sense? Drill up a skid/flip and heavy rolling ball in each category using the same brand/ball?

    I would like some opinions and i will list below my bowling history and type.

    thanks all,


    Game- 300 (4)
    Series- 1046 (4 game)
    THS Current Average- 215
    PBA Average- 188

    Balls in Use:
    1980’s Trak Blue Urethane/Plastic 15 lb. high polish.
    1980’s Track 10 Urethane 16 lb. – dull factory finish
    1990’s Pinkish Quantum Reactive 16 lb. – super high polish

    1. Hi RayRay. Thanks for your message. You sound like you’re comfortable with your game so we don’t need to discuss that. I think getting a new arsenal is certainly a step in the right direction.
      You could look at creating an arsenal in many different ways.
      For example, you could get 2 balls in each “level”, meaning aggressive, medium, and low end/light oil. You could stay towards the center of that spectrum and fooling around with different layouts. You could stack 6 balls drilled based on pattern length and then adjusting surface to accommodate volumes/lengths. There is no right or wrong per se but more what you are comfortable with. The key is to understand what you/your ball driller will do so you know how to use the arsenal. Then of course you need to know how to read the lanes. That’s trickier and we all get fooled at times by what we’re seeing.
      You could do what you suggested, not an issue. Sticking with one brand can be easier because the manufacturer tends to build their lineups with some sense of logical order.

      Best thing to do is work with an experienced ball driller, understand what you will likely be bowling on and the typical conditions you face. You may not need 6 balls if you will not be competing in tournaments. For many house shots, 3 balls plus a spare ball would do. If you are really able to read the lanes and how the ball is reading the pattern, and you are chasing one carry for 230 vs 215, then perhaps more balls can help but be sure this is your Modus Operandi. Meaning, make sure you know which tools you want to use in your toolbox. Some people like ball changes as option A, some use hand position changes, some loft, etc.
      Good Luck!

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