There are several variations on the standard game played in league
competitions. These are played for fun or, more often, for a small
bet, either in practice, on non-match days, or after games between
Marking or scoring of
these various games can be done either on the blackboard, or on the
skittles boards themselves, and is often done by players who are waiting
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This is the same as the game played in normal league matches, but is
only played between two individuals, or two pairs, and usually consists
of a one-off game of 91 down. Sometimes a ‘best of three’ will be
played, but usually pressure on the board (other players wanting to
play) keeps the games short. In these games, everyone always has
level throws. In the event of a tie,
players throw ‘three balls’ each (ie as in the normal visit to the
board). This is commonly known as a ‘three-baller’. The
highest score with those three balls wins, and in the event of a further
tie, three more balls are thrown each until a winner is found.
Sometimes, players may decide to throw more of the bet in, and play a
second 91 down instead; this is effectively ‘double or quits’.
This is usually played for small bets, perhaps 20p or 50p, but can rise
higher if serious players are playing and a lot of beer has been
Killer is a simple game for as many players as want to play. Each
player’s name is written on the board, one beneath the other, either in
alphabetical order, by age (‘oldabetical’), randomly, or by writing
names on a bit of paper or on beer mats and drawing them out.
Each player is given three 'lives', written as in roman numerals by
three vertical lines, and then each player takes it in turn to visit the
board and throw three balls.
The object of the game is to score more than the player who comes before
you, so if the first player scores nine, the second has to get a spare
and score at least ten to avoid losing a life. It is in his
interests to score as many as he can to increase the chances of taking a
life off the next player.
When the last player listed has played, the first player plays again,
following that score, and so on. Scoring less than the previous
score loses a life, and one of the three lives is crossed off.
When all three lives are lost, the player is out, and the person who was
following him now follows the preceding player. This continues
until there is only one player left.
Usually, but not universally in all pubs, the player who goes first has
to get a spare to save a life on the first throw of the game, since they
do not have anyone else to follow until their second time around and
would otherwise gain an advantage. Teams or pubs who do not expect
a good player generally to get a spare do not play this rule and often
do not ‘give the odd one’
This simply involves the players involved all throwing three balls – the
highest score wins and takes the money. If two players tie, then
they and only they throw again – ie play off against each other – to see
Named after one of the pubs in the league, this has players’ names
written on the board as with Killer, but without lives. The order
of play is irrelevant here because the aim is simply to have the highest
score of everyone who plays. Everyone throws three balls and the
highest score wins. The nice twist here is that if there is a tie,
everyone is 'back in' (‘all back in’ is the shout) – the game begins at
zero for all. If this is being played for a bet, this normally
reduces for the second round and all subsequent rounds, so if everyone
put 20p in the first time, after a tie, it would be 10p and continue to
be 10p for every tied round until a winner was found. A new game
would then start at 20p again.
Fives and Threes
Fives and Threes is much simpler to play than it is to explain.
It begins with the names of the players written on the board as above,
and with each player taking it in turns to have three throws as usual.
What is different is that the only way to score is to finish with a
score which is a combination of five or three. All three balls
must be used and a miss voids the throw altogether – every ball must hit
at least one pin to count.
A final score of three would thus involve hitting one pin only with each
of the three balls. A score of nine could start with any number
from one up to seven, as long as something is scored with each ball
thrown. The score is then divided by 5 and 3 to see how it scores,
with each division gaining a mark or ‘hole’.
A final score of three scores one mark (1x3); five scores one mark
(1x5); six scores two marks (2x3); nine scores three marks (3x3); ten
scores two marks (2x5); twelve scores four marks (3x4); fifteen scores
eight marks (5x3 + 3x5); eighteen scores six marks (3x6); twenty scores
four marks (4x5); twenty one scores seven marks (3x7); twenty four
scores eight marks (8x3); twenty five scores five marks (5x5); and
twenty seven scores nine marks (9x3).
This game is unusual in several respects, then. First, because it
is not the highest score that is the best; and secondly because all
balls must count. A player who gets 15 in his first two balls must
score three more with his last ball to get a score – albeit a worse one
than if he had got fifteen with all three balls!
This game scores more slowly than traditional games, and therefore
starts at 21-down. But as usual, the exact score must be reached
at the end, so a player who has scored thirteen so far is in a better
position than a player who has scored fourteen, because he only needs
fifteen (gaining 8 holes, and reaching 21) to get out, whereas the
player on fourteen needs twenty-one (gaining 7 holes and reaching 21).
As with all these variations, level throws applies.
If two players get out at the same time, they and they alone play off,
seeing who can score the most – on fives and threes scoring – from three
One At A Time
A kind of solitaire of skittles, this is really for individual practice.
A player simply attempts to knock all nine skittles down, one at a time,
with no misses. It’s not half as easy as it sounds.
This can be played as a competition. Players start at 21-down, as
with fives and threes, and see how many they can score going one at a
time. A player continues throwing, even past nine (setting them
all up again) until he misses or knocks more than one pin over, when it
becomes the next players turn. Level
This is a game of variations.
All the players’ names are written on the board, having been chosen at
random, and lines are drawn down the board to indicate which game is to
be played each time, with one game chosen by each player, in turn, thus:
||3 X 3
||8 one ball
||One at a time
In this example, AD chose Game 1, MP Game 2 and so on.
The games chosen by each player can be almost anything; either something
they think they excel at, or something they think will test everyone: it
might be ‘8 one ball’ – meaning that you have just one throw and you
have to get 8 pins with it. It might be ‘any spare’ – getting nine
with two balls. It might be ‘3x3’ – meaning that the player has to
get three with the first ball, three with the second and three with the
third. It might be getting 5 with 2 balls, or 3x1, or a twelve
spare, or 14, or ‘one and one’ as above, or a spare with your left hand
(right hand for left-handers, obviously!), or any variation of up to
three balls that the player decides.
This is scored in an ingenious way. Every player starts with two
hundred points, and their score is ‘halved’ every time the player fails
to get the required score – which is common, given the obscure and
bizarre range of choices available, and the aim of the game, which is
On the board above, therefore, if AD failed to get the Game 1 score, 100
would be written next to his name, under that title. His next
score for failure would be 50, then 25, then 13 (scores are rounded-up),
If a player gets the score required in the game, 10 is added to his
score. So if MP, in the board above, got Game 1’s score, 210 would
be written next to his name.
This scoring is ingenious, because it seems now as if MP, on 210, is so
far ahead of AD on 100, that he must win. But consider the case if
AD gets Game 2 and MP doesn’t. AD adds 10 to 100, totalling 110.
MP halves 210, leaving 105. AD is back in the lead!
As an incentive, the 10 awarded to anyone getting the Game score is
doubled to 20 if the Game was suggested by that person themselves - if
it is their ‘own’ game. This ‘Brucie Bonus’ makes choosing
something you can do and others can’t, a definite recipe for success.
It also helps to have your favoured games come near the end, as the
scoring changes winning and losing positions with remarkable ease, so it
is essential that the playing order is decided by chance (as detailed
The most recently introduced of all these games, this involves taking a
pack of cards, shuffling them, and placing them face down on the table.
The players’ names are written in any order on the board with three
lives next to each name. The first player turns over the first
card and has to get the score given on the card. He must get the
score exactly, with no misses, using all three balls, to save a life.
The only exceptions are for an ace, where the player has a choice of
getting one pin with one ball, or eleven with all three (handy if you
bust the first throw), and two, where he must get two pins with two
balls. A jack counts as eleven, a queen twelve and a king
thirteen. When the pack is exhausted, begin again. The last
player with a life is the winner.
If a player or a team is playing a game in which the participants have
level throws, they are entitled to make as many visits to the table as
their opponent(s) in that game.
Skittles etiquette rules that if someone else marks (scores) the game
for the pair or pairs that are playing, they get to play the winners,
with the losers having the option of marking the next game themselves,
unless others have been waiting to mark.
Scoring on the board (holes)
Most skittles tables have a scoring board attached to end of them,
rather like a cribbage board, which consists of four rows (one up and
one back for each player) of either 45 or thirty holes. These
holes are filled in with little metal pegs or matchsticks, as a way of
counting the scores. An extra one hole is at the end of each pair
of rows to mark the odd pin which all games have (21 down, 31 down, 91
Giving/taking the odd one
Often in friendly competition, players will ‘give the odd one’ –
meaning, when a player has eight one ball (knocks down eight skittles
with one ball) or eight from two balls, the last one is given, and
doesn’t have to be played for, yet is counted on the scoreboard.
This is given because it is expected that a good player will always be
able to get the odd one; but the rule has given rise to furious debate
within the Mendip league, with two different traditions of the rules
existing. One version suggests that the player can ‘take’ (ie
accept being awarded the point despite not having thrown) the odd one or
not, as he chooses. So if getting eight after two throws would
leave a nice out – say five, rather than the four which nine would
leave, he is entitled not to take it and choose to throw the last ball
away. The other tradition says that you must take it, even if
scoring nine is worse for you, because you have been ‘given’ it all
night. When players from different pubs and different traditions
play each other in friendly games, this can result in some argument,
which no-one has yet found a way of resolving!