I run a Kegel league and on the tough, torturous conditions, spares win games. You basically need to keep the ball in play and make spares. I'm also an assistant coach of an NCAA college team, Sacred Heart University. We constantly work on each player's spare game because making the nationals is all about closing boxes on challenging lane conditions. Those of you who have made it to the national tournament also know how common it is to miss easy make-able spares.
It seems that most people now-a-days hook at everything except a 10 pin. If you can't predict when, where and how much a ball is going to hook, you shouldn't use your strike ball to make spares. Lots of us gamble at making spares with this method submitting to the trend of making most spares today and missing a few too many tomorrow. It should never be a bad day to make spares.
Truth be told, there's little art to spare shooting; it's mostly science. The old 3-6-9 revisited. Most of us have heard of this system but do we truly commit to this tried and true method, to convert 90% or more of our spares?
I use plastic for close to every spare I shoot at. If you don't own one, I would strongly consider this golf equivalent of the putter. It's low friction and ultra weak core allows this system to work on virtually every lane condition. Those who feel that lugging an extra ball around is a waste of a spot in a bowling bag, will probably find their average a tad lower at the end of the year.
Most people need to mellow out on the second shots. Lane conditions have bowlers so torqued up on speed, turn and hit for their first ball that accuracy has long been traded off for power. Spare shooting is based on accuracy so being relaxed and releasing the ball smoothly with forward roll is essential. We also need the ball to rotate from front to back like a basketball rolling down the court. Side spin makes the ball change direction so we want none of that. Speed isn't a premium either. Balance, letting the ball roll of your hand and accurately hitting the target; that's the proper technique.
Now that you have the right flavor for releasing the ball with the most accuracy, now it's time for alignment. If you stand lets say 35 and hit the 20 board for a 10 pin, the first thing we need to know is if your ball hits the belly of the 10 pin or covers the 6-10 pocket. This is key to having the highest margin of error. To have an accurate spare chart, we need to know where the ball ends up down in the pin deck. If you left a 5 pin, you would want to hit the center of the pin, wouldn't you? Of course. If you left a 3-6, you would want the ball to be in the 3-6 pocket. So every spare is either into the belly of a pin or flush in a pocket.
If you hit the belly of the 10 pin for your spare, we need to add some boards so that the ball hits the nearest pocket. There are 6 pockets to shoot for listed below. You need to add 1.5 boards to move your ball from the belly of the 10 pin to the 6-10 pocket. Then each additional pocket is 3 boards to the right with your feet.
The chart below will give you the math for the system. 1 target/6 standing spots. This is easy stuff.
Basic Spare Chart:
Spare Stand Look Feet
10 35 20
6-10 33.5 20 1.5R
3-6 30.5 20 4.5R
1-3 27.5 20 7.5R
1-2 24.5 20 10.5R
2-4 21.5 20 13.5R
4-7 18.5 20 16.5R
7 17 20 18R
You can create a second path for the 7 pin and move 3 boards left for each pin or pocket but I basically use one target and rotate my feet about it. 18 boards from 10 to 7 pin. So I would stand between 17 and 35 for every possible spare I could leave.
So to sum up, spares are about relaxing your physical game. Speed, revs, finger pressure, axis rotation and lift aren't what's necessary here. Think about taking 20% of your power off your first ball and funneling it into hitting your target. If you don't use a plastic ball for your spares, I would suggest you buy one; and with practice, anyone can have a great deal of confidence in closing boxes. Spare shooting is mostly science.