What is the 'The Burn' in bowling and how to play it

Cracking the Code of "The Burn" in Bowling: Strategies, Skills, and Equipment

By Dylan Byars

6 min read

Bowling is as much a mental game as it is physical, requiring players to adapt to ever-changing lane conditions. One such challenge that bowlers encounter is "the burn" – a term that signifies the alteration in lane conditions as oil patterns break down over the course of a game or a series of games. In this comprehensive guide, we delve into the nuances of "the burn," exploring its implications, strategies for navigating it, and the technical skills and equipment choices essential for success.

Understanding "The Burn":

"The burn" refers to the transformation of the oil pattern on the bowling lane due to repeated ball rolls. Initially, lanes are dressed with a specific oil pattern to regulate ball motion and provide consistent playing conditions. However, as bowlers deliver shots, the friction generated between the ball and the lane gradually alters the distribution of oil. This breakdown affects the ball's trajectory, hook potential, and overall reaction, challenging bowlers to adapt their approach accordingly.

Strategies for Playing "The Burn":

Adjusting Line and Target: As the oil pattern dissipates, bowlers must modify their line and target to compensate for the changing lane conditions. This often entails moving towards the center of the lane or shifting left (for right-handed bowlers) to find fresh oil and avoid the heavily worn "burn" area. Additionally, adjusting the target towards the outside boards helps combat the increased friction and maintain pocket entry.

Altering Ball Speed and Axis Rotation: Adjusting ball speed and axis rotation is crucial in managing "the burn." Increasing ball speed helps mitigate friction on the dry part of the lane, allowing the ball to skid further. Additionally, enhancing axis rotation creates more length and skid, providing energy for a stronger backend reaction. This is especially important when playing deep on the lane (left for right-handers), requiring a ball capable of navigating the front part of the lane while retaining enough energy to make it back to the pocket with the optimal angle for striking. Mastering these adjustments optimizes ball motion and increases success in challenging lane conditions.

Choosing the Right Equipment: Equipment selection plays a pivotal role in combating "the burn." Bowlers often opt for balls with lower differential cores and pearl coverstocks, designed to control backend motion and provide a more predictable reaction on burnt lanes. Additionally, selecting balls with higher grit surfaces decreases traction on dry surfaces, helping the ball maintain its path through the front and middle parts of the lane.

Mastering Spare Shooting: As "the burn" intensifies, spare shooting becomes increasingly critical. Precision and accuracy are paramount when picking up spares on challenging lane conditions. Bowlers must hone their spare shooting skills to minimize errors and maximize scoring opportunities, particularly in high-pressure situations.

Technical Skills for Success:

Release Consistency: Achieving a consistent release is essential for navigating "the burn" effectively. Bowlers must focus on maintaining a stable wrist position, controlling axis rotation, and imparting the desired rev rate to the ball. Consistency in release minimizes variability in ball reaction, allowing bowlers to make precise adjustments as lane conditions evolve.

Ball Motion Reading: Developing the ability to read ball motion and lane transitions is a fundamental skill for success in bowling. By observing the ball's reaction to the lane conditions, bowlers can decipher subtle changes in oil patterns and anticipate upcoming transitions. This keen awareness empowers bowlers to make timely adjustments and stay ahead of "the burn."

Adaptability: Adaptability is the hallmark of a skilled bowler. In the face of challenging lane conditions, bowlers must remain flexible in their approach, willing to experiment with different lines, speeds, and equipment choices. By embracing versatility, bowlers can navigate "the burn" with confidence and maintain a competitive edge on the lanes.

Equipment Selection for "The Burn":

Low Differential Cores: Balls with low differential cores offer stability and predictability on burnt lanes. These cores minimize overreaction and provide a smoother, more controlled backend motion, ideal for navigating challenging lane conditions.

Pearl Coverstocks: Pearl coverstocks are preferred for combating "the burn" as they promote skid and conserve ball energy, allowing the ball to retain its momentum through the transition. These coverstocks feature a glossy finish that reduces friction with the lane surface, enabling the ball to glide smoothly and maintain a consistent trajectory. By harnessing the inherent skid provided by pearl coverstocks, bowlers can navigate dry conditions more effectively and achieve greater backend reaction.

Higher Grit Surfaces: On burnt lanes, where friction is abundant, higher grit surfaces, such as 2000 or 4000 grit, are preferred when paired with pearl coverstocks. The finer surface texture reduces friction with the lane, promoting increased skid and length down the lane. By minimizing surface friction, the ball can conserve energy and maintain its momentum, optimizing performance in challenging lane conditions. This combination allows for a smoother transition and enhanced backend reaction, providing bowlers with greater control and consistency on the lanes.

High RG Bowling Balls: Opting for high RG bowling balls is advantageous when facing "the burn." High RG balls "spin" up later, allowing the ball to stay on line longer before hooking. This delay in hooking helps the ball retain energy and maintain its path through the transition, providing bowlers with more control and predictability on the lanes. High RG balls complement pearl coverstocks and higher grit surfaces, enhancing overall performance in challenging lane conditions.


By selecting the right combination of coverstocks, cores, and, surfaces, bowlers can effectively combat "the burn" and optimize their performance on the lanes. These equipment choices provide the necessary tools to navigate dry conditions with confidence and achieve consistent results in challenging bowling environments.