Sunday, September 16, 2007

So - what's a handicap?

Almost as soon as you get close to a league that's about to get started bowling, you'll overhear the word "handicap."

Other sports like golf also have handicaps.

In bowling, it's a way of fudging the scores to put everyone on (nearly) the same playing field so that a team made completely up bowlers with higher averages than most of the people in the league can't overwhelm the competition and win most of the prize money. So in "handicap" leagues (as opposed to "scratch" leagues), everyone's score is adjusted upwards a certain amount based upon your average.

Three numbers go into the calculation: your average, an upper limit set by the league, and a percentage that determines how "flat" the playing field is intended to be.

The upper limit usually corresponds to some average that no one in the league is expected to exceed (although it does happen). Something around 200 is common. (If someone's average does reach above the limit then their handicap defaults to zero.)

The percentage is also set by the league. If it's set to 100% then everyone - no matter what their average is - is basically playing against their average. If the team's total points are X above their combined averages, then X has to be higher than how well the other team did collectively. This is even more important in "match" style leagues (see the posting on point systems), since there each player is also competing against a single play on the other team TOO!

So, if your average is 120, and the league gap is 200 with 100% handicap, then your handicap is 200 - 120 (x 100%) = 80. Someone else with a 180 average would be 200 - 180 (x 100%) = 20. That means for every game, 80 is added to your score, and 20 for the guy/gal with the 180 average.

So then why would any league want to set the percentage to less than 100%? Well, while the complete handicap makes things average neutral, since there's a limit to how much your score can go up at any point in the game given whatever circumstances exist, it is much easier for a low-average bowling in a 100% handicap league to pull ahead of a high-average bowler, since there are far fewer opportunities to get more pins.

Say for example we have two people, one with a 120 average, and the other with a 180 average. A person can bowl 120 with just a few marks in a game:

8- [ 8] 7/ [ 24] 62 [ 32] 9- [ 41] 8/ [ 60] 9- [ 69] X [ 87] 53 [ 95] 8/ [112] 71 [120]

in this case, one strike and 3 spares. So there are six frames where opens, were they converted to spares would give 0-10 pins extra, but mostly in the 6-10 count range. If you work things out, basically it ends up that for each extra mark, you gain 10 pins (for spares). So, to have a "really good game" 20-30 pins over average (or more!), you just need to go from three marks to five and STILL have four open frames in a game!

The 180 bowler has it harder. To get 180, you basically can only afford two - MAYBE three opens in a whole game.
But the "ten pins per converted open" still applies. With eight marks - there isn't much room to get those 20-30 pins, unless spares start to become consecutive strikes (which both increase the score and forgive remaining open frames) and that means cutting down the number of balls thrown (i.e., opportunities for good shots --- even 180 bowlers have issues they're working on!).

So let's say that the 120-bowler has a good game and scores 150. Your handicap (from above) is 80, so you've shot a 230 game. The 180 guy also had a good game - 208! His handicap is only 20, so that's 228. He just LOST by 2 pins despite beating you by 58 scratch!

In a 90% handicap league, you still end up with a much higher handicap: 200 - 120 (x 90%) = 80 x 90% = 72 (fractions are truncated). For the 180 bowler: 20 x 90% = 18. Now your score is 150 + 72 = 222, and his is 208 + 18 = 226 and now he's won by 4 pins.

If most of the people in a league are beginners or low-experience bowlers, then 100% handicaps are easier to use, and don't have much of a effect against the higher-average bowlers (also adjusting the cap can loosen or tighten things). For a wide variety of bowlers in a league, I'd suggest a 90% handicap - it doesn't overly hurt the low-average bowlers because over time they tend to advance in average more quickly (look how many first-year bowlers win "Most Improved Average" awards!) and start to "catch up" to their more-seasoned competitors or team mates.

No comments: