Bowlers are entered into a random drawing by computer. They are then drawn against another player for each game of the competition. The bowlers can be given a handicap to make it a fair bet, or the brackets can be based on scratch play with no handicap involved. Essentially, brackets are a type of "pot game" in which bowlers can compete directly against other bowlers during league or tournament play.

The winner of the heads-up match moves on to the second round in the bracket competition with all of the other winners from the first game. The loser is then eliminated in that bracket.

This elimination process happens after each game, and the winners of the third game win the payout for the bracket if the competition is based on three games of bowling. A common 3-game league would consist of 8 bowlers per bracket. There are bracket formats allowing for two games of competition and others for a greater number of games in the competition.

Starting with 8 bowlers after game 1 there are now 4 bowlers left. The bracket tree causes the 4 bowlers to be paired into 2 groups of 2 bowlers. After the 2nd game, the bowler with the higher score in their bracket pairing would move on to the final bracket level. Now there are 2 bowlers, and they bowl against each other. The bowler with the highest 3rd game would get the winner's share of the money, and the other bowler would get the Runner-up share of the money. It is possible to enter into multiple brackets, thereby increasing the chances of winning money.

An example of a standard bracket payout formula is based on a typical 3-game league bracket, which would cost each bowler $5.00; 8 bowlers times $5.00 is a total prize fund of $40.00. There is usually a $5.00 administrative charge (this is the money paid to the person running the brackets). That leaves $35.00 in the prize fund. This money is usually a split of $25.00 for the winner share and $ 10.00 (money back) for the runner-up share.