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Cornhole FAQ

Below are some answers to commonly asked questions about the game of cornhole, it's history, rules, techniques, and so on.

Is there a correct style of throwing?

The jury is still out on the ideal toss. A lot of great players have unique styles. Some styles seem to be better suited for certain equipment and conditions. However, with only rare exceptions the best players use a variation of a spinning flat or pancake style throw. When the bags fly flat and land flat they hug the board more consistently, slide true, and hole-in more frequently under the widest variety of conditions. But how each player steps, releases the bag, and gets the bag flying flat is different from player to player, even among the pros. Very rarely does a top player actually throw the bag like a Frisbee, throwing hand crossing the body. Instead they swing their arm like a pendulum directed towards the hole, similar to bowling with or without a step, and they add spin to the bag and flatten it out with a flick of the wrist or a turning over of the hand upon release. There seem to be limitless different and creative methods to achieve this.

Whatís the official length of a cornhole court, from board to board?

The official rules state that the boards should be 27 feet apart (front to front) for regulation play. This has become accepted as the standard distance for competitive play.

Any distance is fine for casual or recreational play which is sometimes played from 24, 21, 20 feet or whatever there's room for. Allowing some players to throw from closer is a great way to equalize play for younger, less-skilled, or wheelchair-confined players.

Where and when did cornhole originate?

The most reliable sources seem to credit the origin of the modern game to the west side of Cincinnati. It caught on in the area and developed a local following. Eventually, it spread to the east side and gained more popularity with tailgaters at Cincinnati Bengals games. People visiting Cininnati for football saw the game for the first time, grew interested, and helped it spread. It spread throughout the midwest, then nationwide. Today itís found almost everywhere, but itís still best known in the midwest and north central states. Here in Arizona, it started taking off in about 2008.

Is it legal to throw overhand?

The official rules donít prohibit overhand throws and weíve never heard of any throwing style being banned in competition. In fact, although itís rare, weíve met players who are quite accomplished with overhand deliveries. There is however a popular and entertaining Professor Cornhole video produced by the ACO that describes overhand throwing as ďconsidered illegal and an abomination to the gameĒ. But the ACOís own rules donít include any such restriction, so we assume the statement on the video is tongue-in-cheek.

Where can you stand to throw the bags? Is it legal to stand behind the board?

According to the official rules, and in most organized tournaments, two rectangular Pitcherís Box areas are marked (or imagined) on either side of the board. Players can throw from either side but cannot switch within a round of play. Players must not step over the imaginary line created by the front edge of the board when tossing or be charged with a foot foul. In ACO rules and within most tournaments it's most common for each team to be assigned one side of the boards, teammates directly opposide one another, and to allow no switching of sides during a game. In Baggo, a player can switch sides of the board for any throw, such as to avoid an interfering bag. This variation of play can add interest to the game but it is usually a house rule and is not regulation.

Throwing from directly behind the board is not be allowed except in casual play. Some beginners at first prefer to throw from behind the board in order to have more direct angle to the hole. But experienced players generally consider the added distance a detriment while having little or no issue with throwing from the side of the board.

What do you call it when you make all four of your bags in the hole?

We call it a four-bagger. Itís a great accomplishment! We've also heard it called a baggo.

What do you call it when you make a bag in the hole in the air without sliding it across the board?

We call it a dunk or swish. Others call airmail.

What do you call it when, in cancelation scoring, both players score the same number of points with their four bags, resulting in neither team scoring for the round?

This is usually called a wash or tie or no blood.

In horseshoes, a leaner scores extra. Does bags have something similar?

No. In bags, you either score one point for a bag on the board, or three points for a bag that falls completely through the hole. A bag that partially covers the hole (or droops in but does not drop) only scores one point.

At the start of each inning or round, who throws the first bag?

The ACO and ACA rules differ slightly on this point. In all regulation rules, the player on the team that scored in the previous round throws first in the next round. In the ACO rules (see 5.5 Cornhole Pitching Rotation), bar rules, casual play, and in most competitions, the same team continues to throw first until thereís another score. But in ACA rules (see Pitching Rotation During The Game), and in some tournaments, when neither team scores in an inning, the order switches. In other words, the scoring team has to keep scoring in order to keep the lead.

Occasionally a tournament will adopt the unorthodox rule that the scoring team throws last. This might result from a mistaken notion that having the final throw is an advantage (we don't think it is), but it may also be a way to balance scoring opportunities, such as when games have to be limited to fewer than 21 points due to time constraints and large numbers of teams. This rule tends to add chaos and detracts from the chances of a mid-game comeback.

Is there an advantage to throwing first or last?

Most experienced players agree that throwing first is a big advantage. When you throw first you can set the tone of the round and turn on the pressure by holing the first bag. But if you miss you could leave a blocker in front of the hole. Once thereís a blocker not only is it much tougher for the opponent to slide a bag in the hole, but you or your opponent can nudge the blocker in as well, potentially scoring more than one bag at a time. Skilled players often play to block the hole intentionally on their first shot, with the plan to push it in on subsequent shots. This forces the opponent to choose to dunk over the blocker (a lower percentage shot), attempt to throw around it, or to block the blocker. The advantage of the final throw is full knowledge of the possible outcomes and the ability to take risks without worrying about your opponent's next shot. But the comparative advantage of throwing outweighs the benefits of having the final shot in most cases. It's particularly true when standard rules apply and a tie for the round results in the same team remaining in control.

In cancellation scoring, how are bags in the hole and on the board scored?

Cancellation scoring is the most common and exciting method of scoring. In each round (four alternating tosses by both players), only the highest scoring team scores points (if any) and they only score the difference in points. With one point for every bag on the board and three points for every bag in the hole, you add up all the points by both players and the player with the most points receives a score equal to their points minus the opponentís. This is the scoring method described in the official rules, published by the American Cornhole Organization and it seems to be universally accepted.

Some confusion arises from the scoring rule published by the American Cornhole Association in their alternate version of the ďofficial rulesĒ (see Rule 7: Scoring). It suggests that bags in the hole and on the board are canceled separately, implying that one team can win the uncanceled points from bags on the board, and the other team can win the uncanceled points from bags in the hole, allowing potentially both teams to receive points in one inning. Weíve never seen this method in practice so we assume itís merely a poor description.

In singles play, do players toss from the same side or opposite sides?

When playing singles (one on one), both players toss their bags from the same end of the court, alternating tosses just as in doubles. At the end of each inning, both players go to the other end of the court and toss from there, in effect switching sides of the board. Thus with each new round both players are tossing from the opposite side of the board (left or right) as from the previous round.

How many points make a game? Do you have to win by two? Can you go over?

A cornhole game is won by the first team to reach 21 points. You do not have to win by two, and you can go over 21 without penalty. All of the officially published rules agree on this. However, a lot of recreational players play win by two or to reach exactly 21, so be sure ask.

Can you play with three players? If so how?

One way is for the third player to play from both sides, walking back and forth from round to round while the other two players stay put. Itís a fun way to play but a bit awkward. Itís also considered an advantage for the lone player who ends up throwing twice as many bags.

When we have an uneven number of players, we often prefer to play singles in a king of the hill format where the winning player keeps the court until beaten by a challenger. When conditions are tough or there are a lot of players to rotate in, games can be shortened to 11 points. Also see Knockout below.

Thereís also a three-player game called Cutthroat which is described in response to another question below.

How do you play Knockout?

Knockout is a great way to play when you have an odd number of players such as three, five, or more. You randomly choose the four starting players. After each round or four bags per player, the player who scores the fewest point sits out the next round, and the idle player who has been waiting the longest takes his place. The inner is the first player to win an agreed upon number of consecutive rounds without being knocked out, usually five. When there's a wash, both players remain in and face each other again in the next round - the leader's streak is unbroken by the tie. The player who has won the previous round throws first, while the new challenger always throws second. This leads to fun competition as all players are ganging up to dethrown the leader.

Is there a skunk rule?

Some rules suggest a skunk rule where a team leading 15-0 wins. In Baggo 11-0 is a skunk. Weíve seldom seen this rule used and itís usually unnecessary because 21 point games usually go quickly, especially when the two teams are mismatched in skill.

Can I make my own cornhole boards? Are there plans available?

Everyone loves making cornhole boards! Itís inexpensive and easy to build acceptable boards, but far more challenging and expensive to build boards that play as well as the best professionally manufactured boards. Several sets of plans can be found here. If you really just want to decorate boards with your own artwork or the logo of a favorite team, you can buy unfinished boards from Flatiron Cornhole.

Whatís the best single piece of advice for players?

Thatís a wide open question. If I were pressed to give just one piece of advice it would be the same as what I focus on when I want to make a precise shot under pressure. I think I read this advice somewhere once and I did a double-take before comprehending it, or perhaps I never did understand what it really meant.

The advice was to visualize the aperture. Well... the hole is the only aperture in the game, and thereís no need to visualize it. You can SEE it. Maybe they meant to keep your eye on the hole. But that's fairly simplistic advice that isn't very helpful.

My version, to put it simply, is to visualize the apex, the top of the arc of the throw. If I visualize my bag passing through the highest point on itís trajectory toward the board, and then deliver the throw very close to that point, the result will be a consistently good toss. Ultimately, if I can also control the orientation of the bag as it passes that point (its spin and flatness), it's a near certainty that the bag will score.

As you get more experienced youíll find that Ďfeelí alone is sufficient to control the distance of the throw. Success then depends primarily upon the direction of the throw. Therefore, the location of the Ďhoopí is less important than keeping the bag in the Ďplaneí. Itís a lot easier to visualize the plane than a hoop in space.

What are the rules to the three player game called Cutthroat?

Cutthroat is a great way to play cornhole when you only have three players. Youíll need an extra set of bags of a third color, four per player, twelve bags total. All players throw from the same end of the court toward the same board on the opposite end. Players alternate throws just as in singles but with an extra player. One player throws his bags from one side of the board (left or right), while the other players take turns from the other side of the board. After all bags are thrown, points are tallied for each player in the usual way.

When scoring, the player or players with the lowest score of the round receives no points in that round, while the other two players subtract the lowest score of the round from their total. For example, after all twelve bags are thrown in the round, Joe has two on the board, Bill has one in the hole and one on the board, and Shelly has two in the hole. Joe is low with two points, so he receives no points in the round. Bill subtracts two and receives two points for the round. And Shelly receives four points. As usual, the first player to 21 or more points wins. If thereís a tie, the tied players throw an extra round of sudden death.

The only other special rule involves throwing order. As you might expect, the highest scoring player of the previous round throws first in the next round, and the lowest scoring player throws last. Also, the highest scoring player of the round has their choice of sides (left or right) to throw from, and the the other two players alternate from the other side.

Whatís the difference between Bags, Cornhole, and Baggo?

Bags is simply another name for cornhole (the true name). Baggo is a separate brand name version of the same game but with special equipment and rules. Baggo is played at 20 ft. rather than 27ft and with smaller lighter bags (9.5 oz as opposed to 16). Baggo is generally an indoor game and requires less space. Most of the rules are identical to those of cornhole.

Do you have to win by two points?

According to all three versions of official rules, those published by the ACO, the ACA, and BAGGO, you just need to get more than 21 points, to win, NOT win by two. A lot of tournaments and house rules add the win-by-two rule as a matter of preference, presumably because itís such a prevalent rule in similarly scored games like volleyball, tennis, and ping pong.

Does it count if a bag bounces onto the board?

Any bag that bounces onto the board does not count as a point or even as three points if it goes in the hole. The same is true if the bag hits any interfering object (like a ceiling or fixture) in flight Ė though venues may post their own unique Ďground rulesí. Any bag that lands on the board after a bounce or interference must be immediately removed from the board and all other bags that it may have moved, knocked off, or knocked into the hole, should be replaced in their original positions before continuing with the next throw.

How do you judge whether a bag that is partially on the front of the board counts?

A bag that lands partially on the board counts unless it touches the ground as well or touches any interfering object such as a bag that itself touches the ground. Some people play that if there is any doubt due to a pile of bags, you remove the bags that are definitely off the board and any bag(s) that remain fully on the board count. However, that procedure can be ambiguous and lead to arguments that are hard to resolve. Itís far better in practice to immediately remove any bags that land right in front of the board so that they never interfere with one of the following shots.

What if a player throws out of turn?

Gentlemanís rules prevail unless a tournament specifies otherwise. If a player accidentally throws out of turn, simply let him know, throw the bag back, replace any bags if they have been moved, and allow play to continue. Some people play that the other team can choose whether to leave the throw as it was or have it returned. Iíve never seen an official rule about this. Itís not uncommon, so itís best to discuss this in advance if youíre having a serious competition.

Another rule that should be followed but I have not seen in print is that after the next player throws, that is after both have thrown out of turn, play continues as usual regardless of whether the error is caught later Ė otherwise it opens the door for abuse because the team that did not throw out of turn could take their next throw, then based on the result decide whether to call the first throw out of turn.

How should arguments about scoring be resolved?

Thereís no clear answer of course, but Iíll suggest a few pointers. First of all I find a good score tower like the Sturdy-Up Tally Tower to be an essential piece of equipment (I admit to being biased since I invented it), but seriously itís hard enough to count up the score each round without also keeping track of the game score.

Another important piece of advice is to count up the score of each round and get a member of both teams to agree BEFORE TOUCHING ANY BAG! Some players like to pull out canceling bags then count whatís left. That seems like a good idea until thereís a disagreement and players have to argue about where they remember the bags were. Never touch a bag until both teams agree on the score for that round. Once thereís an agreement and bags are moved, it should stand firm even if thereís doubt later. Itís better to stick with the agreement rather than argue about what each player may remember differently. Decide and agree before disturbing the bags, then stick with the agreement. In doubles, itís the responsibility of the player nearest the bags who is responsible for verifying the score and his agreement stands. As a courtesy, itís best to tell the player who threw what score youíve agreed upon as well before moving any bags. And in serious competition, sometimes you can include a referee or official scorekeeper as well.

Experienced players get good at knowing the score as the round progresses and in counting the points based on the bags that are visible on or off the board (in reverse fashion) rather than remembering each bag that went in the hole. As a simple example, if you see red has one bag off the board and none other visible, red scored 9 points. If blue has two on the board and one off, you know he scored 5 points and the total is 4 for red. If you must move bags to verify the score, do it slowly with both players watching carefully. Common sense and courtesy should make arguments over the score very rare.

What is 'Rally Scoring'?

Rally scoring is when every point scored by every bag is counted without cancellation. It makes games go extremely fast and makes it very hard to come back from even a small deficit. Rally scoring is sometimes used in tournaments that have too many teams or too few courts for proper (cancellation) scoring. It's also good for competition among beginners who score sparingly. Experienced players who are used to rounds of 8 to 12 points prefer cancellation scoring which gives a team a chance to catch up at any time and make up for a couple bad breaks or poor rounds.


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