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How to Play Cornhole, and the Rules of the Game

How to Play Cornhole, and the Rules of the Game

As the temperatures warm up, the days get longer, and the greenery springs to life, a few things happen each year. Flip flops replace sneakers, people break out their bathing suits and board shorts, and lawns across America become playing fields for cornhole. The slanted boards and bean bags of this iconic American game are just as much a staple of the barbecue as hamburgers and hot dogs. Still, it’s a safe bet that many families that play cornhole aren’t actually playing it correctly.

“House rules” may prevail at most barbecues, but the American Cornhole League (ACL) has its own set of regulations and guidelines followed at every cornhole tournament. If you’re getting to know the lawn game, playing for the first time, want to make your backyard gatherings more competitive, or are eyeing a tournament slot, you’ll need to know the best way to play and the official rules governing the game of cornhole.

 

Cornhole Equipment

Before digging too deep into cornhole’s rules, let’s get the basics out of the way. A game of cornhole consists of:

  • Two 2’ x 4’ cornhole boards
    • Made with at least ½” thick wood, typically birch or oak
      • Our boards are ¾” Baltic Birch
    • Weigh at least 15 lbs
    • Cut with a 6” hole in the center, 9” from the board’s top
    • At most, 2.5 - 3.5” from the ground in the front
    • At most, 12” from the ground in the back
  • Eight 6” x 6” fabric bean bags
    • Split evenly into two different colors
    • Weight between 15.5 and 16.25 oz
    • Measure 1.125” to 1.5” thick
    • Regulation bags may be filled with plastic resin

Don’t worry if you’re eyeing a complete cornhole set from a reputable builder like Mac Cornhole. You shouldn’t have to make any adjustments to be at regulation size.

 

How to Play Cornhole

Playing cornhole sounds pretty simple. Players try to land bean bags in the hole or as close as possible to earn points. While that’s pretty accurate, ACL rules dictate where to stand, how to throw, how far apart the boards must be, and how to score each throw. Below, we’ll dig a little deeper into the official rules of cornhole.

 

Setting Up the Boards

According to the ACL, a cornhole court is very simply defined as the total area of play consisting of two boards. When setting up your cornhole boards, they must be 27’ apart from front end to front end. The holes should be 33’ apart if measured properly. Also, it may be difficult in a backyard, but try to find a flat surface, so both boards are the same height. You don’t want your opponent to have an advantage because your board is lower. Finally, ensure a vertical clearance of 12’ to minimize interference.

 

Where to Stand

Players will stand in a pitcher’s box that flanks the cornhole board. Each box is 4’ x 3’, sits parallel to the board, and features a foul line that runs along the front of the board. Pitchers must remain in the pitching box and avoid crossing the foul line.

 

How to Perfectly Pitch a Cornhole Bag

You may have heard differently, but with ACL regulations, you can toss a cornhole bag overhead or underhand. It’s all a matter of your preference and which method yields the highest score for you.

If you are throwing underhand, though, here is a tip on how to get the perfect arc.

  • Make sure the bag is perfectly flat
  • Keep your thumb on top and your fingers flat underneath
  • On the backswing, rotate your thumb and fingers so they’re pointing left (or right, if left-handed)
  • As your arm comes forward, release the bag as your fingers point straight toward the board 

Your throw should have an arc so the bag can fall right into the hole. Go slow and take your time with each swing (but be mindful of the 20 second time limit). A rushed throw can hand your opponents the game.

 

How Many Players Can Play?

A game of cornhole requires at least two players. This is considered a singles cornhole match. Players can also team up in teams of two for a doubles cornhole match.

 

When playing singles:

  • Players stand beside the board behind the foul line
  • Players will occupy alternating lanes and stand at opposite ends of the court
  • Players cannot leave their lane for the duration of the game
  • Each player will pitch all four bags before the score is tallied
  • The player who scored or had the highest score starts the pitching the next inning

 

When playing doubles:

  • Players on the same team will occupy the same lane
  • Players on one side of the field will stand at the headboard and pitch
  • Players on the other side will stand at the footboard and tally the score
  • After eight bags are pitched, players will alternate roles
  • The team who scored or had the highest score starts pitching the next inning

What’s an inning, you ask? Like in baseball, innings have a top and bottom and dictate who’s pitching. The top of the inning ends when the first player in a singles game pitches or the players at the headboard throw all eight bags in a double. Innings start again after scoring.

 

It Starts with a Toss…

But not of a bag. Per ACL rules, every game begins with a coin toss. In singles, the winner chooses the lane they will pitch from. In doubles, the winner chooses either the lane for each player or which players will go head-to-head at each board.

 

Scoring an Inning

Traditional cornhole scoring is as follows:

  • Bag In-the-Hole (Cornhole) - 3 points for every bag that goes through the hole
    • Bags pushed through the hole by another bag counts as a Cornhole
  • Bag In-the-Count (Woody) - 1 point for every bag that stays on the board
    • Even if a bag is hanging off, it counts so long as it’s not touching the ground

The first player/team to reach or exceed 21 is the winner of the game.

 

Additional Rules - Cancellation Scoring & Foul Bags

The ACL uses “cancellation” scoring. If one player scores a point, it cancels out the points of another. With this rule, only one player/team can score per inning.

Foul bags refer to any bag that must be removed from the court because:

  • Pitching player crossed or touched the foul line
  • Pitching player took longer than 20 seconds to pitch
  • Bag was pitched from the wrong lane
  • Bag touched the court before landing on the board
  • Bag went out of bounds or struck any object
  • Bags are removed from the board before the score is tallied
    • In this instance, the player/team that touched the bag forfeits remaining pitches and only counts what was thrown before the foul
    • The opposing player/team earns 12 points

 

Keeping Things Casual

Yes, that may seem like a lot of rules to follow. However, there is something else to know about cornhole - if you want to play with house rules and keep things casual, you absolutely can. Make up your own scoring, throw scoring out the window entirely, ignore foul lines altogether. If the boards are in your backyard, then it’s up to you how you want to play.

But if you want to get competitive, just review the official ACL cornhole rules and get ready for a fun rivalry.

Next article The Many Slang Terms of Cornhole