How to Play Cornhole: Basic Rules for First-Timers

group of friends are playing cornhole

In the summer months, it is essential to have an outdoor game you can share with a large group of friends or family members that infuses the atmosphere with an appropriate air of competition. If you find yourself unable to fill the sunlight hours with sufficient, moderately active pastimes, you must learn how to play cornhole. You won't regret it.

Cornhole is a fantastic outdoor game with the potential to occupy anyone, whether friends or family members, for hours on end. One of the most enticing aspects of learning how to play cornhole is understanding the extent to which variations can be adopted or even invented. Cornhole can be adapted to accommodate children, guests who enjoy a libation or two, and groups of wildly disparate sizes. Furthermore, you can learn how to play cornhole without needing to buy much equipment.

What Do I Need to Play Cornhole?

The supplies and environment you need to play cornhole are fairly easy to come by, and, in a pinch, you can make it all yourself. We have provided a brief description of the necessities below.

The Landscape

cornhole landscape

Image via Flickr

Cornhole is easiest to play on a relatively flat surface. It is most fun to play on grass, but a beachside round of cornhole can be a rousing change of scenery, too, or you can use a driveway or other flat concrete surface. If you need an added challenge after a bit of practice, you can incorporate a landscape that provides some additional challenges.

Cornhole Boards

cornhole board and bags

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Cornhole boards are rectangles which should be four foot by two foot with a three or four inch frame. The back of the board should be elevated to one foot in height so the board faces the opponents at an angle. The center of the hole in the board should be nine inches from the elevated back and one foot from each of the sides. The hole must be six inches in diameter to be considered a regulation cornhole board.

If you have spent any time around fraternity houses or the beer-swilling folk of the American Midwest, you will know that, while you can easily order or purchase cornhole boards, it is considered an affront to the game if you don't build and subsequently decorate your own cornhole boards. This process is fairly simple and will save you a little cash.

Cornhole Bean Bags

Cornhole bean bags in black and yellow colors

Image via Flickr

Regulation cornhole bean bags are six inches by six inches. You can order them online with relative ease, but we encourage you to make your own if you have easy access to a sewing machine as this allows you to choose a fabric that exemplifies your personality, personally offends your likely opponents, or, ideally, does both in one fell swoop.

What Type of Crowd Should I Play Cornhole With?

2 disabled persons are playing the cornhole game while the girl beside them are watching only

Photo by ELEVATE from Pexels

Cornhole was originally conceived as a parlor game for slightly intoxicated bar patrons who could stand to get outside and soak up a little sunshine; however, since the game's inception it has proliferated and turns out to be as much fun sober as it is for those who are three sheets to the wind.

It is a great game to play with young children, reckless college students, and those too old to compete in much else. If fact, ESPN broadcasts some matches from the American Cornhole League, which has divisions for Juniors, Men, Women, and Seniors.

Cornhole is also a perfect pastime for basically any size group. You can play with just two competitors, although the regulation version of the game includes at least four, and you can set up a tournament with as many participants as you can find.

Beginner Rules for How to Play Cornhole

As you learn how to play cornhole, you will need to set up the game correctly, divvy up teams, keep score, and ridicule your opponents from time to time. We have furnished a guide to completing this fairly simple process below along with some helpful variations.

The Setup

The two cornhole boards should be set up facing one another with the elevated portions of each board the farthest from the other board. In regulation cornhole, the boards are 27 feet apart and the edges of each board align exactly with the other. This may be an overly precise stipulation for a little casual, backyard cornhole, so feel free to fudge it, if only slightly.

If you are playing with young children who are unfamiliar with the game, it may be necessary to move the boards a bit closer together so the children aren't discouraged from participation by a disappointing initial performance. Conversely, if you are playing with a group of ambitious adults, you can move the boards farther apart and watch everyone's accuracy plummet; a practice which adds to the trash-talking potential.

The Teams

There are individual iterations of the game, but, for the most part, cornhole is played in teams of two. You and your partner should stand directly across from one another beside opposite cornhole boards while your opponents should stand directly across from one another on the opposite side of the cornhole boards. Some groups take this firm format with a grain of salt, but that is how regulation cornhole is played. Base your adherence to the rules on the crowd you're playing with and their preferences.

The Toss

The basic rules of the toss are that you must throw the bean bag underhand, and your leading foot cannot pass the front edge of the board next to which you are standing. If you are playing in teams that consist of young children and adults, obviously you should let the children take a step or two up to compensate and build confidence.

There are some people in this world who will tell you cornhole is played with an overhand toss. These people are delusional and they have no idea how to play cornhole. The overhand toss is an abomination and a complete betrayal of all that cornhole is meant to be. Should you ever encounter a person who so much as suggests an overhand toss in cornhole, kindly correct them but direct snide remarks at them with relentless consistency.

Gameplay

Each game of cornhole is broken down into frames or innings during which each player throws four bags. The two opposing players standing beside one cornhole board throw four bags each, alternating between the two players with each throw, and then the remaining players throw four bags each, alternating in the same manner. After this process, an inning has been completed.

Should you choose to play cornhole in the singles format, each player must throw their four bags alternating from one side of the cornhole board to the other after each throw. You can also play in the crew format in which each team consists of four players and teams alternate between two players on each of the opposite cornhole boards.

In play regulated by the American Cornhole Association, each player has twenty seconds to throw their bean bag once the opposing player has completed their toss. This rule might be a bit out of place in casual play, but, if you ever hold a tournament, consider implementing this rule to make things a bit more competitive.

The Scoring System

You score three points each time you are able to put a bag through the hole in the cornhole board. This is true whether the bag goes directly through the hole, slides in the hole, or is deflected into the hole by another bag. You score one point for a bag that lands and stays on the board for the remainder of the inning. If a bag lands on the board and is knocked off the board by another toss before the end of the inning, the bag is worthless.

There is an uncommon variation in which a bag that is suspended on the edge of the hole with some portion of the bag through the hole is worth two points.

Because each team has eight bags to throw in each inning, the maximum score a team can post in one inning is 24. This is, of course, exceedingly rare. A team wins once they have scored 21 points, and there is no fixed number of innings. Therefore, at least in theory, a team could win in one inning.

A Brief Note on Strategy

When you are just beginning to learn how to play cornhole, you will likely find it plenty difficult just to keep the bags on the cornhole board, much less get them in the hole itself. When you master this, you can begin to preemptively compromise your opponents ability to score by landing a bag just in front of the hole, which forces your opponent to either get their bags in the hole directly or knock your bag in the hole before sliding any bags in, which is much easier than getting bags in on the fly.

Conclusion

Disabled man playing the cornhole game and beside him is a lady holding a drink and enjoyed watching him

Photo by ELEVATE from Pexels

If you find your low-stress summertime activity choices are growing a little stale, you need to learn how to play cornhole. Cornhole equipment is easy to acquire or create and can be personalized if you are so inclined. Once you have the equipment, you can easily learn to play and enjoy the game with a wide range of competitors, making your outdoor parties and sunny afternoons a blast for everyone.

Featured Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

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