Published on February 6th, 2014 | by Spencer
How To Play Cornhole
Cornhole is an enormously popular backyard game that has its origins in the American Midwest. Also commonly referred to as “bags,” the object of the game is simply to score more points than the opposing player or team. Players toss beanbags at wooden boards in an attempt to outscore their opponents. The simplicity and gentle learning curve of the game have helped it earn legions of fans, and the game’s mass appeal continues to grow.
Singles play pits two players against each other. A coin toss determines lane assignment as well as who gets to pitch the first bag. Players start at the same board and alternate pitches until both competitors have pitched all four of their bags. If a foul bag bounces onto the board, the player who pitched the offending bag will need to walk to the other board and sweep it away. When a frame is complete, both players walk to the other board and determine the score. The highest scoring player in the preceding frame has the honor of pitching first in the next frame. Players continue this process until the game is complete, which depends on the format of the game.
Doubles play features teams of two, such that each pitcher’s box is occupied throughout the game. Teammates face each other from opposing ends of a pitching lane. Competitors stand side by side at the headboards and footboards. A simple coin toss determines lane assignment and first pitch, and lane assignments stay the same for the entire game.
Footboard players record the score after all eight bags have come to rest. These players also must clear away foul bags from the board during the course of a frame. The higher scoring team wins first pitch for the next frame. One of the obvious differences between singles and doubles play is that no one has to walk from end to end after each frame.
Order of Play
In casual play, determining who tosses the first bag is more or less up to the players themselves. A coin toss will suffice in most circumstances. After the first pitch, players on one side take turns pitching bags until the frame is complete. If a player pitches when it’s not his or her turn, then that bag is removed from play and scored a zero. After all eight bags have been pitched, the frame is over. In singles play, this means walking to the other boards and pitching the bags back. In a doubles match, of course, all players stay in the same pitcher’s box for the entire game.
Sanctioned tournaments typically determine order of play based on seeds, with higher seeds always pitching first. If a match consists of more than one game, then the higher seed will have the benefit of first pitch in every other game starting with the first—a ‘home field advantage,’ so to speak.
The headboard is the end of the cornhole court from which the players pitch the bags. In singles play, both players are always at the headboard. When all eight bags have been pitched and the players walk to the other end, that end then becomes the headboard for the next frame. There’s no need to think about footboard players in singles play, because there aren’t any.
In doubles play, the footboard players stand at the receiving end of the headboard players’ pitches. They should pay attention and be ready to clear away a foul bag if it’s resting on the board. Otherwise, footboard players should remain quiet while their teammates pitch so as not to cause distraction.
After the headboard players have tossed all eight bags, the footboard players in effect become the headboard players, and vice versa. Here’s a simple visual analogy: All bags start at the head and drop to the feet.
Cornhole offers both singles and doubles play. Each player or team has four identically colored bags, which are tossed the length of the court toward the opposite board. Players take turns pitching their bags until all eight have been pitched downcourt. Landing on the board or in the cornhole earns points for the pitching team. Scoring and rules variations are numerous and are typically determined by the host of the game. The slow pace of play allows for plenty of breaks in the action, likely contributing to cornhole’s backyard and tailgate party appeal.
In recent years, several professional organizations have developed, sanctioning tournaments and working to grow the popularity of the game. The American Cornhole Organization and the American Cornhole Association are two of these groups. So far, the game’s popularity has not extended much outside of the United States, but that is likely to change.
Borrowing from the terminology of bowling, a frame comprises a single, complete turn in a game of cornhole. Within a frame, both players pitch four bags. After all eight bags have been pitched, a final score for the frame is tallied. A single cornhole game may have an indefinite number of frames, depending on the scoring method and skill level of the players. On the other hand, a game variation known as the frame game has a set number of frames, again similar to bowling or baseball.
*The ACO uses the term frame, while the ACA prefers innings.
For each pitch of a cornhole bag, there are three possible scoring outcomes: a cornhole, in which the bag falls into the center hole; a woody, in which the bag comes to rest on the board without touching the ground, and; a foul bag, which always counts as zero points. Cornholes are worth three points and woodies are worth one.
Scores are always calculated at the end of a frame rather than during a frame, because bags can always be pushed off the board or into the cornhole. Players are also advised not to move any bags before the score is officially recorded. A master scoreboard can help monitor the teams’ total scores through the course of a game. All players should agree upon the score before moving on to the next frame. If a dispute arises, a certified official can make a final determination.
Several circumstances can lead to the dreaded foul bag. Any bag that does not come to a stop on the board or fall into the cornhole is designated as a foul bag and receives a score of zero. Likewise, a bag the bounces off the ground and onto the board counts as zero points and must be removed from play. Even if the bag lands squarely on the board, it is still a foul bag if it comes to rest with any part of it touching the ground. In yet another scenario, a bag that is pushed off the board due to another bag’s impact becomes a foul bag.
Separate from poor pitches, a number of rules violations may also result in a foul bag. These include crossing the foul line during or after a pitch, pitching a bag while not completely inside the pitcher’s box, and pitching from the wrong box. In sanctioned tournaments, competitors usually have a set time limit within which to make their pitches. Going over that time limit incurs a foul bag. Bags that hit an object or the ceiling on their way to the board are also scored as foul bags, no matter where they land.
Judges and certified officials are representatives of the organization hosting a cornhole tournament or event. At officially sanctioned events, these certified officials have several responsibilities. In some cases, the judge will tally and record the score after each frame. The judge therefore has the final say in how a particular bag is scored. The judge may also be called upon to sweep away foul bags or rake them from underneath the cornhole when they pile up.
In addition to the typical game monitoring described above, the certified official should ensure that all players and teams observe the rules of good conduct. Any player demonstrating poor sportsmanship is subject to removal from the competition.