How to Play Cornhole: Rules, Tips & More

From tailgate parties to high-stakes tournaments, cornhole always makes for great fun and great competition. Read on for an explanation of the rules and tips for your technique.

Whether you’re the “Lord of the Boards” or you’re simply looking for a game for your next tailgate party, the following cornhole guide has something for you. In it you’ll find out how to properly set up the game, how to keep score, and you’ll even pick up a few playing tips.

WHAT IS CORNHOLE? 

Cornhole—also called bags, bag toss, corn toss, bean toss, bean bag, and more— is one of the most popular lawn games in America. It can be played with two or four players, either one-on-one or two teams of two. Players take turns trying to toss bean bags through the “cornhole” (for three points) or onto the board (for one point).

CORNHOLE EQUIPMENT

To play cornhole, you simply need the following:

  • Boards: Two identical two foot-by-four-foot boards with a six-inch hole centered nine inches from the top. Most cornhole boards have foldable legs in the back that, when opened, create a sloped surface. Each board’s playing surface should be three to four inches from the ground in the front, and 12 inches from the ground in the back.
  • Bags: Eight total bean bags—four of one color and four of another. The bags should be six inches by six inches, weighing between 15 to 16 ounces. Consider buying bags made from a durable material that can hold up to repeated use and storage.

Many cornhole games come as a set with cornhole bags included, but make sure to double check before making your purchase. Add some personality to your cornhole boards with licensed cornhole decals featuring your favorite team’s logo—a great addition for tailgate parties.

SETUP & GAMEPLAY 

Measuring from the front end of each, the boards should be 27 feet apart, directly facing one another. Try to set up the boards on the flattest area you can find.

You and your opponent(s) alternate throwing until each player has thrown four bags. The player or team that wins the frame gets to throw first in the next frame. If neither scores, the team or player who threw first during the last frame will throw first in the next.

Here are answers to a few common questions about cornhole gameplay:

  • Where do you stand when throwing? Directly next to the board, there is an imaginary three-foot-wide pitcher’s box that runs the length of the board. You must stay within this space when throwing.
  • How far can you step forward when throwing? The front of the box serves as the foul line. Your body cannot come past that line when throwing.
  • Can you stand behind the boards to throw? No, as this is outside of the designated pitcher’s box. Plus, why would you want to have to throw farther?
  • Do you have to throw underhand? According to the American Cornhole Organization (ACO), all players must deliver the bags with an underhand release.

CORNHOLE SCORING

Traditionally, cornhole is played to 21 points. You are awarded:

  • 3 points if the bag goes through the hole
  • 1 point for bags that hit and remain on the board

Points are kept according to cancellation scoring. Here is an example scenario:

  • In the first frame, the Red Team gets one bag through the hole and two bags on the board, for a total of five points.
  • The Blue Team gets two bags through the hole and one bag on the board, for a total of seven points.
  • Instead of the score being Blue Team 7, Red Team 5, the Blue Team must subtract the Red Team’s five points from their score, giving them a total of two points. Therefore, the score would be Blue Team 2, Red Team 0 after that frame.

Bags that hit the ground first and then slide onto the board do not count for any points.

Some say you must get exactly 21 points in order to win, and if you go over your score is reduced to 11 points. Some also say that you must win by two. According to the ACO, this is not true. The first team to reach 21 at the end of a frame wins, period.

Of course, you’re free to add any stipulations you want, as long as you’re not participating in an official competition.

PLAYING TIPS 

How can you become a better cornhole player? Here are a few tips to keep in mind the next time you pick up a bean bag.

  • Think Small: When you focus on getting every bag through the hole, you’re more likely to make an errant toss. Instead, aim for the front of the board—chances are many of your throws will slide into the hole. And, if they don’t, your bag should be in a good position to block your opponent from reaching the hole.
  • Spins Equal Wins: Most of the world’s top cornhole players do not simply lob the bag—they put spin on the bag by using a “flat” or “pancake” style. Essentially, the bag will spin horizontal to the ground at a slight downward angle. This technique increases the odds that the bag will slide into the hole. Don’t use your wrist to spin the bag, as you would when throwing a Frisbee, but instead keep your wrist straight and use your fingers to spin the bag as your release it.
  • Keep Your Cool: Do your best to stay relaxed and have fun. When you get tense, your game tends to suffer.