Cornhole Rules and Play

What makes Cornhole so beloved? Why are beer gardens, backyards and beaches littered with bags and boards? What is the best throwing grip? Are there any little known game specific terms I should be using to impress my friends and/or make me look like a nerd? Does Cornhole offer any alternate scoring or games?

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Why we play

What makes Cornhole so immensely popular and universally accepted?  First of all, it’s easy to learn. So easy that all ages, genders and IQs feel they have a sporting chance at winning a match.  And everyone is right to an extent, the game does not discriminate.  Any group of friends and family can enjoy each other’s company over a match.  Secondly, the rules are consistent, and in my experience go without explanation before each game. There are very few arguments over rules, nor bickering over scoring, and certainly no squabbles about a clear winner.  

Cornhole on the Beach

Cornhole is a great spectator sport as well.  The continuous thump of bags on boards keeps us entertained.  The joy of making a Cornhole  can be shared with all players and watchers alike. There is no doubt that after watching a game or two, one is compelled to grab a partner and declare "We got next!"  

Why are the backyards, pub porches and beaches full of Cornhole boards and bags? In my opinion, once it’s established a yard or bar is Cornhole friendly, the bags are always a-flying.  You know that going to your buddies cook-out will involve a game or seven of Cornhole.  Otherwise, it’s small talk and awkward silences.  Bars and beer gardens are more than willing to drop a few hundred bucks on boards and bags to keep us around, buying beers and buffalo wings. If given the choice, I’m always picking a place with games. Beach Cornhole is some of the best Cornhole you’ll find. It’s a great way to meet new people with a common interest in showcasing underhand tossing skills. When the wind plays a small factor, the enjoyment goes up with every mile per hour gust.

Rules of the game

The Cornhole Boards are set up so that the fronts face each other and the center holes are 30' apart. This defines the court.  All 8 Cornhole Bags begin at one end of the court.  Teams each have four bags of one color.  Team members stand at opposite boards on the same side of each board so that they face each other. This ensures no one team has a board side advantage.  After determining the first team to throw, the game begins.  Coin Flip, Rock-Paper-Scissors, foot race, or arm wrestling are acceptable means of determining who goes first. 

Bags are thrown individually, alternating between teams until all 8 bags have been tossed.   When throwing, players must remain behind the toe foul line which is an imaginary line at the front of each Cornhole Board.  The game is played to 21 points. The first to reach 21 points is declared the winner, there is not a "win by 2" requirement. 

Scoring bags in Cornhole is a cancelling points system, wherein the team with the most points wins the difference in points.  For example, Team A score 6 points and Team B scores 2 points, Team A is awarded 4 points for the round, and Team B zero. Should both teams score the same points during the round, a "wash" is declared and no points are awarded.  In determining who goes first after the initial round, honors are given to the team that scored the last points.  

Yellow and Blue Cornhole Bags

There are only two ways to score points in Cornhole; 3 Points for each bag in the Cornhole, or 1 Point for each bag on the board.  A bag that lands off the board is worthless, as is a bag that hits the ground first & bounces onto the board (this bag should be removed immediately). Bags that are hanging off of the board, but not touching the ground are considered valid and worth 1 point.  A bag hanging off the board, but touching the ground are considered worthless (zero points.)

Strategy, pointers, and technique

Now that we know the rules,  where to find a game, and why everyone enjoys it s much, we need to be beat our opponents. Yard and Pub Games knows the importance of winning a Cornhole match.  Three key factors come to mind.  First off, find a grip that works for you.  Secondly, use the proper toss trajectory depending the board and the game situation. In order to achieve this, the grip of the bag plays the most important part in your winning strategy. If you have a grip you always use, but you don’t find yourself winning much, please read on. There are a half dozen bag grips I’ve tried, and one that I’ve perfected; the solid pinch. My opponents and teammates over the years have employed many different grip variations which I’ll explain now; not in any particular better or worse order.

  • The Corner Sling: Using the index finger and thumb, grab the bag by a corner. You’ll need to make sure the bag filling is settled in the bag before going through the corner motion. This grip allows for some backspin on the bag and could help you not slide the bag all the way off the back of the board.
  • Whole Hand Spinner: This is a very comfortable grip. You’ll need to place your fingers under the bag, slightly spread and your thumb over the top. Using either backhand frisbee like motion, or even underhand, you’ll release the bag with a bit of spin on it.
  • The Solid Pinch: My favorite. Lay the bag flat on your no throwing hand and give a little pat to disperse the corn filling evenly. Then using all five fingers, pinch the bag so that you have a firm grasp on the kernels inside. Then simply use the underhand toss and release for an almost knuckle ball throw.
  • Cupped Palm: A simple, effective option. Just put the bag in your hand and grip losely during an underhand toss. This grip keeps the bag the most mid-air steady of all grips, but consistency could be a problem.
  • The Pitcher: This overhand and rarely used grip/throw technique may work for you, but you’re going to get some funny looks from everyone. Mke sure you have at least one finger on each side of the cornhole bag then like a baseball pitcher, go for the overhand toss.
  • Underhand Flipper: Although a wildly inaccurate and unusual variation on grip, I’ve seen it work.  Using your thumb under one side of the bag and four fingers on the yop, you’ll employ the underhand toss while flipping the bag backwards. This also creates backspin.

Toss trajectory plays a vital role in scoring points.   Some boards are slicker than others and may require a more lofted toss to stay on the board.  Figuring out he board during practice throws will go a long way towards winning the game.  During the match several different scenarios will come into play that will force you to alter your trajectory.  Failing to recognize and adapt to these situations could cost you some matches. For example, when the hole is blocked by several bags, you may want to attempt the swish shot, using a high arcing shot that flies in behind the blockers and in the hole. 

Terminology & Miscellany

Cornhole Board

Are there any other versions of Cornhole I should know about?  Yes, but no. Some boards will offer a five hole, which is a small bag size slit located behind the standard Cornhole in the board(see image). Obviously, this is worth five points. It’s not hard to build into your current boards, but does it really add anything to the game? I’ve played on Five-hole boards, and it’s not worth the effort to attempt the extra points, as the extra hole is really just a lucky shot if the Cornhole is missed.  

Use of the correct terminology in Cornhole is a rare thing.  Most games are played using generalizations and generic terms.   We've compiled the best lingo for you to test out during your next game of Cornhole. Whether used to impress or annoy your fellow competitors, these terms will add a bit of professionalism to your matches.  

  • Cornhole: The hole in the board and the act of making one bag in said hole. 
  • Ace/Cow Pie: A bag landing on the board, scoring one point. 
  • Back Door/Dirty Rollup: A Cornhole that goes over the top of a blocker and into the hole.
  • Swish: A Cornhole that goes directly in the hole without touching the board.
  • Cornfusion: When players cannot agreeing on the scoring in a given turn.
  • Screaming Eagle: Bag that goes over the board w/out hitting it. Screeching like an eagle is an acceptable reaction.
  • Trip Dip: Scoring three Cornholes during a turn. 
  • Slippery Granny: Scoring three bags in a row on the board (1 pointers).
  • Backstop: A bag landing behind the hole but remaining on the board,  creating a backboard of sorts for other bags. 
  • Slider: A Cornhole that slides into the hole.
  • Grand Bags, Four Bagger, Cornholio, or Four Pack: Four Cornholes by a single player during a turn. 
  • Wash: When each team scores the same number of points in turn, therefore no points are awarded.
  • Shortbag/Sally/Alvord: A Bag that is thrown too weakly and fails to make it to the board. 
  • Shucker: When a tossed bag knock off an opponents bag from the board.
  • Blocker: A bag that lands in front of the hole, thus blocking other bags from sliding in. 

There you have it.  You know why Cornhole is awesome and where you can find a game.  You're aware of the rules and how to throw the bags. Finally, you are now hip to some new Cornhole terms.  Time to get some boards & bags.  Check out Best Cornhole Boards & Bags for our top five of each.  

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