How to Play Cornhole: Your Complete Guide

Cornhole could be called one of the great American games. It’s been around for ages and has maintained its popularity.

It’s always been a great lawn game, and now it’s showing up in bars across the country.

You’ve probably seen it around, but you may be wondering how do you play Cornhole? It turns out there’s a bit more to it than throwing a bag in a hole.

In this guide we cover everything you need to learn how to play cornhole, including its history, terminology, official rules, game equipment and specs, playing tips and strategies for winning.

So You Want to Understand Cornhole

You’ve seen it played around town. You get that it’s a game. But you’re still left wondering, what is Cornhole?

The Deal with Cornhole

A quick search online will provide various stories as to the origins of Cornhole. The oldest origin story for the game dates back to 14th Century Germany.

It’s a sweet folktale about a cabinetmaker that saw some boys throwing rocks in a gofer hole. Worried for their safety, he built them a new game.

Most recently, Cornhole has been Cincinnati’s claim to fame. They proclaim the game originated in their backyards a little over 100 years ago. 

History of Cornhole

The Origins of Cornhole_ Parlor Quoits - Patent 1883

Cornhole was first patented as “Parlor Quoits” in 1883 by Heyliger de Windt.

Whether he was the creator or if he was taking credit for another’s work, you’ll have to decide for yourself. Though you might consider that the game has been invented and reinvented throughout history, gaining in popularity with each revival.

So now that you know Cornhole’s questionable history, you’re probably wondering, why corn?

The name comes from the grain that initially filled the bags. It should come as no surprise that Cornhole’s recent popularity began in the Midwest where corn’s readily available!

About 15 years ago Cornhole took over the Cincinnati bar and backyard scene. It didn’t take long for the rest of the country to catch on either.

Not even two decades later and you can find Cornhole in bars across America.

Cornhole has become so widely played that you can watch, or play in, the Cornhole World Championships. Win, and you’ll be crowned the King or Queen of Cornhole. Which means you better get looking for a league. Or at least figure out what Cornhole is if you want to be the king or queen. 

(Love Cornhole? You May Also Like Our Complete Guide to Ladder Toss)

What is Cornhole?

Playing Cornhole at Outdoor Bar

At its simplest Cornhole is a lawn game that is easily enjoyed in backyards, bars, and weddings.

You’ll need two platforms that face each on either side of the court. Players take turns throwing the eight corn-filled bags in a hole in the platform.

The goal is to get the beanbag in the hole.

You’ll still earn points though, for getting the bag on the board.

Outside of being a game of skill and precision, Cornhole is a social game. Sure, to be good you’ll need to practice for hours on your own. But part of the fun of the game comes from talking and drinking. That’s what makes it great for bars.

You can enjoy the social atmosphere, catch up with your buddies and get competitive with a serious game.

Cornhole is Also Known As . . .

You may recognize Cornhole as a game you’ve heard called by another name. It would not be surprising. Cornhole goes by many names.

Cornhole Alias

Some call it Bag Toss, Bags, Corn Toss. And others call it the Bean Bag Game. Depending on where you learned it, you may know it as the Tailgate Toss or even Soft Horseshoes.

The list of Cornhole’s aliases goes on and on.

Why is this Great Game So Much Fun?

Besides the fact that it’s the fastest growing game in America? It’s easy to learn how to play Cornhole, and it’s a fun game once you do.

You can pick up a quick game with friends while drinking at the bar or get yourself a setup at home. If you are going to have a gathering outdoors, Cornhole is the perfect addition.

With or Without Drinks

While you may have dismissed lawn games for a dated thing of the past, they’re a great way to entertain your friends. Some are easily turned into drinking games like Polish Horseshoes, others are better for family events.

Cornhole is great because you can keep it wholesome or add in the drinks.

Get Outside

It’s the perfect way to create an interactive space outdoors. The game itself doesn’t take up a lot of space but will quickly attract a crowd.

For Players of All Ages

Cornhole for All Ages

One of the coolest thigs about Cornhole is that it’s suitable for all ages. When played at family gatherings, don’t be surprised to see a game that includes three generations of the same family.

It’s Addictive

You’ll find people keep coming back for another game because it takes just enough skill to need practice while leaving the player free to hang out.

Singles or Doubles

Cornhole allows you to play on a team or against another player. The scoring may seem confusing if you’re a few drinks in, but it adds another layer of competition and intrigue. Once you’ve got it all down, it’ll be easy to learn tricks to improve your game.

It’s Part of Pop Culture

It’s become such a social phenomenon it’s everywhere. You can find it taking over YouTube. You can hear songs about it, you can even watch a Mockumentary on the Cornhole World Championships.

There Are Leagues

If you and your friends get into the game, you can create a league and start playing in competitions.

Wouldn’t it be awesome to excuse going to the bar with competing in a league?

Limitless Customization

The fun doesn’t end there either. Cornhole has its own set of accessories. From customized boards to colored bags and a plethora of DIY tutorials there are all types of ways to personalize your game.

Customize Your Board

Even if that’s not your thing, you can see from the way it’s taking over, that Cornhole is here to stay.

The Cornhole Rules and Terms

There may be some variations to playing recreational cornhole. Cornhole does, however, have official rules.

They are the rules put out by the American Cornhole Association (ACA).

These are the Cornhole rules you’ll need to know to play.

To Understand the Rules, Get to Know the Terms!

As you may have noticed already, Cornhole comes with its own set of terms.

From “pitching” to “innings,” or “out-of-count” to “in-the-count,” if you don’t know the vernacular, you won’t know the rules or understand how to play.

Some terminology won’t matter as much in the beginning, such as “back door,” which refers to a bag that you throw over an in-the-count bag landing in the hole.

Visually you can figure that out for yourself. And if someone talks about it not knowing won’t hurt your game.

If you don’t know what it means when you have the honors, however, you might miss pitching first.

So, familiarize yourself with the fun new language of the game!

Two Dudes Playing Cornhole

1. Singles or Doubles

Cornhole can be played one on one, or played as doubles, similar to tennis. When played one on one both players play from the same side of the court, pitching into the same hole. In doubles, the teams split and face each other. So, one player from each team is on either side.

2. Innings

Similar to most sports, the matches in Cornhole are broken into innings. In an inning, each side pitches four bags.

All four bags must be played by both teams to complete an inning. There is no preset amount of innings.

Once one of you reaches 21 points, you can end the game. If you hit 21 points mid-inning the inning must be completed.

3. Pitching

The term for throwing the bag is pitching. When playing singles, opponents take turns throwing the bags till each has pitched all four beanbags. For doubles, the teammates alternate tossing the bags between their turns. 

Each team only pitches one bag per turn.

Players can stand on either side of the board within the pitcher’s box. Once you’ve chosen your pitching arm, you cannot use the other arm for the entire game. That’s barring any medical emergencies.

 You only have 20 seconds to pitch, so make sure they count!

3. In-The-Hole

Getting the corn bag inside the hole is the ultimate goal of Cornhole.

You earn three points per beanbag. The trick to know is that anyone can get your bag in the hole. If another player knocks your bag in, you still earn the points!

4. In-the-Count

The technical term for when you get a bag on the platform but not in the hole. There are several reasons why this is a good idea.

For one, you have a chance of someone else knocking it in later. But more importantly, you score a point every time you get a bag on the platform. So, don’t shy away from this prime scoring option.

5. Out-of-Count

When you don’t hit anything but the ground, it’s called out-of-count. You don’t earn any points.

If your opponent pushes your bag off the board, you lose that point. Since scoring doesn’t happen till the end of the inning in-the-count pitches may turn out-of-count by the inning’s end.

6. Pitch Rotation

Pitch rotation depends on scoring, which we go into more details below.

In cancellation scoring, the player (or team) who scored in the previous inning gets to go first. Should neither player have scored then, the player who pitched second in the last inning will throw first in the current inning.

So, if you keep tying scores, then the first pitch rotates between sides.

Cornhole Fouls

Fouls are rule violations that have to be called out by another player or judge. Make sure you watch out for the following fouls:

Out of Bounds

The pitcher steps over the foul line or outside of the pitcher’s box while pitching.

Wrong Box

The pitcher switches boxes in an inning. Using the wrong box mid-inning.

Foul Bag

  • The bag hit the ground before hitting the platform or going in the hole.
  • The bag hit another object such as a tree or a table before hitting the platform or going in the hole.
  • The bag landed on the ground.

Removing a Bag Before Final Score

Offender loses all remaining bags in the inning. The offender will keep all points earned before the foul. For the rest of the inning, the bag grabber can’t make any more points.

The non-offender gets to tally 12 points as if they got all four pitches in the hole.

Dropped Bags

Dropping the bag after the final forward swing of a pitch will count as a player’s pitch. If the bag falls before the final forward swing of a pitch, then it is not a foul, and it does not count as a pitch. That bag may be picked up and pitched again.

While these rules are important to know they aren’t absolute. The American Cornhole Association claims Cornhole rules are more guidelines than absolutes.

The purpose of the regulations is to create consistency between games across the country.

Regulation Cornhole— Not Just for the Professionals

If you’re playing at a bar, these finer points may not be as relevant to you.

However, consistency across matches will help improve your game. It’s similar to playing on a regulation size pool table compared to a seven-foot table. It’ll throw you off, and the same goes with having improper Cornhole distance in court, between boards and anywhere else within the game.

The Specs Your Platform Needs

Cornhole Board and Bag Dimensions

The Cornhole board should be about 47.5 to 48 inches long and 23.5 to 24 inches wide. The wood should be at least a half an inch thick. The surface should be smooth but not so slippery that the bags slide off the back of the board.

Read more about how to find the best cornhole boards

The hole must have a diameter of 6 inches. It’s placed 9 inches from the top of the board and 12 inches from either side of the board.

The back of the board will be 12 inches from the ground. The front should be about 3-4 inches from the court.

These are probably the most precise specifications of learning how to play Cornhole. They’ll come in handy though, especially if you plan to build your Cornhole board.

The Specs Your Corn Bags Need

The two pieces of square fabric for the beanbag should be 6.25 square inches. Sew the seam at a quarter inch. If you’re using corn feed, 2 cups should fill the bags.

Whichever method you choose the final product should be a cloth square bag measuring close to 6 square inches. The beanbag should weigh between 14 and 16 ounces.

The Specs Your Court Needs

The court needs to be a flat rectangular area of 8-10 feet by 40-45 feet. Make a pitcher’s box on either end. The pitcher’s box is the width of the court by 3 feet. The platform goes in the center of the pitcher’s box leaving space on either side for the pitcher.

The foul line is at the end of the box. Regulation distance for the adult foul lines is 27 feet away from the opposite platform. It’s 12-15 feet for juniors.

If you have multiple lanes of Cornhole, they suggest that you keep them a minimum of 10-feet apart.

How to Tally Cancellation Scoring

The official Cornhole scoring used by the ACA. At the end of each inning, tally the points against opposing sides. A simple way to do it is to tally up each sides score. Then subtract the smaller score from the higher score. That’s the final score of the inning’s winning side.

Of course, if they’re the same, then there’s no winner of the inning.

Cornhole Tips and Tricks That Will Crown You King or Queen

Understanding the game will make it a lot more fun the next time you play at a bar. But there’s more to Cornhole than pitching the bag in the hole.

If you want to win, you’ll need to learn the Cornhole tips to becoming Cornhole King or Queen.

Improve Your Cornhole Pitch with These Easy Tricks

  • Pick a pitching stance. You can stand still to maintain form. Or you can step forward with your pitch, similar to bowling. The big difference is you want to swing up in Cornhole. So, even when trying to slide another of your bags into the hole make sure you get some air in that pitch.
  • Before pitching flatten out your bag completely. A crumpled bag won’t slide as well on the board and will be harder to control. Instead, smooth out the beanbag and pitch down the middle of the board. You always shoot for the middle because it will either get in the hole or get in the way of your opponent scoring. Either way, it’s working in your favor.
  • It’s generally agreed that your pitch should have a spin on it. The Queen of Cornhole takes it a step further and says to throw it like a Frisbee. Whatever you do, you don’t want it to rotate. To clarify it’s fantastic if your bag is flat and spinning, but if it is doing summersaults, that’s a problem.
  • Pitches you should master include the airmail, the blocker, the slider, and the push.
    • Airmail goes straight in the hole and is the hardest to land.
    • The slider is landing the bag on the front of the board and sliding it.
    • The blocker places the bag in front of the hole blocking the opponent.
    • Finally, the push pushes the bag into the hole.
  • Most importantly practice as much as you can. Spending a couple of hours just throwing bags at the board or in the hole may sound tedious, but it’s how to be the best.

All-Star Techniques for Cornhole

  • Playing doubles gives you an advantage, don’t be afraid to use it! Your teammate has an up-close view of the board. Talk to them. They might be able to see that your opponent’s bag is in the way of pushing your bag in the hole. If that’s the case, you’ll want to go for an airmail rather than a slide.
  • Play defense. When you’re against a strong opponent, you know that they’re going to get the bag in the hole. So, stop them. Place your bag in front of the hole earning yourself a point while blocking your opponent.
  • Relax, this is a bar game. Sure, it can be serious, but it’s still meant to be fun. Besides, a stiff body won’t play well.

All You Need to Know to Win

  • Make sure your clothes aren’t working against you. If they’re too long or loose, they can get in the way of your pitch. Biker shorts will improve your game while making you look fierce to competition. In the same vein make sure you’re wearing shoes you can move around in. Sure, sandals are excellent bar wear, but they aren’t great sportswear. Up your shoe game if you plan to take Cornhole seriously.
  • Don’t be afraid of getting into your opponent’s head either. A little trash talk can go a long way at messing up a pitch. And that’s half the battle.
  • While Cornhole is a fantastic bar game, it’s not a good idea to play while holding your beer. The pitch involves the entire body so don’t allow part of it to be distracted.

Cornhole is easily one of the best games for an ultimate night out.

So, take some time to learn how to play Cornhole and then start improving your game!

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