An introduction to the classic bar game of table shuffleboard.
Table shuffleboard is one of my favorite bar games.
One of the reasons I love it so much is that pretty much anyone can play shuffleboard. And most people take to it right away.
But some people decide that the game looks strange or complicated, and they decide it’s not for them. If that’s you, you’re missing out.
Don’t worry. After reading this guide, you will know how to play shuffleboard.
So the next time you find a bar with a shuffleboard table, you’ll be ready to join in the fun.
This post will begin with a basic overview of how to play shuffleboard with two or four people.
Then we’ll go a little deeper into basic scoring principles technique and equipment.
Let’s get started
Shuffleboard with Two People
You and your buddy see an empty shuffleboard table. You decide it looks fun and want to give it a try.
Here’s how to play a game of shuffleboard with two people.
You and your opponent will stand at the same end of the table.
Decide who gets the red pucks and who gets the blue pucks. There are eight pucks total. These are also called weights.
Now decide on how many points to play to. The standard numbers are 15 or 21.
You will alternate turns sliding your pucks towards the opposite end of the table.
Your goal is to shoot your puck as far down the table as possible without falling off.
Your puck must slide beyond your opponent’s farthest puck to score. It must land in a scoring section, of which there are three.
Only one player can score per round.
You can also knock your opponent’s pucks off the side or end of the table. Hence the name of the game – “Knockoff”.
And you can make contact with your own pucks to push them into better scoring positions.
After shooting all 8 pucks, you have completed one round.
Both players now move to the opposite side of the table to review the puck locations.
Do not touch any pucks until both players agree on the score for that round.
After determining the score, begin the next round from this end of the table.
Rounds continue until one player reaches either 15 or 21 points.
How to Play Shuffleboard with Four People
Shuffleboard is also fun with four players.
First, choose your teams of two.
You and your teammate stand at opposite ends of table, each standing next to an opposing player.
You stay at your end of the table for the whole game. No alternating sides in this one.
Otherwise it is the same as 2-person shuffleboard.
You and your opponent alternate slides towards the opposite end.
Try to slide your puck into scoring positions. Only the farthest puck(s) of the same color will count. You can also knock pucks off the table.
And, a bonus is that your partner can offer some guidance from the other side.
After you agree on the score for that round, the next team begins their turn, shooting from their side of the table.
Four person games are usually played until one team reaches 15 or 21 points.
Playing doubles is a great way to enhance the social aspect of the game and get more people involved.
A note about shooting order in shuffleboard matches:
Shuffleboard matches may begin with a coin toss.
Winner of the coin toss gets to choose to either shoot last (be the “hammer”) or pick a color.
Most people pick to shoot last for the first round.
In shuffleboard it is an advantage to shoot last in a round.
This is also known as the “hammer”.
The hammer gives you the last chance to clear an opponent’s pucks off the board, or advance your own pucks into better scoring positions.
After the first round, players should alternate shooting order as follows:
- The player who scored in a round will go first in the next round. This way the non-scoring player can shoot last.
- If there are no scores in a round, the team or player with the hammer in the previous round shoots first in the next round.
How to Keep Score in Table Shuffleboard
As mentioned, most games end when a player reaches 15 or 21 points.
15 points is the standard number used in official tournament play.
Many people still play to 21 points though. Unless the bar or house shuffleboard rules differ, the number is up to you.
The following shuffleboard scoring guidance is for the traditional “knock off” game format.
(There are several fun shuffleboard game variations with different scoring rules).
In knock off, the first player or team to reach 15 (or 21) wins.
There is no “win-by-two” in the classic game of table shuffleboard.
Points only go to the furthest puck (or pucks) of the same color.
The shuffleboard table has three scoring sections.
The first zone awards 1 point per puck. And all pucks must completely clear the center foul line to be eligible for points.
On most shuffleboard tables, the foul line is across the middle of the table.
If your puck does not clear the foul line, it is out of play. Remove it from the table.
The second and third scoring zones award 2 and 3 points respectively.
A puck must be completely within a scoring zone, not touching the preceding line, to be eligible for those points.
If any part of the puck is on the preceding line, it is only eligible for points in the lower section.
When it’s too close to call, try to get above the puck to look down.
From this angle, if can you see even a sliver of wood between the puck and line, it will score in the higher points zone.
And if you need to lean on the table to get a better view, that’s fine. But do not shake the table or move any pucks in the process.
View our full list of shuffleboard rules.
A Hanger is Worth 4 Points
A “hanger” scores when any part of a puck extends beyond the edge of the table end.
Even if it only a sliver is over the edge at the end of the table, it is still a “hanger” and worth 4 points.
Yet, if the puck falls off the edge before your opponent’s shot, it’s out of play and does not score.
Also note that players can agree to make hangers “safe” by pushing the puck back towards the table.
This is a common shuffleboard courtesy and included in official shuffleboard rules
If you cannot tell whether the puck is a hanger, here is a simple trick:
Place a puck on its side and press the top end against the end of the playing surface. Now slide the puck along end of the table.
If this puck makes contact with the disputed hanger, you know part of that puck was hanging over the end of the table.
It would be worth 4 points.
Basic Shuffleboard Tips and Technique
Like any classic bar sport, it takes time and patience to learn how to play shuffleboard and become a skilled player.
But a little practice and muscle memory will go a long way.
A shuffleboard stroke should be soft and measured.
Notice how skilled players have a very slow and controlled motion leading up to the release. Their follow-through keeps the same steady pace.
To reach a basic comfort level with your release, take a few slow and controlled practice shots.
Notice how little effort it takes to float your puck to the opposite end of the table.
After mastering the speed of your release, try working on your accuracy.
For instance, practice aiming for different points on the table. This could be different scoring sections, opposite corners or triangular formations.
Remember, game winning shots often come down to millimeters.
The ability to place your pucks in better scoring positions with soft and precise shots is key.
Also, spreading your pucks out is a good strategy to use when facing an opponent. It makes it harder to knock many pucks off in a single shot.
You should hold a puck with the thumb, index and middle fingers.
This is a soft, three finger grip that leaves the other two fingers available for guidance.
The thumb stays on the near rim of the puck, while the index finger is on top cap and the middle finger is at the far rim.
Try to use the ring and pinkie fingers to glide in front along the surface while you slide with the puck. This can help control both the speed and accuracy of your shots.
You’ll soon get a feel for the speed of the table and the right amount of effort needed to cross the foul line and place your puck within scoring position.
As you play more – even over the course of just a couple games – you will develop a consistent pace with better accuracy.
This is when the game of shuffleboard really gets fun.
An Overview of the Shuffleboard Table, Pucks and Accessories
The game of table shuffleboard has some unique physical features. In addition to reviewing the rules of how to play this game, it’s also helpful to know more about the equipment you’ll be using.
Here’s a quick review of essential shuffleboard equipment. Starting with the table.
The Shuffleboard Table
A shuffleboard table has a long and narrow playing surface.
In fact, the length of a full-sized tournament table is 22 feet. That’s over twice the length of a regulation pool table.
The playing surface of an official table is 20′ 8″ long x 20″ wide. And the height of the table to the top of the playing shuffleboard surface is 30 inches.
If you’re at a bar with a full size shuffleboard table, consider yourself lucky. It’s a real pleasure to play at this scale.
But to fit in the tighter spaces of bars and basements, recreational tables can range anywhere from 9 to 20 feet.
A common length for a barroom shuffleboard tables is 12 feet.
Recreational shuffleboard tables also vary in width. But it’s definitely more fun to play on a table with a surface that is at least 18” wide. This allows for adequate spacing between the pucks on the table.
Shuffleboard tables have hardwood playing surfaces. High quality surfaces are usually made from maple and coated with epoxy to protect against dings and scratches.
Most surfaces are also concaved. This means the center line angles inward to keep pucks from wandering off.
If you own a table, clean, wax and spray the surface with silicone on a regular basis to maintain it.
What’s that powder for?
You may notice that powder covers the playing shuffleboard playing surface.
Shuffleboard powder is sometimes called salt or wax. But the powder is actually made from silicone beads and cornmeal.
The powder helps provide a fast, smooth and straight glide.
You can apply a new coat for each game.
Also, a player can apply powder from the gully if they notice dry spots before a shot.
Your Shuffleboard Pucks (aka Weights)
Regulation size table shuffleboard pucks are 2.3125 inches wide. Smaller pucks measure closer to 2 inches wide and are better for narrow playing surfaces.
Pucks come in sets of eight: four red and four blue.
Official pucks weigh about 12 ounces, but recreational pucks can range anywhere from 11 – 15 ounces.
Enjoy the Game
Stay tuned for more posts about how to play shuffleboard, including technical tips, an overview of variations on the popular “knock-off” format, and some of the best bars with shuffleboard tables in the US.
And for some more inspiration, check out this shot:
Learn More About Shuffleboard Tables: McClure Tables
The History of Shuffleboard from Bower’s Corner