How to Play Shuffleboard at the Bar
The purpose of this comprehensive guide is to introduce you to the classic bar game of shuffleboard. Specifically, we are talking about how to play table shuffleboard.
In this post, I’ll summarize the most important shuffleboard rules for standard 2-person and 4-person shuffleboard matches.
We’ll also cover how scoring works in the standard game of “knock off” and review shuffleboard tips and technique.
Shuffleboard is one of my favorite bar games. One of the reasons I love it so much is that pretty much anyone can play it.
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 drop the hammer. We’ll explain what that means below.
- 10 Simple Shuffleboard Rules
- Choosing the Hammer
- How to Play 2-Person Shuffleboard
- How to Play 4-Person Shuffleboard
- Shuffleboard Scoring Rules
- More Shuffleboard Rules of Play
- Playing Table Shuffleboard: Tips and Technique
- The Shuffleboard Table and Accessories
10 Simple Shuffleboard Rules
This is a long post covering most aspects of how to play shuffleboard.
But if you’re ready to play and need some quick guidance, here are 10 simple shuffleboard rules so you can get started:
1) Choose Shooting Order and Colors Flip a coin. The winner can decide to shoot last (the “hammer”) or pick a color (red or blue). Shooting last is an advantage in shuffleboard.
2) Play to 15 or 21 Points
According to tournament shuffleboard rules, the game is played to 15 points.
You can also play to 21. First player to reach 15 or 21 wins.
3) Alternate Shots with Your Opponent
Opponents stand at the same end of the table and alternate shots, shooting towards the opposite end, until all 8 pucks have been shuffled.
4) Stand Behind the Table
Players must stand with at least one foot behind the table when shooting. You may lean on the frame for support. But do not hit or shake the table.
5) Only Farthest Pucks of One Color Score
Only pucks that are farther than your opponent’s highest scoring pucks are eligible for points. Only one player or team can score per round.
6) Must Clear the Foul Line
If a puck does not completely clear the foul line in the middle of the table, it is not eligible for points and should be removed from the table.
7) Scoring Zones
Pucks may land in the 1, 2, or 3 scoring zones. A puck must completely clear the line preceding the scoring zone to score points in that zone.
8) A “Hanger” is 4 Points
If any portion of a puck is hanging over the edge of the playing surface at the opposite end of the table, it is worth 4 points.
9) What to Do After Each Round
Determine and agree on the points in a round before touching any pucks. Scoring player shoots first in the next round. If there were no points in that round, the player who shot last in the previous round now shoots first.
10) Dusting the Table
A player may choose to apply powder to the table if he notices a dry spot on the board. The powder must be taken from the gully along the table. Teams should reapply a fresh coat of powder after every match.
The 10 simple shuffleboard rules listed above are enough for most players looking to play a friendly game at the bar.
Choosing the Hammer Before Your Round
Before you start your match in either 2 or 4 person table shuffleboard, you need to determine who shoots last by flipping a coin.
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.
But players should alternate shooting order after every round 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 Play 2-Person Shuffleboard
In a 2-person shuffleboard match, you and your opponent will stand at the same end of the table and shoot towards the opposite end.
As mentioned, before the match decide shooting order and colors. Also decide on how many points you are playing to (15 or 21).
Alternating turns with your opponent, you will each slide your 4 pucks until all 8 pucks have been shuffled.
Your goal is to shoot your puck as far down the table as possible without falling off.
In order to score, your puck must slide beyond your opponent’s farthest puck. So any scoring puck must out-distance your opponent’s highest scoring puck. And only one player can score per round.
You can also knock your opponent’s pucks off the side or end of the table. 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. You and your opponent will now move to the opposite side of the table to review the puck locations and determine the score for that round.
Do not touch any pucks until both players agree on the score for that round.
Shuffleboard with 4 Players
Four person shuffleboard matches are played in 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.
Flip a coin to start the match and determine which player shoots last for the first round. As in 2-person table shuffleboard, you then alternate shots with the opponent at your end of the table.
The same principles of scoring apply. Your goal is to slide your puck into scoring positions by either outdistancing your opponent’s puck or knockong them off the table.
Only one team scores per round.
In 4-person games, your partner can provide a little guidance from his vantage point at the other end of the table.
How to Keep Score in Table Shuffleboard
A game of shuffleboard is played to either 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.
As we’ll featured in later posts, there are several fun shuffleboard game variations that are scored differently.
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 are awarded to the furthest puck (or pucks) of the same color.
So, only one color can score per round. A scoring puck must be beyond your opponent’s deepest or highest scoring puck.
The shuffleboard table has four scoring zones: 1, 2, 3 and 4 (a “hanger”).
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. This would be considered the “short foul line”.
If your puck does not clear the foul line, it is considered out of play. A puck that is out of play must be removed 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. If it’s a close call, try to get above the puck to look down.
If can you see even a sliver of wood, it will score in the higher points zone.
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.
A Hanger is Worth 4 Points
A “hanger” is scored when any portion of a puck extends beyond the edge at the end of playing surface.
Even if it is just barely over the edge at the end of the table, it is still a “hanger” and worth 4 points.
But if it falls off before your opponent’s shot, it’s out of play and does not score.
If you have a 4 point hanger dangling off the end of the table, you and your opponent can agree to “make it safe” by pushing it back a little. 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.
Table Shuffleboard Rules of Play
You don’t need to carry around a copy of the official tournament shuffleboard rules to know how to play shuffleboard (but here’s a copy just in case).
Yet there are certain rules that will make the game run smoothly. And these basic shuffleboard rules may even prevent some arguments among friends.
Read on for an overview of additional table shuffleboard rules.
The following shuffleboard rules are based on official tournament play. Makes sure to check your bar to see if they have their own set of HOUSE RULES posted.
1. Keep at least one foot on the ground behind the table when shooting.
Where you stand at the table depends on how you like to shoot. It also may change depending on where you’re aiming.
Some players like to shoot from the side of the table, using their other hand to lean on the cradle of the table for support.
Other players like to line up straight down the middle.
Regardless of your stance, the lower half of your body must not cross the shooting end of the table. And one foot must stay on the ground.
2. Do Not Shake or Move the Table
You can lean on the table with your non-shooting hand for support, but do not move or shake the table in any way.
Shaking or moving the table during a shot is a 1 point penalty and the violating player or team shoots first in next round
3. Do not distract your opponent.
When it’s not your turn, you should always stand behind your opponent when he or she is shuffling.
Just like in golf, you should not obstruct an opponent’s line of sight or distract them. Also you may not touch the table while your opponent is up.
4. Only hold one puck when it’s your turn.
Before playing, all pucks should be visible and counted in the trough.
When it is your turn to shuffle, only hold a single puck in your hand. Do not hold another puck in your non-shooting hand.
5. Do not hold a puck or take a puck from the trough while your opponent is shooting.
All pucks must stay in the trough and only picked up when it’s your turn to shoot.
6. Do not touch the table surface when shooting
You can lean on the cradle for support but do not touch the actual playing surface. You cannot touch the playing surface when an opponent is shooting either.
7. In team matches, do not walk past the foul line to check puck positions
However, as mentioned, your teammate can tell you where your puck sits and give advice from the other end of the table.
In singles matches, you can walk to the other end to take a look at the exact location of your pucks when it’s your turn. Do not do this while your opponent is shooting though.
8. Taking longer than 30 seconds to shoot is slow play.
It’s okay to take your time. But according to tournament rules, taking more than 30 seconds to shoot is considered “slow play”.
The clock starts once your opponent’s previous shot has come to a complete stop.
In tournament play, the first time you exceed the 30 second time limit you get a warning. The second time results in a 1 point penalty.
Not everyone applies a strict time limit during a friendly game. But it may be helpful if you have others waiting to play and need to speed things along at the bar.
9. In Team Matches, you can take 1 timeout per round, 3 timeouts per game.
When playing in teams of two, you can take official timeouts to confer with your partner. Official rules say this can only happen after you’ve reached 10 points.
You can take 1 timeout per round but no more than 3 timeouts per game. The 30 second time limit does not apply during timeouts.
10. If your puck leaves the table surface, it is out of play.
Even if your puck makes a miraculous recovery and bounces back, it is still considered a dead puck and out of play.
11. Flipped pucks are not out of play.
A puck that flips over upon contact is not out of play. Just turn it right side up and carry on.
12. Wait until your opponent’s puck comes to a complete stop before shuffling.
This is an important one. Do not slide your puck until your opponent’s puck has come to a complete stop. This means there is no more forward motion.
If you shoot while your opponent’s puck is still moving and knock that puck off the surface, it will be returned to its original position and your puck will be removed from the table for that round.
13. If you shoot first by mistake, you must stay in that order.
If you have the hammer in a round but shoot first anyway, you must stay in this order until the end of the round. But your opponent can agree to restart in the correct rotation.
14. No switching colors during a game
If you pick up and shoot the wrong color puck, you may replace it with the correct color. But you may not switch colors at any point once the game has started.
15. Do not touch any pucks after a round until the score for that round has been decided
When the round is complete, walk to the other end of the table and tally the score.
Do not move any pucks until both players have viewed the pucks and agreed on the total points for that round.
If the leading pucks are tied, and it is not clear which is furthest, there is no score for that round. Again, for this situation it is best to get above the pucks and look down to assess which one is furthest.
16. Wipe down the table after the game
Basic 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.
In order 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 just millimeters. And being able to nudge your own pucks into better scoring positions with soft targeted slides is a key aspect of the game.
Also, spreading your pucks out is a good strategy to use when facing an opponent. It makes it harder to knock multiple pucks off in a single shot.
The puck should be held delicately with the thumb, index and middle fingers. This is a three finger grip that leaves the other two fingers available for guidance.
The thumb can be placed at the near rim of the puck, the index on top cap and the middle at the far rim.
Try to use the ring and pinky fingers to glide along the surface along with the puck. This can help control both the speed and accuracy of your shots.
Soon you’ll 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.
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.
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 (officially called “weights”) 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