Cornhole 101: How To Play America’s Favorite Summer Lawn Game

Over the past few decades, cornhole (also called bag toss) has become a staple lawn game in the Midwestern US and has spread across the globe. 


Some say that the game originated from Germany and was brought to the United States (particularly Cincinnati) around the end of the 19th century by German immigrants looking for a better life and more opportunities. 

No matter where it came from, the game has grown in popularity and may now even be considered a legitimate sport -- it is regularly shown on ESPN, after all especially while most other sports were put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. 


There is also the American Cornhole Organization, established in 2005, which is considered the governing body for official cornhole play across the world. 


Equipment Needed

To play cornhole, you don’t need much! 

  • Boards: you will need two identical 2’x4’ boards with a 6-inch hole centered 9-inches from the top edge of the board. Most boards will have stationary or foldable legs on the back that allow for the board to be sloped at a slight angle. The back of the board should be 12 inches from the ground while the front of the board should be 4 inches from the ground. You could DIY your own and try to get the right specifications, or you can get one of our complete, portable sets so you can start playing immediately. 

  • Bags: you will need four bags in two different colors for a total of 8 bags. The bags should be 6”x6” and weigh approximately 1 pound each. A durable material is recommended for the bag so it can stand up to repeated tossing and abuse. 

If you don’t have a friend or neighbor who has their own set you can borrow, you can secure your invitation to every party and BBQ this summer by buying your own set and letting all your friends know! 


Setup

Cornhole can be played 1-on-1, but it is more fun with teams of two. You and an opponent will stand on either side of the board while your teammate and another opponent will do the same on the other side.  


Boards should be 27 feet apart from each other and facing directly towards each other. 

Gameplay 

Teams will take turns underhand tossing a bag towards the board on the other side of the field until all four bags have been tossed. The team who scores the most points in that round gets to throw first in the next round. If neither team scores, the team who threw first in that round will throw first again. 

When throwing, you should stand directly next to the board. All tosses must be thrown underhand, and you cannot step in front of or behind the imaginary line that extends horizontally from the front and back of your board. 

Scoring 

Cornhole is typically played to a score of 21 points. Some boards have built-in scoreboards to help you keep track, but not all. 


How to score:

  • 3 points if the bag goes through the hole
  • 1 point if the bag hits and remains sitting on the board 

Your toss must land directly on the board. Bags that bounce off the ground and land onto the board do not count. 

Points are kept on a cancellation scoring basis, which can be a little difficult to explain in words. It’s easier to give you an example scenario to explain how scoring works:

  • The black team put two bags through the hole and 1 bag on the board, for a total of 7 points
  • The yellow team but one bag through the hole and 2 bags on the board, for a total of 5 points
  • Instead of the score being 7 for black and 5 for yellow, the black team subtracts the yellow team’s points from their score, leaving them with a total of 2 points. 
  • The score would be 2 for the black team and 0 for the yellow team, with the black team getting to toss first in the next round 

The “official” rule from the ACO is that the first team to 21 points wins. However, there are two common “house rules” that are worth mentioning.

  • Win by 2: in this variation, the winning team has to get to 21 points AND win by two points. For example, if the black team has 21 points but the yellow team has 20 points, the game continues until the black or yellow team is ahead by 2+ points at the end of the round.
  • Bust rule: in this variation, the winning team has to score exactly 21 points at the end of the round in order to win. If they score 22 or more points, their score is reset back to 11 points for the next round. 

Example of the bust rule in action.

  • Imagine a game where at the start of the round the score is 19 (black) to 14 (yellow)
  • Both teams have thrown 3 bags so far and neither one has scored points
  • The black team, who has 20 points, just needs to score 1 point to win
  • The black team throws and makes one in the hole, meaning they would have 22 points at the end of the round (bust and go back to 11) 
  • In this situation, a few things could happen:
    • If the yellow team puts it through the hole, the score at the end of the round would be 3-3, so you would go on to the next round 
    • If the yellow team lands a bag on the board, the score at the end of the round would be 3-1, or 2 points for the black team, giving them a win. You do NOT want this to happen, 
    • In this case, it makes more sense to “burn” your toss by not actually tossing at the board and trying to score. This means that your opponent goes back to 11 points for busting and you get to toss first next round. 

5-Hole Cornhole

For a different variation of the game, at A11N we also offer a 5-hole cornhole game

There are a few key difference between this game and the one we outlined below:

  1. Instead of two boards, there is only one board to toss at 
  2. It may work better for 1-on-1 games instead of teams of two 
  3. There are 5 holes to aim for, each one worth a different amount of points 

You can kind of think of it as a mix between the style cornhole and the scoring of classic skeeball arcade game where you roll the balls up a ramp into rings worth different points. 


It might make more sense to play to a score of 50, 75, or even 100 for this game since the holes are worth either 5, 10, or 15 points. 


3 Tips for Beginners 

  1. Aim Small: instead of trying to “swish” your toss into the hole, it is a much better strategy to aim for the front of the board and try to slide your bag into the hole. This way, even if you miss, you still have a chance to earn 1 point for sticking your bag on the board AND you get the added bonus of making your opponent’s toss a little more difficult 
  2. Spin it: most professional players do not simply “toss” the bag into the board, they put a spin on the bag by keeping the bag parallel to the ground and spinning it with their fingers as it leaves their hand. It is possible to spin it by flicking your wrist, but this tends to lead to more misses than spinning it with your fingertips
  3. Stay consistent: instead of drastically changing your form or throwing style for each toss, try to keep your form the same so you can get really consistent with your throwing motion. This will leads to better tosses and more wins over the long run 

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