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Today we’re going to take a deep dive into a game that’s played almost everywhere at picnics, potlucks, scout meets, company barbecues and back yards around the world. Some folks know this game as bean bag toss, but here in the South in the good ol’ US of A where I live (Murfreesboro, Tennessee to be exact) the game I’m talking about goes by one name and one name only…. CORN HOLE!

Now I know there are some of you out there rolling your eyes right now because cornhole is such a simple and basic staple of American yard games and everyone THINKS they know how to play it! Just set up a couple of boards on the ground with holes cut out, place them about 10 feet apart from each other and try to throw bean bags through the holes. Right??? Well yes, but there’s a HOLE lot more to it than that!

Did you know that there are Official Corn Hole Rules as set forth by the Official Governing Body of Cornhole??? Otherwise known as the AMERICAN CORNHOLE ASSOCIATION??? Well today we’re going to break out our own cornhole game, set it up per the regulations set forth by the American Cornhole Association and show you how to play by the proper tournament-accepted rules. And for this, we’re going to refer to the ACA’s website which can be found at playcornhole.org which will dictate the proper dimensions and measurements for how far apart to place the boards and how to legally position players!

Now according to American Cornhole Association mandates,

“A cornhole court shall be a level rectangular area 8-10 feet wide and a minimum of 40-45 feet long. The court should consist of two cornhole boards, designated pitcher’s boxes, and foul lines.”

Let’s talk about the PITCHER’S BOX!

Now the Pitcher’s Box, where players must stand as they throw their bean bags, shall be rectangular 4ft x 3ft at each end of the court, parallel with, and on both sides of the board. Players must NOT step outside of the Pitcher’s Box while pitching the cornhole bag.

There are also FOUL LINES. 

Two sets to be exact, which determine whether a tossed bag is considered a foul or not. One for adults, and one for kids 12 and under. The adult foul line is parallel to the front of the opposite board and the junior foul line is still the front of the opposite board but they are allowed to stand 12-15 feet in front of their own board while throwing, or at least that is the best I was able to understand it from reviewing the official guidelines.

Now let’s have a look at THE BOARDS!

Cornhole boards need to be between 47 and a half to 48 inches in length to 23 and a half to 24 inches wide. If they are to be used in an ACA sanctioned tournament, they will have to be made of smooth plywood at least ½ in thickness. Plastic and metal boards cause significant variance in the way the bags slide and react as opposed to wood and therefore may not be used in ACA sanctioned tournaments.

The holes are 6 inches in diameter located 9 inches from the top and 12 inches from the side of the board edges.

The board top shall be 3-to-4 inches from the bottom to the top

The back of the board shall be approximately 12 inches from the ground to the highest point of the deck.

The board surfaces must be smooth without blemish which may disrupt or distort play.

It is recommended that the surface be painted or varnished as such that the bags can slide, but not so slippery as to allow bags to reverse-slide back down to the front of the board after landing.

As you can see, in order to play the game “correctly” there’s a lot more to this than meets the eye! There are even regulations for the bags themselves! They must be constructed of two durable fabric squares (usually canvas) 6.25” with a .25” stitched seam on all four sides,, filled with 2 cups of feed corn. Once sewn shut, a finished bag should be 6 inches square and weigh between 14 – 16 ounces. Plastic pellets may be used in lieu of feed corn if constructing an all-weather bag but who the heck wants to throw cornhole bags that ain’t go no feed corn in em!?

ALRIGHT! NOW IT’S TIME TO ADDRESS THE PROPER RULES OF GAME PLAY!

For simplicities sake, we’re only going to go over the rules for singles play (that’s one-on-one). If you would like the official rules for doubles and larger team play, please visit the American Corn Hole Association website where you can download pdf files and regulations to your heart’s content!

  • Both players stay in their designated lane for the whole game.
  • Players start the game at the headboard and will alternate pitching bags until each player has pitched all four of his/her bags.
  • Players then walk to the end of their lane to the other court, take score, and resume pitching back to the other board.
  • The top of an inning is completed when the first player pitches all four bags; the bottom of the inning is completed when the remaining player pitches all four bags.

SCORING

The approved method of scoring for the sport of cornhole is “cancellation” scoring. In cancellation scoring, the points of one player cancel out the points of their opponent. Using this method, only one player/team can score in each inning. Meaning that if I score 5 points in an inning and my opponent only scores 3, then their 3 is subtracted from my 5 and I become the winner of the inning with 2 points.

  • Bag In-The-Count (Woody) : Any bag which comes to rest anywhere on top of the board. Each is worth one (1) point.
  • Bag In-The-Hole (Cornhole) : Any bag which is thrown through the hole or knocked through the hole by another bag. Each is worth three (3) points.
  • Foul Bags – Refers to any bag that has not been determined as Bag In-The-Count or Bag In-The Hole or was designated a foul bag as the result of rules violation

PLAYER PITCHING ROTATION

The player or team who scored in the preceding inning has the honor of pitching first in the next inning. If neither player or team scores, the player or team who pitched first in the preceding frame shall retain first pitch in the next frame.

POSITION OF PLAYERS DURING PITCHING

  • The pitcher must be within the pitcher’s box or behind the foul line (in the case of a junior player) at the time of bag release.
  • A player must pitch all four bags from their designated pitcher’s box.
  • Players must pitch the bag with an under-hand release.

FOUL BAG RULE VIOLATIONS

The following are rule violations that must be spotted and called by a player or assigned judge. The penalty is to declare the bag a foul bag, which requires the bags to be removed from the court prior to resuming play.

  1. Any bag pitched when the player has made contact with or crossed over the foul line
  2. Any bag pitched when the player has started or stepped completely outside the pitcher’s box before the bag is released
  3. Any bag not delivered within the 20-second time limit (so there’s a shot clock)
  4. A bag pitched from a different pitcher’s box than the first bag
  5. Any bag that contacted the ground before coming to rest on the board
  6. Any bag that struck a previously defined object such as a tree limb, wire, indoor court ceiling, etc.
  7. Any bag removed from the board before scoring has been agreed upon for that bag
    1. The offending team (who touches the bags) forfeits all remaining bags and tallies the score of just the bags thrown before the foul was reported
    2. The non-offending team tallies twelve (12) points as if they had thrown four Bag In-The-Holes (Cornholes) during the inning
  8. A bag that leaves a player’s hand once the final forward swing of the delivery process has started shall count as a pitched bag
  9. A bag that is accidentally dropped by a player before the final forward swing has started shall not be considered foul and may be picked up and pitched. Protests – If a player desires to make a protest, the protest shall be made to the judge or official at the time the problem occurs. The judge shall make the final ruling on all protests.

DETERMINING WINNERS – TRADITIONAL 21

The game shall be played to the predetermined number of twenty-one points. The first player/team to reach (or exceed) that amount at the conclusion of an inning is the winner!

OR…. You could just toss the bags back and forth and have fun until the hot dogs are ready!

I’d like to give a very special thank you to the American Cornhole Association for their guidelines. Be sure to give their website a visit at playcornhole.org for downloadable rules and play court templates as well as to see where tournaments are being held in your area. You can even add your own tournaments to their calendar! They also have an online shop for purchasing your own boards and bags and can even make custom orders if you’re like me and have always dreamed of having your dog’s face on a cornhole board!

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Neil Dandy is the creator of The Dandy Fun House and the alter-ego of Neil Smith, the Big Cheese at Neil Smith Entertainment and Productions, musician, DJ, Emcee and author. Aren’t you impressed?