A Handy 101 Guide to Cornhole Rules10 min read

Image Credit: Gfuerer on Wikimedia

When you’re throwing a big party, your top priority is to make sure your guests have a good time. You’ve stocked up on scrumptious drinks and snacks, and you’ve made sure your cooler is full of ice cold beer, but the best way to make sure your guests go home feeling great is to provide a fun party game like cornhole. Cornhole is a great way to make sure your guests are having a good time and interacting with each other. It’s a non-intimidating, crowd pleasing game that guests of all skill levels can enjoy.

Not sure how to play the game? This post will teach you all you need to know about the official rules and best practices of cornhole, also known as bean bag toss. After reading,  you’ll not only know how to play the game, you’ll learn how to master it as well and perhaps you’ll want to pick up some slang. While cornhole has a long history of rules, today most people mainly rely on the official rules set by the American Cornhole Association (ACA) and the American Cornhole Organization (ACO), which vary slightly. We will be covering both rules in this post.

How to Play the Game

Although there are some differences in the equipment and court regulations of the ACA and the ACO, their official rules to play cornhole are basically the same. You can play bean bag toss as one-on-one (singles) or two-on-two (doubles) games.

  • Singles – In a singles game, both players will stay on the same side of the court with one cornhole board standing in the middle of them. This is called the headboard. They will be pitching from here to the cornhole board on the other side of the court. This is called the footboard.

Each player gets four bean bags to toss, and they pitch at alternate intervals until they have thrown all four bags. This is the end of an inning. They then walk to the other cornhole board and start another inning. The player who scored higher gets to throw first for each inning. If neither player managed to score in the first inning, the player who pitched second gets to start the second inning.

  • Doubles – The official rules of play for a doubles game is somewhat similar to the one-on-one game rules. The main difference is that each pitcher box is occupied, with one team occupying each lane. During a half inning, the two players on one end of the court will pitch to the cornhole board at the other end. And once they’ve finished, the two players on the other end will start the second half of the inning by taking their turn to pitch.

Whichever team managed to score higher in the first half of the inning will get to pitch first in the second half. The same rule applies for full innings, but if neither team managed to score in the first inning, the team that went second will get to start the second inning.

Cornhole Scoring

In bean bag toss, your toss can be valued in three ways:

  • Bag In-The-Hole or Cornhole – This is when you throw the bean bag into the hole of a cornhole board. It is worth 3 points.
  • Bag In-The-Count or Woody – This is when the bean bag lands on the cornhole board playing surface without touching the ground or falling into the hole. It is worth 1 point.
  • Bag Out-Of-The-Count or Foul – This is when the bag lands anywhere except on the playing surface or inside the hole, or on the playing surface while touching the ground. This is worth 0 points.

The cancellation scoring method is the ACO-approved method of cornhole scoring. It involves one player’s points cancelling out the opponent’s points. So when one player throws a bag in-the-hole, it will cancel out their opponent’s bag in-the-hole, and neither of those bags will score a point. A bag in-the-hole that hasn’t been cancelled out will score 3 points.

Similarly, one player’s bag in-the-count will cancel out their opponent’s bag in-the-count. Neither of those bags will score a point. But if there’s any bag in-the-count that hasn’t been cancelled out, it will score 1 point.  

You calculate the total points of both players for one inning. After this, you subtract the smaller score from the higher score. The player that scored higher during that inning is then awarded with the difference in points.

For example, the red team gets 2 bags in-the-count and 1 bag in-the-hole for one inning. So their total score is 5 points. The blue team gets 1 bag in-the-count and 1 bag in-the-hole for the same inning. So their total score is 4 points. The red team will then get the difference of 1 point for that inning.

What Counts as a Foul?

In bean bag toss, the following actions are considered a foul:

  1. When a player steps over the foul line
  2. When a player pitches from an incorrect pitcher box
  3. When a bean bag hits the ground and then lands on the cornhole board
  4. When a bean bag lands on the ground
  5. When a bean bag hits some other object besides the board
  6. When a player takes too long to pitch. A player must pitch within 15 seconds after their opponent’s bag comes to rest.

Best Practices to Master Bean Bag Toss

Now that you know some of the basic rules to play cornhole, let’s take a look at some of the best practices that can help you master the game:

  • One of the biggest beginner’s mistakes in bean bag toss is throwing a liner or a line drive, which is when you throw overly hard in a low arc. It’s very easy to throw a foul this way because the flat trajectory can cause the bag to skip off the board. Instead, try to throw your bean bag with a little bit of arc so that it lands flat on the cornhole board.
  • Instead of just throwing the bag and expecting the best outcome, practice how you hold and throw it to get better results. You ideally have to keep the bag flat and maintain control over the bag’s center. But other than these steps, there is no perfect way to toss a bean bag. Just try out different modes and see which one works for you.
  • Since cornhole is usually played at social events, players tend to go a little overboard with their drinking while they play the game. Nothing wrong with that but if you’re looking to win, you may want to pace yourself and drink bit by bit over the course of the game.

Cornhole Board Equipment Standards

There are several factors to consider when it comes to cornhole equipment standards. These include the size and dimensions of the board, the material, the height, the hole positioning, and more. Let’s take a look at these main factors:

  • Dimensions and Size of Cornhole Boards – There are slight differences in the official cornhole board dimensions of the ACA and the ACO. The ACA requires that the dimensions of a cornhole board should be 48 inches in length and 24 inches in width. It should be made of plywood with a minimum thickness of ½ inches.

    The ACO is a bit more lenient with their official rules for cornhole board size. Their recommended dimensions for a cornhole board are  47.5 inches to 48 inches in length and 23.5 inches to 24 inches in width. The playing surface should be at least ½ inch thick with cross-section backing. Without cross-section backing, it should have a minimum thickness of ¾ inch.
  • Material – Both the ACA and ACO recommend that you play cornhole using only wooden cornhole boards. This is because there’s a significant difference in the quality of play provided by a wooden board and a board made of other materials.

    Other materials tend to have too much bounce, which isn’t ideal for good game play. However, you do find cornhole boards made of composite MDF or plastic materials, which are often used for casual play by beginners.
  • Hole Positioning – The ACA and ACO are also in agreement about the size and positioning of the hole. It should be 6 inches in diameter and located 9 inches from the top of the playing surface. It should also be centered from each side of the board.
  • Cornhole Board Height – As for the height, the ACA is very specific and requires that the front of the board should be 4 inches from the bottom to top. It should also be at a 90-degree angle to the face of the deck. Per the ACO, the front of the board can be anywhere between 3 inches and 4 inches from the ground to the top. Both agree that the back of the board needs to be 12 inches when measured from the ground to the top of the surface.
  • Finishing – According to the official rules set by the ACA and the ACO, you need to use a board that’s finished and sanded to a smooth texture. You should make sure there aren’t any damages or blemishes to the surface. Otherwise, it could negatively affect the game play.

    The ACA even requires that you use a semi gloss exterior latex paint to paint the board. This will ensure that the playing surface is smooth but not too slippery that the bags end up sliding back down the board.
  • Cornhole Bag Size – While the ACA recommends that you use 10 ounces per square yard duck canvas to make your cornhole bags, you can also use any durable fabric such as canvas, synthetic suede, or twill according to the ACO rules. The bags should be 6 inches by 6 inches and weigh 15 to 16 ounces (or 14 to 16 ounces per the ACA). You can either fill the bags with feed corn or plastic pellets.

Official Rules for Cornhole Court Layout

The biggest difference between the official rules of the ACA and ACO is in the layout of the board. Let’s briefly take a look at the specifications by both of these bodies.

ACA Court Layout

  1. A cornhole court should be 45 feet long and 10 feet wide, containing designated pitcher boxes, two cornhole boards, and foul lines. In indoor or covered courts, there should be a minimum vertical clearance of 12 feet.
  2. The pitcher box is a 4 feet by 3 feet rectangle placed at each end of the court (a total of 4 boxes). They should be placed parallel to each other and on both sides of the cornhole boards. Contestants need to remain within this box while pitching their bean bag.
  3. The foul line in open adult play is an imaginary line that extends 30 feet from the hole of one cornhole board to the opposite cornhole board.
  4. The foul line in junior play is an imaginary line that extends 21 feet from the hole of one cornhole board to the opposite cornhole board.

ACO Court Layout

  1. A cornhole court should be 40 feet long and 8 feet wide. It should ideally have a vertical clearance of 12 feet.
  2. The pitcher box is 4 feet by 3 feet rectangle placed at each end of the court (a total of 4 boxes). They should be placed parallel to each other and on both sides of the cornhole boards.
  3. The distance between the front edge of one cornhole board to the front edge of the other should be 27 feet.
  4. The front edge is the foul line in adult play.

Conclusion

These are some of the most important official rules and the basics that you need to know if you’re going to learn how to play cornhole. We’ve also provided you with some essential best practices that can help you improve your play. Now use these tips to practice your bean bag toss and prepare yourself for your next outdoor social event and perhaps even consider buying a set.