One night, you’re out with your friends at a local establishment, enjoying a drink and some good laughs. Everyone is having a good time. Then, one of your friends suggests, “Hey, let’s go play shuffleboard,” and motions to this big, long table over in the corner of the room. If you’re new to the game, you may be wondering to yourself, “How do you play shuffleboard?” Read this 101 guide about playing shuffleboard so when the opportunity presents itself you can rise to the occasion.
Before you jump into learning how to play shuffleboard, let’s first take a quick look at the history of this game to really understand what makes it so much fun (if you’re uninterested in the history, just scroll down).
The game itself is a variation of floor shuffleboard that began in the 1500s and made its way indoors in the 1600s when tavern owners in England were looking for something people could gamble on when they were drinking. At this time, tavern goers used a silver coin to play the game. The 1700s is when shuffleboard found its way to the United States and the late 1800s, early 1900s is when it caught on throughout the country. During WWII, the game’s popularity really took off as it provided people with a way to escape the turmoil of the world around them. In the 1950s, manufacturers began to mass produce shuffleboard tables for the masses and the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s is when it turned into the game that people know and love today.
Various names the game has been, and is still, known by are: shufflepuck, shovelboard, shovelpenny, shoveapenny, slidegroat, shoveboard, and shove ha’penny.
There are a few pieces of important equipment that are needed to play table shuffleboard. Here’s what that equipment is:
The Table – The table shuffleboard dimensions can be as short as nine feet long (2.7 meters) to as long as 22 feet (6.7 meters). It is at the smallest 1.67 feet (.51 meters) wide and has an open edge gutter. Variations of the table have been introduced during the history of the game and sometimes the table can have side gutters, side rails or two sets of scoring zones.
Pucks or Weights – These are what you slide on the table when you’re playing. They’re round, made from a combination of plastic and metal, and weigh anywhere from 11.5 ounces (326 grams) to 15 ounces (425.2 grams). Usually, they have bumble indentations on their surface (as shown in the picture) and are blue or red in color. However, sometimes they’re available in other colors as well.
Silicone Beads (aka Shuffleboard Wax) – When you’re playing, sometimes the surface of the table can get tacky and that’s where silicone beads come into play. They’re super small and are thrown on the table to make it easier for the pucks to slide.
When it comes to the rules to follow as you’re taking part in this game, there aren’t that many really. In fact, there are three simple rules:
An even number of players can play. Typically, you’ll go head-to-head against someone else, but other times, you can play in teams of two.
You take turns sliding pucks when you’re playing someone else.
The goal of the game is to be the first person to score the most points.
Points & Scoring
Generally speaking, when you play shuffleboard, you will play to either 15 or 21. To get to 15 or 21, you do it by getting points that total 3, 2, or 1 since there are three different scoring zones. An up close example of the usual way the scoring zones are organized is shown to the right.
In order to get any of those amounts, four different things have to happen when you slide your puck:
It has to go past the foul line in order to score. If it doesn’t make it past the foul line on the table, then it doesn’t count.
The puck has to stay on the actual playing surface and cannot drop into the gutter at the end of the table or the side gutters (if the table you’re playing on has side gutters).
Get your pucks the closest that you can to the end of the scoring zone to score the highest possible points on each shot.
Make sure your pucks are further than your opponent’s pucks so their shots don’t cancel out your shots. In this game, if your opponent’s puck is further down the table than your puck, your shot won’t count.
Scoring for table shuffleboard may seem a little tricky at first. For a more thorough explanation we have a more comprehensive guide on shuffleboard scoring.
Believe it or not, indoor shuffleboard can get pretty exciting and it’s not always due to that drink in your hand. Nope, it’s because there are all sorts of crazy impressive shots you can pull off when you’re playing. Seriously, even the most basic of shots can be fun to see. Here are some of the options:
Free Shot – This is the basic, most simple shot you can execute when you’re learning how to play shuffleboard. You slide the puck straight down the table without bouncing it off the rails. Essentially, you just go for it.
Hanger – This is a shot where you slide the puck and try to hang it right off the edge of the table to get three points.
Bump Shot – This is when you try to push, or bump, one of your own shots into better scoring position.
Knock Off Shot – When you use this shot, you’re goal is to smash your opponent’s puck out of scoring position, or better yet, off the playing surface completely.
Stick Shot – This is a shot you use when you try to stick your puck in place of an opponent’s.
Guard Shot – In this case, you place your puck to guard one of your previously shot point-scoring pucks so your opponent cannot knock it out of scoring contention.
The above are only some examples of the multiple shots you can complete when you’re playing. Some additional shots include the spin or go around shot, the side-wheeling shot, and the English spin-out.
A Few Tips and Tricks
To help you get your game somewhat competitive quickly, here are a few tips and tricks to take advantage of:
Leave the drinks and food out of the equation until you’re done since it can definitely get a little messy when there’s a little competition.
Who should go first? Always offer your opponent the opportunity to go first. Not only will you seem magnanimous, but strategically it’s to your advantage. In this game, you actually have the advantage if you go second because you can plan based on your opponent’s shots. For example, if they shoot a hanger, you could smash theirs off the table.
Scope out your competition. It’s easier to win if you watch who you’re playing and adjust your play to take advantage of their weaknesses.
Throw a few warm-up shots before you start the game. This allows you to get a feel for the table and the weights. Does the table have any curves or divots? Pay attention to how the puck reacts based on how you hold and slide it so you can begin the game with confidence.
Now that you’ve read this 101 guide on playing shuffleboard, you should be able to get into the game the next time you’re out with your friends so you’re not tempted to sit out and miss all the fun. And remember, if you want to learn more about this game, check out our Shuffleboard Strategy & Tips article. Also, if you want to take your play to the next level and impress your friends, read How to Play Crazy 8’s or Shuffleboard Bowling. They’re alternative table shuffleboard games that will keep you and your friends entertained for hours. Finally, if you really want to practice and bring home the fun, our Shuffleboard Buying Guide should help give you some great insight.