How Bean Bag Toss Works

Country crooner Dierks Bentley plays it in the parking lot before his concerts. Fellow singer Craig Campbell and former New England Patriots offensive lineman Matt Light host tournaments that feature it as entertainment. And scores of families enter into amateur competitions throughout the United States. What is it? Bean bag toss, of course [sources: Betts, Light Foundation, Watts].

Bean bag toss, otherwise known as cornhole or corn toss, is a game in which players take turns throwing a square corn- or bean-filled fabric bag at a hole in a wooden platform from a distance of about 30 feet (9.1 meters).


Like most backyard games, the rules of cornhole can vary. But we're going to spell them out as written by the American Cornhole Association, which bills itself as the largest organized cornhole association in the U.S. The platform should be a 48-inch by 24-inch (122-centimeter by 61-centimeter) rectangle made of half-inch (1.27 centimeter) plywood that has been sanded and covered in high gloss paint for a smooth finish. The front of the platform is elevated 2.5 inches to 4 inches (6.35 centimeters to 10.1 centimeters); the back of the platform, which is farthest away from the player and contains the hole, is elevated to 12 inches (30.4 centimeters) to form a 90 degree angle with the floor, somewhat like an easel.

The hole in the board should be 6 inches (15.2 centimeters) in diameter and centered 9 inches (23 centimeters) from the top and 12 inches (30.4 centimeters) from either side of the platform. The bags you're using to throw should be 6 inches square [source: American Cornhole Association].

If bean bag toss is starting to sound a lot like a game of horseshoes, you aren't off the mark. The primary difference is the weight of the object being tossed, since horseshoes weigh more than the regulation 14-ounce to 16-ounce (396- to 453-gram) corn bags. This may be why bean bag toss is sometimes called "soft horseshoes." And just as with horseshoes, players earn more points the closer the bag lands to the target. If the bag enters the hole cleanly and falls through, players earn the most possible points [source: American Cornhole Association].

Fortunately for game players who enjoy a challenge, the game of bean bag toss is deceptively simple. Sure, the object is to toss the bag in the hole, but that's not as easy as it sounds.


How to Play Bean Bag Toss

A bean bag toss set, complete with board and bags.

Want to win at bean bag toss? Simple. Score 21 points.

Want to score 21 points? It's not that simple.


For singles play, start by gathering two players and a platform. Each player takes turns tossing bags at the platform until all eight bags – four for each player – have been played, keeping track of the score as the game progresses.

In doubles play, teams of two players compete against each other using two platforms.

Using American Cornhole Association rules, the scoring goes like this:

  • Three points: A bag goes into the hole. This is called a corn bag in-the-hole or hole-in.
  • One point: A bag does not go through the hole but lands with a part of it resting on the platform. This is known as in-the-count or on-the-board. The bag must not touch the ground before landing on the platform; this is a foul and will result in bag removal before play continues. A variation allows a point for a bag pushed in by an opponent's toss.
  • No point: A bag does not land on the board or go through the hole. This is called corn bag out-of-the-count.

Players have 20 seconds to deliver the bean bag once they enter the pitcher's box, which is 27 feet (8.2 meters) from the target platform. A pitcher can toss the bag from either side of the pitcher's box but must stay on the same side of the box for an entire inning. In an inning, both singles players take a turn or all four doubles players take a turn [source: American Cornhole Association].

The innings, or rounds, continue until a player or team reaches or exceeds 21 points. If you toss all the bags and no one has yet won, gather them up and keep going. A game can't end in the middle of an inning, so even if you score the winning point, you'll need to finish out the inning before calling the game.

In a variation known as "cancellation scoring," it becomes more difficult to win. That's because bags "in-the-hole" and "in-the-count" pitched by opponents in the same inning cancel each other out. Oh, and in a rare twist, if a player throws all four bags in the hole, it's an automatic 21 points for the win [source: American Cornhole Association, Stefanoff].


Tips to Improve Your Bean Bag Toss Score

Although fun, bean bag toss can be humbling ... especially when your hand can't deliver what your ego promised: a bag in the hole. Don't despair. All you need is a little practice. You can start by mastering the basics.

First, select a comfortable stance. Whether you place a dominant foot forward as you throw or stand with feet shoulder-width apart, the motion should be fluid and followed through, like a golf swing (or tossing a Frisbee). Keep in mind, however, that you have the option to either throw underhand or overhand, and this requires some trial-and-error. One other note: Beware of the foul line. Cross it, and even a perfect throw won't count.


Second, decide how you'll throw the bag. Will you simply grab it around the middle and hope for the best? Not if you're serious about scoring. Here are a few tried-and-true variations [source: iCornhole]:

  • Chicago Fold: Hold the bag at one end and let the filler drop to the bottom. Then fold it in half -- and then half again.
  • Paducah Pancake: Smooth and flatten the bag, then throw it like a saucer (or pancake) toward the platform.
  • Half Paducah Pancake: Smooth and flatten the bag, but this time fold it in half before throwing it like a pancake.
  • Sacramento Sling: Using two fingers, hold the bag by a corner or edge, and toss it with a gentle underhand.
  • Omaha Overhead, also known as Air Mail: Wad up the bag and shoot it like a basketball toward the hole. This is arguably the most difficult shot to master.
  • Frisco Fling: Using fingertips and thumb, grasp bag in the middle of one side, moving the filler to the bottom of the bag. Then, toss it underhand with the top of your hand above the bag.

Once you've found a style you like, perfect your technique. There's a sweet spot on the platform about 6 inches (15.2 centimeters) in front of the hole. Concentrate on hitting that spot rather than the hole itself. If your bag hits that spot with forward velocity, it will – with regularity – slide right into the hole. This is called the slider.

Finally, if you really want to oust your opponents, master a few defensive moves [source: O'Shea]:

  • The Blocker: Pitch the bag so that it drops near a hole and prevents an opponent from using a slider.
  • The Push: Use a pitch to nudge your bag into the hole or, alternatively, push a blocker out of the path.


History of the Bean Bag Toss

The origins of bean bag toss or cornhole are unclear. Some say it was invented in 14th century Germany by a farmer who may have been named Matthias Kueperman. Apparently he saw some boys throwing some heavy rocks into a hole and thought of making a safer game. German immigrants who settled in the U.S. brought the game with them [source: Cornhole Game Fun].

Others insist it was actually a Kentucky farmer in the early 1900s who inspired the game [source: Cornhole Game Fun]. Either way, it became popular in pockets of the Midwest but may have gotten its big break when far-flung relatives visiting family -- or tailgating at Cincinnati Bengals football games -- saw it in action and helped spread the word around the U.S. [source: Cornhole].


Bean bag toss is quite similar to a game once played by the Native American Blackhawk tribe in Illinois, although game players tossed pig bladders filled with dry beans instead of corn-filled fabric squares [source: Ungar].

Today, bean bag toss is the fodder of charity fundraisers, school carnivals and amateur tournaments. There's even a professional organization, the American Cornhole Organization, with tournament competition formatted much like college basketball's Final Four. The cornhole field is narrowed from a nationwide pool of 64 players to the CornyForty (top 40) to the Top Gun Twenty (top 20) before resulting in a champion named the "King of Cornhole." And, because the tournaments have a professional, rather than amateur, designation, players can win prize purses and sport pro jerseys [source: American Cornhole Organization].


Lots More Information

Author's Note: How Bean Bag Toss Works

I'd just finished a traditional Kansas Thanksgiving when I encountered a game I'd probably seen played before, but never knew by name: cornhole. After asking at least three times whether I'd heard correctly, I realized it was indeed named "cornhole" and that it was as simple -- and fun -- as it looked. The stuff of tailgate parties and school carnivals, this game is addictive and allows players to participate across generations. What could be bad about that?

Related Articles

  • American Cornhole Association. "ACA Official Rules of Cornhole / Corn Toss." July 13, 2009. (July 18, 2013)
  • American Cornhole Organization. "Got an ACO Cornhole FAQ?" (July 19, 2013)
  • Betts, Stephen. "Dierks Bentley Stirs Up a Snazzy 'Cocktail.'" The Boot. Aug. 27, 2009. (July 18, 2013)
  • Cornhole. "History of Cornhole." (July 18, 2013)
  • Cornhole Game Fun. "An Interesting Cornhole Game History." (July 19, 2013)
  • Dyke, Jeremiah. "Teaching Integer Addition and Multiplication Tables Using Corn-hole." Hands on Math. Nov. 20, 2012. (July 19, 2013)
  • iCornHole. "So, What is Cornhole?" (July 18, 2013)
  • Light Foundation. "First Annual Cornhole Competition." June 1, 2013. (July 18, 2013)
  • McAlexander, Shana. "Accuracy Versus Precision Beanbag Toss." Carolina Biological Supply. (July 20, 2013)
  • O'Shea, Chris. "How to be Much Better at Cornhole." Esquire. May 17, 2013. (July 18, 2013)
  • Stefanoff, Holly. "Cornhole, Corn Toss, Bean Bag Toss or Whatever You Know it as, is Quickly Becoming a Favorite Pastime." The Review. June 1, 2008. (July 18, 2013)
  • Ungar, Stuart. "For a Game With Regional Flair, Try Cornhole." Courier-Journal. May 29, 2005. (July 23, 2013)
  • Watts, Cindy. "Craig Campbell Hosts 'Celebrity Cornhole' Charity Event in Nashville." The Tennessean. May 31, 2013. (July 18, 2013)