How to Play Shuffleboard – Rules and Regulations

Updated: 03/05/21 •  6 min read
Kip head image

Kip Lohner, Shuffleboard Savant

Between playing shuffleboard and running a carpentry business, Mr. Lohner shares his experience on shuffleboard strategies and game table maintenance

Shuffleboard is a bit like a pool, in that it’s a platform for several different, but similar games you can play.

However, all games of shuffleboard have a few things in common, so let’s go over some quick terminology first for the different elements of the table and pieces you’ll need to play before going over a few of the most common games.

Shuffleboard Terminology

Puck: These are the little discs you manipulate for the various shuffleboard games, also known as weights. These are filled with different weights, within a certain limit (355 grams is typically the upper weight limit), and you can choose your preference.

top-view-of-a-shuffleboard1

Hammer: the final hit of a round; the match point. A coin flip is used to determine who gets to shoot first, and who gets to shoot last.

Wax: also known as powder, sand, or a million other terms, this is what keeps the pucks gliding smoothly over the surface of the field or table.

Foul Line: the center line which a puck needs to pass to be considered valid; pucks that don’t cross the foul line are removed from play.

Score Zone: divided into three numbered areas, you get points equal to the number for each puck in that numbered area at the end of the round unless contradictory rules are in play.

Hanger: a puck that is hanging over the farthest edge of the table, or off the edge of the field; this is usually awarded four points.

Standard (Tournament) Shuffleboard Rules

These are a fairly common and surprisingly simple to follow set of rules, beyond the more fiddly aspects of tournament play that apply mostly to the setup of the game.

The objective is simple enough: score more points than your opponent.

At the start of the game, you flip a coin to determine who gets the hammer. Winner may choose to get the hammer (which is usually the case) or to choose their color. The other choice goes to the loser.

At this point were follow rules setup for bar games. However, all tournament games are “switch hammer” and played in a best of three format. The one who gets the hammer in the first game loses it in the second game. If a third game is needed, there will be another coin flip.

The “short foul” rule is in play, meaning you need to clear the center line for the puck to count as in play. Points are scored as normal based on the numbers listed in the score zone. However, points are ONLY awarded for pucks that are further in than your opponent’s deepest puck; ex. If your opponent has a puck on 2, none of your pucks in the 1 zone will count for scoring.

Each player has 4 pucks, and points are tallied after all 4 have been shot. Pucks do not count for scoring if they leave the board, don’t pass the foul line, or are hanging over one of the side rails, but “hangers” (defined above) are the standard 4 points.

Only one player scores in a round; this is the player with the furthest puck without leaving the board. The one with the most points at the end of two games is the winner!

And that’s it, pretty much. There are a few other fiddly bits involving the setup of the table and technical difficulties, time outs, and so on, but this is it in terms of the gameplay.

This game is also known as “Knock Off” Shuffleboard.

Horse Collar

The basic rules are the same here as Knock Off; it can be played in teams or one on one, and you shoot from opposite sides of the board as your opponent.

The main difference here is in scoring. Rather than trying to get 15 points, the target number here is 51. Also, both teams can score in Horse Collar; the team with the highest number of points (over 51) is the winner.

shuffleboard-puck

However, only the player with the hammer can actually win, so you both need to surpass your opponent’s score and score the last shot to win, meaning going first could either be an advantage or a hindrance depending on how high scoring the match is.

The rules for hangers are a bit different as well, contributing to the high scoring nature of the game. Hangers in the middle of the board are worth a whopping 13 points, while one in the corner is worth an even more impressive 26 points.

Finally, points may only be scored if one puck is in the three point zone, so things are a little more precise; you could even scratch an entire game if things aren’t going your way by bumping all of the pucks out of the three point zone.

Tap and Draw

Our last game is more of a variant of the other two, but an interesting one.

It can be played using the scoring rules of either Knock Off or Horse Collar, whichever the players please. The primary difference here is in how you interact with the pucks. In this case, hitting your opponent’s pucks off the board is bad.

If you knock your opponent’s puck off the board, your OWN puck is removed from play, and theirs is put back where it was. Likewise, any of your pucks that were moved into a better position as a result will be returned to their original spot.

This makes Tap and Draw much more of a game of jockeying for position, with a much more sensitive touch required.

These are not the only games of shuffleboard, but they are likely to be the most common games you’ll come across.

As a last point, getting high-quality shuffleboard tables is an implicit rule of the game. You might have strategies to improve your game, but they are useless if the tabletop surface isn’t balanced. Because lower quality tables are more prone to wood warping, you might also be stuck on constantly fixing your shuffleboard table. So, when you’re searching for a shuffleboard products, you better get the best one.

Tom Erickson