As with any game that’s easy to learn, strategy plays a large part in shuffleboard games. After all, everyone has the same set of fairly limited actions they can take, so it’s going to come down to the bigger picture, and the little things you can do to get better at the game and take home a win more often.
Here are some techniques you can use to evolve your shuffleboard strategy and give you an edge over your opponents.
One of the biggest things you can do to get better at the game is to evolve your understanding of the board.
This involves not only knowing the basic layout of the board, the scoring zones, and so on (which is a given), but keeping a close eye on the current layout of the board; the location of each puck (yours and your opponent’s) and how best to make use of them.
Despite what you may believe, your opponent’s pucks are something you can make use of as well. While they can certainly be a hindrance to you when blocking your own shots, you can often kill two birds with one puck, as it were, by using your opponent’s own puck to block their next shot and protect your own pucks from being knocked out of the play area.
Likewise, you need to always remain cognizant of where your own pucks are going to land, to be sure that your opponent can’t do the same to you.
This means you need to always think ahead when making your move. You not only need to angle to get the most points with a shot, but to make sure you can actually KEEP those points after your opponent goes.
You can only really get “greedy” with a shot when you have the hammer; otherwise you may as well write off any unprotected pucks you leave on a shot, as they’re almost certain to be moved out of the way.
This forward thinking is the biggest skill you need to learn to play shuffleboard at a high level, and it’s by far the hardest.
One other thing you need to consider about board control is if there are issues with the shuffleboard table. Playing on a warped table isn’t fun, but it can be mitigated by following the guide to maintaining shuffleboard table. We have experience on what makes a great shuffle board table. In fact, we’ve made an excellent shuffleboard table review that you can read.
Practice shooting your pucks as much as possible, and with both hands if you’re playing on a table. This gives you more options and ability to make plays that might otherwise be awkward (shooting a puck up the left rail is difficult with your right hand, for instance).
Being able to put your pucks wherever you want it is another highly critical basic skill to learn, and opens up a plethora of new techniques. Much like pool or air hockey, bank shots are a key feature of shuffleboard; you need to be able to get around your opponent’s pucks wherever they might be blocking you, after all.
Knowing where your puck can go and being able to squeeze it through even the tightest spaces will make you look like a shuffleboard wizard, and help you rack up those points to boot.
Guess the Weight
An interesting little wrinkle in the gameplay of shuffleboard is the pucks can be different weights, customized by you and your opponent within certain limits.
Obviously, these pucks are still visually the same, so it takes a fair bit of guesswork and intuition to figure out how much your opponent’s puck weighs…but it CAN be done.
Look at the way the puck slides across the surface when your opponent serves it. Does it seem to have a lot of momentum, or need an extra bit of effort from your opponent to push? Or is it the opposite; does it glide with the slightest shove, and maybe lose a bit of momentum at the end?
Look at how it interacts with another puck it impacts. Does it bulldoze straight through it or bounce off? Somewhere in between?
None of these observations is going to give you the perfect info on how heavy your opponent’s pucks are, but it will give you an idea. And that idea can factor into your strategy in a big way.
Particularly, you need to know if your opponent’s puck is far heavier or lighter than yours. This can be the difference between shoving their puck out of the way and rebounding from it, or even sending your opponent’s puck careening TOO far away from your own, increasing their point gain!
This simple skill takes trial and error but it will give you a surprising amount of insight into what your options are.
When playing shuffleboard games at the bar or in a tournament observe your opponent as much as the board. We’ve emphasized how important that observing the board state is, and looking at how your opponent plays is equally as important, if not more so.
If they’re an aggressive risk taker, you’ll need to try and counter their ability to make use of the board even more than usual. Likewise, if they’re a methodical player who’s leaving a minefield out there for you to navigate, you’ll need to figure out how to crack their defense to get things of your own done.
The key to any strategy is knowing your enemy. Everybody has their own preferred strategies for playing, and this will include you. But knowing what your opponent wants puts you in a much better position to DENY them what they want.
In the worst case, this will just force them to take on another strategy. This is already a win for you, as it pushes the opponent out of their comfort zone. But at the worst, they might not notice what you’re doing, or be so deep into their strategy that a single well placed shot can ruin their whole game plan; this is a way to win a game with a single serve, or at least make your opponent lose (which is just as important if you’re off the hammer).
Observe, learn, and retaliate; these simple steps are the basic keys to mastering any game where you and an opponent take turns playing, and is part of the reason why being the last to make a move is often the most important.