Shuffleboard can seem pretty simple on the surface, but it’s actually quite an intricate game, especially if you take it seriously.
How To Play Shuffleboard
First thing’s first, you’ll need the right equipment:
- A shuffleboard table.
- Eight shuffleboard pucks.
- Shuffleboard salt and ideally a shuffleboard brush to maintain your table’s surface.
You’ll also need some way of keeping score. The best shuffleboard tables out there will have some sort of abacus-style scoring mechanism, but you can also use a pen and paper if necessary.
Beginning the game
First, figure out your teams if you’ve got more than two players. 2v2 matches are relatively common. You can’t really play shuffleboard in a three versus three format, since there are only four pucks per team. Playing 2v2 ensures that each player gets two throws.
Once you’ve figured out the teams, decide who gets to choose whether to go first or second by tossing a coin, or by seeing who can get their puck the furthest down the empty table (without falling off) on a single shot.
In general, it’s beneficial to go second, so that you have the opportunity to knock off your opponent’s puck after the first shuffle. You also get the “hammer” in this instance – the final throw in the frame.
Each player then takes it in turns to slide one of their four weights. The aim is essentially to have as many pucks as possible in the maximum scoring zone after every weight has been played.
On most tables, there are three areas in which you can score points. The farthest one will score three points, the middle one will score two points, and the nearest one will score one point.
Obviously, if your puck is off the board, it cannot score any points, which is why it’s useful to hit your opponent’s weights into the gutter.
Once all eight weights have been thrown, identify which puck is the closest to the back of the table. This color or team essentially wins the round. Meaning, each weight which is located closer to the back edge than the rest of the other team’s weights will win a number of points equal to the scoring zone it is located in.
In this example, red has 2 weights further towards the back of the table than the 2 blue pucks. Therefore, they score 6 points in this round, because their 2 scoring weights are in the 3-point scoring zone.
Some more specific scoring rules:
- If a weight overhangs the far edge of the table, it scores four points rather than three. However, this bonus does not apply for pucks overhanging the sides of the table.
- If a puck is on the line in between two scoring zones, it counts as being in the lower scoring zone.
- Weights which do not cross the horizontal foul line on the far side of the table (the line which begins the one-point scoring zone) are considered dead and should immediately be removed from the table. This ensures that players cannot play extremely shallow shots to easily block the path towards other pucks. Note that some tables (particularly smaller ones) won’t have a far foul line.
Winning the game
The first player to 11 points wins in two-player shuffleboard matches. On the other hand, if you’re playing doubles, normally the first team to 21 points wins.
Shuffleboard Strategy: How To Get Better
Wondering how you can improve your indoor shuffleboard skills?
It’s actually relatively easy to get good at table shuffleboard in a fairly short space of time.
To get better, look to improve the following aspects of your game:
A good shuffleboard shot is heavily reliant on using the right amount of power. Too hard and you’ll overshoot the scoring zone, or take out your opponent’s weight and then follow it off the table. Too soft and you’ll shoot a foul, or fail to pass your opponent’s puck.
Perfecting the power on your shots is mostly down to practice. Do be aware though that different tables and different weights can play quite differently to one another. Try to get used to playing with the same sort of equipment you normally play competitive games on, or your home/bar table if you just play casually.
Also remember that the amount of slide on the table will depend on how long it’s been since you last applied shuffleboard salt to the surface.
One of the more advanced tactics you can use to make better shuffles is to actually apply a bit of spin or “English” to your shots. To do this, twist your wrist clockwise slightly if you’re right-handed (or anticlockwise if you’re left-handed) as you release the puck
The purpose of doing this is to help the puck stay on the table after it hits another puck, making it a great tactic to use on more aggressive shots. It can also help you hook your weight behind another puck, helping to protect its position.
At first, imparting spin might seem a bit tricky – you may find it hard to make accurate shuffles. However, once you get used to it, English can actually give you more control over your shots, and allow you to make more precise plays.
As we just discussed, developing your ability to impart spin on the weight, as well as your ability to choose the right amount of power for each shot, can greatly increase the accuracy you’re able to achieve.
However, there’s more to making precise shots than just these two factors.
Ultimately, being able to get pucks to go exactly where you want them to comes down to your technique.
There are a few ways to shoot a shuffleboard weight, and everyone has their own unique style. Many players like to use the edge of the playing surface to guide their shooting hand, running their pinky and/or ring finger down the inside of the gutter to give their shot a little more accuracy.
This technique is definitely worth learning if you don’t use it already. Check out this video from the 2012 North American Shuffleboard Championships. As you can see, even the best of the best like to use “side-wheeling” due to the consistency it allows.
How do you decide when to attack, when to defend, or when to try and shoot for the maximum scoring zone?
It mostly depends on whether you’re going first or second. In general, if you go second, you’ll be looking to knock off your opponent’s puck with your first shot. Alternatively, you can apply a little bit of spin to your shot in an attempt to get behind the opponent’s weight (if there’s room) to try and protect it from being bumped.
If you do happen to go first and find yourself in a position of advantage (for example, with a puck in a scoring position and a shot in hand), there are defensive shots you can play to ensure that you win the frame. For example, you can try to shoot a weight into the scoring zone on the other side of the table, ensuring that your opponent cannot knock off both pucks in one go.
You can also try to protect your puck by blocking your opponent’s line of sight to it with another puck. Be careful though – if your blocking weight sits dead-straight with the scoring puck, your opponent may be able to push the back one off the table by hitting the defensive puck straight-on, especially if they’re quite close to one another.
Some other shots you may choose to use:
- Bump shot: advancing the position of your weights already on the board by nudging them slightly.
- Stick shot: knocking your opponent’s puck off the table without your weight going in the gutter. This can be achieved by applying English to the shot.
Obviously, developing your decision-making takes practice, and the best way to practice is to play a heap of table shuffleboard! Over time, you’ll notice yourself beginning to choose better shots in each game situation you find yourself in.
Hopefully this guide was helpful!
Remember that if you’re just playing casually, it’s not a huge deal if you stick to the rules exactly or not. Shuffleboard is meant to be fun, and there are different ways of playing the game. For example, if your table has the right markings, you can use a circular target rather than the horizontal lines as scoring zones for an extra challenge.
Also, to make 4-player games quicker, you can play alternating 1v1 games instead of swapping players in between shots. Have two players stand at each end. Once the first 1v1 is over, the players at the opposite end can begin their game.
About the author
Tom is an accomplished writer, with years of experience producing buyer’s guides and tutorials for athletes online.
And it goes without saying – he’s sports-mad.