By JERRY HITCHCOCK
One of the larger social events in the small town I grew up in was a horseshoe tournament. I remember in the early ’70s, the tournament would draw players from all points of Montana, with players either going it alone or teaming up in a doubles format. It was quite a sight to see, 10 games going on at once, side-by-side, metal shoes flying through the air, and more often than not the sharp report as one found its mark and connected with the stake in the center of the pit.
It has been decades since I’ve played horseshoes and tournaments are few and far between these days. Until recently, I wondered if anything might take its place, as a competitive social event.
Then I heard about cornhole.
The game goes by many names — soft horseshoes, Hillbilly toss, doghouse, baggo, bean-bag toss or simply bags — but whatever you call it, there is no question it has many similarities to good ol’ horseshoes.
You can play as serious as you want. Strategy? For sure, if you want to go that route. Regardless, the game is spreading like wildfire.
Tournaments are springing up everywhere, and I came across one on ESPN2 just a few weeks ago. I was intrigued enough to watch a match. The two-man teams were playing for the tournament championship, and as such, they were all pretty much ringers (or in this case baggers).
The bags they use are 6-by-6 inch, and the 2-foot-by-4-foot boards are 27 feet apart, with a hole near the top, the back of the board angled to the players by 12 inches. Apparently there is some variety to the material used in the bags — some fabric will slide up the board better than others — so it depends on if you are a slider or a slam-dunk artist!
The most common cornhole rules involve the scoring. Cancellation scoring means your opponent can cancel out your points on a given round. Each player throws four bags, alternating amongst themselves. Each bag in the hole is worth 3 points, and a bag that comes to rest on the top of the board gets 1 point. So if you hit the hole three times and your opponent only makes two (with no other bags left on the board) you accumulate 3 points. Most games are played to 21, and apparently you don’t have to win by two, even though some people commonly play that way.
The TV tournament I saw had players canceling themselves out more often than not, with the last bag thrown doing just exactly what he needed to do to keep the other from gaining points. The other part of play I noticed was that their “misses” wound up right at the entrance of the hole, meaning his opponent could either try to hole without moving his opponent’s bag, or try to knock that first bag off the board — while holing his own. Usually if the bag was still on the board after the opponent’s turn, he’d try to shoot a little short, and push both bags in.
After doing a little research, I found an avalanche of websites that sell bags, filling (usually ground-up corn, sand, etc.) as well as boards in every design you could imagine (An NFL or college football fan? Your team will be easy to find for your tailgating pleasure). I also come across websites that show you how to make your own boards, and what type of finishes will make the top very slick to amp up the difficulty factor. Some websites even just concentrate on the secondary items, like a little stand to hold your beverages while you play, or custom-made furniture that matches your board (and bag!) set. Apparently, the sky is the limit.
Other websites and videos will take you through the throwing motion itself. Although there are certain variations, most hold the bag almost like a Frisbee, but instead of using a flinging motion, the bag is swung underhand, and released with a small amount of spin. The very good players also use a little tilt downward as they release, which allows the bag to consistently drop and slide on the board surface.
I guess the big difference is, unlike horseshoes, walking in the path of a thrown bag won’t result in brain damage. As a low-impact and social activity, it looks hard to beat. Need something to keep everyone out of the house (or at the park) during gatherings? It’s in the bag.
Sorry — just had to go there …