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Beer Pong: How to Play & Rules (16 Things to Consider) + Variations

Last Updated on January 25, 2024 by Gamesver Team and JC Franco

Every fraternity brother knows that beer pong is a great way to spend an evening. It’s believed that Dartmouth students invented the game in the 50s, and college kids have loved it since. Beer pong’s combination of two great things – ping-pong and beer – is enduringly popular. 

In this article, we will discuss the rules of beer pong and look at variations in the game. I’ll also briefly go over beer pong’s basic objectives before we start.

Beer Pong’s Basic Objective

The objective is simple; eliminate all of the other team’s cups. Beer Pong, in its simplest form, is relatively straightforward. Two teams of two players make a triangle of ten cups of beer on either side of a ping-pong table. 

Team members take turns, one at a time, attempting to throw ping pong balls into the opposing cups of beer. Each player gets one shot. A full turn is completed when both players from a team shoot.

If you throw your ball into one of the opposing team’s cups, they need to drink the contents and remove the cup. If both team members make their shots, the balls are returned to you, and your team gets another turn.

However, there are several rules and permutations within this framework.

Setting up Your Beer Pong Game

Specialized beer pong tables are available for purchase. These tables often come in many designs and have a convenient folding design. However, a ping-pong table will suffice for casual players. Generally speaking, a beer pong table should be eight feet long. 

Table Set-Up

You need to prepare before you can play. Gather your materials! In addition to the obvious beer, you’ll need:

  • A ping-pong table
  • 12-22 16-ounce (473.18 ml) red solo cups
  • Ping-pong balls

Rack the cups, ten to each side. Beer pong has several acceptable formations, the most well-known being the triangle. 

Who Shoots First

Players use a volleying system called “eyes” to determine who shoots first. A member from each team shoots simultaneously while holding eye contact with their opponent. Whoever sinks the shot begins the game. If both or neither player sinks the shot, the following players do the same until, eventually, someone wins the volley.

If you are playing tournament-style, eyes are only necessary for the first game. Following that, the team who won the previous game gets the opening shot. 

We’ll now get into the 16 rules of beer pong you should know before playing.

1. Re-Racking

Beer pong cups are arranged in a specific shape-often, a triangle-at the beginning of each game. Re-racking allows teams to change the formation of the cups to a different, approved shape. 

Valid rack forms include:

  • Triangle
  • Marching
  • Triangle + 1
  • Honeycomb
  • Zipper
  • House
  • Five
  • Sword/Staff
  • 2+1+1+1
  • Trapezoid
  • Kidney
  • Crosshair
  • Square
  • Diamond
  • Rhombus
  • Traffic Light
  • Thin Red Line
  • The l 
  • Flat Line

Teams can re-rack their cups into any of the above shapes, provided they follow two stipulations. Re-racking only occurs at the beginning of a turn. Each team only gets two re-racks per game. 

2. Death Cup

Death cup is an optional rule. The titular death cup is sunk but not drunk yet. If the opposing team manages to throw another ball into the death cup before you drink it, they immediately win the game. This rule makes the game go much quicker, so if you’re looking for a fast game, then you’ll want to play by this rule.

3. Bouncing

Bouncing has some detractors but is a pretty effective attack on your opponent. If a ball bounces off any surface – the table, ceiling, or the walls – into your cup, not only is the sunk vessel removed but another of your selection. A skilled bouncer speeds up gameplay considerably. 

You can defend against bouncing by swatting. The rule requires players to be present and engaged.

4. Finger/Blow

The lewd name aside, finger/blow isn’t a great rule for gameplay. Teams need to establish they’re adhering to the policy before the game begins. Finger/blow rules state that if you remove a ball either with your fingers or by blowing in the cup before it settles to the bottom of the cup, the sink doesn’t count. 

Ping-pong balls are light and easily removed by either method. Additionally, it’s challenging to ascertain whether or not the balls are genuinely in play. 

5. Fixing Cups

Fixing the cups makes the game a bit more organized, since cups tend to slide around and get bumped out of formation. Fixing the cups – as opposed to re-racking – simply neatens your existing shape. Players can request this action at any point during the game, and gameplay can continue as normal.

6. Redemption

The game is over when one team eliminates all of the other teams’ cups, right? Not quite. The team whose cups are eliminated has the chance to sink the other team’s cups. Redemption allows the players to shoot until someone misses. Once someone misses, the game is over. If no one misses, play goes into overtime. 

7. Rollbacks

Rollbacks are also called “behind the backs” because of their execution. A ball that misses a cup but remains on the table can be scooped up by the player that threw it. If the individual catches the ball one a bounce or as it rolls back towards them (thus the name), the player throws it again but, this time, from behind their back. 

8. Elbows

Elbows is one of the most contentious beer pong rules. The edict states that shooting players must keep their elbows behind the table’s edge. If their elbows are over the edge, the shot doesn’t count and needs to be retaken. 

Enforcing the elbows rule requires a keen and observant eye. Someone must watch the shooters closely to ensure their elbows are in the appropriate place.

9. NBA Jams on Fire 

The NBA Jams on Fire rule is also called “heating up.” A player who makes two concurrent shots can announce they’re heating up. If they make the next shot, they can dub themselves “on fire” and continue tossing until they miss a shot. 

You must follow proper protocol for the Jams on Fire rule. A player who fails to announce “heating up” cannot claim “on fire” status.

10. Celebrity Shots

Celebrity shots are the beer pong equivalent of pinch-hitting. A player who doubts their ability to make a shot selects a proxy to take their turn. If the stand-in manages to sink the ball, it counts for two cups. You can do this at any point in the game, and you’re allowed to do it more than once.

11. Overtime

Overtime follows the same rules of regular gameplay, only with three cups on each side instead of ten. The team who first clears all the opposing cups in the normal gameplay shoots first. No re-racks are permitted. This is the perfect rule to follow if you’re looking to play a fast game.

12. Rim Bounces

Balls that bounce off the cup’s rim without being sunk are still in play, as long as they remain on the table. The shooter can retrieve the ball on the first bounce and re-shoot it. Women will take the shot with their weak hands, and men will take it behind their backs, allowing them to try for the shot once more.

13. Russian Roulette

Russian Roulette adds a mystery dose of vodka to the mix. Each team pours a shot (or more, if you’re feeling brave) of vodka into one of their cups without letting their opponent know which drink is spiked. The gameplay then continues as normal, and if you sink the spiked cup, you’ll be forced to drink it. 

14. Civil War

Civil War is a chaotic, rapid, challenging variation on classic beer pong. Three players make up each team. Each player has a row of three cups in a single file in front of them. Shooters throw simultaneously, without hesitation. 

The objective is to sink all the cups in front of a player. Once this is achieved, that player can no longer shoot. The team to first sink all of their opponent’s cups wins. 

15. Demolition

Demolition is played with fourteen cups instead of ten. Put the extra cups in formation above the classic base. The shots need to be made in a specific order, starting with the layer closest to the shooter. 

If the ball goes into a cup in the wrong row, you take a sip, and the cup remains in play.

16. Flip Cup Pong

Flip-cup pong follows the classic beer pong rules but adds a flip-cup component. Beer cups are set up separate from the base formation, and once a shot is sunk, a member from each team drinks their cup and attempts to flip it. The first person to do so wins the round. The losing team has their cup removed. 

Last Word

Beer pong has many rules, but those hoping to enjoy a casual game can select the ones that best work for their purposes. Several variations are available to keep play fresh. The game is adaptable to younger audiences by simply substituting a non-alcoholic beverage for beer.

JC Franco

JC Franco serves as a New York-based editor for Gamesver. His interest for board games centers around chess, a pursuit he began in elementary school at the age of 9. Holding a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Mercyhurst University, JC brings a blend of business acumen and creative insight to his role. Beyond his editorial endeavors, he is a certified USPTA professional, imparting his knowledge in tennis to enthusiasts across the New York City Metropolitan area.