Beer Pong Rules – How to Play the Party Game

If you have ever wondered how to play beer pong, then you have come to the right place. You might have seen the game on TV, been involved in a game yourself many years ago, or simply heard about it and wondered how to play. If your idea of fun with a bunch of good friends involves ping pong balls and red solo cups, then look no further than these instructions on how to play your favorite drinking game at your next party. 

Beer pong is really fun for people of all types. Tall people or short people, and men as well as women, can all take part in the fun. Most of the standard beer pong party cups that people use at most house parties are 16 ounces, but using bigger cups can certainly increase the amount of fun you have! For example, we have seen party cups in New Orleans that are 36 ounces and some of them even go up to 110 ounces! With cups that size, you and your friends can keep the beer pong games going all night long.

A Brief History of the Game of Beer Pong

Beer pong is also sometimes known as Dartmouth pong. It is a drinking game loosely based on ping pong and it is generally said to have been started at a Dartmouth College fraternity party, where an Alpha Phi Delta fraternity alumnus, David Thielscher, class of 1954, played the game as an undergraduate.

One of the earliest published photographs of the game appeared in Colorado School of Mines’ 1961 yearbook The Prospector. Dartmouth’s 1968 yearbook Aegis also has a published photograph of a game of beer pong. Beer pong at Dartmouth was the only college-sponsored drinking competition in the USA, until 1977 when the college decided to discontinue its sponsorship of the games. Official derecognition did not actually reduce the level of beer pong activity at Dartmouth College or elsewhere, but it did lead to many new variations on the game all around the country.


Players and Equipment for a Game of Beer Pong 

Generally, beer pong games are made up of two teams of two people on each team. In terms of equipment, you can use an 8 inch by 2-inch beer pong table (or, if you already have one, a ping pong table or a table tennis table will be even better). There should be 22 plastic cups available with 10 cups per team, as well as 2 extra cups of water if you like. You will need at least two ping-pong balls, but the more the better, just in case some of the balls bounce out of control and roll far away. Last but by no means least, you will need an ample supply of beer! 


Setting Up Your Ping Pong Table or Table Tennis Table for Beer Pong 

At either edge of the table, you should try to arrange your own cups as well as the opposing team’s cups in a pyramid-like formation. The next step is to fill each cup with whatever type of beer you like. There are a few fairly common beer pong formations that you might want to use as you get started with the game and all of these might affect the number of cups and the amount of beer you’ll need to supply for your buddies.

Six Possible Beer Pong Cup Formations:

  • Marching style (with 2 rows of 3 cups of beer)
  • Cup triangle (a pyramid of 6 cups of beer) 

Four Possible Beer Pong Cup Formations:

  • A diamond shape
  • A square shape 

Three Possible Beer Pong Cup Formations:

  • Triangle (a pyramid shape of 3 cups of beer)
  • Traffic light (single row of 3 cups of beer) 

Two Possible Beer Pong Cup Formations:

  • Double (simply a single row of 2 cups of beer)


Beer Pong: Some General Rules To Keep In Mind

Beer pong is really a game of fun, so there are no hard and fast rules. However, every game needs a few basic things for everybody to stick to – otherwise, it wouldn’t be any fun for anyone. Below, we’ve listed a few of the most logical starting points you can use for your game, but if you and your group come up with better ideas, then simply use those. Just be sure that everyone is on the same page in terms of what is allowed in your local house rules and what isn’t.


Starting the Game of Beer Pong 

One player from each team takes an initial throw to determine which team will go first. All of the chosen opposing players then count to three and take their throw at the same time. If only one of them makes the shot, their team goes first. If they both make or miss their shot, the players all go again. After the first game, the winning team gets to take the first throw. And if all of that is too much to follow, you can also just flip a coin to decide on which team will go first.

Woman holding ball for Beer Pong game

If you hit or sink a cup on a serve you may have to drink your own cup of your opponents choosing.

Serving the Ping Pong Ball

A player serves the ball by striking it so that it makes contact with their own side of the table once, immediately followed by contact with the opposing side. An ace is a serve that results in the ball bouncing in an awkward fashion, such as off the edge of the table. Failing to contact the opposing side on a serve is considered a fault.

Often a predetermined number of faults results in the serving team losing points or drinking from their own cups. Most house rules provide that a game cannot end on a service fault, which can give a strategic advantage to a team that might be about to lose. Making contact with cups or obstacles on the opposing side when serving is considered a service hit, which can result in the serving team being penalized in some house rules.

Standard penalties involve the loss of points or drinking from one’s own cups. Serving in a disreputable way, such as striking a ball that is already bouncing or squeezing the ball between the thumb and paddle, is considered a dirty serve. Dirty serves are often legal, but they are considered quite sketchy.


Everybody Can Play: Taking Turns 

Each beer pong team shoots twice per turn with each player taking one shot. The first team starts the game off and then the second team follows. If both players make their shot, “throwbacks” can also be given, which is when the team receives another turn. In terms of shooting the ball, it can either be tossed directly or bounced into the cup. 

Generally, a tossed ball that sinks is worth one cup (the opponent’s cup it lands in), whereas when the ball bounces and sinks, it is worth two cups (the one in which the shot was made and another one from the pyramid). This is known as a bounce shot. But always remember that the defending (non-throwing) team is allowed to block a bounced ball as soon as it hits the table, whereas tossed shots cannot be defended.


The Art of Sinking Cups 

It is really important to become comfortable with the object of the game. A beer pong cup is considered sunk as soon as the ball touches the contents of the cup. Any cup that is sunk must be immediately removed from the table and somebody on the defending team is responsible for drinking its contents.

Team members alternate their turns drinking. Watch out for cups that have been sunk but are left undrunk. If the opposing team sinks a ball in the cup you’re drinking from, the game is over. If one cup is sunk, and the next player shoots, hitting the same cup, that also ends the game. Any cups accidentally knocked over are considered sunk.


Cups Knocked Over

If a team knocks over their own cup in any way, they lose and they have to drink a beer. This is true regardless of how much beer was in the cup (or even if it was empty). However, if a player hits a ball and knocks over one of the other team’s cups, his team automatically wins, regardless of how full the cup is.

This is known as the Full Cup Knockover and it is considered the most difficult shot in the game. If a player hits the ball and it lands into the other team’s beer, that player’s side wins the game and the other team must drink the rest of their beers.


Re-Racking and Using Formations 

A team is sometimes allowed to request a “re-rack” at the end of a turn so that the formation can retain a compact shape. Each team gets two re-racks per game, which can be used at almost any time. The standard beer pong rule is to take one re-rack with 6 cups remaining, and the other when 2 or 3 cups remain.

If you are playing beer pong with 6 cups each, there is often only one re-rack allowed per team, per game. Also, it is important to remember that you probably cannot re-rack if you are shooting during “throwbacks”, and you cannot re-rack during a “redemption round” (see below).


Game Ending Situations 

A game is ended in two ways: when a designated number of points are attained through hits and sinks or when all of the cups on one side have been removed. It is important to note that when a team eliminates the last beer pong cup of the opposing team, they haven’t yet won. The defending team still has a “redemption round” in which each player gets an extra turn. 

Redemption rounds are usually held until somebody misses. If the defending team sinks all of the remaining cups in the redemption round, an overtime session is forced. If the team is not able to force the game into overtime, they lose and they are also responsible for drinking all of the contents of the remaining team’s cups, in addition to whatever is in their own remaining cups.


Going Into Overtime 

If the game is indeed forced into overtime, each team sets up three cups in a triangle and fills them with beer. The team who hit the last cup to force the overtime can shoot first. Overtime is played like a normal game (without any re-racking). Sometimes double or triple overtime may be necessary until one of the teams wins.

Overtime generally continues until one of the teams makes all the cups or until one of the teams asks for a re-rack. When it comes to the formation of the re-rack, there are multiple options to consider. As explained above, the triangle, line, and diamond formations are all options that are possible.

After one team has made all the opposing teams’ cups, the opposing team has a chance for redemption, but only if they have not re-racked yet. If the losing team shooting on redemption succeeds in making all the cups left before missing, the game goes into overtime until the game finally ends.

Young friends enjoying beer pong game on table in restaurant

Beer pong has quickly developed from a college game to a full-fledged tournament sport!

Beer Pong Tournaments

A growing trend over the past few years has been the beer pong tournament. No longer confined merely to the basement or garage, beer pong in this sense has become a sport that requires a steady hand, faulty hearing, and a strong liver. Take, for example, the World Series of Beer Pong, which is often held at the Flamingo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

This is where North America’s 414 best pong teams compete each year for the $50,000 first prize. Here’s a short video to help give you an idea of how these tournaments look and feel. Sometimes the tables in these types of games are 10 feet long, so the objective can be a little harder.

You may have never seen such clumsy-looking people throw such small objects into such small cups with such incredible frequency. The best teams hit about 70% of their shots on the eight-foot tables that they use in Vegas. That is almost like tossing a quarter into a parking meter slot seven times out of 10. 

The World Series of Beer Pong (WSOBP) is the largest beer pong tournament in the world in terms of the number of participants and cash prizes offered. The current world champion is Dan ‘Danimal’ Robinson from the UK. It has been held close to or in Las Vegas since January 2006. 

The 2009 version of the finals was an incredibly memorable one. It all came down to the tournament favorites: Smashing Time (Ron Hamilton and Michael “Pops” Popielarski, both 25) against Getcha Popcorn Ready (Brian Nentwig and Joe Radesco, both 23). Apparently the 6’4″, 280-pound Hamilton had swallowed a full bottle of Jack Daniel’s before the final match. 

In that contest, it came down to Popcorn needing to win both games to be crowned King Pong, while Smashing Time had to win only one. Popcorn won Game 1. The next would be the decider. Smashing Time used only 12 shots to make their final 10 and they won the match easily. Twelve balls, 10 cups. Just you try that at one of your next house parties.

Riley Draper

Avid table tennis player, world traveler, and content creator. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn.