The History of Shuffleboard
Updated: Jun 12
If you're like many curious players, you might have wondered, “Where does shuffleboard originate from?” Getting to know the finer details of your table shuffleboard history gives you the chance to appreciate this underrated game's English roots.
Keep reading to learn about shuffleboard's origins and how the game is officially played today.
What Is Shuffleboard?
Shuffleboard is also called table shuffleboard or floor shuffleboard. In this game, players move weighted discs over the playing area using cues. The discs glide down a narrow court until they stop moving in the scoring location marked on the board. Players score points by moving the discs to marked places that provide a certain number of points.
The game of shuffleboard is played in sets of turns called frames. A frame is where players or opposing teams take one full turn each. Unlike in bowling, the number of frames in a shuffleboard match is unlimited.
A coin toss before play is how the official decides either who will shoot the first shot or the hammer — the player who wins the coin toss chooses. The last shot in a game is called the hammer. This is the “game point” for shuffleboard, after which the official determines a winner. Since the hammer provides the greatest advantage, the player usually calls it at the coin toss.
Where Did Shuffleboard Originate From?
If you're wondering when shuffleboard was invented, it started in 15th century England, when people started playing “shove-groat" in the lazy afternoons. The origin of the game is unclear, but it could have been inspired by an older game, like horseshoe pitching. It was initially played with a British coin called a great or groat, worth about fourpence, or a silver penny.
The first shuffleboard game involved players shoving a groat down the surface of a table. As word of mouth about the game spread, people started calling it “shoveboard,” “slidegroat” and “shovelpenny,” or “shove ha'penny," among other names. Every group who played did so a bit differently.
People would mark parts of the table to assign points for a coin to gather from its resting place. The game was often played in taverns and involved gambling. At around this time, King Henry VIII made a decree that only aristocrats were allowed to play the game. The prohibition of shuffleboard was ineffective — by the 1600s, the game had regained its popularity in taverns.
The Background of Shuffleboard
The original European colonists brought shuffleboard over to America from England. The first related documents that reference the game come from Authur Miller's “The Crucible,” which mentions “ne'er-do'wells” playing shuffleboard at a tavern in the year 1692.
Shuffleboard was popular at various times throughout the history of the United States before it was technically legal to play. A Pennsylvanian innkeeper named John Bishop was involved in an 1848 court case after he was accused of hosting a gambling establishment. The judge determined that shuffleboard was a game of skill instead of a game of chance, legalizing it for the masses.
As the 20th century neared, shuffleboard was getting attention in the newspapers as a legitimate sport, just like the popular pastimes of baseball and boxing. Shuffleboard tournaments in New York and surrounding areas drew skilled competitors and fans varied in age and socioeconomic background.
Popular players include Dave Wiley, Alex Scott, George Lavender, Ed Garland and “Big Ed” Morris. In 1904, competitions were also played in California, where longtime player Jim Corbett started the first table in a local tavern.
Throughout the Great Depression and into the 1940s, shuffleboard was a comforting game to the masses and expanded further in popularity. At around this time, shuffleboard became a televised sport from studios in Hollywood.
Tournaments were held nationwide by the 1950s, when board manufacturers started competing against one another for sales. Despite this, the game started to decline in the ‘60s and ’70s. It lacked standard rules and sponsors, and manufacturers would create different boards.
In the 1980s, shuffleboard experienced a revival, with renewed popularity and invested players. After the National Shuffleboard Hall of Fame was established in 1995, many states have also formed their own versions. Players who win in state leagues are nominated for placement in the National Hall of Fame.
Modern Shuffleboard Rules
Today's league and tournament play are organized around a specific set of rules, making the game consistent like other competitive sports. In the past, the game had been largely improvised or played following varying sets of made-up rules.
The official game rules include the following:
Players shake hands before and after the match.
The total number of points a game runs for is 15.
An official must examine all weights or pucks, if the players are using their own.
For a shot to be legal, one of the player's feet must remain on the ground, with both feet behind the deuce line.
A coin toss determines the choice of either the color or the hammer.
The team that has the hammer must shoot second at the start of the game.
If the puck fails to cross the short foul line in the middle of the table, it's removed.
If a player scores nothing in a frame, the hammer switches to the other player.
If the frame is a tie, the score isn't counted, and the hammer changes.
If the puck looks like it might fall off the board, the official can mark it as safe from pucks that outdistance it.
Double-release shots are banned.
Players waiting for their turn must stand behind the shooting player or team.
A player who tampers with the puck or weight or changes one from another board is automatically disqualified.
If a shot takes more than 30 seconds, it's considered slow play and deducts one point from a team's score.
The rules add structure to certain features of the game or common behavior of players. For example, the rules make it clear when team meetings were allowed in the middle of the board — when one team reaches a score of 11 points. The rules also clarify if and when players are allowed to check the position of the pucks on the playing surface before shooting.
While you can play more informally at home, you'll want to review the rules thoroughly — or have an experienced player teach you them — before you join a league.
Get Your Own Shuffleboard Table
Shuffleboard is a fairly modern game with an established system of rules, offering endless fun for players and observers of all ages. Do you want your own shuffleboard table to play at home with your friends or family? At HB Home, we have multiple table styles with elegant and functional features, so you can play shuffleboard on some of the best equipment out there.