Mendip Table Skittles - how to play

Teams consist of eight players who play in pairs against each other. Each pair plays three games or legs.

The players of each pair take it in turns to play, first one from one team, and then one from the other. When all four players have played, the first player plays again, and so on until the leg is finished.

A game has four sets of three legs, so in total a game lasts twelve legs.

To win a game, a team must amass at least seven legs.

The away team throw first. One player in the pair goes to the table and has three throws.

The throw is taken by holding the ball in one hand and propelling it past the left-hand side of the pole, so that when the chain brings the ball back, it strikes the pins (or skittles) where the player desires.

Each game is played ‘91 down’, which means that the scores start at 91 for each pair and each of the player’s scores is subtracted from that until the winning pair reach exactly zero.

As there are nine skittles on the table, a single throw (also called a ball) can theoretically knock down (or take) all nine pins. This is called a flopper.

If this is the case, then all nine skittles are replaced. The player’s second throw could again take nine pins, and the third too, resulting in a maximum total score of 27 with each visit to the table. Any score of over nine is called a spare.

More likely, a player will hit fewer than nine skittles down with the first throw. In this case, the second throw is aimed at some or all of the remaining pins. If some skittles still remain after two throws, the third throw aims for those that still remain. If, however, the second throw completes the knocking down of all nine original skittles, then they are all replaced, and the third throw aims again at the full frame, with a potential maximum score for all three throws of 18.

There is no need to use all three throws to get out. If, for example, a player needs 6 to be ‘out’ – in other words, to reach zero - they can get this with either one, two, or all three of their throws. They do not need to throw any more when they have reached the score they need. If however, they bust – knock down more skittles than they needed – then the score that existed before any of their throws on that visit to the table remains on the scoreboard.

In cases where a pair is near to getting out, a player may decide not to score any more on his visit to the table to leave an easier ‘out shot’ – an easier score for getting out – for his partner. In this case, he is theoretically obliged to ‘throw it away’ – in other words, throw to deliberately miss. Most teams, however, accept it as read that a player can miss if required, and do not make the player throw the unwanted ball(s).

The first pair to get to exactly zero wins the leg. Clearly, the pair that starts first has an advantage, which is why the team that is away starts first. The team that is home is considered to have the counterbalancing advantage of ‘knowing their own board’.

In cup games, which are played on neutral boards, teams have ‘level throws’ – in other words, equal visits to the table. In cup games, therefore, legs can be tied, which is not the case in league games. A tied leg counts as half a point. Pairs toss to see who goes first, the winner having the choice to start or put the other in – ie make them play first. The team that didn’t start the first leg starts the second leg, and the pairs toss again for the final leg.

The first team to reach seven legs becomes the winner. Six legs each is a draw. All twelve legs are played, in any game, so a team can win – or lose – 12-0. The league is scored as football used to be, with one point for a draw, and two for a win. Legs are recorded to separate teams on the same points, the way goal difference is in football.

If the score is drawn after all twelve legs in a cup game, a pair from each team is chosen to play again (they need not have partnered each other in the original game) and they play another three legs. If that is tied, a second pair from each team play three more legs, and after that the game needs to be replayed because it will be long past drinking-up time!

In individual matches, and in cup competitions involving pairs, the same rules apply as in team cup matches – level throws, the possibility of tied games and so on. In the event of a tie in these games after three legs, the game is decided by playing 31 down. If this is tied, another 31 down is played, and so on until a winner is found.

Glossary of words and phrases used above

Away – matches are played at either the pub/club which the team is from (home) or at their opponent’s board (away).

Back – your turn to start the game is called your back (from ‘back at the table’).

Ball – 1. the ball is a small wooden oval attached by a chain to the ball. It hits the skittles down when the game is played correctly! There is no set size for the ball and it varies in weight and size considerably from board to board.

Ball (also called the throw) – 2. the throw is when a player holds the ball in one hand, and taking care that their hand doesn’t pass the post, throws the ball, so that the trajectory of the ball, when pulled back by the chain, hits the skittles exactly where they want. ‘Good ball’ means the same as ‘good throw’ in this regard.

Board - the board is the construction on which the game is played. It is also the chalkboard – or very occasionally, whiteboard – on which the scores are marked (kept).

Bust – to score more than the exact score required to get out, ie to get more than was needed to get to zero. If a players busts, then the score that existed before his or her visit to the table remains for the next player.

Chain – the chain attaches the ball to the pole by the top of each. It swivels at the top of the pole, allowing the chain and the ball to move in a circle around the pole. The ideal length for the chain is said to be that at which, if the ball is rested on the diamond, it will reach it, but just fall off from gravity. Many chains are, however, longer or shorter than this.

Doubler – when a player hits all nine skittles down with his first throw, then all the next nine with his second, causing them to be replaced for a third time. See also spare and twenty-seven.

Down – the score is counted ‘down’ from the starting point, which is normally 91. A score of 18 would leave a score of 73 for the next player and so on. This score must be reached exactly, so that if a player requires 6, and hits only 4, 2 still remains to be scored on the next visit to the table. If, unfortunately, 7 is hit, then the score of 6 would remain for the next visit.

Diamond – the raised square of wood which supports the skittles. There are nine spots arranged in a diamond formation which show where the skittles should be placed.

Flopper – a flopper is when all nine pins are knocked down in one throw.

Front – the front pin, the aim of most throws.

Full frame – all nine skittles are the full frame.

Game – the match of all twelve legs is called a game, as is each leg, and sometimes each set!

Half – a half is the score awarded to each team in the relatively rare event of a tied leg.

Home – league matches are played at either the pub/club which the team is from (home) or on their opponent’s board (away). Cup matches are played on a neutral board.

Know the board/shot – being able to predict where the ball should be thrown to hit the required skittles down is called knowing the board, or knowing the shot. This is very important since every board is different in terms of the size and weight of all the constituent parts.
‘Knowing the shot’ also means knowing how to hit down a certain number of skittles or a certain ‘leave,’ by aiming in the right place.

Leave – the leave is the score left after the player finishes scoring; but it also refers to the particular arrangement of skittles left when not all nine have been taken.

Legs – each game of 91 down in a match is called a leg. There are twelve legs in a team game.

Mark – one player, from the home team, marks the board for each pair’s games – ie records the scores as the players score them, calculating what is left. Legs are recorded on the same board.

Neutral board – one which is not the home pub or club board of either team or player.

Ninety-one down – most games consist of the attempt to get exactly 91, with each score reducing from that initial total.

Out (get out, out shot) – the ‘out’ is the score that gets you to zero. An ‘out shot’ is a shot which gets the score to zero. To ‘get out’ is one of the most difficult parts of the game, requiring, as it does, the ability to hit exactly the right score that is required, no more and no less. 5, 6 and 3 are generally considered to be easier to get out with than any other score under nine. Similarly, 12, 14 and 15 are the most secure ‘spare’ out shots.

Pins (also called the skittles) – nine small wooden skittles which are arranged in a diamond shape on the table.

Pole (or post) – the pole is the tall wooden post that connects the ball to the table. It is attached to the side of the table.

Skittles (also called the pins) – nine small wooden pins which are arranged in a diamond shape on the table.

Shot – your shot is the way you take your throw. The direction, speed and aim of the throw, combined with where you stand and how you hold the ball, combine to be your shot. ‘Finding the shot’ means working out how best to play the board – how to get the highest scores off the front, and how to make up (or clear up) the odd ones, ie, knock down the left-over pins. ‘The shot’ means the best way to get a flopper or spare on any given board – as in ‘what’s the shot on this board?’ A player who plays badly will say he ‘couldn’t find the shot’ while one who started well but then fell away will have ‘lost the shot’.

Spare – a spare is scored by a player when they score more than 9 in one visit to the table, in other words, requiring all the skittles to be replaced. To get a double spare is called getting a doubler - but the best and rarest score a skittler can get is called, rather obviously, a twenty-seven.

Spots – the places on the diamond which show where the skittles should be placed. A skittle that has been knocked but not fallen over is often to be found ‘off his spot’.

Table – the table is the board on which the game is played. It also refers to the board loaded with skittles. And, of course, to the four legged piece of furniture which supports the table.

Take – to take means to knock down a pin or pins – as in ‘if you hit it right, it should take all three pins.’

Thirty-one down – some games play from 31 down instead of 91.

Throw (also called the ball) – the throw is when a player holds the ball in one hand, and taking care that their hand doesn’t pass the post, throws the ball, so that the trajectory of the ball, when pulled back by the chain, hits the skittles exactly where they want. A player’s ‘go’ consists of three throws.

Throw it away – means to deliberately miss all the skittles (probably to leave a better score for the next visit to the table).

Tie – a leg can be tied if both pairs reach zero in an equal number of throws, but this can only happen in cup games. Sometimes instead of tied, the word ‘scarfed’ is comically used.

Toss – one person throws a coin up in the air and catches it on the back of their hand, covering it with the other hand. The other person calls ‘heads’ or ‘tails’ – if they are correct, they win. If not, the one holding the coin wins. In friendly games, the loser of a previous game normally starts the next one. This is called ‘mugs’ back’.

Twenty-seven – 27 is the most a player can score in one visit to the table. Twenty-sevens are few and far between.

Visit – a set of three throws is called a ‘visit’ to the table.

More names of the game

Aiming for the front pin to get a flopper is the aim of the game for most of the match, but if that fails, or when a player nears the out shot, a more varied range of shots becomes necessary. Consequently, many other varieties of shot exist, and many have their own names, or use the names of skittles in aiming for them or describing them.

The front pin is self-explanatory. Often it’s just called ‘the front’, as in ‘go off the front’. The back pin is too! The pin behind the front pin and to the left is called the quarter pin. A quarter shot aims for this skittle, usually to hit five or six pins down. The outside pin is the pin at the far right, and the inside pin is the one nearest the left side of the board. If the middle pin is knocked out and the rest of the pins remain, this is called ‘knocking the budgie out the cage’. Pins left after the first shot has failed to take (or knock) them all down, are called the odd pins. ‘Get these odd pins!’ your team mates shout if you miss them. The back three are the row from the outside pin to the back pin. The inside three go from the inside pin to the back pin. A round five is a shot which takes all bar the inside pin and the row from the front pin to the outside pin in one shot. Six off the quarter takes those five plus the inside pin in one shot.

Sometimes a poor shot will hit the front and back pins and some of the middle pins out, leaving groups of pins on either side. This is called ‘hitting (or knocking) the guts out. To ‘guts it’ is a bad thing! To throw too heavily or too heavy-handedly is also called ‘overcooking it’. The player then has two choices. First, to get as many as they can by targeting first one side’s left over skittles and then the other’s: to try to ‘make nine’ altogether from the three throws. This is also called ‘clearing them up’ or ‘clearing it up’.

The other option is to try a side shot (also known as a cross shot). This means throwing the ball out sideways as if the inside pin were the front pin and hoping to knock down the skittles that are left in a sideways direction. Sometimes the ball hangs lower than the side of the board when it is swinging, and to throw it directly sideway results in it bouncing back off the side of the table. If it doesn’t go over in this way, the shot can be taken again. If however, it passes the side of the table, perhaps hitting the table on the way, but doesn’t reach any of the skittles, then the shot counts – scoring nothing. An experienced player will bounce the ball a little when throwing it in these circumstances to help it go over the table edge, and many players play all their side shots with such a jiggle.

There are no rules about how a player stands when he or she throws. Many different stances exist. Left and right handed players thrive, and a few players play with either hand. A player may take as long as they like within reason to throw. A player may even catch a ball already thrown as long as the ball has not gone past the post (ie further forward than the pole) when it is caught.

Learning how to change your shot – to adjust the direction, speed and aim of your throw –on a new or unfamiliar board is crucial to a player’s success. If you really can’t find the shot you might just throw a barely aimed, quite hard shot just to see what happens and maybe to change your luck. This is called chucking a rough ‘un or throwing a haymaker.

Many skittling phrases add ‘un to words or phrases above, like front ‘un, back ‘un, side ‘un. The first two refer to the skittles at the front and the back, but the last usually means a side shot.