Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Mastering the ART of Beer Pong

Since the start of the semester my friends and I have greatly increased our beer pong skills. We used to be novices and now we're experts. We practiced, and practiced, and kicked ass at parties. We always felt we weren't getting any better, but occasionally we'd have sparks of brilliance that just couldn't be overlooked. Recently, we've accepted the fact that we're amazing at the game now. Like any "athlete" we have our good days and bad days, but generally we're pretty consistent.

The highlight of my beer pong career came last week. My team had one cup left in front of us and the other team still had three cups. This, of course, meant that we were losing and in pretty bad shape. It didn't take them long to succeed in making our remaining cup, forcing us to rebuttal. I always go last in rebuttal because I work better under the pressue of win or go home. Well anyway, my teammate missed his shot, so I needed to make three in a row. I collected myself, felt the shot, and sunk the first cup. You know where this story is going, I made the next two cups and forced the game to continue. It was amazing. Three in a row. Go me. We ended up winning that game.

Anyway...this is not the point of this blog entry. So, onto the show....

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Being a good beer pong player is just like being good at any other sport or game. There’s never any one right way to do it. Perfecting your game is a personal matter, as only you understand your own skills. Your depth perception may not be as finely tuned as your hand-eye coordination. Perhaps you’re better at bouncing than you are at arcing. And maybe your personal skill lies in your ability to drink your friends under the table while maintaining the kind of stamina that is needed for a winner. The best way to learn any game is to practice and nowhere is that more true than beer pong. In other sports and games you can observe the techniques of your opponent and style your game accordingly. This isn’t a game you play against an opponent; this is a game you play against yourself. Understanding how great your opponent’s shot is won’t win you this game because there is nothing you can do to stop them. The only way you can get better is to constantly be improving yourself. Remember when you were a kid and you ran an obstacle course around the house? Every time you ran that course, you’d attempt to beat your own time in an effort to make yourself better. That is beer pong.

Let’s start off with some basic rules. I assume that if you’re reading this or even if you go to college, you understand how beer pong is played. I’m not going to go into great detail in the rules, because many people play the game differently. There are, however, some things that remain constant.

Beer pong is a game played with two or four players. If there are two players, then there is one person on each side. Likewise, when there are four players, there are two people on each side. The number of cups used per team can vary between households, however the average number is TEN. These ten cups form a pyramid in front of the team: four cups in the back row, three in the next, two in the next, and finally one at the top. When my friends and I play one-on-one games, we use a pyramid of six cups rather than ten.

Who shoots first is determined by the house rules. There are many ways of doing this. Some people allow any team with ladies to shoot first, or whichever team has the oldest player. Another common start rule is that the owners of the house always get first shot. Whichever way you determine first shot is only important to the first game as all subsequent games start with the winners of the previous match starting the volley.

The rest of the game is fairly self explainable. Teams go back and forth, shooting the ping-pong balls at the opposing team’s cups. When a ball lands in a cup that cup is then removed and drank. Whichever team is the first to lose all the cups in front of them loses. There are various other shooting rules that come into effect during the course of the game, but I’m not going to get into them just yet.


There are many different ways in which to shoot the ball, many different grips, stances, spins, and follow-throughs. I recommend trying out everything I have to teach and finding out which one works best for you.

When I first started playing beer pong, I sucked. I didn’t have a problem getting the ball to the cups, but if one went in it was mostly luck. You may think that the goal is fairly simple, just aim the ball at the cluster of cups and hope for the best. That can work some of the time, but you have to realize that you’re not really doing anything when you do that, except praying it goes in. Playing with that style may win you the game, it may not. If you’re playing against a team that knows what they’re doing, you’ll probably lose every time.

I find that the most important aspect of a shot is the follow-through. While this may make your shot somewhat straighter, it’s not going to sink the ball for you. The best aspect of the follow-through is that it allows you to feel the ball and its direction. When you get good enough you’ll know if a ball is going to miss the cup the second it leaves your hand. I attribute this foresight to my follow-through. It lets me lead the ball and feel its trajectory. The best aspect of the follow-through is that it can really help you improve yourself. Eventually you’ll find yourself follow-through naturally. When this happens you can really feel a change in your shot.

Another important aspect of the shot is the arc. You can follow-through and have your shot be as straight and accurate as you want, but if you can’t get the shot to soar perfectly above the cups, then you’re going to suck big time. The arc aspect of a shot can be pretty second nature as a newbie rarely ever smacks the front of the cups on a consistent basis, but there are different aspects to arc that you can try out. Many people base their entire shot off of a high arc, preferring the ball to come straight down on the cups rather than toward the cups in a perpendicular fashion. Clearly, this has its pitfalls, as a high arc usually means you have to sacrifice some sense of aim. I prefer to balance my shot between the two arc extremes. It will become easier to focus on arc once your aim becomes perfect second nature. When you arc the ball, you always want to make sure you’re aiming for a specific cup. Visualize the shot in your head and feel it in your hand. Don’t try too hard, as you’ll probably over arc it. Never confuse arc with power. If you’re practicing arcing a ball and it’s going further than your normal shot, then you need to watch the power you’re putting behind the ball.

There are different ways of aiming your shot beyond the follow-through. My friends and I used to have an expression, “Aim for the beer, not the cup.” I say we used to have this saying because it’s complete bullshit and doesn’t work. I bring this up only as an anecdote. If, however, you do come across a phrase like this in your beer pong career then you will now know to avoid it like the plague. The best way of aiming is actually to aim for the cup. I prefer to aim for the back lip of the cup. You’ll always see it, it’s the only inside white of the cup you can really see. I like to aim for that because it means I’ll probably put enough of an arc on the ball to reach that spot and because that spot is slightly inside the cup which means my ball will go inside the cup. The dangers of aiming for this spot is that you might not clear the front edge of the cup or that you’ll simply just shoot too far. The best way of aiming is just to take your time with your shot. If you’re too hasty, you’re likely to be way off. I said it earlier, and it may sound a little “Star Wars”, but you really just have to feel the shot before you take it. Get into a zone and make sure the ball leaves your hand the way you want it to. Sometimes it’s not a bad idea to have a friend, who is good at the game, sit off to the side and observe your shot. He’s not personally connected to the ball, like you are, and always has a unique perspective on the game. When I do this with my friends, I can tell them if I think they should aim a little to the left, a little to the right, a little further, or if they should attempt to take the same exact shot despite the fact that they missed. This generally has a positive effect and can end up helping both of you.

Finally, something else you can practice with is your grip and various types of spin. These are not as important as everything else and can vary greatly. I personally grip the ball with two fingers and my thumb, whereas a friend of mine grips with three fingers and his thumb. Varying how this is done can increase and decrease level of control, power, and can even change your aim. Changing the spin you put on a ball has much the same consequences. Generally it makes a shot more powerful, but it also changes the way if bounces off the cups (for better or worse). Try all types of spin and observe the effect it has on your shot. Sometimes when I’m in a rut, I find that putting a bit of sidespin on the ball has a positive effect. A lot of people shoot with a backspin on the ball, in true basketball style. These practices are highly subjective, so you should find what works best for you in different situations.


Bouncing falls into the realm of specific house rules, but still has to be addressed. Most places where I’ve played beer pong have bouncing rules. The general consensus is that if a ball is bounced, the other team can swat it. The advantage to bouncing, however, is that if you make it in, the other team has to drink two cups rather than one. This, of course, means that bouncing is only a viable option when the other team’s attention is focused elsewhere. I would say, on average, it’s only possible to get one bounce in per game. After you do it the first time, whether you make it in or not, the other team will be paying a lot more attention when you take your shot. Therefore, if you want to do it right, you have to do it right the first time. Of course, if the other team is drunk enough (or ADD enough) it will be possible to bounce the ball multiple times without consequence. In that case, you’ll probably win no matter what.

Some people are naturally better at bouncing than others, but there’s no reason you should ever miss a bounce or even the opportunity to do so. Noticing the right time to bounce requires you to focus beyond the game. This is the one time that knowing your opponents will come in handy during beer pong. Don’t always wait for the other team to be completely looking the wrong way. If they’re only half paying attention, then they probably won’t realize you bounced it in time anyhow. There are many ways to time a good bounce. Find out what hand your opponent’s dominant hand is. This is pretty easy as it’s probably the one they’re drinking their beer with. When that hand is occupied and their teammate is similarly distracted, try for the bounce. Either they’ll fumble what they’re holding or they’ll try to swat with their off-hand and completely fuck it up (maybe even knock over some cups that are still in play).

Good teams, however, won’t just excel when it comes to swatting, they’ll trick the other team into bouncing. This is a tactic I use against people who love to bounce, like one of my friends/teammate. If you notice that your teammate isn’t paying any attention, pretend to do the same thing. Don’t look at the cups, don’t look at the other team, and don’t even look at the table. Make sure, however, that the game stays in your peripheral vision. If done right, the other team will attempt a bounce, feeling that you’re not paying attention. At that moment, you’ll snap to attention (because you’ve been watching all along) and swat that thing back to the seventh ring of Hell. The same thing works in one-on-one games. Recently my girlfriend said something jokingly mean to me and I decided to use it to my advantage. I just stared at her like I was pissed off. Even though she looked away or said something else, I just kept staring. At first, my opponent was interested in the “fight” between us, but then he realized his “opportunity” and went for the bounce. Since I had been waiting for it all along, I had no trouble swatting it away. Doesn’t make a huge difference in the long run, but that’s one less shot I had to worry about. I’m pretty sure I ended up losing that game too. Oh well.

Bouncing is so attractive, not just because it can eliminate two cups, but because it actually is easier. If you practice on your own, you’ll find that you make a lot more cups when you bounce every ball than when you shoot every one. It takes a lot less skill to bounce…under the optimum conditions, that is. Usually, if you’re in the midst of a game and you recognize the opportunity to bounce, you only have a few seconds in which you can do it. Generally, this time falls between when your opponents are drinking and when you’re cleaning off the balls. As a general rule of courtesy, never bounce a ball before it has been cleaned off. You might find the right opening, but it’s just gross.

There are various ways of bouncing, but I find the best way to do it is to make the bounce as close to their cups as possible. This makes the bounce less noticeable at first and actually makes it much more difficult to swat. Since the ball is so close to the cups, it increases the chance that they’ll hit a cup rather than the ball if they try to swat it. This method of bouncing takes a lot of practice since any ball bounced that close to the target will more than likely fly over it or fall too low. Another great way of bouncing (probably the only other good way of doing it) is to go fast and low. This is just as hard as the first way because actively attempting to go fast and low at the same time generally leads you to just shoot a grounder into the front of the cup. The advantage is, of course, that it’s much harder to notice in time and rather difficult to swing your hand at.

The major problem that most people encounter when attempting a bounce is that they just don’t have enough time to think about it. Like I said before, you only have a short window in which your bounce will be unnoticeable, and so most people just try to get it off as quickly as possible, no matter what that means. Practicing bounces will really make you better at them in a pressure situation. The ultimate goal is to the get to the point where, like many skills, it becomes second nature. When this happens you’ll be able to bounce it perfect no matter how little time you have. So find out which bounce works best for you and perfect it. Such a skill won’t come in handy for every game, but when it does, it will be worth it. There’s nothing worse than missing a perfect bounce opportunity.

On the other side of the table is the ability to swat. It’s pretty straightforward and takes nothing more than good hand-eye coordination. As long as you’re paying attention, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to swat any type of ball bounced your way. Just be careful of how you’re swatting the ball, as you don’t want to make the embarrassing mistake of knocking over some of your cups. Alcohol does many things to the body. It can fuck up your game enough without having it draw your attention elsewhere too. Take beer pong serious and you’ll be successful.


Tactics are a simple aspect of beer pong and not something that will take too long to inform you of. The longer you play beer pong, the more your friends and you will develop your own tactics together. I would say that no two people play the same way and some people are far more creative than others. However, there are some basic tactics with many different variations, many of which I’ll never see. Work with your friends and teammates to create new and interesting tactics with which to beat people down.

There is one tactic that a friend of mine used to use all the time when we were first starting out at beer pong. Nowadays, he can’t use it as much because everybody expects him to do it. Nonetheless, it was quite effective back when it was fresh and new. Every so often, at a party, we’ll come across people at the beer pong table that we’ve never met before, and can, therefore, break out this tactic again. Sometimes it works, often it does not, but it’s worth a shot (pun very much intended). Basically, what he used to do was have me shoot first and then bounce his ball the same time I shoot my ball. This has a double effect. Either they won’t be expecting it and won’t be able to react in time or they’ll go for the swat and interfere with the thrown ball resulting in the loss of a cup. In an ideal situation, the opposing player would both interfere with the thrown ball and miss the swat on the bounced ball…maybe even knocking over some cups along the way.

Another tactic that is actually pretty elementary stuff is just to work well with your partner. If he makes a cup, try to aim for the same cup. It doesn’t work all the time, but when it does, it’s both a great way to get rid of cups and a moral booster. This tactic is highly variable to house rules. It’s important to do this in games and my house because if both balls land in the same cup it equals three cups removed and a ball return. Once I was actually in a one-on-one game where I was up five cups to one and my opponent hit both his shots in one cup, got the balls back, and hit the last two cups separately. I didn’t make my rebuttal and lost in a brutal fashion.

There are other shot tactics that you should figure out with your friends. Some are simple and some are trickier. For the most part, the game is fairly linear without too much room for highly creative maneuvers.

Finally, it would be hard to talk about tactics without talking about distractions. I’ve never been to a party where distractions are illegal. Basically you should be able to do whatever you want in front of or behind your cups while your opponent is taking his shot. As long as you don’t actually interfere with the ball or the cup, it’s generally allowed. Distractions come in many forms. I have one friend who loves to just swing his hand in front of the cups or partially obscure them from view. Girls love to take a more sexual approach when they’re playing against male opponents. Trash talking, mocking, mama jokes, and weird noises would also fall under the category of distractions. When at all possible, I like to make my opponents laugh right before the ball is about to leave their hand. I have a teammate who loves to make fun of himself and the way he distracts people. He even once showed his penis to my future girlfriend for twenty dollars. I’m sure that distracted quite a few people in the vicinity.

If you’re ever faced with somebody using their hands as a distraction, visualize the point on their hands you’d have to hit to get the ball in the cup. If your shot is off, remember what you have to do to fix it next time they do a similar distraction. I generally find, that when an opponent is trying to distract my aim with his hands or other body parts in front of and around the cup, I shoot too far. I’m not sure if that would be true of everybody, but keep that in mind. Just remember that a shot taken with a distraction has to be approached in a different manner than a shot done distraction free.

Good luck. Drink responsibly.


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