How to Win at Beer Pong

The object of beer pong is to clear all the cups on your opponents’ side before they clear all the cups on yours. You do this by throwing a ball and strategically landing it in the cups. The beer pong rules below outline how to set up the game as well as the many ways you can clear all the cups in order to win.

“House rules” are the rules that your party hosts choose to follow. Some people prefer certain rules, so it’s traditional to let your hosts have a say in the rules you use while playing. The rules should be established ahead of time, though, so that it’s clear they aren’t made up as you go along.

Starting Out: Beer Pong Balls and Cups

What balls are best?

The game of beer pong should be played with ping pong balls (probably not a shocker there!). They are light, plastic, and about an inch in diameter. Ping pong balls are meant to bounce, which is something that comes in handy in beer pong if you decide to shoot that way. You can find these online or in a store like Target or Walmart. It’s good to have a couple extra on hand in case you lose some. 

What cups are best?

The traditional cups used in beer pong are red solo cups (although you can go for any color or any brand). These are the optimal size for the game. You can find solo cups at most grocery stores or gas stations. If you want a less-disposable option, you can buy reusable beer pong cups online. They are sturdier and will hold up for longer. We highly recommend this – you can divert a lot of plastic waste at your next party!

What beer is best?

Cheap and plentiful. Basically you want to buy a big case of whatever big-brand generic beer you can find – Bud, Miller, PRB, Natty Lite. This isn’t really a “sip and enjoy” kind of game, so no need to break out the fancy craft beer. 

What table to use for beer pong: proper distance

Regulation tables are 8 feet long. If you want a proper beer pong table, you can buy them online (and folding tables exist so you can easily transport it and store it when not in use). Be sure to check out the cool custom beer pong tables you can design yourself! If you don’t have an actual beer pong table, you can use a regular dining table or kitchen island, although you won’t quite get the proper distance with these. Whatever you do use, something smooth is best. You know those white folding tables you see at events? Those are fine, as long as you don’t plan on bouncing the ball. The texture of those tables is not at all conducive to bouncing. 

How to set up the cups in beer pong
Beer pong starting formation.

Specific Beer Pong Rules

players and playing order

You can either play with 2 people (1 vs 1) or 4 people (2 vs 2). To determine which side shoots first, you do “eye to eye.” One person on each side holds a ball and gets ready to shoot, but must keep eye contact with the other while saying “eye to eye.” On the last “eye,” both players throw. (It’s kind of like “rock, paper, scissors, shoot – where you throw out your sign on “shoot.”) Whoever makes it in gets the balls for their team to start. If both make it in, or if neither make it in, you re-do it (with the other team members, if you’re playing with 4 people). Cups are not actually removed during this phase; it is simply to determine which side gets to play first.

How to shoot in beer pong: throw or bounce

You can throw your ball directly into the cups on the other side, or you can bounce the ball on the table into a cup. If it bounces and then lands in a cup, that will result in 2 cups being cleared.

Beer Pong Re-racks and Formations

Each team gets 2 re-racks per game (plus a Gentleman’s, as explained below). This means twice per game, if you do not like the way your cups are spaced out, you can pick a new formation to make it easier for yourself. Everyone seems to have different go-to re-rack formations.

Gentleman’s Re-rack

When you get down to just 2 cups left, no matter where they are, you can ask for a “gentleman’s.” This means the cups will be arranged into a line (perpendicular to the end of the table) for easier aiming. This doesn’t count towards the two re-racks typically allowed in a game of beer pong. 

Island rule

If you end up with one cup isolated from all the others (not touching any other cup), you can call the “island” rule. You must announce “island” before you shoot, and if you make it in the isolated cup, you get to remove that cup plus two others. This rule can only be invoked once per person per game, so use it wisely! 

Both partners hit

Both team members sinking a ball on the same turn results in those two cups being removed and the shooting team getting the balls back to have another turn.

Same cup rule

If you and your partner get your balls into the same cup, both of those cups are removed plus one other, for a total of three. The shooting team also gets their balls back. 

Balls back

As stated above, the shooting team can get their balls back by both sinking cups on the same turn. Another way to get a ball back is to grab it before it leaves the table. If you shoot, and the ball bounces or rolls back towards you, you can grab it and shoot again. The caveat is that you have to do a more complicated shot. Traditionally, women will shoot with their non-dominant hand, and men will shoot behind their back. But feel free to choose whichever you prefer. 

Heating up & on fire

If you get the ball in the cup two turns in a row, you can say you’re “heating up.” If you make it a third turn in a row, you can say you’re “on fire,” and you get your ball back to shoot again. You can keep shooting as long as you keep making it in a cup. Don’t forget that you can only claim “on fire” if you remembered to claim “heating up.”

Trick shots

Several different trick shots exist within beer pong. You should default to the house beer pong rules to see whether they can be used or not, but we’ll explain some of the most common trick shots here. Generally, making a trick shot will result in 2 cups being removed.

  • Ray Charles: Turn away from the table, and throw the ball over your shoulder
  • Celeb shot: You can choose someone not playing the game to step in and take a “celebrity shot”
  • Bounce off wall: Bounce the ball off of the nearest wall and try to land it in a cup
Hitting multiple cups

If the ball you throw hits multiple cups before landing in a cup, every cup it hit gets removed. Some people play with this rule (also called the “traveling” rule) and some don’t – again it’ll be whatever house rules you decide on.

Defense: finger or blow

Sometimes a ball won’t sink right away, but rather will circle the cup for a while. If this happens on your side, you have a couple of defensive options here. Typically, women will “blow” (blowing on the ball to make it pop out of the cup) while men will “finger” (using one finger to pull the ball out). This only works if you can do it before the ball hits the water. But hey, it’s 2020, feel free to finger or blow at your own discretion. 


If the other team sinks all their cups, you don’t automatically lose. You have one more chance to “redeem” yourself by shooting until you miss. If you have a partner, and one of you makes it but the other misses, you lose. But if you both continue to make it until you’ve cleared all the cups as well, the game goes into sudden-death over time with 3 cups on each side. The person who shot last then shoots first in overtime.

Each team gets an equal number of turns in overtime. So if the team who shot first clears all their cups, the team who shot second still gets a chance to finish. If both sides clear the cups on the same round, this will force a second (or even third) overtime.

Check ’em out: Amazing custom beer pong tables you can design and customize

Why do people wet the ball in beer pong?

Typically, people have a cup of water that is used for nothing else besides dipping the ball into. This is to “clean” the ball and remove any debris that might have attached to the ball while bouncing and rolling around on the ground. This in no way sanitizes the ball – just removes dust, dirt, and hair that might be on it! Because you certainly don’t want that in the beer you drink. 

Beer Pong Game Variations

Try out a gigantic version of beer pong! This is a fun way to mix up the game and is perfect for a nice day outdoors.

Free Pong is another variation that’s worth trying out. If you don’t have enough space for beer pong, or just want an easy, less-messy way to play, take it vertical! See our full review of Free Pong here.

Free Pong board mounted to wall with red solo cups attached.
Free Pong drinking game

Beer pong is probably one of the most well-known drinking games, but there are a lot of other great options out there! Check out our full list of party drinking games for more fun ideas.

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