Games research and development

Chessball Rules

These rules were originally published at That is still the canonical URL and canonical version of the rules, but we have preserved this copy in case the original becomes unavailable for any reason. Nelson has made some minor typographical changes.

Chessball: a Game in Eleven Rules

  1. Chessball is a game for two players, involving a ball and a table, though these rules may be easily adapted for teams of two.
  2. The ball must bounce. It should be large enough that players cannot throw it at a tremendous rate; if such a ball is used, players may choose to adopt a penalty for throws that are too fast. The ball should not be so large that a player cannot palm the ball. The table should be relatively low to the ground, not taller than the waist of any player. It should ideally have a small round or square surface, no more than three feet in diameter.
  3. Players begin the game by setting up the court. A general area of play must be defined, and the table shall be placed as close to the geometric center of the court as possible. After the table is placed, a serving area must be defined. This should be a small area about ten feet away from the table.
  4. Each point is started by the serving player. He stands in the serving area and tosses the ball such that it bounces off the table and continues forward to the other side of the playing area. He is allowed one failed serve per point; two failed serves in a row result in the server losing the point. A serve that bounces off the near edge of the table and stays on the server’s half of the court is a let and must be rethrown at no penalty.
  5. Following the serve, players take turns passing the ball back and forth across the court. Each pass must bounce off the tabletop exactly once. A player must catch a ball passed to him and must always toss or throw the ball back to his opponent; kicking and slapping the ball are allowed only to keep an uncaught ball alive. After a player has caught the ball, he may not take a further step; the only motion he is allowed is to pivot on either of his two feet.
  6. The non-throwing player is responsible for catching a pass only if it crosses the half-court line. There are two ways to interpret this rule. One suggests there is a defined half-court line that is determined by the players at the start of the game. This is recommended for indoor games. For outdoor games and games in very large courts, though, it is possible to redefine the half-court line with every pass. With this interpretation, the half-court line would be defined prior to each pass as being the plane through the center of the table parallel to the body of the throwing player as he faces the table. This would allow for players to freely move around the table as the point progresses, which is more difficult to manage indoors.
  7. If a pass does not cross the half-court line (for instance, if it hits the edge of the table and moves back towards the throwing player), possession does not change. The throwing player is still responsible to catch the ball to prolong the point.
  8. A player can only lose a point, he can never win it. If he ends the rally in any way — by missing the table with his throw or missing a catch, or committing some other penalty as defined hereafter — his opponent earns one point. If the outcome of a point is unclear, it ought to be replayed. Players should decide the outcome of situations where the ball hits other structures besides the floor and the table prior to the start of play. In general, a ball that hits off a wall is still live, but if the ball lands somewhere other than the floor, for instance, the outcome is left to the players.
  9. The player who began the game serving continues to serve each point until a player has scored seven points. At that point, the players switch serve (still using the same serving area; this requires them to switch sides of the court). Service changes again once a player has scored fourteen points.
  10. There are three main penalties in Chessball, though other penalties may exist or be enacted by the players. The main infraction in Chessball involves losing your pivot foot after you catch the ball (traveling). The penalty for traveling should be loss of point; plays that attempt to subvert the pivot rule should also be penalized with loss of point, for instance throwing a pass to yourself off of a wall. Second, if a player crosses the half-court line with intentions of interfering with the opponent, he loses the point. Third, a pass that lands outside of the court is penalized with loss of point. This penalty mainly affects long passes in outdoor settings.
  11. A game of Chessball is to twenty-one points, win by two. Usually a match of three or five games is played to attempt to equalize any advantage that may exist due to the serving rules.