The Rules of Table Skittles


Table Skittles, Bar Skittles, Pole Skittles or Devil Amongst the tailors is a popular pub game all over Britain. Being a traditional pub game without any national governing body, variations of equipment and rules abound. Where there is doubt, locally played rules should always apply.


Devil amongst the Tailors


Known also as Bar Skittles, Table Skittles and Pub Skittles, Devil Amongst The Tailors is known across all of Britain.  Nine small skittles are positioned in a square on a raised base, nine inches square.  Dimensions of the table are about two feet by two feet six inches.   The height of the side walls should be about three inches high.  In the middle of the left hand side of the base (as the player looks at it) stands a pole about three feet high connected to which is a swivelled chain with a a wooden ball at the other end suspended at same height as the skittles.  The pins and ball would normally be made of boxwood or other English hardwood.  The ball is swung clockwise around behind the pole, the objective being to knock over the skittles as it returns to the player. So in order to knock over all nine skittles, a player must hit the skittle furthest away first. 

A scoreboard is sometimes integrated into the front of the board and can appear in several styles.  Quite often, a cribbage board is used.


Since the game is a miniaturised version of Skittles, the game is played in the same way.  A coin should be tossed to see who takes the first turn.  The skittles are only reset at the beginning of a turn or when all nine have been knocked over.  Three throws per turn are allowed so that the maximum score in one go is twenty-seven.  The ball must be start its revolution around the outside of the board so that it hits the skittles upon its return towards the player.  The ball is permitted to go around the pole only once for each throw - the player should catch it as it returns so as to prevent it going round a second time. 

Usually, the objective is to be the first player to reach a score of one hundred and one although, if a cribbage board is being used to score, the game would be played to one hundred and twenty one. 


Hood Skittles / Northamptonshire Skittles


A Hood Skittles table is a complicated piece of furniture.  The table surface and the walls to left, right and rear are leather bound and the walls are cushioned, whilst the rear sports a curved hood of leather or netting which stretches above the the walls in the manner of a pram. At the back of the table there is often a shallow trough to catch the cheeses and fallen pins.  The surface stands about 3 feet high and the thrower stands 9 feet from the front pin (measured straight from top of pin to floor) when in a pub around Leicester or Rugby, 10 feet from the front pin when playing in a Northhamptonshire tavern.

The skittles in the Northamptonshire variant are stout, rounded at the top, flat on the bottom and top-heavy because they are wider at the top than the bottom.  In Leicestershire and Bedfordshire, the pins are shaped like West Country or Long Alley Skittles - wide in the middle and symmetrically slimmer at either end.  They are 5 - 6 inches high and traditionally made of English hardwood although latterly, resins and composition materials have become more common.  The cheeses are shaped like a Dutch cheese, measure about three inches across, one and a half inches high and are made of the same material.


For each turn a player throws three cheeses at the skittles which start standing in the classic diamond pattern.  If all the skittles are toppled after the first or second throws, they are reset so that the maximum theoretical score in one turn is 27 points.

The cushioned side walls are critical - the cheese needs to be bounced off them in order to clear the skittles in certain situations.  In some places, it is also legal to bounce the cheese of the rear hood as well.

In most versions, the toppled skittles are left where they lie.  However, some areas in Leicestershire and Rutland remove dead skittles before each new throw.

The standard singles game would consist of an agreed number of legs and would utilise the "on and off" system of scoring.  This one of those concepts that sounds much more complicated than it really is.  To begin with each player starts each leg with five "lives".  Each player takes a turn and the player who scores the lowest loses a life.  So far so good but if the score is equal, then the next turn is worth two lives instead of one.  The first life is decided by the first throw of the next turn and the second life is decided by the sum of all three throws.  In this situation the score is quoted as a double number e.g. if the first throw scores 5 and the total of three throws scores 8, the score for the turn is "5 - 8".  If either of these two "lives" are drawn, then the next turn is also worth two lives decided in the same way and so on.  In the rare example where a two-life turn produces two draws, house rules apply but it is suggested that the next turn simply carries on in the standard two-life fashion.

So by example, let us suppose that Alex and Bob play a game.  The following table shows the points they score each throw, the scores and their lives for the first five turns.

Alex throws Alex scores Bob throws Bob scores No. Alex lives No. Bob lives
7-1-1 9 5-2-1 8 5 4
7-2-6 15 9-5-1 15 5 4
4-3-1 4-9 6-1-2 6-9 4 4
5-2-1 5-8 5-2-2 5-9 3 4
8-1-5 8-14 5-4-6 5-15 2 3




A Daddlums table is similar to a Hood Skittles table but rather longer.  There are no standards but a typical one would be 5 1/2 feet long, a couple of feet wide standing about 2 feet high.  It would have wooden sides and back and the players would stand 9 feet in front of the table to throw the small cheeses at the 9 tiny pins - only 3 inches high.  Players must throw the cheeses onto the front of the table so that they slide along the length of it to hit the pins.


The most popular game to play on the table is "Nines", wherein each player is allowed nine consecutive throws, the pins being reset when all are downed.  The player who knocks over the most pins, wins.  If a leg is tied, to decide it, each player throws just one cheese at all nine skittles.  Five legs would normally be played.  For doubles, each partner throws three cheeses each and the partnership who knocks over the most pins, wins.  Ties are decided in the same way - one player from each partnership throwing just one cheese.




These rules are provided by Masters Traditional Games, an Internet shop selling quality traditional games, pub games and unusual games. For information on copying and copyright, see our disclaimer.

Our rules are comprehensive instructions for friendly play. If in doubt, always abide by locally-played or house rules.

Copyright Masters Games 2012. All rights reserved.

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