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For the Love of Shove

For the uninitiated, shove ha’penny, or shove halfpenny, is a traditional pub game that dates back to 15th century England and is structured for two players or two teams. It’s played on a small, rectangular, wood or stone board with parallel lines or grooves running horizontally up and down the board about two inches apart. Within these lines are spaces called “beds.” Five ha’pennies, coins or metal discs a little smaller than a penny are placed in a row at one end of the board and slightly overhanging the edge and are “shoved” with a blow from the palm of the hand.

An exact placement by a first shove, rather than subsequent nudge, is called a “flopper” and will raise the roof at your local pub, bar or frat house. In the good ‘ol days, before online shove ha’penny was even conceived, lots of cash was wagered; and fixing matches–whether actual or suspected–resulted in sudden and violent confrontations. So it’s a game not to be taken lightly. In fact, it’s a game so lauded in English lore that pubs will only allow trusted, highly-skilled locals to play.

Once a proprietor does break out the woodwork and a game is under way, each player’s scores are chalked in the margins of the board. When a certain number of scores have been made by one player in one bed, that bed is filled and any subsequent scores go to the opposing player unless they are knocked clear by a subsequent shot before all five coins have been played. The two players take alternate turns and the winning player is the first to fill all the beds.

So if you’re tired of foosball, air hockey and darts and are keen to test your dexterity and finesse, seek out a shove ha’penny table. But be warned: dedicated players will usually have the game on lockdown for the evening and it’s virtually impossible for outsiders to get a game in without placing money on the board.

But in fine English tradition, any wagers on the outcome of a game should never be more than a pint of beer. and you should be very wary if you are invited to bet anything more than that. But before you let your guard down after a couple “winnings,” remember that spilling beer on the board is an egregious crime punishible by hanging.

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