Marbles is an old sport that’s been around for decades, but it’s new for each generation of youngsters who want to learn how to knuckle down and try their hand at various marble games.
The games are easy to learn, according to Caleb Isaacson, 13, who won the boys’ title and a $2,000 college scholarship at the 2012 National Marbles Tournament in Wildwood, N.J.
What’s the secret to a good game of marbles? “You gotta’ have fun with it!” says Caleb, who began playing marbles as a second-grader in Gunnison, Colo. “It also helps to aim correctly and have a good coach,” says Caleb, who learned the game from Jerry Piquette, 76.
To begin, players must agree in advance whether they are playing “for fair,” in which all marbles are returned to the owner, or “for keeps,” in which winners take all.
The games themselves are limited only by your imagination, but three basic approaches are identified by Bruce Breslow, 60, founder of Moon Marble Co. in Bonner Springs, Kan., where visitors can buy marbles, see them made, and learn how to play:
Ring games. Players shoot marbles in or out of a circle.
Hole games. Players shoot marbles at target marbles or into a hole, arch or can.
Off the wall games. Players shoot marbles off a wall, stoop or board; marbles ricochet, as in a game of pool.
Need more direction? Here are three simple games to get you started:
Archboard. In this hole game, players shoot for holes cut into a shoebox. Each hole is assigned a random number. When your marble goes into one of the holes, you score points, and the one who earns the most points wins.
Baseball. Players shoot marbles at holes dug in the ground to represent key elements of a baseball field.
1. Dig holes to form a baseball diamond: first, second and third bases, plus home plate. “The playing field could be any size, but we had about 8 feet between bases,” says Breslow, recalling how he and his friends played the game while growing up during the 1950s in Atlantic City, N.J.
2. Make a hole for the pitching mound where players ante up. Since clay marbles are less valuable, Breslow suggests evening the ante by equating three clays to one cat’s eye.
3. Players take turns, and shoot their way around the bases. The first one to reach home plate wins the pot.
Simple Ringer. Try this simplified version of the classic ring game used in tournament and competition play.
1. Draw a large circle, usually about 5 to 10 feet across, and place 13 marbles in the center, spaced 3 inches apart to form a cross.
2. Using a designated shooter marble, players take turns shooting from outside the circle and trying to hit a target marble out of the ring while keeping the shooter marble inside the ring. If the shooter misses, the player picks up his shooter marble and his turn is over. If the shooter scores a hit but the shooter marble rolls out of the ring, the player keeps any marbles that rolled out, including his shooter marble, and his turn is over. If the shooter scores a hit and the shooter marble stays inside of the ring, the player shoots again from the spot where the shooter marble came to a stop.
3. For each new turn, a player shoots from anywhere outside the ring.
4. The person who collects the most marbles is the winner.
Reasonable rules apply, of course. The shooter marbles should all be of the same size and material. To determine who shoots first, use the preliminary game of lagging, in which players shoot from about 10 feet away toward a line in the ground or another designated target. The player who gets closest goes first.