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The game of jacks is an ancient game that exists across different cultures and countries with some variations to its play; let’s show you how to play Jacks. It goes by different names based on the materials being used to play.

The most common alternative names for the game are knucklebones because of the use of sheep bones, five stones because of the stones used, and the most popular, Jacks because of the use of a six-spiked metal or sometimes plastic form with round heads.

Jacks is a simple and fun game that can be played at any time. It’s a game that helps with eye and hand coordination due to its method of play.

What you need to play

Here are the two things you need to play:

  • Ten or more jacks (depending on the age and how skilled the players are)
  • A small bouncy ball that can easily fit in your palm.

Due to the small size of the jacks and to avoid the risk of choking, the game should be played by kids above the age of three and adults.

Game setup

The players should gather the jacks and the ball in a pouch and arrange themselves in a circle, either standing around a table or sitting on the floor.

Standing might be better as it allows for more mobility when picking the jacks during play.

Video Tutorial 


Here are some basic rules to remember:

  • Always play on a hard, smooth surface to ensure that the ball bounces well.
  • The ball should bounce only once if there’s no agreed variation to the game
  • Use the same hand to toss and catch the ball and also pick the jack

You lose a round if any of the following happens:

  • If you don’t catch the ball
  • If the ball bounces more than once when there’s no agreed variation to it
  • If the ball hits a jack
  • If you pick up the wrong number of jacks
  • If you touch a jack not being picked

If you lose a round, continue from there when it’s your turn again. For example, if you miss a turn on the first set, you have to continue from that set when it’s your turn again.

Ensure that the jacks don’t touch after a toss at any point in the game.

How to play

The overall aim of the game is to see who can collect the most number of jacks in the final set.

To get started, the first player needs to be known. This could be achieved in some ways.

Either flip a coin or rock paper scissors for two players. The most common method for more than two players is for each player to use one hand to toss the jacks in the air and try to catch as many as possible on the back of the same hand and then toss it again such that it now lands in the palm of the same hand.

The player with the highest number of jacks at the end would be the first player.

After the first player is known, the game officially starts with the first toss of the jacks such that it makes a good spread in front of the player.

For the first round or set, the players each have to follow the following steps:

  • Toss the ball once
  • Pick up a jack before the ball lands and catch it
  • Then, place the jack in their second hand

Continue like this for all the rounds while keeping in mind that the number of jacks to be picked in each round increases and also remember the rules guiding the game.

The different rounds are often called “onesies, twosies, threesies,” and so on, based on the number of jacks to be picked.

How to win

To win the game, you have to be the first to complete the final round, which is usually the “tensies.”In this round, after tossing the ball, you have to pick up all the jacks once before catching the ball.

For kids and beginners, the game is usually played with 5 jacks, while for more skilled players, 10 jacks or more is used.

Variations to the game

Depending on the players and their level of experience, Jacks could be played in many ways:

  • Double bounce: In this variant, the ball is allowed to bounce twice before picking the jack(s) and catching the ball.
  • No bounce: Here, the ball doesn’t bounce at all. It’s just tossed, the jack(s) picked, and the ball caught.
  • Black widow: this variation is for the highly skilled players whereby all the rounds from the onesies are played straight to the tensies. If a rule is broken and a turn missed, the player has to start again from the first round.
  • Pigs in the pen: This involves using one hand to toss the ball, form a ‘pen’ with the other hand. Instead of picking the jack with the same hand, you sweep the jack(s) into the ‘pen’ and allow the ball to bounce, then catch it with the initial hand you tossed it with.
  • Around the world: In this variation, after tossing the ball, you make a circle around it while it’s still in the air before picking the jack(s) and catching the ball.

You can try out these variations and any other ones you can think of to make the game more challenging and fun.


How many players can play the game?

As few as a single player. There’s no restricted maximum number of players. Just remember that the more the players, the longer each round would be.

What happens to the jacks with me when I miss a turn?

You add them back to the remaining. The next player gets the complete number of jacks

If I get to a round, say 7 or 8, is there a particular order to pick the jacks?

Yes. In rounds beyond 3, you have to first pick the jacks based on the number of rounds, then any remainder.

For example, in the sevensies round, you have to pick seven jacks first before picking the remaining three. But if it has been agreed before, then you can pick in whatever order once you make the statement” cart before the horse.”

This lets the other players know what you want to do so that it’s not tagged as a foul.


Try out the game of Jacks today and discover how well your eyes and hands are coordinated. It’s definitely a fun way to improve your hand-eye coordination.

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