Going Bonkers for Conkers – How to Play the Playground Game

What’s conkers? If you went to school in the UK, you know. If not, you probably have no idea. Which is a shame, because it might just be the greatest competitive two player horse chestnut on a bit of string game in the months of September and October ever. Or simply the greatest game ever.

What is a conker?

A conker is the big brown seed of a horse chestnut tree. They fall from the trees in autumn, encased in spikey green shells that are as soft as silk on the inside. They are not the same chestnuts that roast on open fires. Horse chestnuts are not edible. But they can be used to play the game “conkers”; a traditional playground game unique to the British Isles. To get your conker game-ready, drill a hole from the top to the bottom and out the other side, so that you can thread a piece of string (about the length of your arm) through the conker. Tie a knot at one end of the string so that the conker sits nicely on it without slipping off. A shoelace can be used instead of string. Now you are ready to play.

The smoother and rounder the hole, the stronger the conker

How do you play?

Conkers is a two player game, so each player needs their own conker on a string. The aim of the game is to break the other player’s conker. Player A holds their conker out, so it dangles on the string below their hand, keeping it still. Player B then swings their own conker at Player A’s conker aiming to smash it or hit it off its string. Take it in turns, if a player misses completely, they can have another turn. If such a good connection is made that a conker is hit and swings in a complete circle, the attacker gets another go. If the strings tangle, the first player to shout “strings!” has an extra go. If the conker falls to the floor, the attacking player can shout “stamps” and try to stamp on the opposition conker to break it. The winning conker is the one that remains intact. 

Playing conkers

Shortening the length of the string by wrapping around the hand increases accuracy, but reduces power.

The scoring system

If your conker wins one match, it becomes a “one-er”. After two victories it’s a “two-er” and so on. Another scoring variation is that if you beat a conker with previous victories, you inherit those wins too. So a “three-er” that beats another “three-er” becomes a “seven-er”. 

Choosing a good conker

The choosing of the conker is a big part of the game. I still remember from my schoolboy days exactly where the best horse chestnuts could be found. Big shiny round ones are the most appealing. But the important thing is to choose one without any cracks or weak points. Once you’ve found your special one, take care when drilling or skewering the hole. The smoother and rounder the hole, the stronger the conker. And make sure your knot is nice and big so the conker doesn’t slip off after a big hit.


I have heard about (and tried) many different techniques and tricks to make conkers harder. Soaking them in vinegar, coating them in nail varnish, cooking them for a bit in an oven, leaving them to harden in a dry place for a year. I could go on, but I wouldn’t want to give you any ideas. And anyway, tampering with conkers is considered cheating. 

Come, see and conker

If you reckon you’ve got what it takes, why not enter the world conker championships in England?

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About the author


Leaving rainy Plymouth to move to cold and rainy Hamburg, Joseph has been trying to pronounce ridiculously long German words ever since. If he’s not drinking a cool Weizenbier he spends his time on his bike or reading books by the river. Now working as an intern at bab.la.