How to play conkers

Picture of a conker with

This article was updated by the Great British Mag team on 26 October 2021

Conkers is a traditional game played in the UK every autumn. To say that it is strange is a bit of an understatement, but this quirky game has entertained Brits for generations and you absolutely must have a go. All you need is a conker, some string and a willing friend to play with.

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What is a conker?

Conkers are the hard, shiny brown seeds of the horse chestnut tree. You will see them all over the ground during the autumn. They are very pretty, but do not try to eat them – unlike real chestnuts, conkers are poisonous to humans.

Since we cannot eat them, we Brits decided to turn conkers into a game instead!

How to play conkers?

First, you must find a conker. The best ones are uncracked, hard and symmetrical. You can test whether a conker is good by putting it in water. Conkers that are weak or rotten on the inside will float, whereas good strong ones will sink.

It can take some time to find a good conker but this is not a bad thing as it means you have an excuse to go outside and enjoy the beautiful autumn weather. Brits of all ages like to go out hunting for conkers and many do it as a family activity or even a date.

Once you have found the perfect conker, make a hole through the middle of it and thread a piece of strong string through the hole. The string should be about 25cm long. Tie a knot at one end so that the conker doesn’t fall off.

Now you are ready to play! But you will need an opponent. Challenge a friend to a round of conkers. They will also need a conker that has been threaded on a piece of string.

To play, let your conker hang down from the string which is wrapped round your hand. The conker is held at the height your opponent chooses and is held perfectly still. Your opponent then swings their conker at yours, trying to smash it. If they miss, it is time to swap roles – now it is your turn to try and smash their conker! The game continues until one person’s conker is smashed to bits.

Conkers is a very simple game but Brits can get competitive about it and some even cheat by baking their conkers or coating them in nail varnish to make them stronger. This behaviour is frowned upon, however.

If you think you’ve some skill with conkers, sign up to compete in the World Conker Championships, where you can face the best of the best.

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