Pickleball Cutthroat Rules: Making Three Player Games Fun

Pickleball Cutthroat Rules: Pickleball, a sport that has rapidly gained popularity across the globe, is typically known for its standard two or four-player formats. However, a lesser-known variant is perfect for when you have an odd number of players: three-player pickleball, often referred to as ‘cutthroat pickleball.’ This variant solves the dilemma of having an odd number of players and adds a unique twist to the game, making it more dynamic and fun. In this article, we’ll explore the rules, strategies, and tips for enjoying three-player pickleball.

Understanding Pickleball Cutthroat Rules

Cutthroat pickleball is a variation of the traditional game adapted for three players. The primary difference lies in the rotation of players and scoring system, which is designed to keep all three players engaged and competitive throughout the game.

Basic Rules

  1. Player Rotation: The game starts with one player on one side of the net (the single player) and the other two players on the opposite side (the doubles team). After each point, players rotate positions. The player who served in the doubles team moves to the single player’s side, the single player joins the doubles team, and the other doubles player serves next.
  2. Scoring: Points are only scored by the single player if they win the rally. The goal for the single player is to score as many points as possible before losing the rally. The score is kept individually, and the first player to reach a predetermined number of points (usually 11, 15, or 21) wins.
  3. Serving: The initial serve is determined by a rally or coin toss. The server continues to serve until they lose a rally, following which the serve rotates to the next player.

Strategy and Play

In cutthroat pickleball, strategy becomes key. The lone player must adopt a more aggressive play style to outmaneuver two opponents simultaneously. Conversely, the doubles team must work cohesively, capitalizing on their numerical advantage.

Tips for the Single Player

  1. Aggressive Play: As a single player, you aim to end points quickly. Utilize powerful serves and smashes to take control of the rally.
  2. Positioning: Stay central to cover the court effectively. Anticipate your opponents’ shots and be ready to move.
  3. Targeting: Focus on targeting one player, preferably the weaker of the two, to increase your chances of winning the rally.

Tips for the Doubles Team

  1. Communication: As a team, communication is crucial. Call shots and plan your moves.
  2. Divide the Court: Effectively cover the court by dividing responsibilities. One player should focus on the net while the other covers the baseline.
  3. Patience: Utilize the two-against-one advantage by playing strategically. Force the single player to make errors.

Benefits of Playing Cutthroat Pickleball

  1. Improved Skills: Playing against two opponents simultaneously can significantly improve a player’s skills, particularly in terms of movement, strategy, and shot placement.
  2. Fitness: The constant movement and quick reflexes required in cutthroat pickleball make it an excellent workout.
  3. Social Aspect: This format is perfect for social settings where players can rotate and everyone gets a chance to play.

Adapting to Different Skill Levels

Cutthroat pickleball can be adapted to accommodate different skill levels. For instance, beginners can focus on keeping the ball in play rather than aggressive scoring. For advanced players, implementing specific restrictions, like limiting the types of shots or areas of the court, can add an extra layer of challenge.

Equipment and Court Setup

The equipment and court setup for cutthroat pickleball remains the same as in traditional pickleball. Players use standard pickleball paddles and balls; the court dimensions, including the net height, are unchanged.


Cutthroat pickleball offers a refreshing and challenging twist to the traditional game. It’s an excellent way to accommodate three players, ensuring everyone gets to participate and enjoy the game. Whether you’re playing for fun or looking to sharpen your pickleball skills, this three-player variant provides a unique and engaging experience. So, the next time you find yourself with an odd number of players, give cutthroat pickleball a try – it’s a fun, competitive, and inclusive way to enjoy this beloved sport.

This article provides a comprehensive overview of three-player pickleball, including rules, strategies, and benefits. Let me know if you need any additional information or changes!

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