Supriya Ghosh (Editor)

Chinese handball

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A game of chinese handball

Chinese handball (known in its 3-or-more-player forms as Ace-King-Queen, King(s), Down the River or Slugs), is a form of American handball popular on the streets of New York City, Philadelphia, and Bridgewater, New Jersey during the 1960s, '70s, and '80s and is still played today, mostly in New York City, Philadelphia, and San Diego. Different variations are played around the world. Its defining feature is that, unlike traditional handball, in Chinese or indirect handball, for a shot to be valid, the ball must hit the ground before it hits the wall. It would seem that this game, or mini variants of it, were highly popular almost worldwide in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.


Another similar variation of the game is wallball.

Chinese handball at skillman park

Game play

The purpose of the game is to hit the ball (either a racquetball, or a spaldeen, kick pinkie, tennis ball or soft golf ball) in such a way that the opponent cannot return the shot before its second bounce after hitting the wall. In its simplest form two players can play for points. More players can play an elimination game or Ace-King-Queen.


Chinese handball Chinese handball

In some versions of Ace-King-Queen, players have their own squares, in others the "court"(usually improvised) is shared.

With more than two players, each player has a place in the order. In some versions this order is enacted down the wall with each player having their own square. As the ball bounces off the wall from the previous player, the next player must reach it and make a legal shot. That player would either return the ball (the same way) back to the server or another player down the line. The line consists of 2 to 20 players, with the first player being the "Ace". The second player is the "King" and the third is the "Queen". The final player in line is known as an "Ace Killer" because of his opportune position to take out the "Ace". In some versions a player may continue to hit the ball in his own box as long as he desires. This leads to set up shots where smaller and smaller bounces produce a difficult 'baby' shot that is sent to the next box. Alternatively, low, long strokes develop a hard to return power shot to another box, or 'Baltimore Chops' a high bouncing shot. Some local rules may vary such as an 'Ace' knocked out of the lead box does not get a letter.

If a ball takes an erratic bounce due to a crack, or obstacle, on the court a player may call 'Hindoo' (from 'hinder' in Handball) and the ball is replayed with no letter assigned, though some play the court as it is, with no recourse.

Any player failing to eventually return a ball from his box into another box receives a letter ('K', then 'I', then 'N', when he has the previous letter) and goes to the end of the line. At each change of position there is normally a shout out of each player from the 'Ace' stating his letters. In some yards, when a player has all the letters that spell 'KINGS' the game is over and the losing player must face the penalty known as 'asses up' which consists of the losing player bending over with his head against the wall and his buttocks up while each of the other players take turns having three throws of the ball from across the street at the loser's buttocks, any hit on the buttocks (legs and back do not count as a hit) gives everyone another turn of three throws. Not a game for the fainthearted.

Special Maneuvers

A variety of special maneuvers were incorporated to enhance gameplay. Depending on the maneuver, the player who hits the ball or the player who is about to hit the ball will shout out one of the maneuvers which would slightly alter the rules for that particular moment in game play. Some of the maneuvers include:

  • Wormburner: Player hits the ball very low so it stays close to the ground, and hits the wall at such an angle that it rolls so fast, it "burns" all the worms in the ground.
  • Through the Legs Shot: If the ball bounces twice, a player must hit the ball so that it goes through both of their legs (under the crotch region). Also called a "double and under".
  • Cobble Smash: Player hits the ball with a fist instead of his palm, thus creating a greater velocity and a much harder shot to return. This maneuver is not very hard to perfect, however in the early stages of learning this move many tend to hit the wall on a fly rather than the ground first. Also known as "bombing" and "shotgun". In some places on handball courts, this is banned.
  • Behind the Back Shot: Before or after the ball hits the ground the player hits the ball behind his or her back as a kind of last resort to hit the wall. Can also be perceived as a trick move.
  • Watermelon: After a player hits the ball, the next player in line may duck under it and it counts as a shot. The ball must not touch the player.
  • Slice: The player hits the ball hard, downward with a straight palm. The ball is fast before it hits the ground, but slows down significantly as a result. This makes the next player work harder to return the ball.
  • Variations

    Between the Legs: If the ball bounces a second time, the hitter may put the shot between their legs and have it bounce once and hit the wall. This allows for longer and more enjoyable gameplay.

    Reject: The player second in line may choose to accept a ball by hitting it or reject it by calling "Reject" before the balls third bounce. If rejected, the ball is replayed. Different calls depend on where you play but mean the same thing.

    Interference: This rule is used if a player or bystander comes in the way of the hitter in his pursuit of the ball. If the player calls this, the ball is replayed, also called "redo." If a player deliberately comes in the way of allowing the ball to hit the wall (i.e. blocking the ball from hitting the wall or grabbing it) the player is out. However, it is illegal for a player to hit a ball at another player to get them out for interfering.

    Grass/Wall/Fence/Curb: This a variation of the Interference but by inanimate objects. If you were to play this outside and have the ball hit the grass or the edge of a curb, the ball will be replayed but if the player was to hit the ball before it reached the grass, the ball is still fair. In the case the field is sided with a fence, or hits the wall again; players can either choose to have the ball replayed or have one extra bounce before the ball is dead.

    Egg rolls: With this rule the ball can land anywhere after hitting the wall (no side lines).

    Ace Rule: When more than 2 players are left in the game, if the ace or server, gets out, they move to the end of the line. This rule no longer applies with 2 people remaining. Again, different calls depend on where you play but mean the same thing. A "Drop Shot" is a very powerful shot where the player makes a fist and positions himself/herself down very low to the ground and hits the ball with great force to make the ball skim once on the pavement and to the wall in such a way where there is no return bounce and play is decidedly over until the next serve. The terms "Ace's Rule" and "Drop Shot" was known to be used in Long Island's New Hyde Park in NY State in the 1970s but, the exact physical location where the terms originated remain undetermined.

    One Bounce One Out: In this version of the game players are allowed one bounce to make it to the ball and hit it before it bounces a second time. If the player fails to make the ball back to the wall they are out for the game. This is mainly popular at High Schools on Long Island.

    Carries: A two-player version of the game popular on Long Island where a player may place a set for themselves before making their shot. The player may not catch the ball, but may pop it up into the air with a quick lifting motion before hitting it. This form of play typically involves a combination of burns (very low, fast shots which almost skip along the ground) and blasts (hard, far shots) to catch the player out of position. Games are played until 11 or 21 points. A player gains a point and the next serve when the opposing player does one of the following: 1. Fails to return the ball back to the wall while first causing the ball to bounce once and only once. Hitting it directly into the wall is called 'head-on' and forfeits that point. 2. Fails to hit the ball before the first player's ball takes its second bounce after hitting the wall.

    Babying: A technique which involved a player moving the ball increasingly close to the wall with softer and softer strokes, then finally letting it cross over into an adjacent players area. Almost impossible to return, thus the "no babying" call at the start of a game forbids the use of this technique.

    Hindu: A call that could be made on an opponent's shot which was thought to have hit a pebble, the joint on a brick wall, or some other object, which caused the ball to make an erratic bounce and made it unplayable. If there was an erratic bounce it would normally result in a do over."Hindu" name dispute.

    Any other rules are at the discretion of the players, making each game variable from the number of outs, to the boundaries, varying the flow of the game.

    Australian variation

    A game very similar to Chinese handball is still very popular in Australian schools, where it is known simply as "handball". Some schools even have specially designed handball courts, which are divided into one-and-a-half meter or two-meter squares.

    The Australian version of the game has enough variation to be considered on its own merits. Historically, as the wall version was mainly introduced through primary and secondary schools, despite its incredible popularity from the 1950s to 1970s in countries like Australia and New Zealand, it has experienced a gradual demise in many sections of these and certain other countries since those times. This 'trend' seemed to be more the result of a changing policy by education itself rather than a conscious decision made by young people, to "update" and build new and alter existing schools to include narrow paths and garden beds of various kinds around the perimeters of the school walls. Thus this newer policy prevented the playing of this game against the wall in many instances.

    Nevertheless, with such a great number of different games and activities now being referred to as "handball" and with the advent of the quite different Olympic game of same name, in order to reduce confusion, the wall handball game in Australia (previously also called "downball" - which also carries other versions) is currently under some consideration for a name change to "Rebound Handball" by one of the game's former associations in Australia, the Victorian Downball-Veeball Association, though this has not yet come to full fruition at this stage. See Australian Handball

    A 2010 PBS documentary, New York Street Games, shows people playing Ace-King-Queen.


    Chinese handball Wikipedia