How to Play 3 Person Pickleball?

Two or four players can play pickleball, but what if you only have three players? Don’t worry; you can still enjoy this fun and easy game with a few modifications. In this blog post, we will show you how to play 3 person pickleball, also known as cutthroat pickleball, and share some tips and tricks to make it more enjoyable.

What is 3 Person Pickleball?

3 person pickleball, or cutthroat pickleball, is a variation of pickleball that involves three players instead of two or four. The basic rules and scoring are the same as regular pickleball, except that one player plays alone against the other two players who form a team. The player alone is called the cutthroat, and the team is called the pair. The cutthroat serves first, and then the pair takes turns serving until one side reaches 11 points and wins by two.

The main difference between 3 person pickleball and regular pickleball is that the cutthroat has to cover the entire court by themselves, while the pair can split the court and cooperate. This makes the game more challenging and exciting for the cutthroat, who has to be more agile and strategic, and more fun and social for the pair, who can communicate and support each other.

How to Play 3 Person Pickleball: Step by Step

Here are the steps to play 3 person pickleball:

  1. Determine Roles: Decide who will start as the lone “cutthroat” player and who will be the opposing pair. You can choose by flipping a coin, drawing straws, or rock-paper-scissors.
  2. Set Up Court & Equipment: You’ll need a standard pickleball court with a net, 2-3 pickleball paddles, pickleballs, and portable lines to mark 3-player dimensions if needed.
  3. Warm Up: Do dynamic stretches and practice shots like serves, volleys, overheads, and groundstrokes to get muscles loose and comfortable with paddles and balls.
  4. Start Serving: The cutthroat player always serves first diagonally from the right-hand court. The serve must clear the non-volley kitchen zone and land in the service court. Players alternate hitting shots until a team scores.
  5. Rotate Server: If the serving cutthroat player wins, they serve another point. If they lose, the player from the opposing pair on the right side before the rally serves next according to standard rotation rules.
  6. Play to 11: Games are played to 11 points, win by 2. The sides switch after each point.

Why You Should Play 3 Person Pickleball

  • Enhances Fitness & Agility: The fast transitions and expanded court coverage required in the 3 person game help increase endurance, mobility, and reflexes. All the starting, stopping, and changing directions are great for building athleticism.
  • Tests All-Around Skills: With no partner, success requires all-around consistency and skills in serving, volleys, groundstrokes, defences, and overheads. You’ll fast improve your weaknesses and build comprehensive capabilities.
  • Strategic & Exciting: The cutthroat format forces you to think more tactically about shot selection and court positioning to emerge victorious. The rapid rallies and scrambling keep excitement levels high.
  • Social & Fun: Rotating partners and roles in each game allows you to engage in friendly competition with a variety of players. On-court communication also adds to the social atmosphere.
  • Prevents Boredom: Trying the unique 3 person structure spices up your standard pickleball routine. The problem-solving and adjustment to new game dynamics keep things interesting!

Key Strategies & Skills

Since you don’t have a pre-determined partner in 3 person format, strategy and court positioning are different compared to doubles play. Here are some key skills for competitive success:


Communication with the other players is key with 3 moving targets on the court. Call out “mine!” if you’re better positioned to make the next shot. Let your opponents know when you think there’s potential for a collision so no one gets injured.

Ball Placement

Aim to hit shots with pace and precision to the corners of the court to pull opponents wide or catch them out of position since there is no partner, 3 person pickleball rewards consistently hitting quality shots.

Defence & Recovery

Explosive movement and fast reflexes are important in this fast-paced game, as you have more court to cover. After making a shot, quickly transition back to a centered neutral position to defend.

Lob Shots

Hitting high deep lobs can be an effective tactic to tactically reposition yourself and regain control of the point when you get pulled wide or caught stranded up at the non-volley zone line.

Overhead Slams

When you get an opportunity for an overhead slam winner, go aggressively for that put-away shot. Power and placement are key.

Equipment & Set Up

Equipment & Set Up

Playing pickleball with 3 players requires specific equipment and setup to ensure a fun game. Here’s what you need:

Paddles & Balls

Each player needs a pickleball paddle, and there should be several pickleballs available for play. Paddles should meet official size and weight standards. Balls must have the correct bounce and be made for indoor or outdoor pickleball, depending on where you play.

The Court

For 3 person play, set up a badminton-sized court which is 20×44 feet. Use the doubles sidelines for the width and regular pickleball court measurements for the length. The net should be 36 inches, just as in regulation pickleball.

Player Positions

With 3 players, positional strategy changes compared to doubles or singles play. Usually, one player assumes a place in the middle at the non-volley zone line (kitchen line) while the other two remain near the baseline on either side. The mid-player’s position allows them to protect against lobs and cover sideline shots.

Scoring & Service Order

Normal pickleball scoring and service rules apply to 3 player games. Only one player serves throughout an entire service cycle rather than alternating servers. Agree as a group on service order at the start of play.


What is the name of the variation of pickleball that involves three players?

3 person pickleball, or cutthroat pickleball.

What is the name of the player who plays alone against the other two players who form a team in 3 person pickleball?

The cutthroat.

What is the name of the non-volley zone 7 feet from the net on both sides of the court in pickleball?

The kitchen line, or the kitchen.

How many points do you need to win a game of 3 person pickleball?

11 points, and you must win by two.

What are some benefits of playing 3 person pickleball?

Some benefits are that it is a great way to exercise and stay fit, a great way to socialize and make friends, and a great way to challenge yourself and learn new skills.

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