Almost everybody has played bingo at one time or another – whether in a seaside amusement, as a childhood game, or (for the grown-ups) with drink involved.
Of course, many of us have also played the more formal versions of the game in bingo halls or online, and it is here that the biggest jackpots are usually to be found.
But the popularity of this enduring game of chance is such that people of all ages often join in with low-risk versions, for the chance to win a non-cash prize of some kind.
Whatever stakes you play for, there’s plenty of excitement to be had from bingo, as you watch your game card fill up and edge ever closer to a win.
Pattern-based bingo usually includes the numbers from 1 to 75, and is played on a square game card typically containing 25 squares in a 5×5 arrangement.
Almost always, the centre square is deemed a ‘free’ space, meaning you’re allowed to cross it off before the game has even begun; the other spaces are numbered, although it is customary for the columns to be labelled B, I, N, G and O as well.
In the common UK form of 75-ball bingo, you’re given a pattern to complete – effectively meaning that only certain spaces on your card count towards a win – and only a completed pattern scoops the single overall prize in each game.
You may sometimes see Variant Bingo, or Swedish Bingo, offered on online bingo sites; this is a five-line game similar to UK 75-ball bingo, but with multiple chances to win.
There are usually individual payouts for the first players to complete one line, two lines, and so on up to a full house, and the randomness of bingo means it won’t always be the same person who claims all of the prizes in a single game.
Look out for this version of the game, and if you decide to play it, remember that the middle space usually isn’t considered ‘free’ in Swedish Bingo, so you’ll have to wait for that number to be drawn too.
Probably the most popular form of online bingo is 90-ball bingo – the three-line form where you’re rewarded for a one-line, two-line or full-house win.
Tickets usually consist of three rows of numbers, and you’ll need to cross off all of the numbers in any one of your rows to win, and then two rows, and then all three for the full house prize.
Like Swedish Bingo, this means there can be several different winners in each game, which is what attracts many players to this form of the game – and it also means several people can win in a roughly equivalent space of time, as 90-ball and 75-ball games usually take about the same amount of time to play.
If you’ve played bingo in a seaside resort’s amusement arcades, you’ve probably played 80-ball bingo, recognisable thanks to its distinctive coloured game card.
This has four columns – red, yellow, blue and silver (or white) – and each contains numbers from the range 1-20, 21-40, 41-60 or 61-80.
Cards in real-world 80-ball games typically have small ‘shutters’ that you slide across to cover your numbers as they are drawn, allowing the same game board to be used again and again.
Choosing your tickets
When it comes to actually playing bingo, you’re going to need to choose your tickets, and if you’re playing online you usually have full control over which game cards to select, from several displayed on the screen.
It’s customary to give you the chance to have every number in play (so, for example, several tickets that together contain every number from 1 to 90), so that every ball that is drawn counts in some way towards completing your line, pattern or full house.
Many casual bingo players prefer to take this option, but you don’t have to – it’s a game of random chance, and any one ticket should have as much chance of winning as any other, regardless of whether they contain some of the same numbers.
If you believe in luck, feel free to choose tickets that contain your lucky number – again, plenty of people will tell you this makes no difference, but it definitely can’t hurt your chances.
And once you’ve selected the tickets you want, click the ‘buy now’ button (or the equivalent on your chosen bingo site or network) to lock in your purchases before the timer runs out.
Tracking your numbers
Once the timer hits zero, the next game should start, and as numbers are drawn they will usually be filled in on your game card.
Many online bingo sites allow a manual dabber option, if you enjoy ticking your own numbers off on your card – there’s no risk to using this, as if you miss one that counts towards a win, you’ll still receive the payout.
Just remember, you can’t force a win by dabbing numbers that have not been drawn!
Either way, the bingo site automatically keeps track of your matching numbers as the balls are randomly drawn, and as soon as you register a win, it will flash up on-screen.
In many cases, you can play in several rooms at once on the same site, so if two big-money games are coming up, you should feel free to buy into both of them; even if you are not in the room when your winning ball is picked, you’ll still automatically receive the appropriate payout.
This leads to some people buying into big games well in advance, when they know they won’t be there in person when the game is played; if you’re ever in an online bingo room and there seem to be more players than chatters, this is probably the reason why.
And finally, remember that there is always the chance that two people will share a win by having the same winning ball drawn for both their cards at the same time.
If this happens to you, be philosophical about it – it’s still a win, even if you had to share the prize, and it’s customary to offer a cheery “WTG!” (Way to go!) to your fellow winner if they’re in the chat room at the time.