Last Updated on October 27, 2023 by Sorin Petroj
In this post, we decided to present the essential table tennis rules as short and understandable to not sound like a boring list of rules.
Do you want to play table tennis for fun, or are you still interested in specific match rules?
Several rules have changed over time, so it is essential to know which ones apply today. If you live in or near Salt Lake City, you can learn the rules in practice at this beautiful Table Tennis Club – SLCTT.
Table Tennis Scoring
Previously, people played table tennis for up to 21 points, and you had to win two sets to win the match. Players served five serves alternately. Different table tennis rules apply now, so take a look below.
Sets are played up to 11 points. In case of a tie break (if the result is 10:10), the game doesn’t stop until one player wins two points in a row. With a score of 10:10, players serve in a way one serves each.
Generally, the best 3 of 5 games are played, with most competitive tournaments (usually semi-finals and finals) being played best in 4 of 7.
There are several options for when the ball hits the table’s edge.
When you hit the opponent’s edge of the table with the ball, your point is not in every situation.
If the ball goes over the net and hits the table’s edge, it is your point. But, if the ball goes to the side or next to the net and hits the edge of the opponent’s table, then, in some cases, it is not your point.
An essential dilemma about the edge of the table
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If the ball goes to the side or next to the net (the ball doesn’t go over the net) and hits the edge of the opponent’s table, you might lose the point because the ball’s bounce is the most important.
In this case, the direction the ball bounces off the edge determines who wins the point. If the ball bounces upwards off the edge (regardless of the angle), it’s your point. However, you lose the point if the ball drops off the edge. Both examples are given in the picture below.
The point is continuously repeated if the ball cracks at the contact with your paddle. This rule did not exist before, so you should know that this is a novelty in table tennis.
Earlier in history, it was calculated when the ball broke that, and the point was lost. And today, due to fair play, it was introduced to repeat the point because no one knows if the opponent could have returned the ball to the table if it hadn’t cracked.
Hitting the ball with fingers or handle
If you return the ball successfully with the handle (instead of the rubber) or with a finger on your paddle-holding hand, and the opponent misses, it still counts as your point. In the past, this was not the case.
Returning the ball with anything but the rubber was considered a lost point. Here is essential to say that only a handful and fingers come into consideration. Other parts of the hand do not count.
Touching the table with your hand
If you touch the table tennis table with your hand, the one with which you do not hold the racket, the point will be automatically awarded to the opponent. This does not mean you hang a table when fighting for a point and moving.
You mustn’t use your hand as support. Also, moving the table counts as the opponent’s point.
Ping pong rules – Let
In service, if the ball touches the net and passes to the opponent’s side of the table, then the ball is counted. It should only be noted here that you can serve unlimited times without losing a point in ping pong, unlike tennis. You will only repeat the service each time.
Table Tennis Doubles Rules
The rules in doubles are not particularly complicated. If you are a beginner, you need to pay some attention and quickly get used to it.
When playing doubles, there are only two differences concerning individual matches. The service must go from the forehand to the opponent’s forehand diagonal, including playing with your right hand. If you are left-handed, you are serving from your backhand.
Unlike tennis, where one player can hit the ball several times, the rules are different in table tennis. As you see in the picture above, the player serves diagonally.
Each player must alternate hitting the ball and moving so the other player can make his move. Thus, the players move more to make room for their double partners for each ball.
Another rule concerns the serve. In the doubles game, the servers are also changed every two points. The server on Team 1 serves the recipient on Team B. After 2 points, the recipient on Team B becomes the server, and so on.
The ping pong table dimension is standard, but we will say those who do not know. Length should be 2.74m, width 1.525, and the table height should be 76m.
Also, the net has dimensions that players should respect according to the rules of table tennis. The height is 15.25 cm and extends along the center of the table’s width, thus dividing the table tennis table into two equal parts.
Beginning of the match
The first rule before the game starts is to determine who has the first serve, and a coin toss achieves this by the referee. The player who wins the coin toss gets to pick between serving first or a specific side of the table.
The other player gets to either serve first or choose their first side.
For friendly matches, to determine who serves first, one player can hide the ball in one hand under the table, and the other guesses which hand it’s in.
Table tennis players play matches as singles, doubles, or mixed doubles.
According to Official ITTF rules, table tennis players must perform service with an open hand, and the ball should be thrown upright at least 16 cm.
Additionally, the opponent must have a clear view of the paddle during contact with the ball, so the server cannot hide the serve with their body or another hand. This, of course, also applies to doubles.
When serving, the player must hit his part of the table with the ball first, then let it bounce on the part of the opponent’s table without touching the net.
Players alternate two serves each. In case of a tie break, players alternate one serve each.
What is a legal ping pong serve?
Table tennis considerations when serving have been officially laid out by the official table tennis rules.
For a legal ping pong serve to be deemed valid, the ball must rest on an open hand palm and must then be tossed up at least 16cm before it can be struck with the bat, causing it to bounce first on the server’s side and then the opponent’s side.
Any served ball involving contact with the net is considered a “let” serve and should not be counted towards points in the game. This way, no matter how many times the ball hits the net, always will be considered the “let”.
Serving correctly can prove challenging, as many players are not familiar with just how far 16cm is – approximately equivalent to the height of the net or your racket (minus the handle).
Furthermore, ensure that you toss your table tennis ball vertically. For example, tossing too low behind your back or beside you will automatically make any shot illegal. With practice, however, you can soon master this essential part of table tennis.
Table Tennis Rules – Types of points during the game
The opponent fails to serve or does not return the service to you.
When you have served, the opponent fails to return the service to your part of the table. They hit the net, next to the table, or over your part of the table, or the ball does not hit.
If you hit the ball with the edge of the racket and then it passes to the opponent’s part of the table, who makes a mistake? That is also your point.
It is your point if the ball hits you before falling on the table.
If the opponent hits the ball twice with the racket, that is your point.
If you hit the top of the net, the ball goes to the opponent’s side, and he makes a mistake. It’s your point. Fair play is apologizing by raising your hand because you got the point of luck.
New Table Tennis Rules
I will share the latest two table tennis rules with you.
Firstly, if you hit the ball and at that moment it breaks, the point is repeated, regardless of whether you returned it to the opponent’s part of the table or you made a mistake.
Secondly, if at the same time, when hitting the ball, it catches a finger or a piece of ping pong paddle, and you manage to hit it, and then the opponent makes a mistake, that will be your point.
Table Tennis Rules that have changed
The service rules of table tennis have also changed. In 2003, the International Table Tennis Federation ITTF adopted regulations to remove the non-racquet-holding hand to unblock the opponent from seeing the entire wrist movement. Before that, players could “hide” the serve by covering the racquet-holding hand during the ball’s contact.
You must throw the ball straight up a minimum of 16cm with an open hand. You can practice serving by putting the ping pong robot with a ball recycling net on the other side of the table. This way, all the ping pong balls will fall in the recycling net, so you don’t need to collect them separately.
With these two rules, a lot has generally changed in most players’ games. Somehow, table tennis achieved greater fair play because the players who had excellent serves and managed to hide the service had a considerable advantage even though they were equal to their table tennis opponents.
Unwritten Table Tennis Rules
We talked about the standard rules of table tennis. Look at what is more important to me than victory or defeat – good sportsmanship in table tennis. These are seven crucial unwritten rules that every table tennis player should follow:
1. If you notice an umpire’s mistake, then react. Sometimes, the referee will award a point in your favor, and you know it was invalid. Then respond, and acknowledge the point to the opponent.
Believe me, and it will come back to you when you at least expect it. Even if it doesn’t come back, you will show that you are a fair play player who doesn’t care about winning at any cost.
2. Shake hands with your opponent after every match. No matter the outcome and how the opponent behaved, you show that you are a man and an athlete who appreciates the opponent.
There are examples of famous players who did not want to lend a hand to the opponent. So, that only shows an unsportsmanlike move. As much as defeat hurts sometimes, you must be above it and realize that table tennis is a sport, not a war playground.
3. Do not applaud or rejoice when your opponent misses a serve. It is not cultural or moral. Of course, some players do it, and the audience sometimes knows how to be like that. However, that shows rudeness, and my advice is not to be like that. Continue to play usually and fight for the next point.
Tomislav Pucar VS Lin Yun-Ju | 2019 ITTF Challenge Oman Open
4. Apologies to the opponent. When you unnaturally get the point, apologize to the opponent when the ball catches the net or hits the table’s edge. It is not written anywhere in the rules, but it is a gesture that will show what kind of person you are first and foremost.
5. Do not turn on the flash on your phone. As a table tennis player, I can tell you it was a terrible experience. When you concentrate on the ball and an important point, the flash on the phone bothers you as much as you are a good player.
Therefore, could you not do it to others? Let everyone show how much they know at the table without additional distractions from the audience.
6. If the table tennis ball accidentally gets wet, wipe it before serving. Some players intentionally throw in a wet ball during the service and thus get the point.
Believe me, it is a short-term point, and you will only show your unsportsmanlike spirit. If the opponent is better in the game, he will win. Otherwise, you will win, but a wet ball is certainly not a way to deceive him.
Manika Batra – Table Tennis Academy in India
7. If you are at a tournament and the ball from your table enters the field of other players, make sure to raise your hand and say “stop” to break the point. If you don’t do that, it may happen that some of them will be bothered by the ball that entered the place they play, and someone will get the point in an unsportsmanlike way.
So be fair and report that your ball has passed to them. Sometimes, you will be bothered by their ball, and one of them will warn you.
Table Tennis Rules FAQs
1. Why do players touch the table while playing?
It is a simple physical reaction in the fight for a point. It usually happens when the ball is close to the net. Then reflexively, while returning the ball with the racket, the player might touch the table with the other hand.
This is illegal in table tennis according to basic ping pong rules. While players can hook the table with a racket during the game, touching the table with the non-paddle-holding hand loses you the point.
2. What happens when a player or an opponent serves illegally?
If the umpire is present, he will decide if the service is incorrect. If he can’t decide, there should be fair play between the players.
3. Whose point is it if the ball catches the table tennis net during the service and does not hit the opponent’s part of the table?
Then the opponent’s point. So, the player who served, and if the ball hit the net and did not fall on your part of the table, it is your point.
The Full Official Rules you can read on the following website.
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