Top 10 Rules of Table Tennis

What are the rules of table tennis? How does scoring work? Below we will cover the most important rules you need to know about the sport.


What are the most important rules of table tennis?

  1. Scoring Rules
  2. Best of Games
  3. Win or Loss of a Point
  4. Serving
  5. Tossing The Ball In The Ball
  6. Let Serves
  7. Switching Servers
  8. Equipment rules
  9. Doubles Serving Rules
  10. Doubles Hitting Order

1. Scoring Rules

Games are played to 11 points, and must win by two points. This means it can last for longer, but only until one player gains a two point advantage. This reflects a rule change made in 2000 after the Sydney games in a reduction of the length of games from 21 down to 11. This was initiated in order to increase the speed of games and allow spectators to watch more games during a tournament. While playing recreationally rules can vary, but these rules are what the professional leagues abide by.

2. Best of Games

In order to win the match an individual must win either the best of 3, 5 or 7 seven games. This number will vary depending on the style of tournament or competition and how many players are competing in that event. After each individual game players switch sides of the table. This format gives players multiple chances to play each opponent and determines a clear victor.

3. Win or Loss of a Point

A point is scored on every play regardless of who is serving. A point is lossed if:

  • The serve does not go over the net or misses the table
  • The serve is not returned
  • A shot goes into the net
  • A shot misses the table or does not touch the opponent's side of the table
  • Hitting the ball twice in a row

If the ball hits the opponent without touching the table prior, that is a point lost for not hitting the table. The ball can also be hit around the net for a point as long as it still touches the opponent's side of the table, however this is highly skilled.

4. Serving

When serving the ball, it must first bounce on the server's side and then over the net completely before bouncing again on the opponent's side of the table. There is no required action of serving diagonally, only bounce on the server's side prior. This is only with serving during play if a ball you hit lands on your side first, that is immediately a point for the other team.

5. Tossing The Ball In The Air

The server must with an open palm toss the ping pong ball at least 6 inches or about 16 cm in the air prior to serving. The open palm prevents serving the ball with a lot of spin and by tossing it the air at this height prevents servers from serving straight out of their hand and catching their opponent off guard. After tossing the ball in the air the server must lower their free hand out of the way to ensure the opponent can see the ball to return it.

6. Let Serves

A let serve occurs on a serve that hits the net, but still goes over to the opponent's side. This results in no point for either player,and essentially functions as a do over for the server. This was established to ensure the returner has a chance to return the ball. This can only occur during a serve, not during actual play.

7. Switching Servers

Players switch off which one serves every two points. This was changed at the same time games stopped being played to 21, but instead 11. This rule was made to reflect the new shortness of the games. This also places a heavy emphasis on being able to serve effectively, but still maintaining a strong range of other skills involved in the sport.

8. Equipment Rules

The International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) has regulations that all tables and paddles must abide by including:

  • Table must be rectangular, 2.74 m long and 1.525 m wide
  • Table must lie perfectly flat at a height of 76 cm
  • The table can be made of any material as long as the ping pong ball bounces 23 cm after being dropped from 30 cm
  • The net should be 15.25 cm above the table
  • Paddles must have natural wood for at least 85% of their thickness
  • Average size of a paddle is 17 cm tall and 15 cm wide which is optimal for competition

9. Doubles Serving Rules

Unlike in one on one competition the server must hit the ball in the box diagonally from where he is serving. From the server's right hand side to the receiver's right hand side. This rule was implemented so that the doubles team receiving the ball does not have any confusion as to who is going to hit the ball. Doubles tend to be faster paced overall, as the addition of players means more hits.

10. Doubles Hitting Order

Unlike in tennis there is no frontcourt, backcourt dynamic instead the 4 players in the game must hit the ball in turn. This makes doubles very challenging to play and requires great chemistry between you and your partner. For example if player 1 and player 2 were partners, and player 3 and 4 were partners the hitting order would go: 1, 3, 2, 4. Teammates must also alternate which one serves after each two points, meaning it takes 8 points to go through the cycle for 4 players.