Top 10 Rules of Table Tennis

top 10 rules of table tennis

What are the rules of table tennis? How does scoring work? Below we will cover the most basic and 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 Air
  6. Let Serves
  7. Switching Servers
  8. Equipment Rules
  9. Doubles Serving Rules
  10. Doubles Hitting Order

1. Scoring Rules

table tennis scoring

Games are played to 11 points and must be won 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 2001 after the Sydney Olympic 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

Table Tennis 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. In the Olympics, best-of-five series are played in the team event, while the individual event features best-of-seven matches.

3. Win or Loss of a Point

Table Tennis Win or Loss of a Point

A point is scored on every play regardless of who is serving. A point is lost 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

Table Tennis 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

Table Tennis 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. Tossing it in the air at this height also 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

table tennis 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

Table Tennis Switching Servers

Players typically switch off who serves every two points. This was changed at the same time games stopped being played to 21, but instead to 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

Table Tennis Equipment

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

Table Tennis Doubles Serving Rules

Unlike in one-on-one competition, the server in table tennis must hit the ball in the box diagonally from where they are serving. 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

Table Tennis Doubles Hitting Order

Unlike in tennis, there is no frontcourt-backcourt dynamic in tennis. 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 partners. 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 a full cycle for 4 players.

FAQ

What are the most important rules in table tennis?

The most important rules in table tennis are the scoring rules, serving rules, and win or loss of a point rules. Scoring rules are the most important rules to know, as they outline how many points a player or team needs to win. Serving rules are equally important, as they dictate how play is started. Knowing who won the point is also important to know, as it will help you determine what the score is and who wins the game.

Can you touch the table in table tennis?

In table tennis, players are not allowed to touch the table during gameplay. Touching the table is disallowed in order to prevent players from having advantages over each other in the power of their swings. If a player touches the table during a game of table tennis, they will lose a point. Therefore, it is vital to avoid touching the table, as every point counts in table tennis.