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A Basic Table Tennis Rule - Expedite

Is there a rule about the length of the game?
What is the Expedite rule? Find out here...

Basic table tennis rule

How long can a game of table tennis last?

What happens if both players keep the ball in play?

Can they continue playing forever?

Do the rules of table tennis say anything about this?

Well, yes, the rules of table tennis do cover this eventuality, and since the change to the 11up scoring system in 2001, there's now a time limit of 10 minutes per game.

But before we go any further, let's take a quick look at the history of table tennis to see why this rule came into existence, and then take a look at what the current rule says.

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This new book explains SIMPLY and CLEARLY everything you need to know about the rules and regulations of table tennis.

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In the beginning...

Although the history of table tennis can be traced as far back as the late 1880s, the game we know today started in the 1920s when Englishman Ivor Montagu and other Europeans formed the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) in 1926.

But it didn't take long before problems started to arise with the basic table tennis rules.

Many players had adopted a defensive style of play and their games were taking longer and longer to reach a conclusion.

In fact, this caused a major controversy at the 1936 World Championships when the first point in a match between Poland and Romania lasted for over two hours!


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Time limit on games

Time limit of 20 minutes

Because games were becoming longer and longer, a new rule was created to place a time limit of 20 minutes on games in World Championship events.

At the same time, all countries affiliated to the ITTF were asked to pursue measures to discourage their own players from using the defensive tactic of "pushing".


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Expedite rule (1936)

The basic table tennis rule at the time (1935) was Law 5 which stated that the player who first scored 21 points was the winner, unless both players had reached 20 points, when a two point lead was required.

But for World Championship events, a new rule was added to the laws of the game, over-riding and additional to Law 5.

It said ...

Provided that, where a game be unfinished 20 minutes after its commencement, the Umpire shall award the game to the player (or pair) leading, unless the two players (or pairs) shall be at equality, when he shall announce without interrupting play: "Five minutes more - the next point wins" and award the game to the player (or pair) scoring the next point.

If no further point shall have been scored, and the score thus remains at equality, after the further five minutes period thus permitted, the Umpire shall terminate the game, awarding it to neither player (or pair).

In the case of a game being terminated by the time limit as above, where this is not a deciding game, the match shall continue with the next game.

Also, if a match did not have a clear winner, both players would be disqualified from that event. And, if the event was a team event, each player would also be liable to additional penalties as determined by a disciplinary committee.

So, clearly this was a serious issue!

However, it was to be another 25 years before further changes were made to this rule.


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Expedite rule (version 2 - 1961)

Time limit of 15 minutes

As the situation didn't improve sufficiently during the following 25 years, the 20 minute rule was reduced to 15 minutes and a further restriction was also introduced...

With effect from the start of the 1961/62 table tennis season the following wording was added to Law 5 ...

If a game be unfinished 15 minutes after its commencement, the Umpire shall cause the game to be interrupted by declaration of a "let" and the players shall be notified before the next service that the game in progress will proceed under the following rule:

The player shall be permitted to hit the ball 12 times excluding the service stroke, and if all such strokes are safely returned by the opponent, one point shall be scored by the opponent.

The server for the point interrupted shall serve for the first point after the interruption, and thereafter the service shall alternate after each point whilst this rule is in force.

Where, in a match, this rule has been applied in one game, it shall be applied 10 minutes after commencement in each of the subsequent games of the match.

So the new rule was that games would last a maximum of 15 minutes before the Expedite rule came into operation.

After 15 minutes, the game would be interrupted. It would then restart with the onus effectively placed onto the server to play offensively.

This was because the new rule stated that if the receiver made 13 good returns, he would win the point.

And, in order to reduce the time taken to play subsequent games, a maximum of only 10 minutes was allowed before the Expedite rule was enforced in those games too.


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Expedite rule (version 3 - 1965)

The 1965 revision applied only to games which were played after the Expedite rule had already been enforced in an earlier game.

The relevant wording was ...

Where, in a match, this rule has been applied in one game it shall be applied 10 minutes after immediately at the commencement in each of the subsequent games of the match.

This meant that once the Expedite rule had been used in one game, all subsequent games in a match would use the Expedite rule from 0-0.

So each player would have one serve each, and if the receiver made 13 good returns, the receiver would win the point.

Subsequently, a number of countries suggested that, if both players agreed, the Expedite rule should come into force at the start of a match, rather than wait 15 minutes for the inevitable to occur between two defensive style players.

However, this suggestion did not receive the approval of the ITTF at that time, so no changes were made.


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The game was speeding up

When the use of sponge covered rackets became widespread in the decades that followed, the need for an Expedite rule gradually diminished.

Fewer matches were unfinished after 15 minutes play because players were able to play more offensively with sponge covered rackets. So the Expedite rule was usually only required when two defensive style players competed against each other.

And so it wasn't until 1997 that the Expedite law was modified again.

And then it was only a small change - to make it clear that it could not come into operation if both players or pairs had scored at least 19 points.


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The Expedite rule (2001)

Time limit of 10 minutes

The Expedite rule was amended further when the scoring system changed from 21up to 11up in 2001.

Because games would now be shorter, the time limit was reduced from 15 minutes to 10 minutes.

The relevant wording was ...

2.15 THE EXPEDITE SYSTEM
2.15.01 Except where both players or pairs have scored at least 9 points, the expedite system shall come into operation if a game is unfinished after 10 minutes' play or at any earlier time at the request of both players or pairs.
2.15.01.01 If the ball is in play when the time limit is reached, play shall be interrupted by the umpire and shall resume with service by the player who served in the rally that was interrupted.
2.15.01.02 If the ball is not in play when the time limit is reached, play shall resume with service by the player who received in the immediately preceding rally.
2.15.02 Thereafter, each player shall serve for 1 point in turn until the end of the game and if the receiving player or pair makes 13 returns the receiver shall score a point.
2.15.03 Once introduced, the expedite system shall remain in operation until the end of the match.

 


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The Expedite rule (2010 onwards)

The Expedite rule was last modified and restructured in 2010.

The wording was amended to clarify that the expedite system will not come into operation if at least 18 points have been scored. Previously the rule stated that the expedite system would not come into operation if the score had reached 9-9.

And the opportunity was also taken to tidy up and restructure the other wording too.

So now the basic table tennis rule for how long a game can last is as follows...

2.15 THE EXPEDITE SYSTEM
2.15.01 Except as provided in 2.15.2, the expedite system shall come into operation after 10 minutes' play in a game or at any time requested by both players or pairs.
2.15.02 The expedite system shall not be introduced in a game if at least 18 points have been scored.
2.15.03 If the ball is in play when the time limit is reached and the expedite system is due to come into operation, play shall be interrupted by the umpire and shall resume with service by the player who served in the rally that was interrupted; If the ball is not in play when the expedite system comes into operation, play shall resume with service by the player who received in the immediately preceding rally.
2.15.04 Thereafter, each player shall serve for 1 point in turn until the end of the game, and if the receiving player or pair makes 13 correct returns in a rally the receiver shall score a point.
2.15.05 Introduction of the expedite system shall not alter the order of serving and receiving in the match, as defined in 2.13.6.
2.15.06 Once introduced, the expedite system shall remain in operation until the end of the match.

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The Expedite rule will restrict the length of some games

So, after many refinements to a rule which was first introduced in 1936, the current rule states that games can only last for a maximum of 10 minutes play before the Expedite rule comes into operation, unless at least 18 points have already been scored.

So after 10 minutes play...

  • If at least 18 points have already been scored, the game continues to a conclusion - however long it takes.

  • If at least 18 points have NOT been scored after 10 minutes play, the game will be interrupted by the umpire.

  • It will then restart with the onus effectively placed on the server to play offensively.

  • Each player will serve alternately until the end of the game.

  • If the receiver makes 13 good returns, the receiver will win the point.

  • There is no further time limit imposed on the remainder of that game.

  • But in order to reduce the time taken to play subsequent games, all subsequent games in that same match will use the Expedite rule from the start of the game - so for example, if you are playing a match which is the best of five games and Expedite is implemented in game one, games two through five will start using the Expedite rule from the beginning i.e. when the score is 0-0.

But with the modern game now being all about fast attacking, offensive play, we rarely see the Expedite rule being required in top level matches.

However, it is still a part of the rules and so it still prevents matches lasting too long.

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The Table Tennis Rules and Regulations Explained

Rules of table tennis This new book explains SIMPLY and CLEARLY everything you need to know about the rules and regulations of table tennis.

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RECOMMENDED TABLE TENNIS BOOK

The Table Tennis Rules and Regulations Explained

Rules of table tennis

This new book explains SIMPLY and CLEARLY everything you need to know about the rules and regulations of table tennis.

Click here for more details


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