Rules of Table Tennis

Are you looking for the full official rules of table tennis or just the basic rules?
Well, I've got them both covered here.

Rules of table tennis

The official table tennis rules are a comprehensive set of rules and regulations which are designed to cover any eventuality which may arise during a game.

These rules are reviewed annually by the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) and any changes are normally implemented with effect from 1 September.

(To see why they're not called ping pong rules, take a look at my article here)

However, if you're a beginner, you only need to know a few of the basic rules of table tennis in order to play a game with your friends.

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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

Amateurs and Professionals

The basic rules of table tennis, or to give them their correct title - The Laws of Table Tennis - are the same for both amateurs and professionals, BUT for higher levels of play there are many additional Regulations which supplement these basic rules.

How many of these additional Regulations are actually used will depend upon the standard of the competition being played, and whether the organisers have adopted all or any of them.

But for now, let's just take a look at a few of the basic rules of table tennis which you'll need to know in order to play a game with your friends.

(You may also need to know your table tennis terminology, so I've put together a table tennis glossary for you here).


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Up to 11 points or 21 points?

Table tennis scoreboard

Up until 2001 a table tennis game was played up to 21 points. But in order to make the game more exciting, have more "crucial" points, and to make it more appealing to television viewers, the rules of table tennis were changed.

A game of table tennis is now played up to 11 points.

The winner is the player or pair who first scores 11 points, unless both players or pairs score 10 points (called deuce). Then a game will be won by the first player or pair to gain a two point lead.

Prior to 2001, table tennis was played up to 21 points. The rules were essentially the same, but each player had five consecutive serves each and deuce was at 20-20. At deuce, service alternated with each player only having one serve, until one player or pair gained a two point lead.


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Start a game

Before you start a game, you'll need to decide who's going to serve first.

Coin toss

If you're just playing a game with friends, you can use whatever method you like to decide this, but the official rules of table tennis say that it's decided by lot, usually by tossing a coin or disc having two distinct sides.

However, a common method used at lower levels of play is for one player (or the umpire) to hide the ball in one hand, then put both hands under the table or behind their back, and then ask the opponent to guess which hand the ball is in.

Although the winner of this often serves first, he does actually have three choices...

The winner can:

  • elect to serve first or
  • make his opponent serve first or
  • decide which end of the table he prefers to play at first

If the winner chooses a particular end of the table, his opponent then has the choice of whether to serve first or to make his opponent serve first.

If the winner chooses to serve first, his opponent then has the choice of which end of the table he prefers to play at first.


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Basic table tennis serve

The rules of table tennis have been changed many times in recent years in relation to the service law, but for a casual game of table tennis it remains very simple.

The ball must above the level of the playing surface and behind the server's end line (or an imaginary extension of it). This essentially means that the server must stand behind the end of the table to serve.

The basic serve involves holding the ball in the palm of your non-playing hand and throwing it upwards.

As the ball is falling, you must hit it with your racket (also known as a paddle or bat) held in your playing hand so that it bounces once on your side of the table, and at least once on your opponent's side of the table.

If your opponent allows the ball to bounce more than once on their side of the table, they will lose the point.

The ball may bounce anywhere on both sides of the table and, unlike tennis, you don't have to serve to one part of the table - unless you're playing doubles.

If the ball touches the net and still bounces on your opponent's side of the table, the service must be replayed.

However, if the ball touches the net and does not bounce on your opponent's side of the table, the server loses the point.

The ball is "in play" from the moment that the server deliberately throws the ball up.

For a more in-depth look at the service rules, take a look at my article here.

 

Here's a video which explains the basic table tennis service rules.

(If you have problems with the sound, there are captions/subtitles that you can turn on. Just click on the captions/subtitles button)

Here's a video which explains the basic table tennis service rules.

(If you have problems with the sound, there are captions/subtitles that you can turn on. Just click on the captions/subtitles button)


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How many serves?

When the rules of table tennis were changed to make each game up to 11 points instead of 21 points, the number of serves that each player had was also changed.

Now, each player has two serves each, whereas in the old 21 point system, each player had five serves each.

Service continues to alternate between opponents until one player scores 11 points, unless both players or pairs score 10 points (called deuce).

If both players reach 10 points, then service alternates after each point, until one player gains a two point lead.

For a more in-depth look at the service rules, take a look at my article here.


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Returning the serve

Your opponent must hit the ball back over the net so that it bounces only on the server's side of the table and the ball must bounce at least once on the server's side of the table.

If you allow the ball to bounce more than once on your side of the table at any time, you lose the point.

When returning the serve, or during a rally, if the ball hits the net but does not hit your opponent's half of the table, then a point is awarded to your opponent.

However, if the ball hits the net but still goes over and bounces on your opponent's half of the table, the rally continues.


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Doubles

Doubles play

When playing doubles, each player still has two serves and the service still alternates every two points between sides, but it also alternates between players on the same team.

At the end of every two points, the receiving player becomes the server, and the partner of the serving player becomes the receiver.

The service itself is exactly the same as in singles except that, rather than the ball bouncing anywhere on the table, it must bounce only on the right half portion of the table for both the server and the receiver.

The receiver returns it, then the server's partner must hit it next followed by the receiver's partner and so on.

Play must continue in this sequence throughout the rally and if a player hits it out of turn he loses the point.

For a more in-depth look at table tennis doubles rules, take a look at my article here.


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Score a point

To score a point, you must keep the ball in play longer than your opponent.

A player loses a point if he:

  • Fails to make a good serve (eg. throwing the ball in the air and failing to hit the ball or failing to hit it onto his opponent's side of the table)
  • Allows the ball to bounce twice on his side of the table
  • Does not hit the ball after it has bounced on his side of the table
  • Does not hit the ball onto his opponent's side of the table
  • Hits the ball before it has bounced (i.e. volleying the ball) unless it's obviously not going to bounce on his side of the table
  • Hits the ball twice in succession (i.e. a double hit)
  • Puts his non-playing hand on the table or net or moves the table
  • Obstructs the ball with any part of his body or clothing (unless it's obviously not going to bounce on his side of the table)
  • Hits the ball out of turn when playing doubles

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A Game

As we saw earlier, when one player has scored 11 points (or when one player has a two point lead if the score previously reached 10-10), he wins the game.

The players then swop ends and the next game begins with the player who served second in the previous game.


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A Match

The rules of table tennis state that a match is the best of any odd number of games - usually 3, 5 or 7 games.

table tennis - winning is everything by courtesy of the ITTF

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

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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MORE PAGES ABOUT
THE RULES OF TABLE TENNIS
For more information about the rules of table tennis, take a look at my other articles which explain the Official Laws of Table Tennis and the additional Regulations (for higher level play) in more detail...

The Laws of Table Tennis

  • The basic rules of table tennis

    If you're just starting to play and you need to know the basic rules of table tennis, you'll find them here...

  • The official rules of table tennis

    The official rules of table tennis are known as The Laws of Table Tennis ... so if you need to check the official wording, you can read them here...

  • Table tennis table dimensions

    What size is a table tennis table? Do you know what the official rules say about the size dimensions of a table tennis table?

  • What do the rules say about your racket?

    Do you know what the rules say about your racket? What size can it be? Which colours are allowed? When can you change your racket? Find out here...

  • What do the rules say about the serve?

    The table tennis serve is one of the most controversial aspects of the game. Make sure you know the service rules. Read them here...

  • Frequently asked questions about the serve

    The service rules are very complex, so let's answer some of the most frequently asked questions. Read them here...

  • What is a good return?

    What do the rules say about a good return? Can you use your hand to play a shot? What happens if you touch or move the table? Find out here...

  • When is the ball in or out?

    What do the table tennis rules say about the ball hitting the white lines, net or edges of the table? Is the ball in or out? Find out here...

  • What do the rules say about playing doubles?

    Whether you're playing singles or doubles, the rules of table tennis are essentially the same. However, for doubles play there are a few subtle variations. Read them here...

  • What do the rules say about volleying the ball?

    Do the table tennis rules allow you to volley the ball? Yes and No... Let me explain

  • Expedite system

    How long can a game of table tennis last? If both players keep the ball in play, can they continue playing forever? What do the rules say about this? Find out here...

Regulations (for higher level play)

  • Table tennis room size

    What table tennis room size do you need? It's probably more than you think! Find out here...

  • Racket testing

    In 2008 the ITTF introduced new rules and regulations relating to racket (paddles/bats) testing, and VOC-free glue. You can read them here...

  • Are players allowed to take breaks during matches?

    What time limits are specified in the regulations? What happens if a player is time-wasting? Find out here...

  • Yellow Cards and Red Cards

    Yellow and red cards are a recent addition to table tennis. But what do they mean? Find out here...

General

  • Table tennis terminology

    Do you know your table tennis terminology or are you confused by your chops, pimples and twiddles? Here's a table tennis glossary for you...

Frequently Asked Questions


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And get Exclusive Information via Email AllAboutTableTennis

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Strategies
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Equipment
Coaching
News & much more

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