Table Tennis Rules & Regulations
The Racket

What do the table tennis rules and regulations say about your racket?
What are the most important rules? Find out here...

Table tennis rules & regulations - the racket

How well do you know your table tennis rules?

Your table tennis racket is the most important piece of equipment you'll use, so it's important to know what the rules of table tennis say about it.

So let's take a look at some of the rules and regulations relating to your racket including ... which colours are allowed ... when you can change your racket ... and whether your opponent is allowed to examine your racket.

By the way, although a racket is also referred to as a paddle or a bat in some countries, the official Laws of Table Tennis call it a racket, so I'll be using that term from now on.

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

What is a racket?

Racket composition

A table tennis racket is made up of two distinct parts - a wooden blade which incorporates the handle together with table tennis rubbers affixed to each side of the blade using water-based glue.

Here's a side view of a table tennis racket showing sandwich rubbers affixed to each side of the blade.


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Size of your table tennis racket

Rule 2.04.01 states...

"The racket may be of any size, shape or weight but the blade shall be flat and rigid"

In addition the rules state that at least 85% of the blade by thickness must be of natural wood.

But of course, even though your racket can be any size you want, the larger it is, the more difficult it will be to use.

Therefore you'll find that the majority of rackets are all a similar size ... about 15cm (6 inches) across and 25cm (10 inches) long including the handle.


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Type and thickness of your rubbers

Rule 2.04.03 states that...

"A side of the blade used for striking the ball shall be covered with
either,
ordinary pimpled rubber, with pimples outwards having a total thickness including adhesive of not more than 2mm,
or
sandwich rubber, with pimples inwards or outwards, having a total thickness including adhesive of not more than 4mm"

Umpire checking the racket by courtesy of the ITTF

This means that the umpire should check the thickness of your racket coverings to make sure that they're not greater than the 2mm or 4mm allowed.

Although all rubbers that you buy should be the correct thickness, a player could deliberately alter the rubber on his racket.

Also, repeated re-gluing of rubbers can cause the sponge layer to swell, so the umpire should always check the thickness.

In 2008, new rules were introduced to check the thickness of rubbers.
You can read about them here
.


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Size of your rubbers

Rule 2.04.04 states that...

"The covering material shall extend up to, but not beyond the limits of, the blade except that the part nearest the handle and gripped by the fingers may be left uncovered or covered with any material"

This means that your table tennis rubbers should not overhang the edges of your blade, although the umpire may allow some tolerance.

As a guide, ±2mm would be an acceptable margin to most umpires. If you have a larger overhang, the umpire will make you trim off any excess rubber with a pair of scissors or knife.


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Continuous and of even thickness

Rule 2.04.05 states that the blade and rubbers must be continuous and of even thickness. So you need to make sure that your blade is not unduly damaged and that your rubbers have an even surface.


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Colour of your rubbers

Rule 2.04.06 states that...

"The surface of the covering material on a side of the blade, or of a side of the blade if it is left uncovered, shall be matt, bright red on one side and black on the other"

This means that if you have rubber on both sides of your blade, one rubber must be red and the other rubber must be black.

However, if you only use rubber on one side of your blade (for example, if you use a penhold grip), you can leave the other side of your blade uncovered - but it must still be coloured red or black (depending on what colour your rubber is on the other side).

Also, it's important to note that if you don't have a rubber on one side of your blade, then you cannot use that side of the racket to hit the ball.

You can read more about the two colour rule and how to choose your table tennis rubbers here.


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Booster and Tuners

Treating your racket is not allowed

In the past, players used various liquids, powders and chemicals to enhance the properties of their rubbers. Sometimes it was just as a means of cleaning their rubbers, but often it was in order to significantly improve the performance of their rubber.

However, in 2008 the rules were changed and now it's no longer allowed.

Rule 2.04.07 now states that rubbers must be used without any physical, chemical or other treatment.

So if you want to clean your rubbers, you can only use plain water.


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Worn or damaged racket

Rule 2.04.07 states that...

"Slight deviations from continuity of surface or uniformity of colour due to accidental damage or wear may be allowed provided that they do not significantly change the characteristics of the surface"

This means that a small amount of wear and tear is allowed, but if your rubbers are damaged so much that the ball is likely to rebound unpredictably and cause problems for your opponent, you'll have to replace them.

The umpire, and ultimately the tournament referee, will decide whether your racket is sufficiently damaged to render it illegal.

But because it's at the umpire's discretion, this means that one umpire may decide that your racket is OK, whilst another may decide that it's not.

But, in deciding whether your racket is legal or not, the umpire has to primarily consider the interests of your opponent.


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Showing your racket to your opponent

Rule 2.04.08 states that...

"Before the start of a match and whenever he or she changes his or her racket during a match a player shall show his or her opponent and the umpire the racket he or she is about to use and shall allow them to examine it."

This rule was introduced in 1983 due to the proliferation of "combination" rackets in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

At that time, players were allowed to have rubbers which were the same colour on both sides of their racket.

However, many players would choose two rubbers which had completely different playing characteristics. For example, they would have an offensive rubber on one side of their racket and a defensive rubber such as anti-spin or long pimples on the other side.

Therefore their opponent could not easily see which type of rubber was being used for each stroke, especially when the racket was constantly being "twiddled".

Why is this an important rule?

An example of how well a "combination" racket could work occurred in 1980 when England's John Hilton unexpectedly won the Men's Singles title at the European Championships.

This victory was a major shock in Europe and there was a joke in England at the time that John was ranked at number 4 at his local YMCA (where the other players were used to playing against his "combination" racket), but number 1 in Europe.

Here's a demonstration of "twiddling" by the England player Carl Prean

Here's a demonstration of "twiddling" by the England player Carl Prean

So this rule ensured that your opponent could at least know what rubbers you had on your racket.

This rule was supplemented in 1986 with the "two colour" rule which meant that one side of your racket had to be red and the other side had to be black.

However, even though the rubbers must now be different colours, it's still important to know, before the match starts, which rubbers your opponent is actually using.

Therefore you can no longer use a different racket without your opponent (and the umpire) examining it first, which means that you can't bamboozle your opponent by using a racket which he hasn't been allowed to examine.


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Changing your racket during a match

If you're playing in a higher level event, the following additional Regulations will usually apply in addition to the basic rules discussed above.

Regulation 3.04.02 states that you're no longer allowed to change your racket during a match unless it's been accidentally damaged so badly that you can't use it.

If the umpire does allow you to change your racket, you must show your new racket to your opponent and to the umpire.

Leave racket on the table during intervals

Also, to prevent you from secretly changing your racket between games, you must leave it on the table during the intervals between games and you must not remove it without the specific agreement of the umpire.

If the umpire does allow you to remove your racket during an interval for any reason, both the umpire and your opponent must be given the opportunity to inspect your racket before the next game starts.


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Authorised rubbers

Table Tennis Rubber - ITTF logo

Regulation 3.02.01 states that only table tennis rubbers authorised by the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) can be used in authorised events.

You'll find a list of authorised racket coverings here.

You must also ensure that you attach them to your blade so that the ITTF logo and the maker's logo or trademark are clearly visible near the edge of the blade (so that they can be checked by the umpire) ... and they must only be attached to your blade with adhesives that do not contain harmful volatile solvents.

(In 2008, new rules were introduced to check whether illegal adhesives have been used to affix the rubbers. You can read about them here)

Here's an example of the details and logos which appear on the lower portion of Butterfly Tenergy 05 rubbers which have been authorised by the ITTF.

Table tennis rubber logo

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The Table Tennis Rules Explained

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

RECOMMENDED TABLE TENNIS BOOK

The Table Tennis Rules Explained

Rules of table tennis

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


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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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