Table Tennis Question
When should the umpire call the score?

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This question about calling the score was submitted by
John from Devon, UK

Table tennis questions

My question is about when the umpire should call the score.

Recently an umpire called the score and the server served.

The opponent said that he wasn't ready and the umpire called a let.

In my view the umpire should call the score only when he/she considers both players are ready.

It is up to the opponent then to be ready for the serve and not up to the server to check if the opponent is ready.

Moreover, when the umpire has called the score, the server is concentrating hard on executing the serve and should not have, at that point, the burden of checking the readiness of his opponent.

That readiness has surely been signaled by the announcement of the score.


My view was countered by a player who said that the score should be announced immediately a point has been scored.

This seems ridiculous to me as a ball may have to be retrieved a long way off etc.

Also, surely an umpire has an obligation to announce the score at a point that assures the appropriate pace of the game?


I have looked on the internet for an answer to my question but have been unsuccessful.

Please Martin can you help?

Thank you!


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----- Martin's Reply -----

 By Martin Hughes
 Owner and Editor


Thanks for your question.

Laws of table tennis

Before I answer your question directly, it's important to know about the difference between the "Laws of Table Tennis" and the International "Regulations" because the answer to your question can be found in the "Regulations".

The Laws of Table Tennis (commonly referred to as the rules of table tennis) are just the "basic" rules of table tennis which means they only prescribe the equipment to be used; how to serve and return; the order of play; how to score points and how long the game can last - whereas the International "Regulations" deal with everything else.



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The Laws of Table Tennis are mandatory for all sanctioned table tennis events, but the Regulations are only mandatory for International events, although they can be used in non-International events.

So what this means is that most organised table tennis events will use at least some of these additional Regulations so that they'll be consistent in dealing with situations which aren't covered by the basic Laws of Table Tennis.

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Umpire Calling The Score

At the start of a game the umpire should announce the family-name/surname of the player who is serving first, followed by the score.

So, for example, the umpire would announce... "Smith to serve", "Love all" (or "Zero-Zero")

The score 0 can be expressed as either "love" or "zero".

When each player or pair has scored an equal number of points (for example 4 points each), the score may be called either as "4-4" or "4-all".

Assistant umpire with scoreboardAssistant umpire with scoreboard

During a game, the International Regulations say that umpires should normally call the score as soon as the rally has been decided and that they shouldn't wait until they judge that the players are ready to resume play.

However, if there's loud applause or a player is retrieving the ball from the back of the playing area, they can delay it slightly until they're satisfied that both players or pairs will be able to hear it.

The umpire will then call the score by saying the number of points scored by the player (or pair) due to serve in the next rally, followed by the number of points scored by the opposing player (or pair).

If the rally is a let, the umpire should repeat the existing score to confirm that no point has been scored.

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The International Regulations also deal with the speed of play, and they say that "play shall be continuous throughout an individual match".

Not ready hand signal by player "Not ready" hand signal by player

However, if a player isn't ready, they're normally expected to raise their hand to indicate that they're not ready.

It's then up to the umpire to decide whether to call a let, but only if the receiver makes no attempt to return the ball.

But just because the receiver makes no stroke doesn't itself justify a let. The umpire must decide whether the receiver was really unready or, perhaps, merely unwilling to try to return what appeared to be a difficult service.

However, if the umpire notices that the receiver is not ready when the server is about to serve, the umpire will usually call a let whether the receiver raises their hand or not.

If the receiver is a persistent offender, and thought to be trying to delay the game, the umpire could give a verbal warning and/or issue a yellow card (if the International Regulations dealing with yellow/red cards are being used).

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Laws and Regulations which apply

When you're playing in a table tennis event, it's important to know which Regulations are being used by the organiser.

As I said earlier, the Regulations are primarily intended for International events, but they can be used in any table tennis event.

You should therefore always check what the entry form or prospectus or rule-book states, for the event you're playing in.

For lower-level events, few or even none of the International Regulations may be in use.

In that scenario, if a situation arises which isn't covered by the Laws, and the relevant Regulation isn't being used, then consensus has to be reached between the players taking part as to how to proceed.

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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? No and Yes... 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...


  • 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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