All Rules for Table Tennis explained

Playing Table tennis is fun. But very soon players want to achieve a “score” that can be expressed clearly in points. By then at the latest, two players must have agreed on the conditions under which the game is to be played. It stands to reason that the best conditions for playing table tennis are those laid down in the Official Rules for Table Tennis. This applies to beginners as well as to experts.

Many even play without even knowing the basic table tennis rules. The essentials of the game idea can be grasped by everyone without instruction. All you have to do is give two of them a ping pong equipment – at least a racket, a ball and place them on either side of the table – and they will be able to play table tennis (ping-pong). 

1. Table Tennis Rule – Definitions

The table tennis rules contain a section that separately explains the technical terms that are important for the game. However, the general rules do not explain technical expressions that refer to purchase a gaming table, equipment or device. Such technical definitions are given for international events.

What is a rally?

A rally is the time during which the ball is in play.

What is a Let?

If the result of a rally is not evaluated, it is called Let. If the result of a rally is evaluated, it is called a point.

Which is your racket hand?

The racket hand is the hand that holds the racket.

Which is your free hand in table tennis?

The free hand is the hand that is not holding the racket.

May I hit the ball with my hand?

A player may hit the ball when he touches it with the racket held in his hand or with the racket hand below the wrist.

What is a fly ball?

A player accepts a fly ball if he hits the ball in play when it has not yet touched his own field of play after it has been hit by the opponent

Who is the server in ping pong?

Server is the player who must hit the ball first in a rally.

Who is the receiver in ping pong?

The player who has to hit the ball second in a rally is the receiver.

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2. Serving rules in Table Tennis

Deciding side and server

The choice of side and the right to serve or return is decided by lot in each game. If the winner of the ticket chooses serve or return, the other player has side choice and vice versa. The winner of the lottery ticket can also demand that the opposing player chooses first.

The lottery 

Coin tossing

A coin (chip) is tossed for this. As in many return games, there are special methods for determining the right to serve in table tennis.

Playing out (serve to play)

Often it is “played out”: A player throws the ball with his hand in such a way that it bounces first in his own court and then in the court of his opponent, as on serve. This is followed by a rally in which the ball must cross the net at least three times: the ball should therefore be kept in play deliberately. The player who manages to score the point wins the right to serve.

Guessing the ball

Another possibility is to hold the ball in one of the hands hidden below the table and let your opponent guess which hand the ball is in. If he guesses correctly, he receives the serve, otherwise he receives the return.

Serving in Table Tennis

The serve is of special importance in table tennis, as in all racket games. An appropriate tactical and correct technical execution of the serve may give the server a decisive advantage, which he can use in the rally to win points. The rules for serving are formulated with the intention of allowing the opponent a free view of the ball and the predictability of the spin.

When is the ball in play?

The ball is in play from the first moment of the game, when – before it is thrown up for serve – it lies calmly on the palm of the free hand. It is interesting that in table tennis the ball is already in play shortly before being thrown, whereas in tennis, squash and badminton it is only in the moment of the match.

Valid serve in ping pong

The serve begins when the ball rests on the palm of the free hand. The free hand must be kept still. It is open and flat, the fingers lie together and the thumb is spread apart. The free hand must be above the level of the playing surface during the entire time it is in contact with the ball on the serve. The server then throws the ball with his hand only, without any spin, at an angle of 45 degrees to the vertical, in such a way that the ball is visible to the referee and leaves the palm of the hand.

The ball must be hit when it has visibly passed the peak of its trajectory, in such a way that it first touches the half of the court of the serve and then bounces directly over the net or around the net into the half of the court of the returning player. At the moment of serve, the ball must be behind the baseline of the serve or its imaginary extension.

At the moment the racket touches the ball, the ball must be behind the base line of the serve (or behind its imaginary extension. This means that the ball must not be hit above or beside the table.

When is the table tennis serve repeated?

1. If the ball touches the net or the net holder, provided that the serve was otherwise executed according to the rules.

2. If the serve was made before the opponent is ready to play.

Note: If the receiving player accepts the serve, it is assumed that he was ready to play, so the serve is not to be repeated.

If you have read the above wording carefully and then look at the serve of many players, you will immediately notice a lot of rule violations. Most often, the rules regarding the position of the free hand are disregarded, usually the ball is caught with the fingers; often the ball is hit while still rising, even after the throw-off, instead of after the ball has passed the highest point of the trajectory, as the rule requires.

What is a missed serve in ping pong?

If a player misses the ball when trying to serve, he loses the point, since the ball was in play from the moment it left the hand of the person serving and a correct serve was not made with the ball already in play.

Change of sides and serve in ping pong

Side change

The couple that started in one set on one side of the table plays on the other in the next set, and can continue to change sides until the end of the game. In the last possible set of a game, the sides are switched when the score of 10 points is reached for the first time.

Change of serve

The pair that served first at the beginning of a set is first to return in the next set, then to serve again in the next, and so on until the end of the game.

Interesting situations

At the end of our rules chapter, a few tricky questions, which always lead to hot discussions and arguments:

The ball hits the outer edge of the table top

The rule says “mistake”, because the so-called side and outer edges are not part of the playing surface. A point is only awarded for real edge balls, for balls that touch the upper edge of the table. This is often difficult to detect. It may help to follow the trajectory of the ball that bounced off the table. A ball that has bounced against the “real” edge of the table usually bounces high.

The ball is not passing the net

Is it a mistake if a player has “turned” the ball around the net to the opponent’s half of the game? No mistake! It is allowed that the ball bounces in the opponent’s half of the game without passing the net.

Wrong serving order

What happens if you suddenly notice on your serve that you have served before, even though it was the opponent’s turn. Is it repeated? No, the score remains the same. However, the remaining serves are awarded to the player whose turn it is to serve.

See more Rule problems during Table tennis serve.

3. Rules for the rally

When the ball is in play, the rally can begin. A rally consists of at least one serve and one return. The second and each subsequent shot of a rally is not as strongly regulated as the first shot or serve, but there are some rules to be observed .

Correct return in table tennis

1. A ball that has been bounced up or back in play must be hit in such a way that it bounces or touches the opponent’s playing field directly over or around the net. If the ball touches the net or its support while it is passing over the net or around the net itself, it is assumed that it has passed it directly.

2. If the ball bounces back over the net during the game, after it has been hit up or back, it may be hit so that it directly touches the opponents’ playing field; it is considered to have passed over or around the net.

The remarkable thing about this rule is that the ball does not necessarily have to pass the net above the edge of the net; it can also be hit past the outside of the net, which may be necessary if an extremely cross-hit ball forces you to return it to the side of the table top. It is important, however, that the ball then touches the playing surface and does not bounce against the side of the table top.

Let rules in ping pong

The rally must be repeated:

  1. If, in the opinion of the referee, a player is unable to serve or return the ball properly or otherwise comply with a rule due to a fault that is beyond his control
  2. If it is interrupted to correct an error in the order of the serves, backstrokes or page changes.
  3. When interrupted to introduce the change method
  4. If, in the opinion of the referee, the playing conditions are disturbed in such a way that they are likely to affect the result of the rally. The first or last point of this rule is used, for example, when a ball from an adjacent plate disturbs the players’ concentration or prevents them from hitting the ball.

Ping pong game point rules

The player loses one point

  1. If he misses the ball when trying to serve before it is out of play.
  2. If he does not succeed in serving in accordance with the regulations
  3. If he does not succeed in a proper recoil
  4. If he stops the ball or hits or accepts it as a fly ball.
  5. When he hits the ball twice in a row.
  6. If he hits the ball with a side of the racket that does not comply with the regulations.
  7. If the player or something he carries with him or on him moves the playing surface while the ball is in play.
  8. If he touches the playing surface with his free hand while the ball is in play
  9. If he or something he is carrying or has carried touches the net or its support while the ball is in play

You should memorize these points and and the rules for serve and return and avoid the described mistakes.

Ball out of play

From the above rules it follows that the rally is finished (ball out of play):

  1. When the ball has touched the playing surface twice in a row without being hit in the meantime (except on serve).
  2. If the ball has touched any person or object other than the playing surface, the net and its support, the club held in the hand or the club hand below the wrist.
  3. If the rally was decided for any reason other than “Let” (repetition) or point.

Especially the second point of the above rule should be observed: From this it follows that although the aim of the game is to hit the ball with the club, it is not considered a mistake to hit the ball with the hand (not the arm).

Counting method in ping pong

Since the cradle of the tournament sport table tennis was in a tennis club, which organized a table tennis competition for the entertainment of its members, it is not surprising that first it was counted as in tennis. But surely every table tennis player is glad that the original counting method is no longer valid today. So now the points are simply counted numerically from 1 to 11.

What is a set in table tennis?

A set is won by the player who scores 11 points first. However, if both opponents score 20 points, the winner of the set is the player who first scores 2 points more than his opponent.

What is a game in table tennis?

A single or double game consists of two or three winning sets.

The game is played without interruption, except that each player is entitled to a break of no more than 5 minutes between the third and fourth sets and a break of no more than 1 minute between the remaining sets.

If you still have questions here are some complex Use Cases With Decisions.

Not all regulations were included; they can be looked up in the ITTF manual.

4. Doubles Ping Pong Rules

If you want to have fun playing table tennis in the first place, you may have already noticed that a good doubles match is often more fun than a singles match. And this double enjoyment can be even increased if you learn a few basic doubles ping pong rules.