Everyone knows the basic rules of ping pong, also known as table tennis. You win points when your opponent is unable to hit the ball over the net and onto your side of the table. However, this fun game is slightly more complex if you’re looking to play on a professional level. This article aims to guide you through the official ping pong rules.
Do you want to be a pro table tennis player or simply want to learn the basic rules of this game? We have you covered as we’ll discuss the internationally accepted rules of table tennis for pro players and amateurs.
Basic table tennis knowledge is not enough if you plan to become a professional player. You need to know the rules formulated by the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF). However, since the ITTF updates its rules regularly, it can be difficult to keep up. Read on as we share the latest official ping pong rules.
The game table is one of the most important things when playing ping pong, so we’ll start with that. Here are the rules concerning the game table:
- The playing surface can be made of any material.
- The upper playing surface of the ping pong table should be 8.88 ft (2.7 m) long and 5 ft (1.52 m) wide, excluding the vertical sides of the tabletop.
- The playing surface should have 2 equal parts (courts) separated by a vertical net.
- If the table is used for doubles, it should have 2 equal half-courts, separated by a white center line.
Check out the best ping pong tables for fun games at home.
The Net Assembly
The net assembly includes a suspension of the net, supporting posts and clamps that you can use to attach the net posts to the ping pong table.
Ensure that the net’s top is exactly 6 inches (15.24 cm) above the playing surface. At this height, the bottom of the net would be very close to the playing surface, preventing the ball from passing under the net.
After the net, we proceed to another essential component for gameplay – the ball. Here are the rules governing the table tennis ball:
- The table tennis must be spherical and have a diameter of 1.57 inches (3.98 cm).
- It should be made of celluloid or similar plastic material and weigh 0.09 ounces (2.55 g).
- The ball should be white or orange and matte.
The official table tennis rules are pretty flexible regarding racket/paddle use. Players’ rackets can be of any size, shape and weight. However, a few rules you have to follow include:
- The racket’s blade must be flat and rigid.
- At least 85% of the blade thickness must be made from natural wood.
- The side of the racket blade used in striking the ball should be covered with ordinary pimpled rubber or sandwich rubber.
- The material covering one side of the blade should be matte black on one and vivid color on the other end.
- Finally, you must show your racket to the opponent(s) and umpire before the match begins.
Click here to improve your ping pong skills by learning how to hold a paddle.
Terms And Definitions
Here we’ll list essential terms and definitions that you should know and that you will come across in the ITTF’s table tennis rules.
- A “rally” is the period during a game when the ball is in play.
- The ball is seen as being in play from the last moment it is stationary in the palm of a free hand before being intentionally released in service until the rally is decided as either a let or point.
- A “let” is classified as any rally when the result is not scored, while a point is a rally when the result is scored.
- The “racket hand” is the hand carrying the racket, while the free hand is the hand without the racket.
The basic rules for serving are relatively easy to understand but the rules of serving for doubles are a bit more complicated.
- For a legal service, you must hold the ball in the open palm of a stationary free hand behind the end line.
- Proceed to throw the ball upward, ensuring that it rises at least 6.3 inches (16 cm) without touching anything before hitting it.
- The ball has to first bounce on your side of the table before hitting the opponent’s side.
Up your skills by learning how to serve in ping pong in our blog post.
For a successful return, you (the player) must hit the ball so that it touches the opponent’s half of the court with or without first hitting the net assembly.
The Order Of Play
For singles matches, the server must serve correctly, while the receiver should make a good return. Consequently, both players should make returns alternately.
If it’s a doubles match, the play starts with the server making a legal service while the receiver should make a good return. After that, the server’s partner must make a return to be followed by the receiver’s partner. The game continues with every player returning the ball in that order.
Note: There’s an exception to this rule in doubles. When at least one player of a pair is in a wheelchair due to a physical disability, either player of the disabled pair may make returns.
Various situations during a rally can be considered “a let” according to the rules of table tennis. The following situations can be considered a let:
- When the served ball touches the net assembly during a service.
- When the server makes the service without the receiver or the receiving team being ready.
- When you (the player) fail to serve or return the ball due to factors beyond your control.
Tip: Avoid attempting to return a service when either you or your partner are unready, as such services are counted as lets.
Ping pong is not complete without point scoring. The rules of table tennis state that you can score a point in any of the following situations (provided the rally is not a let):
- When the opponent serves incorrectly.
- When the opponent doesn’t make a good return.
- If the served or returned ball hits anything before the opponent touches it.
- When the opponent strikes the ball and passes over their side of the table or beyond your end of the line without hitting the court.
- When the opponent double hits the ball intentionally.
The game rules of table tennis are pretty straightforward. The first player or pair to score 11 points wins the game. However, if the score goes to 10:10 (a deuce), the player or pair will have to take a two-point lead to win the game.
According to the rules of table tennis from the ITTF, a ping pong match consists of the best of an odd number of games. The number can be decided between the players but 5 or 7 games are popular picks.
The Order Of Serving, Receiving And Ends
The current official rules of table tennis give the winner the right to choose to serve or receive first. The winner may also choose to start the game at a particular end of the table.
The order of serving and receiving changes every 2 points scored, with the server becoming the receiver. This doesn’t apply during a deuce and when the expedite system is being used. In this case, the order of servicing and receiving is the same but players serve once at a time.
Out Of Order Of Serving, Receiving Or Ends
The official rules of table tennis also include penalization for players who serve out of order. The umpire is allowed to interrupt the game if they see a player served or received out of the established order during the match start.
Here are some essential official rules for a singles game:
- The game is played to 11 points.
- Players alternate serves every 2 points.
- The serving can land anywhere on the opponent’s side.
- If your hit bounces back over the net, it is your point.
- Volleys are not allowed.
The official rules for doubles are fairly similar to the singles’ rules. Each player has two serves and service alternates between teams after every two points. Players on the same team also switch places, with the receiving player becoming the server.
Service is also the same as in singles, except that the ball can only bounce on the right half portion of the table for the server and receiver. When the receiver returns it, the server’s partner must hit it next, followed by the receiver’s partner and so on.
The Expedite System
Ping pong has an expedite system that is introduced when both players or teams request it but the game has to last upward of 10 minutes.
The rules for the expedite system include:
- If the ball is in play when it’s time for the expedite system to be introduced, the umpire shall interrupt play and resume with a service by the player who served at the time the rally was interrupted.
- If the ball is not in play when the expedite system is introduced, play will continue with service by the player who received it in the last rally.
Note: The expedite system won’t be called into operation if the players or teams have already scored 18 points in that game.
The rules are pretty clear for scoring. Keep the ball in play longer than your opponent and score a point.
You lose a point if you:
- Fail to make a good serve.
- Allow the ball to bounce twice on your side of the table.
- Don’t hit the ball after it bounces on your side.
- Don’t hit the ball to your opponent’s side of the table.
- Hit the ball before it bounces on your side.
- Hit the ball twice in succession.
- Put your non-playing hand on the table.
- Obstruct the ball with your body or clothes.
- Hit the ball out of turn during doubles.
Table Tennis Equipment
While you might be eager to start playing ping pong, you can’t begin the game without some essential equipment. To play ping pong, you will need:
- Table Tennis Balls – Every game needs a stock of table tennis balls before starting. These balls should weigh 2.7 grams (0.09 oz), be 40 mm (1.57 in) in diameter and be either orange or white.
- 2 Rackets – The racket is perhaps the most important piece of equipment for this sport. This is the piece of equipment that you hold to strike the ball. Each racket should have a red and a black side to hit the ball when playing.
- Table – There’s no table tennis game without a table. In a tournament setting, this unit must be 9 ft (2.74 m) long, 5 ft (1.52 m) wide and 30 inches (76.2 cm) above the ground.
15 Basic Ping Pong Rules
If you’ve followed up to this point, you should know all the official rules of table tennis. They seem quite a lot to keep up with for a friendly game with your pals, don’t they? Thankfully, you only have to follow the basic rules when playing table tennis with friends. These rules include:
1. Game Is Played To 11 Points
A game is played to 11 points and must be won by 2 points. Also, a match is the best of 3 or 5 games.
2. Change Ends In “Best” Matches
If you are playing a best of 3 or 5, you have to change ends after each game.
3. Alternate Serves Every 2 Points
Players alternate serves every 2 points. The exception to this is when the game is tied 10 – 10. Here, service alternates at every point.
4. Toss The Ball Up When Serving
Hold the ball up and toss it at least 6 inches (15.24 cm) in the air and strike it on the way down. Allow the ball hit your side of the table before hitting it to the other side.
Note: Once the ball leaves the server’s hand, it is in play and so the receiver gets a point if the ball is missed or miss-hit.
5. Serve Can Land Anywhere In Singles
6. Double Serves Go Right To Right
7. A Serve That Touches The Net On The Way Over Is A “Let”
If a served ball hits the net on the way over and bounces into play, it’s a let and is redone.
8. Alternate Hitting In Doubles
Partners in a doubles game must alternate between hitting balls in a rally, no matter where it lands.
9. You Can’t Volley
You can’t hit the ball until after it bounces once on your side of the table.
10. One Point For You If The Ball Bounces Back Over The Net By Itself
If you hit the ball during a rally and it bounces back over the net without the opponent touching it, it’s your point.
11. Touching The Ball With The Paddle Hand Is Allowed
The ball is allowed to hit your ping pong paddle hand during a rally. However, you can’t touch it with your non-paddle hand.
12. You Can’t Touch The Table With The Non-Paddle Hand
13. You’re Penalized For Moving The Table
14. An Edge Ball Bouncing Off The Horizontal Playing Surface Is Good
A legal serve may touch the top edge of the horizontal table top even if it bounces sideways.
15. Use The Honor System For Disagreements
If there is no referee during a match, players should find a way to agree or play the point over.
Are There Different Rules For Amateurs And Professionals?
No, there aren’t different rules for amateurs and professionals in table tennis. The laws of table tennis always remain the same. However, there are many additional rules for higher levels to supplement basic regulations. The number of additional rules to be used depends on the standard of the competition.
In most cases, the organizers of the competition choose the official rules of table tennis to be adhered to. When playing with friends at home, it’s best to stick with the basic rules.
Frequently Asked Questions
Ping pong is played to 11 and not 21. The game used to be played to 21 until 2001, when the ITTF changed the rules. The winner of the game is the player or pair that scores 11 points first. However, if both players are tied on 10, you need two unreplied points to win the game.
Quick serves are illegal in ping pong. You have to make sure that your opponent is ready to receive the ball before serving. Hiding the ball from the view of any of the players is also illegal. You have to ensure that your hand doesn’t obstruct the view of any other player during your service.
Ping pong scoring works like this – the first player to score 11 points wins the game. However, if the score goes to 10:10 (a deuce), the player will have to take a two-point lead to win the game. You have to keep the ball in play longer than your opponent and score a point.
No, you shouldn’t hit the ball before it bounces in ping pong. This play is a volley and although it is considered legal in lawn tennis, it isn’t allowed in table tennis. When playing ping pong, ensure that the ball touches your side of the table once before hitting it back to your opponent’s end.
You play ping pong for beginners by first understanding the rules of the game. Focus on the most important rules and learn the basics of the game. Learn different types of services to give yourself an advantage. Also, focus on tactics, psychology and match-play. Finally, apply only the basic rules until you get better at the game.
Ping pong rules are what make the game fun. Following the rules of the game helps you become a better player and if you learn them, you will get in-depth knowledge regarding the game. As the ITTF modifies the rules yearly, it can be hard to keep up. Unless you’re a professional, focus on the game’s basic rules and have fun playing ping pong.