Table tennis, also known as ping-pong, is a popular Olympian sport which is typically played inside, but can also be played outside as a recreational activity.
The sport is a game that is relatively easy to pick up but hard to master, which is why it has millions of fans, major tournaments, and even superstar players.
Read on to learn all the table tennis rules and how to play like a pro.
The equipment needed to play table tennis is reasonably accessible compared to some sports. All you need to play is a racket for each player, a handful of ping pong balls, and a table made for the game.
- Rackets are plywood paddles covered in sponge, with rubber over the top of both. There are different sizes of racket handles and types of rubber used, but for a beginner, anything will do the job.
- Ping pong balls must be 40 mm in diameter and made out of hollow celluloid. Balls come in qualities of one, two, or three stars. Three stars are the best and will last a long time; professionals prefer to use this type of ball.
- The table is the biggest expense for the typical table tennis hobbyist. These tables are made of manufactured wood and are covered with a smooth material that gives the ball bounce. The table has a white line that marks off the left and right side of the table. Also, a net stretches across the middle of the table and is 15.25 cm in height.
Table Tennis Rules
When it comes to table tennis, there are a few standards and guidelines that need to be followed.
The first thing to know is that table tennis is played by either two (singles) or four people (doubles).
If four people are playing, they will be in teams of two competing against the other two participants.
In the case of two people playing, they compete against each other.
The goal of table tennis is pretty simple.
The primary objective of the game is to win the game by getting more points than your opponent in more than half of the games to be played.
For instance, if you choose to play three matches, to win you would need to get more points in two or more of those matches.
Each game is played until a team or player gets eleven points (or sometimes twenty-one points).
Many rules make up the sport of table tennis. Some of these are implemented more often in professional settings, but many rules are also used for casual play.
These rules apply to starting the game, serving the ball, returning the serve, and more. The most common rules that you need to know will be explained for each phase.
Starting a Game
Like most sports and games, your first decision is who is going to serve first.
The rules state this is decided by lot, which means tossing a coin, and allowing the winner to serve first, make his opponent serve first, or choose a side of the table he or she prefers.
If the winner of the coin toss chooses to serve first or make his challenger go first, the opponent will choose which side of the table to play from. In the case where the winner chooses a table side, the opponent would decide who serves first.
Rules of Serving
- The server must stand behind the end of the table to serve the ball.
- To serve, the server tosses the ball into the air.
- The ball is considered in play as soon as the server throws the ball up to hit it. While it is in play, this is known as a rally.
- As the ball falls, the player must hit it with a racket in their playing hand so that it bounces once on their side of the table, and at least once on the opponent’s side.
- If the ball bounces more than once on the opponent’s side, the opponent loses a point.
- In a singles game, the ball can bounce anywhere on the table, rather than serving to a particular
- In doubles, the service must bounce on the right half of the table for server and receiver, both.
- If the ball hits the net and bounces onto the opponent’s side, the serve must be replayed.
- If the ball touches the net and doesn’t bounce onto the opponent’s side, the server loses a point.
- Each player has two serves each, although with a 21-point system they have five.
- Service switches between opponents until either one person get eleven points or both players score ten points.
- If both of the competitors reach ten points, service will alternate after every point, only ending when one player has a two-point lead.
Returning the Serve
- If in returning the serve, the ball hits the net but not your opponent’s side of the table, a point goes to your opponent.
- If your ball hits the net but does bounce on the opponent’s side of the table, the rally will continue.
- Players may not touch the table with the free hand and may not move the table. They can, however, stand where they like and play returns in whatever position they like.
- If the server puts a backspin on a ball, taking it back over the net towards the server, you must still hit the ball before it bounces on their side of the table.
Scoring a point is simple, in theory.
In order to do so, you have to keep the ball in play for longer than the opponent. However, there are many ways in which a player may lose a point.
Knowing each of these is important in order to ensure correct scoring of the game. Here are the ways you can lose points:
- In doubles, hitting the ball out of turn.
- Making a bad serve.
- Obstructing the ball with clothing or body parts.
- Letting the ball bounce more than once on your side of the table.
- Not hitting the ball after it bounces on the table.
- Putting the free hand on the table or moving the table or net.
- Not hitting the ball onto the other side of the table.
- Hitting the ball twice in succession.
- Hitting the ball before it bounces unless it clearly won’t bounce onto your side of the table.
Table Tennis Strokes
There are many different strokes involved in table tennis. However, for the beginner, a few are more important to understand than the others.
The smash, block, push, and drive are the four most common methods of moving the ball.
- The drive is a light stroke that keeps the ball low. This is used to cause errors by the opponent. This can be done in both forehand and backhand styles.
- The push is a backspin which is used to change pace or return close and low This is a very defensive type of play. As in the case of the drive, this can be done backhand and forehand.
- Blocking is done to use the opponents force against themselves. This is done immediately after the bounce to keep power.
- The smash is the winning stroke when you can do it. This combines arm and waist strength to put a lot of power into the stroke. It can be hard to return and give you a better chance of winning.
Time of Play
Regulations state that you may practice up to two minutes before the match. The match must start immediately afterward.
You are expected to be in continuous play in order to avoid time-washing. If an umpire is there, they will discourage these acts and issue warnings.
However, breaks of two sorts are allowed:
- Towelling down – you may towel down after every six points and at the change of ends in the last game of a match.
- Time-out – A player can claim one time-out in a match. The play is suspended until the player is ready or after one minute.
You may also take a break of a minute between games. You may not remove your racket on the break in order to ensure no changes are made during the short pause.
That sums up the basics of table tennis. You should have a good idea of what equipment to buy, how the play goes throughout a match, rally, and game.
In addition, we covered standard rules and common strokes used in the game of table tennis. When playing your first game, you will be ready, and hopefully, you can get a win!
Of course, there is far more information available for those who are interested.
Especially suggested are Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers, Expert in a Year: The Ultimate Table Tennis Challenge, and Table Tennis: Steps to Success.
Check some of those out, add the information here, and you’ll be well on your way to being a ping-pong champion. Or at least knowing all the table tennis rules when your friends next want to play!