Table Tennis, also known as chess at a lightning speed which was introduced in the year 1900 must have had your attention and you would have tried this addictive sport with no plan to leave the racket anytime soon OR you are fairly new to this sport and interested in knowing the rules of Table Tennis.
If you are NEW, it naturally makes sense to read all the rules from the start.
Even if you are an INTERMEDIATE or a PRO, I would still suggest reading all the rules from the start till the end. I am sure while reading some rules might make you wonder, Aaah! I didn’t know about this!
Are you facing any office, garage, or club disputes at the table and not able to settle them?
Are the rules the same for Beginners and Pros? Yes, they are the same. However, if you are a leisure player, you need to know only a few basic rules. For the advanced players, some additional set of rules come into the picture which is more related to competitions.
Not to worry anymore! The rules as stated by ITTF will help you do that from now on:
1. Points system
Still, confused between 21 points or 11 points? Ideally, Table Tennis is officially an 11 point gaming system with service changing every 2 points irrespective of who wins the point (compared to other sports like Badminton where the point winner gets to serve). Let’s get to know with an example:
E.g. the match score of A v/s B is 0-0 and A is the one who starts the serve. He will only serve after 2 points in the game. A better way to remember is, to sum up, the scores of A+B and if it’s an even number, then the server need’s to change from one player to another. (E.g. 2-2, 4-2, 8-6, etc.)
BONUS TIP: Another way of deciding whose service it is shall be to add the sum if the sum is a multiple of 4, then it will be the service of the one who started the serve at 0-0 (e.g. 2-2 i.e. 2+2 = 4, or 3-5 -> 3+5 = 8 and so on)
For people who want to play a 21 pointer match, the serve changes every 5 points. However, only play with this system if you are playing for absolute leisure.
2. BEFORE THE MATCH STARTS
According to the official ITTF rules, a coin toss happens and the winner of the toss is free to choose between:
To serve first OR, To select which end of the table to play from. However, if you playing with your friends, it could be a mutual decision for the above.
3. DURING THE MATCH
Doing the right serve
While you are tossing the ball, the toss must be above the playing surface of the table and behind the server’s end line. This means that the server must stand behind the end line of the table. Look at the image below for reference.
The basic serve involves holding the palm of your non - playing hand and tossing it up in the air. As the ball is falling, the player must hit it with the playing hand and bounce once to their side of the table and at least once on the opponent’s side. If the opponent allows the server to bounce more than once on their side, they will lose the point.
In singles, the ball may bounce on any side of the table, and unlike tennis, the player need not worry about serving from one side.
However, in doubles, the server needs to serve from the right side of the table, place the first bounce on the right half box of their side and the second bounce on the right half box of the opponent’s side. Look at the picture below:
A. NET SERVE: During any service, after the first bounce, if the ball touches the net and lands on the receiver’s side, the server needs to be replayed. There is no cap on how many times the NET SERVE is allowed. It continues till the serves finally do the right or a wrong serve.
B. FAULTY SERVE: It happens when
after the first bounce, if the ball touches the net and directly falls outside the playing surface of the table or lands on the server’s side, it is the point to the opponent.
The server does not toss the ball at least 15 cm in the air,
The server tosses the ball not with the palm but with the fingers
The server while tossing adds spin to the ball
The ball is tossed from under the table and/or inside the playing region of the table
The ball is tossed in the air but the player fails to hit the ball with a racket or fails to hit on the opponent’s side of the table
4. RETURNING THE SERVE:
The opponent must hit back the ball over/around the net so that it bounces only on the server’s side of the table and must bounce at least once on the table. If the ball bounces more than once on the opponent’s side, the opponent loses the point.
While returning the serve, if the ball hits the net but does not land on the opponent’s half of the table, then it is the point to the opponent.
If the ball hits the net but lands on the opponent’s half of the table, the game is still in play. The receiver can stand at any position and any distance from the table. However, the receiver can’t touch the table with their free hand and can’t move the table. If that happens Mr. Receiver, you are giving away cheap points.
WHILE THE POINT IS IN PLAY
While the rally is in play, and the point is in process of being decided, the opponent can receive the ball from any position (including beyond the net of their opponent’s side).
The following question might still confuse you:
What if the player hits around the net? Is it still in play?
Yes. The rally is still in play if the ball is hit around the net and lands on the opponent’s side. However, any ball passing below the net arena is a point to the opponent.
What if the player serves a backspin serve, the second bounce lands on the opponent’s side, and the third bounce lands on the player’s side?
This is the player’s point. If the opponent wants to keep the rally in play, they need to hit it before the third bounce.
Now what about…
While playing doubles, each player still has two serves, and the service alternate between every two points between pair A and pair B. The receiver after
Let’s see how the change of serve happens with help of this picture below:
As of now, Pair 1 is serving and it’s A (server) 🡪 D (Receiver).
After 2 serves of A are done, then it goes to Pair 2 and it would be D (Server) 🡪 B (Receiver).
After 2 serves of D are done, again it goes to Pair 2 and it would be D (Server) 🡪 B (Receiver), and so on.
In doubles, one very important rule is that the players in the pair receive the shot alternately. One player in a pair cannot receive two balls in a row, i.e. if A has played the shot, then the other ball has to be received by B if the ball is still in play.
6. SCORING A POINT
In Table Tennis (for both singles and doubles), the player loses the point if they:
Fail to make a correct serve
Allows the ball to bounce twice on their side of the table
Hits the ball before it has bounced (i.e. hitting a volley) unless it is too obviously not going to bounce on their side of the table
Hits the ball twice in succession
Put’s their non – playing hand on the table or moves the table
Obstructs the ball with any part of their body or clothing
Hits the ball out of turn when playing doubles
7. A GAME
The first person to score 11 wins a set with a minimum difference of 2 points. Now, what happens when the score is 10-10? The game goes on and on until there is a difference of two points (e.g. 14-12). I remember one of my games went till 41-39 and that too for an 11 point game. What a crazy memory it was!
A lot of people have asked me, if A scores 5-0 in a set, then has he won the set? God! No! The set is only won when a player wins 11 points (with a difference of two) even if it has to be 11-0 (also called a love game)
8. SET SCORING
In Table Tennis, the first person to score 11 points wins a set.
The opponents need to switch sides after the set is completed.
There could be times when you are losing badly in a table tennis match and your brain is not tactically able to think. That’s the time when you need a break. This is allowed officially as well. ITTF allows each player to take a time out of 1 minute between a set only once. This is not a mandatory thing. The player can take it only if he or she thinks it is necessary. Want to take a time out? Just do a hand gesture with a T-sign, the umpire shall allow you for the same. While taking a time out, a player needs to keep his/her racket at the table and is not allowed to take it along unless both the umpire and the opponent approve for the same.
8. BREAKS BETWEEN SETS:
Each player is officially allowed to take a break of a maximum of 1 minute between two sets. This is generally to be used to strategize your upcoming set (and of course! to wipe your sweat too). However, if you don’t take this break, you can’t claim extra time in the next set as it is up to a player whether he/she needs a break or not.
MATCH: It could be typically of 1, 3, 5, or 7 sets. E.g. if a match is of 5 sets, the first person to win 3 sets wins the match. E.g. If the set score is 3-0, then the 4th set need not be played. This is also called victory in STRAIGHT SETS. (Want to know about the jargon of Table Tennis? Coming Soon! )
I believe that gives you some basic insights into the Rules of Table Tennis. I hope the above-mentioned rules about Table Tennis will now give you some confidence to make healthy decisions during the game and help your game and practice to make it even more organized.
Lastly, if you like the blog, please hit the Like button, post your queries in the comment box. I shall love to answer your questions. Happy Table Tennis!