As a beginner to table tennis, you naturally need some basic knowledge of the rules and regulations of table tennis. How do I count, where do I have to play the ball, what are the table tennis scoring rules, what is prohibited? These are some typical questions you ask yourself when you stand at the table tennis table for the first time.
If you’re a competitive player or aspiring to be one, we’ve helped you gather the most official table tennis rules. Recreational players can also find some of the basic rules of table tennis which can help them have fun with no cheating or disagreement.
Table Tennis Serve Rules
Service is perhaps the most important aspect of table tennis. And there are a lot of rules governing it. Some of the most important is that:
- The ball must be set forth at least 16cm up (Rule 2.6.2)
The ball must be set forth at least 16cm up with a flat hand, above and behind the baseline (rear edge of the table). It must be played in such a way that it jumps once onto the server’s half of the table and then jumps over the net onto the other. If the table tennis ball touches the net, this service is usually repeated.
- Covering the ball before service is not allowed (Rule 2.6.4)
It is not allowed to cover the ball with the body, especially with the upper arm, for the opponent or the referee during a serve.
Service begins with throwing up and ends with jumping onto the opposing half of the table. If it is “not” performed according to the table tennis rules explained, it counts as a missed serve and is counted as a point for the opponent.
So you are not allowed to throw the ball up several times or, as in tennis, have two attempts to serve.
- The initial order of service is decided by lot (Rule 2.13.1)
In a game with a referee, the referee usually “shuffles” the ball under the edge of the table or decides the server or side selection by lot.
After a set change, the player which did not serve first in the previous set starts the serves. In the set, the right to serve changes according to the scores. In the case of a set of 11, each player has a two-point premium.
Let in Table Tennis
A rally is a let in table tennis when a hindrance is caused by the net during service if the ball falls legally. Rallies mean the period during which the table tennis ball is in play.
- The rally is a let if the service is hindered by the net but enters the opponent’s table (Rule 2.9.1)
The serve is repeated and no score is awarded if the service is intercepted by the net or by an opposing player. Meanwhile, if the ball from the opponent makes a legal ping pong serve and it hits your half of the table, it must then be returned to the opposing half. The ball must land on the table tennis table (from above) and not on the side of the table (Rule 2.6.4).
Scoring in Table Tennis
If you can understand the rules for service and rallies, you have already understood the basic game system. What you now only need to know is the scoring method and what you have to consider in a double game.
- A game is won by a player scoring 11 points (Rule 2.11.1)
Since 2002, the table tennis rules for the 21 sets have been replaced by the 11 sets. A set ends in the “normal case” when a player has reached 11 points. However, the necessary lead of at least 2 points must be observed. The set cannot end with a score of 11:10, instead, it would have to end in overtime with a score of 12:10, 13:11, etc. That’s to means that when the score reaches 10:10, then the game has reached a deuce. The set extension has no point limit. It ends as soon as a table tennis player scores 2 points more than the opponent.
Table Tennis Singles Rules
In a single game, two table tennis players compete against each other. But what does the rule say?
- The server serves and the receiver returns the ball (Rule 2.8.1)
According to table tennis regulations, the ball is played directly over the net so that it hits the opponent’s half of the table. After it has jumped once, it must be played back by the opponent. A rally begins with the service and ends with a player’s mistake.
The following errors leading to the opponent getting a point are possible according to Rule 2.10.
Play the ball into the net, on your own or over the opponent’s half of the table:
- Ball is not hit or reached
- Touching the ball with the body (except for the racket hand) or clothing
- Ball is received over one’s half of the table before it has jumped
- Repeated bouncing of the ball on one half of the table or the racket
- If you move the table or touch the table surface with your bat-free hand
Table Tennis Doubles Rules
In a doubles match, two table tennis players form a team and play against another with 2 doubles partners. But what are the rules?
- In doubles, the ball must touch the right half of the server and receiver’s courts (Rule 2.6.3)
The rallies are generally the same as in singles, only that now the single players of a team take turns playing the ball. Here, the ball must touch the right half of the server and receiver’s courts. If the ball jumps on his half to the left or the other side of the opposing half, according to the rules, the opposing team receives a point (false serve). Some also say: the ball hit the “wrong field”.
- Each court is divided into two equal half courts by white centerline (Rule 2.1.6)
The centerline must be 3mm wide and be parallel with the sidelines. It divides half of the table into a left and a right side. The divided courts must be equal. Also, when serving in doubles, make sure that you play diagonally from the right side of one half of the table to the left of the opposing half of the table (from the point of view of the server).
The Expedite System
The game can be stopped by the umpire to introduce the expedite system according to Rule 220.127.116.11. But what other key rules apply?
- Definition of the expedite system (2.15.4)
The expedite system applies to the change in the alternation of service. The expedite provides for the change of service, specifically, from 2 rounds to 1 round until the end of the game.
- The expedite system will be introduced after 10 minutes of play (Rule 2.15.1)
There is a time limit of 10 minutes for a set after this time. However, the expedite rule will not be introduced if the teams have scored at least 18 points.
- The receiver wins a point during expedite if he returns the ball 13 times consecutively (Rule 2.15.4)
There is not only an alternation of single services between the players; to prevent a period of long playing time, the receiver wins the point if he returns the ball 13 times in a row.
Rules are governing the materials and items used in the game too. As for the table, some of the key rules are:
- Rules on the table (Rule 2.1)
According to the rules, a standard table dimension is 2.74 m in length, 1.525 m in width, and 76 cm in height. There are stone tables, weatherproof tables, and high-quality tables for clubs and tournaments. The differences in the quality of the tables lie in the different construction.
The net is the divider of the two main courts. The following rules apply.
- The net must be 15.25 cm high (Rule 2.2.2)
The net (15.25 cm high) divides the playing area into two equal “playing fields”.
- The net must be as close to the playing surface as much as possible (Rule 2.2.4)
The net demarcates the right side of the court from the left but there must not be enough space for the ball to pass under the net. So, the bottom must be very close to the surface.
Asides from the table and net, you need to have a racket that you can purchase or build by yourself.
- One surface must be red and the other black (Rule 2.4.6)
According to the rules, one surface must be red and the other black. It is up to you whether you play with the red or the black on the forehand or backhand.
- A side of the blade must feature ordinary pimpled rubber or sandwich rubber (Rule 2.4.3)
When buying or renting your racket, you should make sure that the rubbers are smooth (pimples on the inside), but have a non-slip surface (the racket has to “pull”). Pimples on the outside are not well suited to learning the game because they affect the rotation of the ball in a very special way.
There are not a lot of rules governing ball use. But the following applies:
- The ball must be spherical, weigh 2.7g and measure 40mm diameter (Rule 2.3)
The standard ball you need must be made of celluloid or similar plastics. It must have a size of 40 mm and weighs 2.7 grams. A distinction is made between training and competition balls, with the cheaper training balls being sufficient for the first practice.
So, what are the basic rules of table tennis? The rules start with the items needed, at least if you’re going to be practicing according to standards. if you want to start your table tennis games, you need at least table tennis bats with playing surfaces of red and black. You need at least one table tennis ball made of celluloid plastic and measuring 40 mm.
You also need a ping pong table. It must be 2.74 meters long and 1.525 meters wide. The table must be 0.76 meters above the ground. You also need a net that, according to the rules, should be 15.25 centimeters high.
If you have these items acquired, then you should not wait to start playing. The rules introduced in the article are also basic for anyone who wants to know how to play table tennis step by step.
THE LAWS OF TABLE TENNIS
The following content comes from ITTF official documents: ITTF Handbook 2021 v2 (clean version)
2.1 THE TABLE
- 2.1.1 The upper surface of the table, known as the playing surface, shall be rectangular, 2.74m long and 1.525m wide, and shall lie in a horizontal plane 76cm above the floor.
- 2.1.2 The playing surface shall not include the vertical sides of the tabletop.
- 2.1.3 The playing surface may be of any material and shall yield a uniform bounce of about 23cm when a standard ball is dropped on to it from a height of 30cm.
- 2.1.4 The playing surface shall be uniformly dark coloured and matt, but with a white side line, 2cm wide, along each 2.74m edge and a white end line, 2cm wide, along each 1.525m edge.
- 2.1.5 The playing surface shall be divided into 2 equal courts by a vertical net running parallel with the end lines, and shall be continuous over the whole area of each court.
- 2.1.6 For doubles, each court shall be divided into 2 equal half-courts by a white centre line, 3mm wide, running parallel with the side lines; the centre line shall be regarded as part of each right half-court.
2.2 THE NET ASSEMBLY
- 2.2.1 The net assembly shall consist of the net, its suspension and the supporting posts, including the clamps attaching them to the table.
- 2.2.2 The net shall be suspended by a cord attached at each end to an upright post 15.25cm high, the outside limits of the post being 15.25cm outside the side line.
- 2.2.3 The top of the net, along its whole length, shall be 15.25cm above the playing surface.
- 2.2.4 The bottom of the net, along its whole length, shall be as close as possible to the playing surface and the ends of the net shall be attached to the supporting posts from top to bottom.
2.3 THE BALL
- 2.3.1 The ball shall be spherical, with a diameter of 40mm.
- 2.3.2 The ball shall weigh 2.7g.
- 2.3.3 The ball shall be made of celluloid or similar plastics material and shall be white or orange, and matt.
2.4 THE RACKET
- 2.4.1 The racket may be of any size, shape or weight but the blade shall be flat and rigid.
- 2.4.2 At least 85% of the blade by thickness shall be of natural wood; an adhesive layer within the blade may be reinforced with fibrous material such as carbon fibre, glass fibre or compressed paper, but shall not be thicker than 7.5% of the total thickness or 0.35mm, whichever is the smaller.
- 2.4.3 A side of the blade used for striking the ball shall be covered with either ordinary pimpled rubber, with pimples outwards having a total thickness including adhesive of not more than 2.0mm, or sandwich rubber, with pimples inwards or outwards, having a total thickness including adhesive of not more than 4.0mm.
- 18.104.22.168 Ordinary pimpled rubber is a single layer of non-cellular rubber, natural or synthetic, with pimples evenly distributed over its surface at a density of not less than 10 per cm² and not more than 30 per cm².
- 22.214.171.124 Sandwich rubber is a single layer of cellular rubber covered with a single outer layer of ordinary pimpled rubber, the thickness of the pimpled rubber not being more than 2.0mm.
- 2.4.4 The covering material shall extend up to but not beyond the limits of the blade, except that the part nearest the handle and gripped by the fingers may be left uncovered or covered with any material.
- 2.4.5 The blade, any layer within the blade and any layer of covering material or adhesive on a side used for striking the ball shall be continuous and of even thickness.
- 2.4.6 The surface of the covering material on a side of the blade, or of a side of the blade if it is left uncovered, shall be matt, bright red on one side and black on the other. With effect 1st October 20211, the surface of the covering material on a side of the blade, or of a side of the blade if it is left uncovered, shall be matt, black on one side, and of a bright colour clearly distinguishable from black and from the colour of the ball on the other.
- 2.4.7 The racket covering shall be used without any physical, chemical or other treatment. 126.96.36.199 Slight deviations from continuity of surface or uniformity of colour due to accidental damage or wear may be allowed provided that they do not significantly change the characteristics of the surface.
- 2.4.8 Before the start of a match and whenever he or she changes his or her racket during a match a player shall show his or her opponent and the umpire the racket he or she is about to use and shall allow them to examine it.
- 2.5.1 A rally is the period during which the ball is in play.
- 2.5.2 The ball is in play from the last moment at which it is stationary on the palm of the free hand before being intentionally projected in service until the rally is decided as a let or a point.
- 2.5.3 A let is a rally of which the result is not scored.
- 2.5.4 A point is a rally of which the result is scored.
- 2.5.5 The racket hand is the hand carrying the racket.
- 2.5.6 The free hand is the hand not carrying the racket; the free arm is the arm of the free hand.
- 2.5.7 A player strikes the ball if he or she touches it in play with his or her racket, held in the hand, or with his or her racket hand below the wrist.
- 2.5.8 A player obstructs the ball if he or she, or anything he or she wears or carries, touches it in play when it is above or travelling towards the playing surface, not having touched his or her court since last being struck by his or her opponent.
- 2.5.9 The server is the player due to strike the ball first in a rally.
- 2.5.10 The receiver is the player due to strike the ball second in a rally.
- 2.5.11 The umpire is the person appointed to control a match.
- 2.5.12 The assistant umpire is the person appointed to assist the umpire with certain decisions.
- 2.5.13 Anything that a player wears or carries includes anything that he or she was wearing or carrying, other than the ball, at the start of the rally.
- 2.5.14 The end line shall be regarded as extending indefinitely in both directions.
2.6 THE SERVICE
- 2.6.1 Service shall start with the ball resting freely on the open palm of the server’s stationary free hand.
- 2.6.2 The server shall then project the ball near vertically upwards, without imparting spin, so that it rises at least 16cm after leaving the palm of the free hand and then falls without touching anything before being struck.
- 2.6.3 As the ball is falling the server shall strike it so that it touches first his or her court and then touches directly the receiver’s court; in doubles, the ball shall touch successively the right half court of server and receiver.
- 2.6.4 From the start of service until it is struck, the ball shall be above the level of the playing surface and behind the server’s end line, and it shall not be hidden from the receiver by the server or his or her doubles partner or by anything they wear or carry.
- 2.6.5 As soon as the ball has been projected, the server’s free arm and hand shall be removed from the space between the ball and the net. The space between the ball and the net is defined by the ball, the net and its indefinite upward extension.
- 2.6.6 It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he or she complies with the requirements of the Laws, and either may decide that a service is incorrect.
- 188.8.131.52 If either the umpire or the assistant umpire is not sure about the legality of a service he or she may, on the first occasion in a match, interrupt play and warn the server; but any subsequent service by that player or his or her doubles partner which is not clearly legal shall be considered incorrect.
- 2.6.7 Exceptionally, the umpire may relax the requirements for a correct service where he or she is satisfied that compliance is prevented by physical disability.
2.7 THE RETURN
- 2.7.1 The ball, having been served or returned, shall be struck so that it touches the opponent’s court, either directly or after touching the net assembly.
2.8 THE ORDER OF PLAY
- 2.8.1 In singles, the server shall first make a service, the receiver shall then make a return and thereafter server and receiver alternately shall each make a return.
- 2.8.2 In doubles, except as provided in 2.8.3, the server shall first make a service, the receiver shall then make a return, the partner of the server shall then make a return, the partner of the receiver shall then make a return and thereafter each player in turn in that sequence shall make a return.
- 2.8.3 In doubles, when at least one player of a pair is in a wheelchair due to a physical disability, the server shall first make a service, the receiver shall then make a return but thereafter either player of the disabled pair may make returns.
2.9 A LET
- 2.9.1 The rally shall be a let:
- 184.108.40.206 if in service the ball touches the net assembly, provided the service is otherwise correct or the ball is obstructed by the receiver or his or her partner;
- 220.127.116.11 if the service is delivered when the receiving player or pair is not ready, provided that neither the receiver nor his or her partner attempts to strike the ball;
- 18.104.22.168 if failure to make a service or a return or otherwise to comply with the Laws is due to a disturbance outside the control of the player;
- 22.214.171.124 if play is interrupted by the umpire or assistant umpire;
- 126.96.36.199 if the receiver is in wheelchair owing to a physical disability and in service the ball, provided that the service is otherwise correct, 188.8.131.52.1 after touching the receiver’s court returns in the direction of the net;
- 184.108.40.206.2 comes to rest on the receiver’s court;
- 220.127.116.11.3 in singles leaves the receiver’s court after touching it by either of its sidelines.
- 2.9.2 Play may be interrupted 18.104.22.168 to correct an error in the order of serving, receiving or ends;
- 22.214.171.124 to introduce the expedite system;
- 126.96.36.199 to warn or penalise a player or adviser;
- 188.8.131.52 because the conditions of play are disturbed in a way which could affect the outcome of the rally.
2.10 A POINT
- 2.10.1 Unless the rally is a let, a player shall score a point
- 184.108.40.206 if an opponent fails to make a correct service;
- 220.127.116.11 if an opponent fails to make a correct return;
- 18.104.22.168 if, after he or she has made a service or a return, the ball touches anything other than the net assembly before being struck by an opponent;
- 22.214.171.124 if the ball passes over his or her court or beyond his or her end line without touching his or her court, after being struck by an opponent;
- 126.96.36.199 if the ball, after being struck by an opponent, passes through the net or between the net and the net post or between the net and playing surface;
- 188.8.131.52 if an opponent obstructs the ball;
- 184.108.40.206 if an opponent deliberately strikes the ball more than once in succession;
- 220.127.116.11 if an opponent strikes the ball with a side of the racket blade whose surface does not comply with the requirements of 2.4.3, 2.4.4 and 2.4.5;
- 18.104.22.168 if an opponent, or anything an opponent wears or carries, moves the playing surface;
- 22.214.171.124 if an opponent, or anything an opponent wears or carries, touches the net assembly;
- 126.96.36.199 if an opponent’s free hand touches the playing surface;
- 188.8.131.52 if a doubles opponent strikes the ball out of the sequence established by the first server and first receiver;
- 184.108.40.206 as provided under the expedite system (2.15.4).
- 220.127.116.11 if both players or pairs are in a wheelchair due to a physical disability and 18.104.22.168.1 his or her opponent does not maintain a minimum contact with the seat or cushion(s), with the back of the thigh, when the ball is struck;
- 22.214.171.124.2 his or her opponent touches the table with either hand before striking the ball;
- 126.96.36.199.3 his or her opponent’s footrest or foot touches the floor during play.
- 188.8.131.52 if, where an opposing doubles pair includes at least one player in a wheelchair, any part of the wheelchair or a foot of a standing player crosses an imaginary extension of the centre line of the table
2.11 A GAME
- 2.11.1 A game shall be won by the player or pair first scoring 11 points unless both players or pairs score 10 points, when the game shall be won by the first player or pair subsequently gaining a lead of 2 points.
2.12 A MATCH
- 2.12.1 A match shall consist of the best of any odd number of games.
2.13 THE ORDER OF SERVING, RECEIVING AND ENDS
- 2.13.1 The right to choose the initial order of serving, receiving and ends shall be decided by lot and the winner may choose to serve or to receive first or to start at a particular end.
- 2.13.2 When one player or pair has chosen to serve or to receive first or to start at a particular end, the other player or pair shall have the other choice.
- 2.13.3 After each 2 points have been scored the receiving player or pair shall become the serving player or pair and so on until the end of the game, unless both players or pairs score 10 points or the expedite system is in operation, when the sequences of serving and receiving shall be the same but each player shall serve for only 1 point in turn.
- 2.13.4 In each game of a doubles match, the pair having the right to serve first shall choose which of them will do so and in the first game of a match the receiving pair shall decide which of them will receive first; in subsequent games of the match, the first server having been chosen, the first receiver shall be the player who served to him or her in the preceding game.
- 2.13.5 In doubles, at each change of service the previous receiver shall become the server and the partner of the previous server shall become the receiver.
- 2.13.6 The player or pair serving first in a game shall receive first in the next game of the match and in the last possible game of a doubles match the pair due to receive next shall change their order of receiving when first one pair scores 5 points.
- 2.13.7 The player or pair starting at one end in a game shall start at the other end in the next game of the match and in the last possible game of a match the players or pairs shall change ends when first one player or pair scores 5 points.
2.14 OUT OF ORDER OF SERVING, RECEIVING OR ENDS
- 2.14.1 If a player serves or receives out of turn, play shall be interrupted by the umpire as soon as the error is discovered and shall resume with those players serving and receiving who should be server and receiver respectively at the score that has been reached, according to the sequence established at the beginning of the match and, in doubles, to the order of serving chosen by the pair having the right to serve first in the game during which the error is discovered.
- 2.14.2 If the players have not changed ends when they should have done so, play shall be interrupted by the umpire as soon as the error is discovered and shall resume with the players at the ends at which they should be at the score that has been reached, according to the sequence established at the beginning of the match.
- 2.14.3 In any circumstances, all points scored before the discovery of an error shall be reckoned.
2.15 THE EXPEDITE SYSTEM
- 2.15.1 Except as provided in 2.15.2, the expedite system shall come into operation after 10 minutes’ play in a game or at any time when requested by both players or pairs.
- 2.15.2 The expedite system shall not be introduced in a game if at least 18 points have been scored.
- 2.15.3 If the ball is in play when the time limit is reached and the expedite system is due to come into operation, play shall be interrupted by the umpire and shall resume with service by the player who served in the rally that was interrupted; if the ball is not in play when the expedite system comes into operation, play shall resume with service by the player who received in the immediately preceding rally.
- 2.15.4 Thereafter, each player shall serve for 1 point in turn until the end of the game, and if the receiving player or pair makes 13 correct returns in a rally the receiver shall score a point.
- 2.15.5 Introduction of the expedite system shall not alter the order of serving and receiving in the match, as defined in 2.13.6.
- 2.15.6 Once introduced, the expedite system shall remain in operation until the end of the match.
My name is Cosmos Boll and I’m 26 years old. I’m Chinese and live in Shanghai.
I am a table tennis enthusiast and a professional table tennis coach.
My idol is Timo Boll who is the greatest player in the world.