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Table Tennis Rules

When you were a little kid and first laid your eyes on a ping pong table, you probably just ran over to the table, grabbed a ball, and started playing.

While that might have been fun,  the real table tennis game has rules that need to be followed. In this section, we cover the rules of this trendy indoor table game. There are many things to consider in this game, and here we include a list of in-depth rules on how to play the game the right way.

This list is perfect for the novice as well as the established professional who needs a reminder.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of Table Tennis Rules as established and updated by the International Table Tennis Federation. For the complete Laws of Table Tennis handbook, consult the ITTF’s official website.

Serving and Volley Rules

  • The entire table area is in play, including the edges.
  • Serves may land anywhere on the opponent’s side of the table in singles play. Lines are for doubles play, during which the ball must land in the opposite quadrant of service.
  • Paddles must be standard size, weight, and shape for table tennis.
  • Serves must touch the server’s paddle, the server’s court, and then the opponent’s court.
  • If a ball touches the net and lands in the opponent’s court, a “let” is called, and the serve is repeated.
  • Players serve five points, and then the serve is given to the opponent for the next five.
  • If the ball touches the net during play and falls into the opponent’s territory, the shot is good.


Points are awarded when:

  • The server serves to land the ping pong ball into a playable territory (i.e., the opponent’s court).
  • Either player fails to make a successful return.
  • If the ball is hit before it bounces on your side (unlike tennis).
  • If the ball bounces in a player’s court twice before she/he can successfully return it.
  • If you hit the ball twice without returning it to your opponent’s court.
  • If either player touches the net.
  • If either player touches the table with her/his free hand during play.
  • If either player moves the playing surface, even inadvertently, during play.

Starting and Finishing

Determine opening serve by volleying or a coin toss. You may choose if the serve goes to the winner or loser of the previous game in successive games.

The winner is the first player to reach 11 points. A player must win by 2 points. A match usually is a best of five or best of seven series. Players decide this beforehand.

Official matches are played to 11 points in a best of seven formats.

Service is automatically given to the trailing opponent when a player reaches 10 points.

Players switch sides after each game.

Remember, these table tennis rules are hardly cast in stone. They provide an excellent place to start for beginners. 

Feel free to add a few rules of your own or dismiss some of these suggested ones. The critical thing with ping pong house rules is that both players understand and agree before the match begins.

If you want to know more, you can get the table tennis handbooks at the ITTF office website. The site also provides Olympic and international table tennis rules in PDF format, which you can download and print out for easy reading.

Table Tennis is an indoor game that is played by hitting a light – ball over a net using rackets or paddles, similar to the famous game tennis. The difference between the two is that table tennis, or ping pong as commonly known, is played on a hard rectangular table with a net in the middle and uses a smaller plastic ball and small wooden rackets.

Different Rules from Tennis

Playing the game can look relatively easy, especially to anyone familiar with tennis. However, that’s where the similarity ends. The rules of table tennis are quite different from ping pong. It is good to learn both.
Like in any sport, learning the rules of table tennis starts with familiarizing the different types of equipment needed in playing the game. Each type of equipment has its specifications defined by the International Table Tennis Federation or ITTF. The rules are used in almost all types of table tennis games and competitions.The different types of equipment include the ball, the table, the net, and the rackets or paddles.

ping pong
ping pong

The next step after knowing the different types of equipment is to know how to play the game itself. Like in tennis, it starts with a serve. The serving player stands at the end of the table and holds the ball with the palm of his hand.

The ball is then thrown upward over the minimum required height of 16 centimeters and then is hit in any way as long as the ball bounces once on the server’s court before going to that of the opponent’s. If the ball hits or grazes the net, it is called a let and the serve must be repeated. During service, it must always be remembered that the ball must not be hidden or obstructed from the views of the opponent and the umpire.

Knowing Further on the Rules

Once the serve is good, the players hit the ball back and forth over the net. Making sure the ball bounces only once on either side of the table. The net can be hit or grazed during this time as long as it bounces on the opponent’s court. The play continues until one of the players makes a mistake, which results in a point. Some mistakes that can result in the awarding of points are:

  • Letting the ball bounce twice on the player’s court
  • Hitting the ball twice in succession
  • Not letting the ball bounce on the opponent’s court
  • Placing the other hand on the table while the game is in play
  • Failure in making a good serve
  • Doing an illegal serve
  • Touching the net with the racket or any part of the body and;
  • Preventing the ball from bouncing on the player’s court or volleying

The players then alternate the service every two points until 11 points are reached by one of them. By then, it is considered being the end of the game. If both sides achieve ten points each, the game continues with the service alternating after every point until a two-point advantage is reached by one side.

These are the basic rules of table tennis that must be learned by anyone who is planning to play the game. Advanced rules are also added in doubles or mixed games and can be quickly learned.

Major Rules Amendment

playing ping pong indoor

2014 Plastic “Poly” Ball replacing Celluloid ball

Right Click to download in PDF file.

2002 Service Rule Amendments

As of 1 September 2002

The Rule


  1. At the beginning of the serve, the ball is placed on the palm that is not holding the racket. The palm needs to be open and remain still.
  2.  The player must throw the ball vertically upwards by hand, not to rotate the ball. The ball needs to go up to a distance of not less than 16 cm after leaving the palm that is not holding the racket. The ball cannot touch any object before being hit.
  3. When the ball descends from the highest point of the throw, the player can hit the ball so that the ball first touches the table of his side, then crosses the net, and then touches the table of the player’s side.
  4. From the start of the serve, the ball should go above the level and outside the player’s end line; and it should not be blocked by the player or his companion’s body or any part of the clothes.
  5. When a player makes the serve, the referee or the deputy referee should see if he is serving the ball under the rule.

Follow The Rules of How To Play Table Tennis

Table Tennis is a common sport that sometimes we forget that some newbies also know how to play the game.

The paddle you use needs to be red on one side and black on the other side. It cannot be red or black on both sides. You cannot merely use any rubber as you like, as the rubber that covers each side of the paddle need to be authorized by the ITTF. If approved, it allows you to have a few small chips or tears in the rubber.

You cannot change your racket during a match unless somehow it gets damaged so severely that it becomes unusable. You must get permission to change it if this is the case.

The top of the net must be 15.25cm above the playing surface along its entire length. Just use a ruler to double-check the measurement.

When the table tennis table is already placed in the right position, you can’t only move the table or touch the net. You are also not allowed to put your free hand anywhere on the table when you are playing.

You can take a seat on the ping pong table if you are not intended to move it! You need to check that the brakes are on the table before playing, so you don’t accidentally move the table if you bump it.

As you serve the ball, ensure it is always visible to your opponent. If you are hiding the ball from your opponent when you serve, it is considered foul. Therefore, the server must keep his free arm out of the way between the ball and the net.

When you toss the ball, you need to make sure that the ball is thrown up vertically, having no spin. For the standard rule, the ball needs to be tossed up no less than 16cm. After tossing the ball, you need to hit the ball on its way down, NOT on its way up!




table tennis rules
table tennis rules

It is considered foul if you use your fingers to hit the ball. It is also illegal for you to place your racket hand below the wrist or any part of the racket (edge or handle).
However, if your paddle dropped, you cannot hit the ball with your hand.
You can’t hit the ball twice (like with your fingers and then your racket). You can’t throw your bat at the ball. Your hand must be touching the bat when it hits the ball.
You are allowed a maximum rest time of one minute between games. You need to leave your paddle on the table tennis table except if the umpire provides you with approval to take the paddle with you. If you need to rest, you can call a time out for 1 minute during a match.
Since table tennis is a high-energy game, a player is permitted to towel off every 6 points during a match. The rule is set with the purpose of avoiding interrupting the flow of play. Let the umpire know if sweat gets on your rubber or your glasses lenses.
Warm-up is no longer than a two-minute practice period on the table. You are not allowed to wear a tracksuit during a match except if the umpire permits you. Nonetheless, you are allowed to wear bike shorts underneath your normal shorts, provided they are the same color.