Ah, ping pong vs table tennis. It’s quite the head-scratcher. The words table tennis and ping pong are used synonymously, but are table tennis and ping pong the same? No! Table tennis and ping pong are not exactly the same game as some people would lead you to believe! In this post, we’ll take a deep dive to help distinguish one from the other, but if you only have a minute:
Here are the main ping pong vs table tennis differences:
- Table tennis is the official sport, ping pong is more recreational
- Table tennis is first to 11 points, ping pong is first to 15
- Table tennis paddles use rubbers, ping pong paddles use sandpaper
- Ping pong is a slower game, table tennis is much more offensive
In reality, though, there are many more differences you need to know about. In this article, you will learn everything from how points are scored in each game to how ping pong and table tennis came to be.
Table of Contents
Overview of the Differences Between Ping Pong and Table Tennis
So what is the difference between ping pong and table tennis? First of all, it’s important to address the blurry definition of ping pong. While it is a separate sport from table tennis, the pair do get mixed up exceedingly often. This stems from their similar history and the fact that the two sports appear almost identical to the untrained eye.
Today, the term ping pong is often used to describe the recreational form of the sport whereas table tennis covers the competitive side.
Ping pong is also used to refer to table tennis more commonly in certain parts of the world than others. In the US for instance, it is very common. This is probably because it was heavily marketed in the early 1900s. Ping pong also rolls off the tongue much easier. This has led to many companies and groups adopting ping pong-themed branding as opposed to table tennis. The popular YouTube channel, Pongfinity being a notable example.
|Quality||Ping Pong||Table Tennis|
|Points per game||15||11|
|Games per match (standard)||Best of 3||Best of 5|
|Bats||Sandpaper||Rubber with sponge|
|Playstyle||Sometimes fast with low spin. Offense and defense prevalent.||Fast and spinny. Offense dominant.|
|Competitive scene||Small||Very large|
Read More: Is Table Tennis a Real Sport or Just a Game?
The Rules of Ping Pong and Table Tennis
The Scoring of Points
The rules for ping pong are remarkably similar to table tennis, so it is easier to state the differences rather than the similarities. The most obvious difference is the number of points you play. In ping pong, you play first to 15 points, often the best of 3 games. There is also no need to be two points ahead of your opponent so you can win 15-14.
Table tennis, on the other hand, is first to 11 (formerly 21), and often best of 5 games. And you need to win by two clear points to secure each game. So essentially, there isn’t a great deal of difference, but I personally prefer more points per game as it gives you more time to make a comeback when you are behind!
Another unique feature of ping pong is the “double-point ball.” Players can use this at any point during the match when they are serving. If the point is won, they secure two points instead of one, and if the opponent wins, they still only secure the regular one point.
The ruleset for ping pong is also far more flexible than table tennis. Those playing table tennis simply abide by the rules outlined by the International Table Tennis Federation. However, there are currently no official rules for ping pong. Previously the rules set for the World Championship of Ping Pong were the best to go by, but with this tournament discontinued, there are no “official rules” to follow.
Ping Pong and Table Tennis Paddle Differences
Table tennis includes a variety of paddles. Players get to choose blades and rubbers of varying spin, control, and speed. What’s more, they can also choose from various rubber types such as inverted, antispin, and pimpled — all support a different style of play.
However, ping pong instead unifies the equipment of its players. Rather than choosing their own equipment, competitors must instead use a type of hard bat that has no rubber covering. Instead of rubber, sandpaper covers the faces of the paddle.
Fun fact: as rubbers are absent in ping pong, there is no need to require each side of the racket to be a different color. For the World Championship of ping pong, both sides were black!
Ping Pong Strategy: A Less Offensive Game
As ping pong bats are only capable of moderate spin, and slower speeds, the strategy of ping pong is not the same as table tennis. The most popular shot in table tennis is the loop — it’s an attacking shot with a lot of topspin.
While common for table tennis, loops are mostly off-the-table in ping pong. This is because the rubber and sponge used in table tennis are what allow players to execute this shot. With the true spinny loops absent, players instead have to rely on attacking shots with less topspin which means you can’t hit the ball as hard.
It also means backspin is a more powerful tool in ping pong. The best counter to backspin is a loop, so without it, players instead have to use a kind of loop/drive hybrid-style shot. This is harder to execute, and again, you can’t hit them as hard.
Consequently, ping pong is a far more allround game that promotes a mix of offense and defense.
While the likes of you or I may struggle to adapt to the limiting equipment, the pros once again demonstrate why they are the best in the world at executing incredible shots. Take a look at the 2020 Ping Pong World Championship. It was quite the match!
Competitive Scene of Ping Pong and Table Tennis
When it comes to professional play, table tennis is far more dominant than ping pong. First and foremost, it is recognized as an official sport whereas ping pong is not. But really, you need only look at the sheer volume and pedigree of tournaments held.
The likes of the World Table Tennis Championships, ITTF World Tour, World Cup, and Olympics are all highly televised and prestigious tournaments for table tennis players to compete in. Ping pong, however, has a very quiet and sparse competitive scene.
At the professional level, there are hardly any tournaments at all. The main event was the World Championship of Ping Pong, however, this has since ceased. The last tournament was held in 2020.
It’s also important to note that the top ping pong players are simply elite table tennis players looking for a new challenge. Maxim Shmyrev for instance, is a five-time Russian National Champion in table tennis.
World Championship Champions
|Year||Ping Pong Champion||Table Tennis Champion|
|2011||Maxim Shmyrev||Zhang Jike|
|2013||Maxim Shimyrev||Zhang Jike|
|2015||Andrew Baggaley||Ma long|
|2017||Yan Weihao||Ma Long|
|2019||Andrew Baggaley||Ma Long|
History of Ping Pong vs Table Tennis
Given that ping pong and table tennis are similar games, it should be no surprise that they largely began as the same game. During the late 19th century, game makers sought to take advantage of lawn tennis, rapidly growing in popularity. They did this by creating indoor versions of the game.
These went by many names, and “ping pong” and “table tennis” are the only two that survived.
Ping pong was first adopted by sports company John Jaques & Son. They used the name because of its growing popularity — the words “ping” and “pong” emulate the sound of a ball being hit back and forth. As early versions of the game underwent improvements, namely due to the introduction of celluloid balls, both a Ping-Pong Association and Table Tennis Association were created.
These later merged, and now the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) is all that remains. The ITTF only governs table tennis, not ping pong. As a result, ping pong has largely faded into obscurity.
Other Terms for Table Tennis
- Whiff whaff
- Indoor tennis
- Parlour tennis
Why Is Table Tennis Called Ping Pong?
Table tennis was invented in 1885 and was manufactured in London in 1891 by the games company Jaques under the name Gossima. They tried both cork balls and rubber balls, but the game was unsatisfactory and sold poorly.
Finally, in 1900, members of a London club introduced a celluloid ball to Gossima and found it very effective. Using the long-handled racquets with sheepskin striking surfaces, the ball bounding off these “drumheads” sounded like “ping” and “pong,” depending on the tightness of the sheepskin.
Jaques quickly renamed their game “Gossima or Ping Pong.” Within months, they changed the name to “Ping Pong or Gossima,” and soon just “Ping Pong”. The game with the funny name became an absolute craze in 1901–02 in the UK and then in America and worldwide.
To know more about this, you can pick up “Ping Pong Fever: The Madness That Swept 1902 America.”
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Table Tennis the Same as Ping Pong?
Table tennis is a more complex game and is played in tournaments and competitions. Ping pong is a more recreational game with a specific type of bat that limits the style of play. Most people are referring to table tennis when they say ping pong as the two terms have become synonymous due to marketing.
So the next time somebody asks if it's ping pong or table tennis you want to play, it's table tennis!
Do Americans Say Ping Pong or Table Tennis?
Most Americans say ping pong due to a popular marketing campaign in the early years of the sport. Table tennis and ping pong are generally viewed as the same sport, however, as we've discussed, this view is inaccurate.
What Is the Ping Pong vs. Table Tennis Table Size?
Ping pong tables are the same size as table tennis tables. These measure 9 ft x 5 ft 2.5 ft.
So, is ping pong the same as table tennis? Now you know the answer. If someone asks you if there is a difference between table tennis vs ping pong, the answer is yes, they are two different sports. Table tennis is often misrepresented as ping pong, which isn’t likely to change soon. However, skilled players often know the difference; most will call table tennis by its official name.
While both games appear relatively similar, the difference in equipment makes ping pong vs table tennis playstyles quite different. The requirement for a sandpaper paddle slows the games down and reduces the amount of spin. As such, ping pong is not quite as exciting to watch, but it’s still fun. While some skilled players may be discouraged by the basic equipment, we still recommend that you give it a go if you haven’t before. Beginners may prefer table tennis or ping pong. Table tennis is faster and more exciting, but it’s easier to pick up as ping pong is slower.