Basic Rules of Table Tennis

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Table tennis is a sport invented in England in the second half of the 19th century, known as Ping-Pong. It is considered one of the most popular sports globally; table tennis arrived in many parts of the world during the first decade of the 20th century. Like any other sport, table tennis also has some basic rules known by the participants. In this article, we will discuss the basic rules of table tennis. It includes: 

Duration of the Match and Games

Table tennis does not have a defined length of time. The game is played in a best of seven games, with one game being won by the first player to score 11 points.

If the score is tied at 10 to 10, one of the players must open a two-point advantage to win the game.

Starting Decision

Before the game begins, the referee meets with the players for a draw. The winner can make one of the choices:

  • Start by drawing/receiving;
  • Choose tableside.

The opponent chooses between the remaining options.

Basic Rules of Table Tennis


There are two ways to score:

  • The player hits the ball and after dripping once on the opponent’s table, drips back onto the table or soil without the opponent touching it;
  • The opponent makes a hitting error, being unable to make the ball drip on the table.
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Table Tennis Withdrawal

  • A withdrawal initiates every point;
  • Players take turns serving during a set, each drawing two consecutive points. If the score of the set is tied at 10 to 10, they take turns to serve at each point;
  • Players take turns to start by drawing a set. It means that if the player started by drawing the 1st set. B will start by drawing the 2nd set, A the 3rd, and so on;
  • For a serve to be valid with regards to ping pong serving rules, the player must make the ball drip on his side of the table once and then bounce again, this time on the opponent’s side, without touching the net;
  • In table tennis rules, the server must throw the ball vertically at a minimum height of 16 centimeters and hit it in down the line;
  • When serving, the table tennis ball must be behind the bottom line of the table;
  • The player cannot hide the ball or obstruct the opponent’s view during the service;
  • If the ball does not pass over the net, does not drop on the server’s table, or go directly outside, the opponent wins the point automatically.
table tennis rules doubles

Exchange of Side and Intervals

  • At each start of the set, players invert the side of the table on which they play;
  • In the 7th set, when one of the players reaches the five-point mark first, they invert the side of the table again;
  • Between the end of a set and the beginning of the next, players have a one-minute break;
  • Players can quickly use a towel to dry their hands for every six points played before the next point starts.
10 rules of tennis


Fouls occur when a player does the following:

  • The player touches his free hand on the table during the play;
  • Player touches the net during the play;
  • The player moves the table during the play;
  • The player hits the ball twice in a row;

In all cases, the play is stopped, and the opponent automatically wins the point.

table tennis rules serving

Departure Duration

If a set exceeds 10 minutes in length and each player has scored less than nine points, the referee implements the acceleration system, so that the game becomes more dynamic. The following changes occur:

  • The players take turns in the service at each point played;
  • If the recipient gets 13 returns during a ball exchange, he automatically wins the point.

After being activated, the system remains valid until the end of the game.

Table Tennis Rules Doubles

The sport can also be played in pairs. In this case, some basic rules of table tennis are different:

  • For a serve to be valid, the ball must bounce on one half of the server’s table and then bounce on the crossed half of the receiver’s table;
  • A player makes two consecutive withdrawals for the same receiver, who then makes two withdrawals for the other team’s table manager that did not serve and so on. For example, A1 serves twice for B1, which then serves twice for A2, who serves B2, who serves A1. This sequence remains throughout the set;
  • In the next set, players invert the player for which they serve. For example: if A1 served for B1 in the 1st set, now he will serve for B2;
  • The pair that started receiving in the previous set starts by drawing the next set;
  • During the dispute of the point, the players of the pair take turns to hit. Therefore, a player never hits twice in a row. If the pair fails to take turns, opponents automatically win the point. For example, the sequence during the ball exchange is A1-B1-A2-B2-A1-B1… if A2 fails to make the next hit, pair B wins the point.

Read More: Best Table Tennis Conversion Top

Frequently Asked Questions 

Who serves first in table tennis?

According to the Basic Rules of Table Tennis, the first server is usually decided by tossing a coin. But informal table tennis matches are usually kick-started through the use of “play for serve.” This begins with a person throwing the serve by hand. This point must last at least three strokes, and the winner can then choose who will serve first.

Can you touch the table in table tennis?

No. As earlier highlighted, touching the table is against the Basic Rules of Table Tennis.

Is Ping Pong played to 11 or 21?

Ping Pong matches are usually played in 3 or 4 winning rounds, with 11 points per round (a difference of 2 points). The first player to win the required number of rounds is declared the winner. Therefore, in 3 winning rounds, the player can play up to 5 rounds. For four winning rounds, they may have to play up to 7 rounds. A round is conducted with a difference of 11 points by 2 points. Initially, the player who scored the first 21 points was declared the winner. But lately, this has been changed to an 11-point system. This rule has been fully applicable since September 1, 2001.

Can you hit a ping pong ball before it bounces?

The simple answer here is ‘No’. When the ball hasn’t bounced on the table, you must not hit it. The only time you can still earn points by hitting the ball before it bounces is if it has passed the finish line of the table.

Do you get two serves in table tennis?

Yes. Concerning the Basic Rules of Table Tennis, every player is entitled to 2 serves, and this usually alternates until one of the players’ scores 11 points. On the other hand, if a tie occurs, each player would get only one service, and this would alternate until one player obtains a two-point lead.

What happens if the ball hits your finger in ping pong?

If the ball hits your finger in a ping pong game, the game will continue as this is completely regarded as legal in the Basic Rules of Table Tennis. 

What is an illegal serve in table tennis?

Serve will be illegal regarding the Basic Rules of Table Tennis if it simply traverses the net without bouncing. Furthermore, the ball must be thrown upwards (minimum of 16 cm), from the palm of the free hand vertically and, when descending, it must be hit so that it first touches the field of the serve, passes over the net without touching it and touch the recipient’s field. The service must as well be served behind the end line or in an imaginary extension of it.

How many let serves are allowed in table tennis?

The number of let serves allowed in table tennis are unlimited. 

How many times do you serve in table tennis?

In the Basic Rules of Table Tennis, every player is entitled to 2 serves.

Can you hit with your hand in ping pong?

No. Hitting the ball with your hand in ping pong is considered an illegal act regarding the Basic Rules of Table Tennis.

How long is a match?

The duration of a match is highly variable and will depend on many factors, among which the difference in the level of the opponents stands out. If it is unequal, the time is shortened and could last only 20 or 30 minutes, but it is normal for a 3-game match to be around 60 minutes long against rivals of similar competition.

Furthermore, taking into account the duration of a match to three games and the circumstances that may occur, such as timeouts, changes of ends, and medical assistance, the playing time of a ping pong match could be approximately 50 minutes to 2 hours as well.

How many serves does each player get?

In table tennis rules serving, each player gets two serves.

Where do I need to stand during a serve?

If you are the server, you need to stand behind the table’s finish line, and the ball must be visible. 


In conclusion, table tennis is a popular racket sport that unites people. The outdoor courses of middle and high schools, youth centers, or campsites often provide Ping-Pong tables. Thus, having adequate knowledge about the Basic Rules of Table Tennis will allow you to play the game with friends, participate in friendly tournaments, or find your way in the competition.