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Basic Table Tennis Rules

Table tennis is a popular activity in homes throughout the world. By understanding the basic rules of table tennis, you can enjoy a competitive game with your family and friends. Though you don't have to play by official table tennis tournament rules, they provide a good starting point for understanding how the game is played.

The Serve:

When serving, hold the table tennis ball in the palm of your hand and throw it straight up in the air with no spin. According to USA Table Tennis, the ball should rise at least 16cm above your palm when throwing it into the air. This allows your opponent to properly see the ball during your serve. Hit the ball with your paddle so that it bounces on your side of the table, goes over the net without hitting the net, and hits the opposite side of the table. If the ball does not hit your side or your opponent’s side of the table during service, a point is awarded to your opponent. If the ball touches the net during service it is ruled a let, which means no point is awarded to either player. The side/player who serves changes every two points. If the two sides are tied at 10 points, service switches after each point.


Once the ball is in play, the opposing players hit the ball back and forth until a point is awarded. Each player must hit the ball over the net so that the ball touches the opponent’s side of the table. Play continues if the ball touches the net at any point of the rally. When playing a doubles match, one player serves the ball and one of his opponents returns the ball. The partner of the server must then return the ball over the net. You must alternate players hitting the ball in this manner until a point is awarded. No player can hit the ball twice in a row.

The Scoring:

You receive one point when your opponent makes an error during a service or rally, unless the service error is the table tennis ball hitting the net. Errors during a rally include your opponent hitting the ball more than once before you hit it; the ball hitting your opponent’s side of the table twice before hitting your side of the table; your opponent is unable to return the ball when it hits his side of the table; or your opponent’s return does not hit your side of the table. A point is awarded to your opponent if you commit any of the same errors.

Completing a Match:

A full match is completed when one player or doubles team wins the most out of an odd number of matches. For example, if you choose to play five games, the match is complete when one player or doubles team wins three of the five games. A game continues until one side reaches 11 points. If the teams are tied at 10 points, the game continues until one team is ahead by two points.

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