Understanding Basic Rules in Table Tennis

Understanding Basic Rules in Table Tennis

Reading the official ITTF rulebook is rather uninteresting. These are the most common questions and explications about confusing situations in table tennis. If you don’t have time, just check 3 minutes quick main rules in table tennis. So today, let’s review quickly some basic rules of table tennis that every player should understand! Have you mastered the rules in table tennis? Check the FAQ Ping Pong Rules for Dummy here. Have any question about legal table tennis serve: Check the serving rules demystified.

Some Useful Terms in table tennis

Some player, even after playing table tennis for 3 years, still asked me:

Does it count the point? The ball is bounced back!

Or there are still some confuse at the small tournament:

Is it the edge ball? The net ball or the “let ball”?

Hitting the ball inside the table is forbidden in table tennis
Hitting the ball inside the table is forbidden in table tennis

These are the basic table tennis terminologies that new player should know:

  • Server: The player who serve. After two services, we change the server.
  • Receiver: The player not serving. In general, the “server” has a slight advantage over the “receiver” because he has the first control of the ball.
  • Rally: the exchange during the game. Rally consists of several hits from each player. Normally rally is the topspin shots.
  • Let: When a play ends in no point being awarded, it’s known as a ‘let’. Don’t call it a “net”. Even when you serve, the ball touches the “net”, but please call it as a “let serve”.
  • Obstruction: If a player touches the ball illegally with their hand or anything they may be wearing.
  • Double hit: The ball bounces on the table two times before touching your racket.
  • Shakehand: A way of holding the paddle that’s similar to the shake hand gesture.
  • Penhold: The way that you hold your racket is called as a grip. Penhold grip is the Asian type, hold like a pen. There are 2 principal grips in table tennis: shakehand grip and penhold grip.
In the history, table tennis set ends with 21 points. Today table tennis score is 11 points system.
In history, table tennis set ends with 21 points. Today table tennis score is 11 points system.

A – Singles Play

Basic Rules in table tennis is not complicated. Simple step! Basic table tennis rules that every player should understand! Master the rule! It’s simple! Sometimes you are not satisfied with the umpire, so learn the rules! What is the “let ball”? How to serve in the double game? Can I volley in ping pong? what is a legal service in table tennis? Here you are!

I. Who Serve First?

  • Umpire tosses the coin. Winner of the toss chooses to serve first or playing side.
  • Each player has to serve 2 points and then switch.
  • If you serve first in the 1st set, then your opponent will serve first in the next set.
  • A game is won by the player who first scores 11 points or with a 2-point margin after 11 points.
  • A match consists of the best two (5) of three (7) sets.
Score in a ping pong match: 21 (Old system) and 11 (Nowadays)
A score in a ping pong match: 21 (Old system) and 11 (Nowadays)

II. What is a good serve?

I’ve explained the official rules for the legal serve here. But here is the uncomplicated recap. A legal serve is a serve that follows all of these conditions:

  • Toss the ball from the free hand. Start above the table. The ball in the palm, and tossed at least 16 cm.
During your serve, it's a fault serve if the ball is not vertical
During your serve, it’s a fault serve if the ball is not vertical

 

Don't serve inside the table surface. It's illegal
Don’t serve inside the table surface. It’s illegal
  • As it starts to descend, the ball is struck so that it touches the server’s court first and then, passing directly over or around the net, touches the receiver’s court. At the instant of contact of the racquet on the ball in service, both handle and the ball must be behind the end line of the server’s court.
Hidden serve hand signal from the ITTF umpire
Hidden serve hand signal from the ITTF umpire

 

Basic table tennis rules doesn't allow you to use any part of the body to hide the serve
Basic table tennis rules don’t allow you to use any part of the body to hide the serve

 

Throwing the ball with your fingers is forbidden by ITTF
Throwing the ball with your fingers is forbidden by ITTF

 

Throwing the ball below the table is not legal in table tennis
Throwing the ball below the table is not legal in table tennis
  • A good return of a served ball must be struck by the receiver on the first bounce so that it passes directly over or around the net and touches directly on top of the opponent’s court.
Hitting the ball inside the table is forbidden in table tennis
Hitting the ball inside the table is forbidden in table tennis

 

Throw the ball horizontal toward your body is not allowed in table tennis
Throw the ball horizontal toward your body is not allowed in table tennis

 

Official serving rule - You must throw the ball higher than 16 cm
Official serving rule – You must throw the ball higher than 16 cm

III. How to win a point?

  • A point is awarded to the opponent in the following circumstances:
    • Failure to make a good service, unless a let is declared
    • Failure to make a good return of a good service or a good return made by the opponent, unless a let is declared
If the ball hits the corner and bounce up, you win the point!
If the ball hits the corner and bounces up, you win the point!
  • If the player, the racquet, or anything that the player wears or carries touches the net or its supports while the ball is in play.
  • If the player, the racquet, or any wearing apparel moves the playing surface while the ball is in play or touches the net or its supports
  • And if the player’s free hand touches the playing surface while the ball is in play
"Inside table serve" very short and tricky serve
“Inside table serve” very short and tricky serve

 

Player takes too long time before serve to disrupt the opponent
The player takes a too long time before serve to disrupt the opponent
  • If, after being struck by the opponent, the ball comes in contact with the player or anything the player wears or carries before it has passed over the end lines or sidelines, not yet having touched the playing surface on the player’s side of the table.
  • If at any time the player volleys the ball – that is before the ball hits the table top – except as provided in Rule A under “Let” (below).
Please note that: "Let ball" is not "Net ball"
Please note that: “Let ball” is not “Net ball”

IV. What is let ball?

A let ball, which is then replayed, is called in the following cases:

  • If the served ball, in passing over the net, touches it or its supports, if the service would otherwise have been good or volleyed by the receiver.
  • If a service is delivered when the receiver is not ready
  • And if either player is prevented by an accident not under his/her control from serving a good service or making a good return
  • If either player gives up a point, as provided in Rules C-G under “Points”, owing to an accident not within his/her control
Bad manner Quick serve when the opponent is not ready
Bad manner Quick serve when the opponent is not ready

 

Player throws the ball into the racket to make faster serve
A player throws the ball into the racket to make faster serve

V. Scoring rules

  • A point is scored by the side that makes the last successful return prior to the end of a rally. An unsuccessful return occurs whenever the ball is missed, is hit off the table, sent into the net, or hit onto the player’s own half of the court on the return. Failure to make a good service also scores a point for the opponent unless it is a let.
In the history, table tennis set ends with 21 points. Today table tennis score is 11 points system.
In history, table tennis set ends with 21 points. Today table tennis score is 11 points system.

VI. Ball in play

The ball is in play from the moment it is projected from the hand in service until one of the following has occurred:

  • It has touched one court twice consecutively.
  • It has, except in service, touched each court alternately without having been struck by the racquet immediately
  • And has been struck by either player more than once consecutively.
  • It has touched either player or anything that the player wears or carries.
  • It has touched any object other than the net and supports.

 

hidden serve the most common illegal serve in table tennis
hidden serve the most common illegal serve in table tennis

 

Dimitrij Ovtcharov sometimes didn’t wait for the opponent, and rush to serve immediately
Dimitrij Ovtcharov sometimes didn’t wait for the opponent, and rush to serve immediately

B – Doubles Play

I. Good Service in double

The service is delivered (as described in Singles), except that it must touch first the right half of the server’s court or the centerline on the server’s side of the net and then, passing directly over or around the net, touch the right half of the receiver’s court or the center line on the receiver’s side of the table.

In double, it's legal if the ball touches the center line. Don't stop! You should continue playing even if the ball touches the center line.
In doubles, it’s legal if the ball touches the center line. Don’t stop! You should continue playing even if the ball touches the center line.

II. Choice of Order of Play

The team winning a coin toss has the option of choosing:

  • The choice of ends
  • The right to receive or serve first
  • And the right to require the losing team to make the first choice
  • After choice A & B have been made, the other team makes the remaining choice.
Women's Doubles - Finals - Gold Medal Match, Hina HAYATA JPN and Mima ITO JPN beat CHEN Xingtong CHN and SUN Yingsha CHN 30. 2018 Pro tour Grand Finals
Women’s Doubles – Finals – Gold Medal Match, Hina HAYATA JPN, and Mima ITO JPN beat CHEN Xingtong CHN and SUN Yingsha CHN Pro tour Grand Finals

III. Order of service in double

  • The first two services must be delivered by the serving partner (Player 1) of the pair who has the right to do so. The service must be received by the receiving partner (Player 3) of the opposing pair.
  • You are Player 1, your teammate is Player 2. The opponent team is Player 3 and Player 4.
  • You serve to the Player 3 (2 services).
  • Player 3 serves to your teammate Player 2 (next 2 services).
  • Your partner (Player 2) serves to Player 4 (next 2 services).
  • And finally, Player 4 serves the next 2 services to you (Player 1).
  • The next two services start over.
Serving Rule in double: If the ball touches the net and drops to the wrong side. You lose the point.
Serving Rule in double: If the ball touches the net and drops to the wrong side. You lose the point.

References:

If you have time, you can read the full version of the ITTF Rule handbook here. The quick recap of ping pong basic rules.pdf here.

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3 thoughts on “Understanding Basic Rules in Table Tennis”

  1. Thank you! I have a question about the basic rule of table tennis. If I toss the ball near vertical, is it a legal serve?

    Nathalie

  2. Please be informed
    — A slight deviation from a sheer verticality up to 30* is allowed yet.

    Be happy

  3. May I ask what is the rule on the succeding sets. If first service, player 1 serves and received by player 3 on first set. Who will first serve and receive on second set, third and so on. Thanks

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