Basic Table Tennis Rules

Basic Table Tennis Rules

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”?

So today, let’s review quickly some basic rules of table tennis that every player should understand!

Some Useful Terms 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Reading the official ITTF rulebook is rather uninteresting. These are the most common questions and explications about confusing situations in table tennis.

Based on the ITTF Laws of Table Tennis, these are some basic rules in table tennis:

A – Singles Play

I. General Rules

  • The choice of the playing position at the table and order of service is determined by the toss of a coin. If the winner of the toss prefers to have the first choice of playing positions, the opponent then has the choice of whether to serve first or receive first and vice versa.
  • The change of service takes place after 2 points have been scored. A point is normally awarded when the play of a service is concluded. The receiver then becomes the server and the server becomes the receiver, and so on, after every 2 points until the end of the game or the score is 11-all. Whenever the score becomes 11-all, the receiver becomes the server and the server the receiver, and so on after each point until the end of the game.
  • At the start of a new game, the player who served first in the previous game becomes the receiver and the receiver becomes the server and so on, alternating after each game.
  • The players’ exchange ends after each game, and if play consists of more than one game, in the deciding game of the match the players change ends when one player reaches a score of 10 points.
  • A game is won by the player who first scores 11 points with a 2-point margin.
  • A match consists of the best two (5) of three (7) games.

II. Service rules – Legal serve

  • A good service is delivered by projecting the ball from the free hand, which must start from above the playing surface. The ball must be resting in the palm of the free hand.
    The ball is tossed into the air.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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 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
  • 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

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.
Table Tennis Table Measurements Dimensions from STIGA
Table Tennis Table Measurements Dimensions from STIGA

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.

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.
  • The second two services must be delivered by the receiver (Player 3) and received by the partner of the server (Player 2).
  • And third two services must be delivered by the partner (Player 2) and received by the partner of the server (Player 4).
  • The fourth two services must be delivered by the partner of the receiver (Player 4) and received by the server (Player 1).
  • The next two services start over as in Rule A of “Order of Service”

If you have time, you can read the full version of the ITTF Rule handbook here.

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3 thoughts on “Basic Table Tennis Rules”

  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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