Ping Pong Rules For Dummies (Quick Answer)

Ping Pong Rules For Dummies (Quick Answer)

Here are the common questions and answers (FAQ) for the basic ping pong rules. If you are new to this sport, you should read these table tennis regulations. If not, test yourself if you can answer all of these questions “Ping Pong Rules for Dummies”. If you want a simple list of competition ping pong rules, you can download it here (ping pong basic rules.pdf).

Ping Pong basic rules

These are the basic rules and laws of table tennis that every new player should know.  For the official regulation of the table tennis equipment, read “table tennis official serving rule”.


1. Serving Rules

What is a legal serve?

The ball must rest on an open hand palm. You must toss the ball at least 6 inches (about 16 cm) upward. You must hit the ball outside of the table surface. The server serves 2 times and then the opponent serves. Read more about the Serving Rule.

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

Can the ball hit the net on a serve?

There are 2 situations: 1. If the ball touches the net, and touch the opponent’s side. It’s called a “let serve”! You serve again! And you won’t lose the point! It’s legal! 2. If the ball touches the net and drops to the floor! You lose the point!

Don't serve inside the table surface. It's illegal
Don’t serve inside the table surface. It’s illegal

Do I have to serve diagonally?

Yes and No! Yes in Double Games. No in Single! In tennis, squash, and badminton you must serve diagonally but in table tennis singles you can serve wherever you like.

Hidden serve hand signal from the ITTF umpire
Hidden serve hand signal from the ITTF umpire

“Net serve” or “Let serve”?

If the ball touches the net, it is called a “let serve” (Don’t call it as “Net serve”).

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

Serve 3 times?

Question: Can I serve more than 3 times in a row?

Do I lose the point if I make more than 3 services that touch the net? In some countries that I visited (mostly in Indonesian, Vietnam, Malaysia), some amateur players make the rule. If you serve more than “3 times let serve”, you lost the point!

Answer: No, wrong! It’s legal! You can serve as many “let serve” as you can!

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

Bounce back serve

Is it possible for the ball to bounce back to the server’s side in a legal serve? Yes! It’s the heavy backspin serve. Search for “Ma Lin Ghost serve”. It’s legal! And if the opponent won’t touch the ball before it bounces back, you won the point!

Ma Lin Master of Ghost Serve
Ma Lin Master of Ghost Serve

Hit the long serve?

Is it legal to hit the long serve before it touches my side? There are two situations:

  • If the server does a too long serve, the ball goes out of the table (didn’t touch your table’s side) and the ball accidentally touches your racket. In general, you win the ball.
  • But during a rally, if you hit the ball before it touches your table’s side (it’s called “volley”) you lose the point!
red card, yellow card, white card, do you know all of these rules
red card, yellow card, white card, do you know all of these rules

2. Scoring Rules

How to finish a set?

A game or match has several sets. Each set finish when one player reaches 11 points or 2 points win after 10-10 scores.

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.

Deuce rule

If a score of 10-10 is reached, then each server serves only one point (but not two).

Switch side rule

In the final game (for example the set is 2-2 in the best-of-3 or 3-3 in the best-of-7), the players switch side after one player reaches 5 points.

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)

3. Rally Rules

Can I volley the ball?

No, you can’t volley the ball in table tennis. You must wait for the ball touches your side and then hit the ball. If you hit the ball before it lands on your side, you lose this point.

Palm Not Open - Table Tennis Rules
Palm Not Open – Table Tennis Rules

What is the edge ball?

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!

During the rally, if the ball touches the edge of the opponent’s table, it’s called the “edge ball”. Be careful! There are 2 types of edge ball!

  • If the ball touches the “playing surface”, normally the ball will bounce up. Then it’s the edge ball for you, and you win the point. If the ball hits the corner and bounces up, you win the point!
  • But if the ball touches the edge, but at the side of the table. Normally, the ball won’t bounce up, then you lost the point.

Legal rally in table tennis?

You can not volley in table tennis. You need to hit after the ball bounces on your side
You can not volley in table tennis. You need to hit after the ball bounces on your side

In table tennis, all shots are “Half-volleys”, that means the ball must touch your side before you hit it.

Play with another hand?

Question: Is there any violation of rules if I serve with the racket in the left hand and play with the right hand in table tennis?

Answer: No! You can change your hand during the rally. But you are allowed to play with only 1 racket. You can’t play with 2 rackets on the 2 hands. Timo ball often changes his racket from one hand to other while playing. And it’s amazing!

Timo Boll switched hand at T2APAC Tournaments
Timo Boll switched hand at T2APAC Tournaments

Touch the table?

Question: Can I touch the table with my free arm during playing?

Answer: No! Unless the rally is a let, a player shall score a point if his opponent’s free hand touches the playing surface. This means that if you touch the playing surface (i.e. the top of the table) with your hand which is not holding your racket whilst the ball is still in play, you lose the point.

Fastest Serve in Table Tennis 2
Fastest Serve in Table Tennis

Ball touches the net

Question: Who wins the point if the ball touches the net?

Answer: There are 2 scenarios:

  • During the service, if the ball touches the net and jumps on the opponent’s side, it is called a let serve. Let serves are not scored. The player needs to serve again.
  • But if the ball touches the net but jumps outside of the table (didn’t touch any part of the table), then the server lost the point.

Can I hit the ball before it bounces in table tennis?

Watch the “Volley Section” below! In general, no! In table tennis, all the shots are “half-volley”!


4. Double Rules

What is serving rules in double games?

Question: “When you’re in doubles, and you serve good but the ball hits the net and jumps because of your effect on the wrong side of the opponent’s table. Is it just a let serve? Or is it fault serve because the bounce wasn’t diagonal? Thank you!”

Answer: it’s a fault serve. and you lose the point.

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:

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