The ITTF Standard Table Tennis Rules for Table Tennis Game Play

The official table tennis rules for playing table tennis are important to know in order to play a fair and competitive game with table tennis competitors from other nationalities. I’ve already covered the official’s rules regarding table tennis equipment. Now in this article, I will be covering the specific game play mechanics and rules required for playing a national table tennis match.

table tennis rules

Table Tennis Serving Rules (Ping Pong rules for serving)

So first of all, the official rules and regulations of table tennis playing a game match is made by the ITTF, or the “International Table Tennis Federation”. And a table tennis match is composed of a couple of things.

The first thing that happens in a table tennis match is the service. A service is when the ball is served to the opponent at the beginning of a rally. A rally is a single game round.

So what exactly happens in a “service”, when a ball is served? Well, it starts with the ball sitting on the open palm of the server’s stationary free hand. Note that a server is the player that first strikes the ball to his opponent in a rally.

Of course, the server will have his table tennis racket in his other hand. The next thing that happens is that the server tosses the ball vertically upwards without spinning the ball. During the toss, the ball should at least rise up to 16 centimeters (~6.3 inches) from the table surface. After tossing the ball vertically upwards, the server must retract his tossing hand from the area between the ball and the net. Then before the ball hits the table surface, the server strikes the falling ball.

When the server strikes the ball, it can’t just be shot to the opponent’s side. Instead, the server must strike the ball such that it first bounces once in his/her own court before entering the opponent’s court.

The service is a bit different when playing doubles; doubles indicates a 2 versus 2 game match. Although the same steps occur from the service, in doubles the ball is served in the right court of the server to the right court of the receiver.

Another table tennis rule to know is that for the duration of the service, the ball cannot fall past the surface of the table. Yet another rule is that the ball cannot be hidden by the server such that the receiver cannot tell from where the ball is being served to him. Otherwise, it would be a lot harder to initiate a game and it wouldn’t be much of a competition- that’s why this rule exists.

You’ll notice that the rule not to hid the ball during the service is the reason why in a service, the server uses open palms to toss the straight up in such a way so that all the players can see where the ball is.

The Return

So what happens after the ball is served? Well the opposing player returns the ball. And of course, that phase of the game is called the return. And from there, the players keep returning the ball to each other in such a manner so as to score a point without breaking the rules.

During the return, the player receiving the incoming ball must strike it back to their opponents such that the ball first bounces their own court before flying into the opponent’s court. The ball can (slightly) touch the net and net assembly as long as the ball enters the opponent’s court. But if the ball is stopped by the net, then the point goes to the opponent.

The Playing Order

In single games (singles meaning 1 versus 1 matches), the server performs the service, and the receiver then returns the ball, and as I’ve already mentioned both players keep alternating the return of the ball to each other.

However, it is a bit different during a 2 versus 2 doubles match. As usual, the game starts with the server performing the service. The receiver of then makes the return. But then instead of the server returning the ball, the server’s partner performs the return. Likewise, the receiver’s partner then performs the return. So in other words, each player takes a turn to return the ball continuously until one team scores a point.

So now you know how a game of table tennis generally proceeds. But the question is, how does someone win a game of table tennis? And what does a match consist of?

Match and Game

Speaking of the ping pong table, you need to know some important game rules about the table that could affect the outcome of a game including the following:

Between each game, the players are given a 1 minute rest period,but the player’s paddles must remain on the table tennis table during that time.

In table tennis lingo, a match is the best of any number of games.

Up until 2001 the table tennis sports was played up to 21 points but now played up to 11 points. And a game is won when a player (and his partner) first scores 11 points. If both opposing teams score 10 (called deuce). points before reaching 11, then the rule for winning the changes to the first team that has a lead of 2 points over the other team’s point score.

So the next question is what officially counts as a point in table tennis?

Scoring the Point

In table tennis, there are a couple of ways to score points in the game according to the official ITTF standard. So the point is awarded to the play

  • If the opponent fails to perform a correct service.
  • If the opponents returns incorrectly.
  • If after the opponent performs a service or return, the ball touches anything other than the net before bouncing on your side of the court. For example, if the ball bounces more than once on your opponent’s side before reaching your court, it would be your point.
  • If alternatively, the opponent doesn’t let the ball bounce once on his side before striking with the racket.
  • If the opponent obstructs the trajectory of the ball.
  • If the opponents strikes the ball with his racket more than once before he completes his service or return. For example, if your opponents dribbles the ball once (1st strike) on his racket before striking the ball into your court (2nd strike), that would be your point.
  • If the opponent strikes the ball with the side of the racket blade.
  • If the opponent end up moving the table tennis playing surface.
  • If similarly the opponent ends up touching the net. For example, this could happen if the opponent takes a swing with his racket from standing at the side of the table, and hits the net with his racket or with a part of his arm.
  • If similarly, the opponent touches the table surface with his free hand, which is the hand that isn’t holding the racket.
  • If in a doubles match, the opponent strikes the ball out of sequence. For example, let’s say that there are players 1, 2, 3, and 4; with players 1 and 2 in one team, and 3 and 4 in another team. Player 1 strikes, then player 3 returns, then 2 returns, and then 4 returns. This same pattern continues, but just as it is player 1’s turn to return the ball, player 2 mistakenly returns the ball. This would mean that the point goes to the other team of player 3 and 4

Final Thought

​When table tennis become an official Olympic sport in 1988, the international Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) specified rules for the game. If you are planning to play professionally and/or enter in a competitiom, it is advisable to familiarize yourself with these rules, starting the basic to the more complex rules of table tennis. Table tennis rules are the best way to learn to play an effective game. Most of the people find that this game is as intricate as playing tennis on a court. Many players find that there are official rules so we will discuss Basic rule table tennis. The rules govern how you play in a friendly game or in a more sophisticated or professional game.

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