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What are Ping Pong Rules?

By S. Mithra
Updated May 23, 2024
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The official rules to Ping Pong, otherwise known as table tennis, are internationally recognized and easy to learn. Rules of play rely on standard equipment, serving, scoring, and illegal moves. The basic equipment is two paddles, a smooth netted table, and regulation Ping Pong balls.

Ping Pong rules begin with having a level table equipped with a short net across the center. For singles games, the white lines on the table do not mean anything. In doubles, one must serve diagonally from right to left. Paddles have rubber mats; sandpaper surfaces are not permitted. A game is won when one player reaches 11 points, as long as they are ahead by two points. Several games in a row can create a match, such that the champion wins the most out of an odd number of games, such as 4 out of 7. You switch sides between each game of a match.

Which player gets the first serve is determined by the flip of a coin. A serve is comprised of throwing the ball in the air and hitting it on its way down such that it bounces once on your side of the net, then bounces over the net to land anywhere on your opponent's side. The first player serves two points, then the serve is traded off so your opponent serves for two points, and so on. It is all right for the ball to hit the net initially, as long as it continues and lands on the opponent's side thereafter. This is called a "let" serve and the server is allowed to reserve the ball.

When the ball is in play, it's called a rally in Ping Pong rules. The ball may be rallied many times back and forth. If the server misses the ball, hits the ball twice in a row, or hits the ball somewhere off the table, the server loses their point. If your opponent has served, and you miss the ball, your opponent wins their point. A game must be won by two points, therefore at a score of 10-10, Ping Pong rules dictate you trade off every serve until someone gets ahead by two.

Other Ping Pong rules include allowing a player to hold the paddle in either hand, or switch between hands, or even use both hands at once. However, you are not allowed to move or bump the table, nor have any part of your body or clothing to touch the table while the ball is in play. The ball is no longer in play if it touches a wall, ceiling, or another person's body. It is officially out of bounds and someone has just won or lost a point.

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Discussion Comments
By anon302753 — On Nov 11, 2012

In the middle of the game, if the ball hits the top of the net, but bounces off to your opponent's side of the table, do you lose a point, does your opponent have to hit it or do you win a point?

By anon248367 — On Feb 17, 2012

In a game, if the ball is hit by the opponent, and strikes the poles which hold the net and are not aligned with the table, but somehow gets to your square, is it their point or out?

By anon208596 — On Aug 23, 2011

If your opponent hits the ball over the net and lets go of his paddle in the process does he still get the point?

By anon152178 — On Feb 13, 2011

how many balls allowed in one service period in ping pong?

By anon143522 — On Jan 16, 2011

if a net serve is played by both players does the point count?

By anon89745 — On Jun 12, 2010

Actually the official rules have changed regarding the "volley". It changed a few years ago. Here is the rule:

Rule 2.05.08 states: "A player obstructs the ball if he, or anything he wears or carries, touches it in play when it is above or traveling towards the playing surface, not having touched his court since last being struck by his opponent."

So what does that mean?

The crucial test: The crucial test for whether a player wins a point after volleying the ball is: was the ball moving towards, or away from, the playing surface?

Let me explain with a question and answer.

If I hit a ball to my opponent, and it doesn't hit their half of the playing surface (table) because it's a bad shot, but they hit the ball anyway, who gets the point?

Well, it depends.

If your opponent hits/volleys the ball while it's still traveling over the playing surface, you win the point.

But if it's already passed over the playing surface and it's obviously not going hit the table, your opponent wins the point.

In other words, if there's a chance that the ball might hit the table because it's still traveling towards it, your opponent would lose the point if he prevented it from doing so by hitting/volleying it.

But, if the ball has already passed over the table and/or is traveling away from the table, your opponent wins the point whether he hits/volleys it or not.

Don't forget: as well as hitting the ball with your racket, if you touch the ball with any part of your body or with anything you carry, the same rule applies.

So why did this table tennis rule change?

It was an unfair rule. Under the old table tennis rule, a player volleying the ball at any time lost the point.

This was particularly unfair in certain situations. For example, if your opponent played a really bad shot and the ball didn't hit the table but hit you instead (because you were unable to get out of the way in time), you would still lose the point.

So the current table tennis rule is a fairer rule.

Under the current rule, the intention now is that a player will only be penalised if he intercepts the ball in a way that is likely to prevent an opponent from making a good return.

A player therefore no longer causes an "obstruction" if the interception occurs when the ball has already passed beyond his end line, or has passed outwards over the sideline or is otherwise moving away from the playing surface.

A much more sensible rule!

By anon87903 — On Jun 02, 2010

Anybody please explain, what if during the play the paddle hits the table and then the ball?

Is this a foul for hitting the paddle on the table?

By anon85354 — On May 20, 2010

who gets the point if the ball chips the side of the table (i.e.: on the white line or edge of the table)?

By anon74873 — On Apr 04, 2010

Do you lose a point if you hit the ball before it has bounces on your side of the table?

By anon71595 — On Mar 19, 2010

can a player hit with two hands on the paddle? I play with a two-handed backhand as i play tennis and i feel better doing it this way?

By anon68487 — On Mar 02, 2010

what happens if i hit the ping pong ball and it hits the person and not the paddle. do i still get the point?

By anon66812 — On Feb 21, 2010

Okay, so If my opponent serves it to me then I hit it back, then his next return goes "long" never bouncing on my side of the table, but I return it back to him, I still lose the point, even if he misses the ball that I just returned to him. Correct?

Because what I just described is called, "volleying" which is not even allowed in ping pong, therefore, making my return back to my opponent after he hit out, a moot point, yes?

By anon59329 — On Jan 07, 2010

Did anyone ever comment about using sandpaper paddles in tournament play? Is it legal to use it in tournament play?

By anon58958 — On Jan 05, 2010

if the other person hits the ball and it doesn't hit my side of the table but i decide to return it, is it still in play?

By anon57704 — On Dec 26, 2009

At the end of the game when the person losing is serving and they hit the net or hit it off the table they don't lose the game, rather their opponent still gets a point. For example if it was 19-20 and the server hits it off the table the score goes to 19-21. The other person still gets the point because then they would keep trying for perfect serves without being penalized. those are the correct rules.

By anon48523 — On Oct 13, 2009

If the ball hits the net on serve and the receiver plays on, can the server call a let?

By anon40466 — On Aug 08, 2009

If a server serves into the net and the ball does not go over to the opponent's side, does the server lose a point or does the server get to serve again until the ball gets over the net? Thanks.

By anon38223 — On Jul 24, 2009

you score if it hits the other persons paddle no matter what unless they return it. to number 19.

By anon38222 — On Jul 24, 2009

On game point do you just switch servers or do you have the opposite server of the person that is at game point.

By anon37249 — On Jul 18, 2009

Is it a legal play to return the ball with your hand instead of the paddle?

By anon35521 — On Jul 05, 2009

someone answer the question...i hit the ball, i miss the table, it hits her paddle, do I score, or do I not? someone tell me

By anon34961 — On Jul 01, 2009

According to the ITTF: During play, If the ball has already cleared the end of the table...(ie: it's long)...the point has already been lost by the person that hit it. You can't get a cheap point by hitting the ball straight into the paddle of your opponent unless their paddle is above the playing surface or you can argue that the ball was headed to the playing surface when it was intercepted. Also there is no perpetual 'serve over' on game point rule. If you fault, you lose. However, I was surprised to discover no '2 lets equals a fault' stipulation. I guess that means you can have perpetual lets?

By anon29856 — On Apr 09, 2009

Reading some of these posts I'm either appalled or entirely ignorant about ping pong -

As I understand the rules, a legal hit must land on the opponent's side of the table before being hit - hence that is why volleying is illegal.

Therefore, if a ball is struck but does not land on the opponents side of the table it's a point for the opponent, even if it accidentally hits their paddle. This is because the first rule of order - that a ball *must* hit the other side before being struck, is not met.

However, I believe there is a little wrinkle to this. If a person attempts to volley a ball while still above the playing service, the point *automaticlly* goes to the person who initially hit the ball before the volley - because you are not allowed to volley.

On game point, when the person behind is serving, if he faults - e.g., fails to clear net, or does not land on opponents side, he loses - period. There is no provision that I've ever read that provides for a perpetual serve until a legal serve is completed. That action may be allowable in beer pong, or backyard ping pong, but not what I call real ping pong. OK, I'll step down from my soapbox.

By anon23484 — On Dec 26, 2008

I heard that in a tournament that a valid serve is defined as one in which the server throws the ball up or shows the the ball in the palm of his hand so the receiver can see it. Is this accurate I am more concerned about the showing the the ball in the palm of your hands so the receiver can see it.

By anon22418 — On Dec 03, 2008

On game point, can the server lose at all on serves or can he/she continuously serve until it a good serve? no matter how many times they let or don't even hit the opponents side?

By anon18443 — On Sep 23, 2008

A volley in ping pong is when a ball is returned without first hitting the returning player's side of the table, and results in a point for the other person.

In answer to the question asked about when a ball is going off of the table, without hitting the other player's side, and the ball accidentally hits the other players paddle.

The person who hit the ball gets the point. If the ball is going off the table and it strikes the opposing player's paddle, even accidentally, it counts against the player whose paddle was struck. The best way to deal with that is to stand back and make sure the ball isn't going to hit, and get your paddle out of the way.

By anon16323 — On Aug 03, 2008

In the very end of a match when your opponent has 20 and you have 19, when you serve insent it true that you can't lose if your serve goes off the table, like you can't lose on your serve or is that just a rumor that has been spread.

By anon15686 — On Jul 18, 2008

In a ping pong tournament are you allowed to have a sandpaper paddle?

By cmay65 — On Jan 21, 2008

It's been a long time since I played ping pong, so please forgive my elementary questions. When someone serves the ball, it first bounces as it should on the server's side, but fails to bounce on the opponent's side going past the edge of the table (not the sides, I know that's a foul)...is that a foul also, or does the server get the point if the opponent does NOT hit the ball?

By anon6483 — On Dec 30, 2007

Dayton, If the ball is headed away and down from the table without bouncing on your side, you still win the point if you accidentally volley it. In addition, a "volley" is the act of hitting a ball before it has bounced on your side. Hitting a ball served or otherwise sent towards your table is known as a "return."

By anon6207 — On Dec 19, 2007

If the ball never hits your opponent's side of the table and still strikes the paddle off the table, the point goes to the person whose paddle the ball hit because the ball was not returned legally.

By jamesbenton — On Nov 24, 2007

when a player serves in singles, does the ball have to go straight back enough to travel in between imaginary lines that are extensions of the edges of the table? Or can the ball be served to go anywhere on the table, even if it never reaches the back edge?

By anon4675 — On Oct 27, 2007

what if the ball hits the player when it isn't going to hit the table? is that considered going for it?

By Dayton — On Sep 24, 2007

I'm not an expert or anything, but I'm pretty sure if the ball hits the paddle at all, even if it's an accident, it's considered a hit. When I've played before, it's always been considered a great victory if you can hit the ball into the other player's paddle, in a way that they can't control. :)

By anon3896 — On Sep 23, 2007

If a player returns a ball and it is going off of the table, without hitting the other player's side,and the ball accidentally hits the other players paddle. What happens?

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