Official Rules of Table Tennis

We’ve condensed and explained the essential rules from USA Table Tennis right here to help you settle those garage or office disputes. This list is not exhaustive, but we’ve found that these ones are common points of contention. Whether you call it ping pong, table tennis, or whiff whaff, these will help you keep things straight.

1. GAMES ARE PLAYED TO 11 POINTS

A Game is played to 11 points. A Game must be won by two points. A Match is generally the best three of five Games.

2. ALTERNATE SERVES EVERY TWO POINTS

Each side of the table alternates serving two points at a time. EXCEPTION: After tied 10-10 (“deuce”), service alternates at every point. NOTE: There is no separate rule for serving on Game Point.

3. TOSS THE BALL STRAIGHT UP WHEN SERVING

Hold the ball in your open palm, behind your end of the table. Toss at least 6” straight up, and strike it on the way down. It must hit your side of the table and then the other side. NOTE: Once the ball leaves the server’s hand it is in play, and so counts as the receiver’s point if the ball is missed or mis-hit.

4. THE SERVE CAN LAND ANYWHERE IN SINGLES

There is no restriction on where the ball lands on your side or your opponent’s side of the table. It can bounce two or more times on your opponent’s side (if so, that’s your point), bounce over the side, or even hit the edge.

5. DOUBLES SERVES MUST GO RIGHT COURT TO RIGHT COURT

The serve must bounce in the server’s right court, and receiver’s right court (landing on center line is fair). Doubles partners switch places after their team serves twice.

6. A SERVE THAT TOUCHES THE NET ON THE WAY OVER IS A “LET”

If a served ball hits the net on the way over and otherwise legally bounces in play, it’s a “let” serve and is done over. There is no limit on how many times this can happen.

7. ALTERNATE HITTING IN A DOUBLES RALLY

Doubles partners must alternate hitting balls in a rally, no matter where the ball lands on the table.

8. VOLLEYS NOT ALLOWED

In regular tennis you may “volley” the ball (hitting the ball before it bounces on your side of the net). In ping pong, this results in a point for your opponent. NOTE: When a ball sails over your end of the table without touching it and then hits you or your paddle, that is your point.

9. IF YOUR HIT BOUNCES BACK OVER THE NET BY ITSELF IT IS YOUR POINT

If you hit the ball in a rally or on a serve and it bounces back over the net after hitting your opponent’s side of the table (due to extreme spin), without your opponent touching it, that is your point.

10. HONOR SYSTEM APPLIES TO DISAGREEMENTS

If no referee is present during a match and the players disagree on a certain call, the “honor system” applies and the players should find a way to agree, or play the point over. Ping pong carries a tradition of fierce but fair play. Help us keep it that way!

For the full official rules of table tennis, visit USATT.org.