Ping Pong Rules: How to Play Properly

You’re probably familiar with the basic rules of table tennis, but knowing the official rules of ping pong is also important. When I first checked out the official rules there were quite a few I was unfamiliar with, and it was really interesting to learn more about the sport I love.

So in this article, we’ll cover some of the more technical International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) ping pong rules, and hopefully, you’ll learn a thing or two! 

If you’re really pressed for time, here are some of the basic ping pong rules:

  • Games are first to 11, matches are usually best of 5 games
  • If the score reaches 10-10, the player who achieves a two-point lead first wins the game
  • Each player gets two consecutive serves
  • There are no second serves
  • You cannot volley the ball
  • Your hand counts as part of your paddle

Yet this leaves out a lot of crucial details you need to know to play table tennis properly. Read on to learn all of the rules.

Table of Contents

18 Rules of Ping Pong

ping pong rules

1. The Ball Must Land Once on Your Side and Once on Your Opponent’s Side

Learning how to serve in ping pong effectively can be difficult to wrap your head around, but the basic ping pong serve rules are simple enough to understand. This is especially true for ping pong rules for singles which allow you to serve anywhere in the opponent’s half of the table.

You simply need to ensure the ball hits your side of the table and then bounces onto your opponent’s side. This rule continues after serving as well, your goal is to simply keep hitting the ball back onto your opponent’s side of the table. 

Unlike ping pong singles rules, doubles table tennis serving rules specify that the ball must bounce from the right half court of the serving player to the opponent’s right court. 

2. Each Player Gets Two Consecutive Serves

Before the ping pong serving rule change, players had five consecutive serves, now it’s just two. The only time this changes is when the score reaches 10-10. At this point, each player has just one serve until the game concludes.

3. You Only get One Attempt for Each Serve

Unlike tennis, there are no second serves in table tennis. As soon as you throw the ball up it is in play, so even if your throw is poor, try to serve the ball, otherwise, you’ll lose the point. 

4. You Must Throw the Ball Up 6.3 Inches in the Air Before Striking It When Serving

There are a few more nuanced serving rules for ping pong that you need to know about, and the first is that you need to throw the ball up from an open palm to a height of at least 6.3 inches before hitting the ball. If you don’t, the umpire may call you up on it, but even if they don’t it’s a get idea to become familiar with legal serves. Sooner or later someone will take issue with you if you are serving incorrectly. 

5. The Ball Must Be Fully Visible to Your Opponent at All Times

ping pong rules

Some players hide the ball with their arm when serving but this violates ping pong serve rules. Your serve needs to be fully viewable from the moment you throw the ball. This means you also can’t serve from underneath the table. Another key point, you have to serve behind the end line. So no leaning close to the net to serve!

A quick pointer regarding visibility during rallies: you can’t obscure the ball yourself. However, the table may obscure the ball if you strike it when it has disappeared below the table’s surface. This is completely legal, and I do it all the time when I am out of position.

6. Serves That Hit the Net Are Known as a “Let”

Lets are points that you replay, and they can occur for a few reasons. The main one of which is when a ball hits the net during a serve that is otherwise legal. As you can imagine, the rules of ping pong serving are not so kind if the ball hits the net but does not touch your opponent’s side. Such serves are faults, causing you to lose the point.

Other circumstances where the umpire might call a let include a neighboring ball interrupting play, or a player serving before the opponent is ready.

7. Each Player Hits the Ball Alternately

Players hit the ball alternately irrespective of whether they are playing singles or doubles, and if you fail to continue the sequence, you lose the point. 

In singles, it’s very straightforward. You and your opponent each hit the ball one after the other.

However, for doubles, there are four players rather than two. This simply means you and your partner need to alternate striking the ball as well. If one of you hits the ball twice, you concede the point.

8. The Edge of the Table is Part of the Playing Area

When you get lucky in table tennis, the ball may hit the edge of the table and bounce off awkwardly making it very difficult to return. This is a legal shot as the edge of the table is part of the playing surface.

By comparison, the side of the edge of the table is not part of the playing area, so the ball has to strike on the top. Usually, it is pretty clear where the ball landed based on where it travels. 

9. Volleying Is Prohibited

While smashing the ball before it hits the table may seem like a good idea, it’s the quickest way for you to lose a point. Unlike tennis, you have to let the ball bounce before you strike it. If volleying was allowed rallies would be far too short.

You should also exercise caution when volleying the ball even if it is going out. If you touch the ball with your paddle while it is above the table, you automatically lose the point. However, if it has gone past the table the ball is dead, so you may let it make contact with your paddle if you like. 

10. Your Playing Hand Counts as Part of Your Paddle

The ball regularly hits the index finger of your playing hand, and often, the ball will still land on your opponent’s side of the table. Good news! This is totally legal! The rules of table tennis state that your hand is an extension of your paddle, so if you’re lucky enough to be saved by your finger, keep trying to win the point!

Your other hand, however, does, not count. Neither does any part of your body and clothing. If the ball touches any of these areas you lose the point.

11. The Winner of the Coin Toss Gets to Choose Who Serves

ping pong rules

At the beginning of a game, you determine who serves first randomly. This is often via coin flip, however, in more informal settings players hide the ball in one hand under the table and have their opponents guess which.

If you win, the ping pong rules on serving state that you get to choose who serves first, or which end you would like to play. Your opponent then has the option of capitalizing on what you didn’t choose. For example, if you chose to serve first they can choose to change ends.

Read Also: Ping Pong vs Table Tennis

12. Double Hits Are Allowed… Most of the Time

Contrary to popular belief, double hits are allowed in table tennis, provided they are accidental and in one fluid motion. You can’t attempt to hit the ball twice. 

13. You Can Switch Your Paddle Hand Mid-Rally

Although we don’t recommend that you do so, switching the paddle to your other hand is completely legal, even during a point. Some players do this for extra reach or to show off. In reality, most of the time it will result in you losing a point, that is, provided you are not ambidextrous. 

14. No Touching the Table With Your Free Hand

ping pong rules

A common mistake beginners make is leaning on the table mid-point. They often do this for extra balance to assist with smashing the ball or reaching close to the net. However, it is illegal to do so, and if the umpire catches you they will award the point to your opponent. 

There is no such penalty for touching the table with your playing hand. So if you accidentally brush the table this way the ball is still live.

15. The Ball Is Allowed to Travel Back to Your Side By Itself

The rules of table tennis state that the ball can travel anywhere once it has made contact with your opponent’s side of the table. This means you can use backspin to make it travel back to your side. 

This is very difficult to do and rarely features in matches. In my experience, it is often accidental and the result of an edge shot. It is up to the opponent to recognize a backward-moving ball and travel to the side of the table if needed to play their shot. 

16. Games Are First to 11 Points

Many years ago, table tennis games were first to 21 points, however, 11 points has been the number for some time now. Most matches are first to three games, otherwise known as best of five. However, best of three and best of seven are still used. The latter features quite a bit on the international stage.  

17. You Need to Win Games by at Least Two Points

All table tennis games require at least two points of clearance to decide a winner. This means if the score reaches 10-10, the first person to win two consecutive points takes the game. This is made more difficult by the fact that each player has one serve at this point rather than two. 

18. You CAN Win a Match on a Serve

I’ve heard all sorts of strange misinformed rules over the years, but one that seems to pop up more than I expected is the idea that you can’t win a match as a direct result of your serve. No such table tennis service rule exists. Over the years, I’ve won the last point from my serve in table tennis a whole bunch. If your opponent fails to return the ball, that’s their fault! Don’t stand for any funny business!

Read More: Best Table Tennis Servers

Official Ping Pong Rules for Tables and Equipment

ping pong rules
Wikimedia Commons – credit: Marcus Cyron – license: CC BY-SA 3.0 license

1. Full-Size Tables Measure 9.88 ft x 5 ft

First things first: the ping pong table. Its upper surface, commonly referred to as the playing surface, should be 8.99 ft (2.74 m) long and 5 ft (1.525 m) wide.

The rectangular playing surface should have two equal courts separated by a vertical net parallel to the end lines. If you’re using the ping pong table for doubles, it should have two equal half-courts separated by a white center line parallel with the sidelines — almost all tables have this line. 

The table surface can be made of any material provided that it causes the ball to bounce around 23 cm when dropped from a height of 30 cm.

The playing surface can be any uniform color that is matte and dark, and the ends and sides of the table must have lines 2 cm wide and white.  

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2. The Net Is Placed Centrally and Splits the Table in Two Halves

The table tennis net assembly comprises a net, suspension for the net, supporting posts, and clamps to attach the net posts to the table. The top of the net should be 6 inches (15.25 cm) above the table’s surface, while the bottom of the net should be as near as possible to the playing surface.

3. Table Tennis Balls Are 40 mm and White or Orange

Table tennis balls should be spherical and have a diameter of 1.57 inches (40 mm). However, since the introduction of new plastic balls, most are now advertised as 40+ as they are slightly larger than 40 mm. So look out for plastic rather than the old celluloid material. As for the weight, they should weigh 0.09 ounces (2.7 g), and color-wise, the balls must be white or orange and matte.

4. Rackets Are Made of a Wooden Base With Two Rubbers

When it comes to your racket, the rules of table tennis aren’t very strict. Players can use rackets of any size, shape, and weight. However, the racket’s blade must be flat, rigid, and made of at least 85% natural wood (by thickness).

Pimpled rubbers must be no thicker than 2 mm and have pimple density anywhere from 10 per cm² to 30 per cm². Sandwich rubbers, on the other hand, may be up to 4 mm thick, with the top sheet being no more than 2 mm. An easy way to tell if your rubbers are legal is to check on the ITTF website or looks for an ITTF logo on your top sheets.

As of October 1, 2021, The ITTF made an amendment to the rules of ping pong regarding rackets. No longer must one rubber be red and the other rubber be black. Instead, the requirement for one black matt rubber remains, but the other rubber may be any bright color that is easily distinguishable from the black.

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Want to Learn How to Play Table Tennis? Check Out Our Beginner’s Guide


That wraps up all the ping pong rules you need to know about. I’m sure at least a few of them surprised you. If they did, perhaps consider sharing with your friends. That way you help them out, and you also help us out too!

As a side note, remember that table tennis rules constantly change as the game evolves — this is a good thing. It just means you must keep a listen out for any major changes you should be aware of. Rest assured, we’ll keep this article updated, so feel free to refer back to it as needed.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Hit the Ball Before It Bounces in Ping Pong?

You cannot strike the ball before it bounces in ping pong. Doing so will result in a point given to the opponent.

Is Ping Pong Played to 11 or 21?

Currently, the official ping pong rules see sets end at 11. Until 2001, however, ping pong was played until 21. Both require you to win by two points.

What Happens if You Miss a Serve in Ping Pong?

The receiver loses the point. However, a let point may have occurred if the receiver was not ready.

What Is an Illegal Serve in Ping Pong?

An illegal serve violates one of the service rules. Most commonly, a serve is illegal because it misses the table or bounces in the wrong area (for doubles), However, hiding the serve with your arm, not throwing the ball up high enough, or throwing it backward rather than upright, are all examples of illegal serves.

How Often Do You Switch Servers in Ping Pong?

The server change after every two serves. But when the players hit deuce (10-10), the service switches after every single point.

What Happens if a Player Double Hits the Ball?

This depends on whether the ball hits the paddle twice deliberately. Accidental double hits are legal whereas intentional double hits are not.

What Happens if the Ball Strikes the Side of the Table?

The ball must strike the top edge of the table top, the vertical sides of the table are not part of the playing area, so balls that land here are out. 

Read More: Table Tennis Tips

Freelance writer. Table tennis enthusiast. Lover of all things online. When I’m not working on my loop game I’m probably binge-watching some fantasy show.