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Basic Rules of Playing Table Tennis

author image Ann Bartkowski
A freelance writer based in San Francisco, Ann Bartkowski began writing professionally for the New York State Department of Heath in 2006 as a science educator. She holds a Bachelor of Science in biology from Bates College. Bartkowski has published numerous articles for various websites, specializing in nutrition, children, health and the environment.
Basic Rules of Playing Table Tennis
Family playing table tennis Photo Credit BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images


You can injure your neck trying to follow a table tennis match. The speed at which the players ping their balls back and forth are sometimes extraordinary. Table tennis -- a sport that became an Olympic event in 1988 -- has more than 300 million players worldwide; and it's easy to see why: the basic rules to table tennis are simple.

Play by the Rules

Before you are ready to learn the rules of play, you will need a few items of equipment. These include a table, a net, paddles and a ball. According to the International Table Tennis Federation Handbook, the official table size is 2.74m long, 1.52m wide and 76cm high. The table is split down the middle by a 15-1/4cm high net. You will need one ball that weighs 2.7g and is 40mm in diameter, and at least two rackets. The rackets can be any size, so long as the blade of the racket is flat and it is composed of at least 85 percent wood.

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Coin Toss

Official table tennis rules, according to the European Table Tennis Union Handbook, say you should toss a coin to begin the game. If you win the coin toss, you can decide whether you want to serve first or have your choice of which side of the table you'll play on. For example, if you win the coin toss and choose to serve first, your opponent gets to decide which side of the net he wants to play on.

Your Serve

When it is your turn to serve, you must stand behind your side of the table and throw the ball up with your free hand. You'll hit the ball with your racket so that it bounces once anywhere on your side of the table, clears the net, and then bounces anywhere on your opponent's side. After you have served twice, it is the other player's turn to serve, and you continue the game, alternating every two serves.

Keeping Score

After the ball has been served, you and your opponent take turns hitting the ball back and forth. After each serve, either you or your opponent receives one point, depending on who kept the ball in play the longest. You get a point when your opponent fails to serve properly, lets the ball bounce more than once on her side of the table, does not hit the ball back onto your side of the table, hits the ball twice in a row or touches the ball with anything other than her racket. Conversely, your opponent receives a point each time you make one of these mistakes.

Winner Takes All

The first player to score 11 points wins the game. The only exception to this rule is if both players are tied at 10 points. When this happens, it is called deuce, and the players must continue the game until someone wins by two points.

Double the Fun

If you want to play table tennis with four people, you can play doubles. Doubles is similar to singles, but the serving and play is altered. You and your teammate each serve once, and then both of your opponents serve. You alternate in this fashion throughout the game, much like in singles. The main difference is that the ball must go to a specific side of the table when it is served or your opponent gains a point. When you serve, you must serve from the right side of your half of the table to the right side of your opponents' half of the table. Then you and your teammate must alternate returning the ball. If you or your teammate does not alternate and hits out of turn, your opponent wins the point.

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