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Frequently Asked Questions About Ping Pong

Reading an official table tennis rule book is boring. A lot of the time it's difficult to find the answer to even the most common of questions. To help you quickly get back to your game we have compiled a list of common table tennis questions and answered them for you in plain English.

Click on a question to reveal the answer.

How long is a game?

A game in table tennis is played until one player scores 11 points.
If the game is close and the score is 10-10 (or deuce, as we call it), the winner must win by two points.
For example, a game may last until 12-10, 15-13 or even 23-21.
Games used to be played until the first player scored 21 points, but that rule was changed to 11 points by the ITTF in 2001.

(click for official rule)
https://www.killerspin.com/spin-info-table-tennis-rules/#11

How long is a match?

A match can be a best of any odd number of games: 3, 5 or 7, but most people play 5 games.

(click for official rule)
https://www.killerspin.com/spin-info-table-tennis-rules/#12

How many serves does each player get?

Each player gets two serves in a row, and it alternates until one of the players scores 11 points, unless there is a deuce (10:10).
In that case, each player gets only one serve and it alternates until one of the players gets a two point lead to win the game.

(click for official rule)
https://www.killerspin.com/spin-info-table-tennis-rules/#06

Do I need to serve diagonally (like in a regular tennis game)?

No. If we’re talking about singles, the only thing you need to do is hit the ball so that it first bounces on your side and then passes over the net and hits the opponent’s half of the table.

In doubles, however, the ball needs to hit the right field of the opponent’s half.

(click for official rule)
https://www.killerspin.com/spin-info-table-tennis-rules/#06

Where do I need to stand during a serve?

If you’re the person serving, you need to stand behind the end line of the table, and the ball needs to be visible, and above the surface of the table. The receiver can stand wherever he or she deems ok.
So it is perfectly legal to serve from way outside the sidelines of the table, provided the ball remains behind the endline at the start of the serve.
In practice, this is not done very often since it can put the server out of position for the rest of the rally.

(click for official rule)
https://www.killerspin.com/spin-info-table-tennis-rules/#06

What happens if the balls hits the net, or goes around the net?

During a serve, if the ball hits the net but still bounces on the opponent’s side of the table, the point is a let (which means it needs to be replayed). If the ball hits the net and doesn’t make it to the other half of the table, the receiver is automatically awarded a point.

During a rally, if the ball hits the net but still bounces on the opponent’s side of the table, the rally continues, but if the ball hits the net and doesn’t make it to the other half of the table, the receiver is automatically awarded a point.

If the ball goes around the net, the shot is valid, whether it’s a serve or a rally.

So basically, as long as the ball does not go under the net, or between the net post and the net for those nets that do not extend to the net post, it is considered to have passed over or around the net assembly if you hit the ball and it goes on the opponent's playing surface.

So, even though the ball doesn't travel over or around the net when you hit the ball, the rules say it doesn't matter.

This shot is only ok, as long as the ball does not end up hitting the side of the table top (white line is acceptable, side is not).

(click for official rule)
https://www.killerspin.com/spin-info-table-tennis-rules/#09

Can I serve a game/match point (or does my opponent need to serve if it’s my game/match point)?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions, and the answer is: Absolutely!
If it is your turn to serve, you can serve to win.

(click for official rule)
https://www.killerspin.com/spin-info-table-tennis-rules/#06

What happens if you hit the ball (whether it’s during a serve or a rally), and once the ball hits the opponent’s side of the table, it bounces back to yours (due to spin, not the opponent hitting the ball)?

In this situation, the point would be awarded to you. The opponent in this case must hit the ball before it passes by the net assembly and back to your side of the court.

If a player reaches across the net assembly and makes a contact with ball, he or she loses the point immediately.

TIP: Either way, try to avoid doing this on purpose. This is a tricky shot, and it’s very hard to control it. In most cases, the ball will end up being too high, or it will hit the net.

(click for official rule)
https://www.killerspin.com/spin-info-table-tennis-rules/#07

If the ball touches the opponent but not the opponent’s side, whose point is it?

Let’s keep things simple and say that you should never, in any situation, hit the ball if it hasn’t touched your side of the table first. That is known as volley or “obstruction”, and it’s an illegal shot in table tennis. If you do this, you lose the point.

To make it easier to remember, let’s put it like this: you are not allowed to hit the ball while it’s on its way to bounce on the table. If you do this, and you obstruct the path of the ball (whether it’s with your paddle or any part of your body), your opponent will be awarded with a point.

The only situation where you can still win the point by hitting the ball before it bounces is if you hit the ball after it already passed the end line of the table. In this case you would get a point, since your opponent failed to make the ball hit your side of the table first. Either way, you should avoid doing this altogether, that way you won’t hit the ball unintentionally and obstruct its path.

(click for official rule)
https://www.killerspin.com/spin-info-table-tennis-rules/#10

What happens if you touch the table?

If you touch a table surface with your free hand (the one that’s not holding a paddle) during a rally, your opponent will be awarded with a point automatically. This also applies if you move the table with anything you’re wearing or carrying.

(click for official rule)
https://www.killerspin.com/spin-info-table-tennis-rules/#10

What happens when a player serves or scores illegally, but there is no qualified umpire to call it?

This is a very common problem. Sometimes the rules are just not specific enough and can be open to interpretation, but other times you just need an unbiased person to decide whether a shot is legal or not.

(click for official rule)
https://www.killerspin.com/spin-info-table-tennis-rules/#22