Sometimes all you want to know are the basic rules to play a friendly match of table tennis. This section is for you. For more information, read the official rules.
A match is generally played best 3 of 5 games (or occasionally 2 /3 or 4/7). For each game, the first player to reach 11 points wins that game. A point is scored after each ball is put into play. However, a game must be won by at least a two point margin (11-9 for example).
The edges of the table are part of the legal table surface, but not the sides. So in other words, any ball that touches the table, no matter how slight, is considered “in.” But if a ball hits the side of the table edge, it is considered “out.”
Except on a serve, any ball that hits the net or net posts and THEN hits the other side of the table is in play.
Unlike regular tennis, volleys are not allowed. The ball must ALWAYS be allowed to bounce at least once on your side before you can return it.
In singles, the center line serves no purpose … so ignore it.
Playing A Match
After a brief warmup (generally 2-5 minutes maximum), the players “choose” the server. Traditionally, this is done by one player rolling the ball off the table into one hand or the other (hidden below the table) and the opponent “chooses” a hand. If the hidden hand with the ball is chosen then that player can choose to serve (what most players do) or choose which end of the table to play from (in which case that player does not get the initial serve). But the server can be chosen by flipping a coin, paper/scissors/rock, or however the two players decide to do it–it doesn’t matter.
Each player serves two points in a row and then the service switches to the other player. However, if a score of 10-10 is reached in any game (deuce), then each server serves only one point at a time until one player wins two points in a row. After each game, the players switch sides of the table. In the final game (i.e., 5th game of a 3/5 match), the players switch sides again after EITHER player reaches 5 points and then play resumes as normal.
The ball must rest on your open palm. Then it must be tossed up at least 6 inches and struck so the ball first bounces on the server’s side and then the opponent’s side. If the serve touches the net but would have otherwise been good, it is called a “let” serve. Let serves are not scored and are re-played. There is no maximum on the number of let serves.
The racket must have a black side and a side with a bright color, not black and different than the color of the ball. For league and tournament play only authorized racket coverings (rubbers) are permitted. (See official racket covering list.)
The ball may be either orange or white and 40.5 mm in size. “3-Star” balls from the official ball list are recommended except for practice sessions.
Player attire can be shorts of any color and a short-sleeve shirt of any color except predominately white, yellow, or orange.