There are few group sports more fun to engage in at parties than table tennis. But debates concerning the real rules of table tennis can become pretty heated. Do you get a redo if you mess up the first hit? Does hitting the net affect the point? Does it matter if you hit the ball with the handle? Do you play to 9, 11, 15, 21 or 25? Depending upon who you taught you how to play table tennis, you could have one of many ideas regarding the rules. Well, put those arguments to bed with this list of the real rules of table tennis.
When the Game Starts
Technically, a ball is in play from the moment it leaves the server’s hand. Proper service includes the following motions: The ball must be held in an open palm. It must then be projected vertically upwards, at least sixteen centimeters, and then struck while in the air. This means you cannot bounce it before striking it. If you have an issue with this, bring it up with your “umpire.” Only the umpire can make allowances for service that does not meet these strict requirements, and is likely to do so if there is a physical impairment. So, you can plead with your party guest crowd of "umpires" to be allowed to bounce the ball first to make up for all the beers in your system. Hopefully, they give you the green light.
After this, the rules of continuing play are mostly what you would expect. The ball can only hit once on the receiver’s side before it must be struck to land on the opponent’s side. This continues back and forth. But there are other issues that can possibly arise for which rules have been laid out.
Contrary to popular belief, the proper order of returning a ball to the other side of the net is not determined by yelling, “I got it!” Table Tennis is an orderly sport, and turns are decided according to strict rules. The server begins the play by first striking the ball. The ball then lands on the other side of the table to the diagonal opponent. This opponent then returns the ball and the server’s partner is the only one who may return it. Once returned, the opponent’s partner is the only one who can return it to the server. This continues throughout play. So if you are intending to play a doubles game, remember to only hit balls from your specified opponent. Point at your eyeballs and then at your opponent to reinforce this.
A “let” is a term used for when no points are awarded. This is basically a foul with no consequences. The most controversial of these is the ball hitting the net when served. If the ball hits the net during service, and has not been impeded by any player, then that is considered a let, and no points are awarded. The server gets another chance to serve. But, before you think that the server has all the power, keep in mind that if a server starts a game when the other side is not ready, that is also considered a let, and no points are awarded. And while not adhering to proper service technique can give the other team a point, if the poor service was the result of something out of the server’s control, like, say, an inebriated spectator, then that is considered a let and the service can be done over.
Also, no tricky serves are allowed. If the ball is served, strikes the receiver’s half, and then bounces off the table over either of the receiver’s sidelines, that is considered a let and must be done over. Serves are expected to be performed straight.
As is to be expected, a point is usually won when an opponent fails to return the ball in one stroke, or if the ball hits the opponent’s side more than once. Points can also be won if the service is not done properly, and if the ball is struck with the handle or side of the racket. Aim for your target with the colored part of your paddle, or risk losing a point! If you are playing doubles, and you strike the ball out of order, then your opponent wins a point.
Game, (Set), Match!
In most cases, a game is won by the first player to reach eleven points. However, if both sides reach ten points, then the winner must win by a score of two more points than the opposition. There are no sets in table tennis. This helps out the inebriated from having to count too high. A match consists of the best of any odd number of games. For instance, games can be played for best out of three or best out of five with each game typically being won by whoever gets to eleven points first.
Go forth armed with this knowledge. And if you are unable to win through sheer power and ability, hopefully you can use these rules to skate by on technicalities.