We have all played the game at one time or another. Its trademark green foldaway tables are a staple in garages and basements no matter where you go. Often a party pastime, ping pong games are a great way to relax and have fun among friends; until, that is, there is a dispute about the rules. The truth is that while many of us have played casual games of ping pong, few of us have ever seriously played the game the way it was meant to be played; by the rules, and under its real name, table tennis.
Table tennis is more than a recreational game, it is a serious sport with world wide appeal, particularly in Eastern countries; it is even an Olympic sport! Like any legitimate sport, a true game is played in strict accordance with the official rules. The only problem is that many of us do not know what those rules really are. Here is a brief primer on the rules of table tennis that should allow you to understand and enjoy the game at a new level.
The game starts with one person serving to the other – the determination of who serves first can be made any way the competitors choose, although a coin toss is used in high level competition. There are simple rules that govern the serve. The serving player must toss the ball upward and away from the table – at least six inches high and without spin – and then hit the ball so that it bounces once on his side of the table before clearing the net – without contacting it – and bouncing once on the other side of the table. A ball that hits the net before landing on the opposite side of the table is a let and must be served again without penalty.
Once the ball is successfully served, play continues until a point is scored. A point is scored by an opponent several different ways: allowing the ball to bounce twice on one’s side of the table; not hitting the ball after it bounces on one’s side; hitting a ball that then bounces on one’s own side; not returning a ball hit to you; hitting the ball before it bounces on one’s side; hitting the ball twice; touching the ball with any part of your body other than your paddle hand above the wrist or the paddle; touching the table with your free hand; and failing to make a successful serve. While this list may sound long and confusing, after a few minutes of game play the various scoring scenarios will become readily apparent.
Players alternate serving with each player serving for two points each. A game consists of eleven points, and the player reaching that amount first is awarded the game. The only exception is if players are tied at ten points each, in which case the winner is the first one to attain a two point lead. After each game the players switch sides, and that continues until the match is decided. A match should be awarded to the competitor who wins the greater number of an odd number of games; i.e., best two out of three.
Table tennis is also played in doubles competition where there are two players per side. The rules for doubles are the same with two basic exceptions. When serving one must pay attention to the line that bisects the length of the table. A successful serve is played diagonally from one half of the table to the opposite box on the other side of the table. The second key difference is that teammates must alternate taking shots with neither member of the team striking the ball on consecutive turns. For example, if you serve and your opponent makes a successful return, your teammate must hit that return shot. Failure to do so results in a lost point for your team.
Now that you understand the rules you will be able to enjoy the game on a deeper and more serious level. No longer shall you play ping pong; you will play table tennis, the Olympic sport.