Home Table Tennis Table Tennis – The Basic Rules You Need To Know Before Playing

Table Tennis – The Basic Rules You Need To Know Before Playing


Table tennis. Ping-pong. Whiff-whaff. Whatever you call it, it’s a fun game. What was once a game played exclusively by the upper class after dinner is now an international sport. Not only that, but the miniature version of tennis is also a very popular bar sport too.

That’s right. Table tennis is no longer just a pursuit to idly watch on TV when the Olympics is on or only try yourself on holiday in Spain by the pool. This fun bat n’ ball game is an enjoyable game to play in bars. Alright, so a lot of things are more fun with a beer in your hand, but trust us – ping-pong’s particularly enjoyable.

So why not give it a go? But before you do, you’ll want to learn a few of the basics: The gear, the rules, how to win…


What You’ll Need

Table Tennis

Okay, then. Let’s start with what you’ll need to play. It’s tennis, so you’re going to need a couple of racquets (called ‘paddles’) and a ball (called, well, ‘a ball’). The paddles are significantly smaller than those found at Wimbledon or Roland Garros, though. They’re about 7″ by 6″, wooden and covered with rubber. One side’s red – the other black. Different sides affect the spin of the ball and help you vary your play. The balls are small (4cm across), light (3.7g) and white. They’re made of celluloid and – FYI – make great cat toys too.


Don’t Forget The Table

Table Tennis

Now, onto the playing surface. The field of battle. The table you play on will generally be green or blue and measures in at 9ft by 5ft. They should be made from wood and made from two halves which are separated by a 6″ high net.

As you can see from the diagram above, the tables are 152.5cm tall. That’s 60″ in old money. And 76cm (or 30″) high.


How To Play

Table Tennis

Now let’s get down to business. The actual playing part. The aim of the game is nice and simple… Win! And how do you do that? Well, by accruing more points that your opponent. And you do that by hitting the ball over the net, onto your opponent’s half of the table with your paddle in such a way as to make them unable to return the ball.

They can either miss the ball, hit it into the net, return it but so that it doesn’t hit your half of the table or return it without first having allowed your shot to bounce. Do any of those things and you’ve won a point. Win eleven points and you’ve won the game! Provided there’s a two point advantage (11-9 or better). If there’s just a single point in it, you continue until a two point gap exists and someone’s won. The number of games in a match is decided by the players.

The game starts with two ‘serves’ from the same player. After that, serves are alternated.


Some Useful Terms

Table Tennis

Server – The player serving.

Receiver – The player not serving. In other words, the person ‘receiving’.

Rally – As with tennis, a ‘rally’ is the name given to any passage in which the ball is ‘in play’.

Let – When a passage of play  or ‘rally’ ends in no point being awarded, it’s known as a ‘let’.

Obstruction – If a player touches the ball illegally with their hand or anything they may be wearing.

Double hit – A deliberate – and illegal – strike of the ball twice.

Overhit – A shot that goes beyond the table and doesn’t land on ‘the court’.

Shakehand – A way of holding the paddle that’s similar to the hand position adopted when shaking hands with someone.

Penhold – We reckon you can guess this one… Yep – you got it! It’s a way of holding the paddle that’s similar to the hand position adopted when holding a pen.



Table Tennis

As with many table ball sports like pool or snooker, spin is a vital component of more advanced play. Of course, to begin with, players need to concentrate on learning the basics like serving and returning the ball. But, after a while, they can employ little techniques to make their shots better.

The best way to outsmart your opponent is to get your head around spinning the ball when you return it. Applying spin or ‘side’ means that the ball moves unpredictably and becomes more difficult to hit for your opponent. The three main types of spin are topspin, backspin and sidespin. There’s on other type of spin you can use, but only when serving. It’s called corkspin and it really makes the ball act oddly when it lands in your opponent’s half of the court.


A Few Fun Facts

Table Tennis

  • Table tennis was first called ‘indoor tennis’. For reasons you can probably imagine. It was invented in Victorian England and was first played in the fancy country piles of the English aristocracy back in 1890.
  • China are pretty good. Since 1981, there have been more than 130 world championship title matches. China have won 109 of them.
  • In 1971, China invited attendees from England, Canada, Colombia and the United States to play a few friendly international games with them. The oddest thing about this? It came after almost six years of China refusing to deal with or trade with the rest of the world. It was known as ‘Ping-Pong Diplomacy’.
  • The Soviet Union banned table tennis from 1930 – 1950 as it was thought to be ‘an ugly game’.
  • Top players can hit the ball at over 100mph.
  • You can burn off up to 500 calories an hour playing!

So there you have it. Table tennis. A fun game to play. Especially with pals in a bar. Have we tempted you to pick up a paddle on your next night out? If so, look out for a table at your local Rileys. It’s only £5 an hour to play…

Steve Charnock A freelance writer who writes news stories, features, articles, reviews and lists. But *always* forgets to write his mum a birthday card. Follow him on Twitter or follow him into the pub and buy him a drink.