Table Tennis Rules

Do you want to know how table tennis or ping pong should be played? Here you can find in brief the rules of table tennis.
At the bottom you will find a link to the official rules of the NTTB, the Netherlands Table Tennis Association (in Dutch) or the Handbook 2019 of the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF).

The basic rules

A match or set

A table tennis match consists of a number of games, usually 3 or 5. Whoever wins the most games, has won the match. That does not mean that you always have to play 3 or 5 games. With 5 games, someone has already won the match if he or she wins the first three games. This is also called the best of five.

A game

Tafeltennisbatjes met balletje

A game is about who has won at first 11 points. Although, there must be a difference of at least 2 points. So with a score of 11 to 10 points, the game is not over. In that case the play continues until there is a difference of two points.

11 or 21 points?

Until 2001 they officially played till 21 points. Sometimes people still prefer this in non-official competitions. Likewise there must be at least a two points difference for the winner.

The serve or service

Who can start serving is determined by chance. Usually this is done by letting the opponent guess in which hand you hold the ball. Both hands are kept, arms wide spread, under the table.
Has the opponent guessed right, he can start the match. Otherwise you start.
After serving twice, the service goes to the opponent. At 21 points, that is after serving 5 times.

When a score of 10-10 (or 20-20 for a game with 21 points) is reached, the players serve in turn.

A correct serve

Opslag tafeltennis: opgooien vanuit een vlakke hand

When serving, you must hold the ball quietly in an open hand palm. Then throw it at least 16 centimeters (6 inches) straight up. After that, the ball can be struck with the bat.
During the serve the ball has to be visible for the opponent. The ball must also remain behind the table when serving. A referee can reject a serve or even award a point to the opponent in the event of an incorrect serve.

A let

A serve is correct when the ball first hits the player side of the table and thereafter the opponent’s side. If the ball reaches the opponent’s half after touching the net, it’s a socalled let. It means, the serve must be redone.

The return

If the serve is in order, the opponent has to strike the ball back. The ball is not allowed to touch the own table now. The ball must land on the opponent’s side directly or via the net.

A point

A player gets a point if the opponent serves the ball incorrectly or plays the ball back incorrectly.

Switching sides

After each game there is a switch of sides. That is, the players move each to the other side of the table.
If a decisive game is played, such as a fifth game in a game of 5 games, the table side will also be switched if one of the players has gained 5 points. Or in case you play for 21 points, after a player has gained 10 points.


Dubbelspel in het tafeltennis

With the doubles there are a few different rules. For example, when serving, the ball must first hit the right half of the own side and from there diagonally the right half of the opponents side (seen from the opponents).

Playing doubles, the players take turns. The order of player and receiver is fixed from the start. After serving twice, the players of the team change places. The other player now becomes the receiver of the opponents serves and then, after two points, the server.

After each game, the server and receiver switch places, in such a way that a server now has an other of the opponents players as a receiver.

Complete rules

The complete rules cover a lot more pages. They are also adjusted almost annually. Recently because of the Corona measures. You can download the most recent complete rules of the NTTB (in Dutch). They are valid from 1 September 2020.
These rules are used for competition matches in the Netherlands. The changes mades to the previous version are indicated. They are based on the international rules of the ITTF, the International Table Tennis Federation. These you can find the Handbook of the ITTF.