Ping Pong Rules on Keeping Score

Happy businesswomen playing table tennis against businessmen at casual office.
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When you are playing ping pong in your own home, you can make up your own rules and keep score any way you like. But when you play in a competition that follows the ITTF rules and regulations, it's important to know the ping pong rules on how to keep score correctly. It also helps so you can be sure that your umpire is keeping the score accurately as well. In fact, it is not uncommon for matches in local competitions to have no umpires, and the players must umpire and keep the score themselves.

So just in case you are asked to be an umpire, or have to umpire your own match, here is a checklist of how to keep score in table tennis.

Before the Match Starts

First, make sure that you get the match score sheet and a pen or pencil so you have something to write the scores on Don't wait until the end of the match to write down the scores, or you may not be able to remember them all! It also helps to check the scoresheet to make sure that you have the correct opponent and are playing on the correct table.

Second, check to see if a match is a best of five or seven games (these are the most commonly used by far, although any odd number of games can be used).

Next, do the toss to decide who will be serving, and which player will start at which end. Most official umpires use a colored disc to do the toss, but a coin will work just as well. Another alternative that is commonly used is to roll the ball along the middle of the table towards you and let it fall off the end line, catch the ball with both hands, then spread your arms out with both hands below the table, one hand holding the ball.

Your opponent then tries to guess which of your hands has the ball. If he guesses correctly, he has the first choice of serve or ends. If he guesses incorrectly, the first choice is yours.

Also, make a note on the score sheet about which player is going to serve first in the first game. This will come in handy in later games to know whose turn it is to serve first, or if you or your opponent forget whose turn it is to serve during a game!

Ping Pong Score Rules: During the Match

The score begins at 0-0, and the server will serve first. Each player gets to serve for two points in a row, and then the other player has to serve. You are not allowed to give the serve away and choose to receive all the time, even if both players agree.

When serving, you must follow the rules for a legal serve, and hit the ball so that it touches your side of the table once, then bounces over or around the net, and then touches your opponent's side of the table. A serve that touches the net assembly (the net, net posts and net clamps) on the way, but still touches your side first and then your opponent's side on the second bounce, is called a let serve (or just a "let") and must be replayed with no change to the score. There is no limit on how many lets you can serve in a row.

Returning the Ball

If you are playing doubles, you must serve the ball diagonally so that it bounces first in the right-hand half of your side of the table, goes over or around the net, and then bounces in the right-hand half of your opponents' side of the table (their right-hand side, not yours!).

Your opponent will then attempt to return the ball over or around the net so that it bounces first on your side of the table.

If he or she cannot, you win the point. If he or she does, you must hit the ball over or around the net so that it bounces first on his side of the table. If you cannot, he or she wins the point. Play continues in this manner until either you or your opponent cannot return the ball legally, in which case the other player wins the point.

In doubles, each of the players takes turns hitting the ball. The server hits the ball first, then the receiver, then the server's partner, then the receiver's partner, and then the server again. If a player hits the ball when it is not his turn, his team loses the point.

Winning a Point

When a point is won, that player or team adds one to their score. A game is won by being the first player or team to reach 11 points, with a lead of at least two points. If both players or teams reach 10, then the game is won by the first player or team to get two points ahead.

Also, if a score of 10-all is reached, both players or teams will only serve one serve each until the game is won. The score is called out with the server's score first.

Point Values

If you do forget who is supposed to be serving in the middle of a game, an easy way to find out is to look at the score sheet and see who served first in that game. Then count up in twos (two points per server) until you reach the current game score.

For example, imagine the score is 9-6 and you and your opponent cannot remember who is to serve. Start with either score (in this case, we'll use the nine first), then count up by twos in this way: 
-2 points for the original server at the start of the game
-2 points for the original receiver
-2 points for the server
-2 points for the receiver
-1 point for the server

That's the full 9 points. Now continue with the other score in the same way:
-1 point for the server (carrying on from the previous score of 9)
-2 points for the receiver
-2 points for the server
-1 point for the receiver

That's the full 6 points. The receiver has only had one serve, so he has one serve left.

If the score is past 10-all, it's a lot easier to remember whose serve it is. The original server at the beginning of that game serves whenever the overall scores are equal (10-all, 11-all, 12-all, etc.), and the original receiver serves whenever the scores are different (ie 10-11, 11-10, 12-11, 11-12, etc.)

Remember, the winner is the first player or team to win more than half of the maximum possible games.

Once a player or team has done this, the match is over and the remaining games are not played. So the possible game scores are a 3-0, 3-1, or 3-2 win in a best of five games match, or a 4-0, 4-1, 4-2, 4-3 win in a best of seven games match.

Ping Pong Rules: After the Match

  • Once the match is over, remember to shake hands with your opponent and any umpires, and thank them. It is also common to shake hands with the other player's coach if he or she has one. 
  • Some tournament organizers will ask you to bring the ball back to the control desk after the match. If not, don't forget to put the ball back on the table, resting against or under the net so the next players to use the table can find it!
  • Finally, check that the scores have been written down correctly and that the actual winner has been written down. You should do this regardless of whether you have an umpire or not - you'd be surprised how often I've seen the wrong name accidentally written down as the winner!
  • In the final possible game of a match, when the first player or team reaches five points, the players must change ends. If it is a doubles match, the players also change the order of receivers.