If you play competitive table tennis it is a good idea to be familiar with the laws because you will:

  • be expected to umpire at league matches or tournaments;
  • be able to resolve disputes in matches;
  • know how to play within the rules, particularly how to serve legally.
You can access an extract of the rules or a copy of the ITTF handbook from the documents area of this site or by clicking on ITTF Handbook 2019. Here are some rules which often cause confusion during matches or practice games.


A Good Service

  •  The service shall start with the ball resting freely on the open palm of the server's stationary free hand.

  • The server shall then project the ball near vertically upwards, without imparting spin, so that it rises at least 16cm (about the height of the net) after leaving the palm of the free hand and then falls without touching anything before being struck.

  • From the start of service until it is struck, the ball shall be above the level of the playing surface and behind the server`s end line, and it shall not be hidden from the receiver by any part of the body or clothing of the server or his doubles partner; as soon asthe ball has been projected, the server’s free arm shall be removed from the space between the server’s body and the net.
There is no requirement to warn a player if you think they have served illegally. The receiver scores a point. If you are doubtful about a serve you can call a let and warn the server.


A Let

  • The rally shall be a let if in service the ball in passing over or around the net assembly, touches it.

There is no limit to the times this can happen in a row. It is a let each time.

The Order of Serving, Receiving and Ends

  • The right to choose the initial order of serving, receiving and ends shall be decided by lot and the winner may choose to serve or to receive first or to start at a particular end.
    When one player or pair has chosen to serve or to receive first or to start at a particular end, the other player or pair shall have the other choice.

Often a player will say that they choose to give service away and then expect to be able to select ends. By giving serve away they have in fact selected to receive and have made their choice. The opposing player(s) has the choice of ends.

  • In each game of a doubles match, the pair having the right to serve first shall choose which of them will do so and in the first game of a match the receiving pair shall decide which of them will receive first; in subsequent games of the match, the first server having been chosen, the first receiver shall be the player who served to him in the preceding game.
 At the beginning of each game the first server can be either player.

  • In doubles, at each change of service the previous receiver shall become the server and the partner of the previous server shall become the receiver.
  • The player or pair serving first in a game shall receive first in the next game of the match and in the last possible game of a doubles match the pair due to receive next shall change their order of receiving when first one pair scores 5 points.
  • The playing space shall not be less than 14m long, 7m wide and 5m high


  • Players are entitled to practise on the match table for up to 2 minutes immediately before the start of a match


Play shall be continuous throughout a match except that any player is entitled to:

  • an interval of up to 1 minute between successive games of a match;
  • brief intervals for towelling after every 6 points from the start of each game and at the change of ends in the last possible game of a match.

For further details about the laws of table tennis please refer to the rules extract or the ITTF handbook. Also you may want to check explanation of the countback rules.

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