The following is taken from 'Table Tennis England' and is correct as of April 2016.
Rules of the game (Laws)
The aim of the game is simple; hit the ball over the net onto your opponent’s side. A point is won by you if your opponent is unable to return the ball to your side of the table (e.g. they miss the ball, they hit the ball but it misses your side of the table, or the ball hits the net), or if they hit the ball before it bounces on their side of the table.
The rules below aim to give a basic indication of competitive table tennis in England.
The Table – 2.1
Dimensions – 2.1.1 – The upper surface of the table, known as the playing surface, shall be rectangular, 2.74m long and 1.525m wide, and shall lie in a horizontal plane 76cm above the floor.
The surface – 2.1.2 – The playing surface shall not include the vertical sides of the table-top.
Bounce – 2.1.3 – The playing surface may be of any material and shall yield a uniform bounce of about 23cm when a standard ball is dropped on to it from a height of 30cm.
Color – 2.1.4 – The playing surface shall be uniformly dark coloured and matt, but with a white side line, 2cm wide, along each 2.74m edge and a white end line, 2cm wide, along each 1.525m edge.
The net – 2.1.5 – The playing surface shall be divided into 2 equal courts by a vertical net running parallel with the end lines, and shall be continuous over the whole area of each court.
Playing area – 2.1.6 – For doubles, each court shall be divided into 2 equal half-courts by a white centre line, 3mm wide, running parallel with the side lines; the centre line shall be regarded as part of each right half-court.
The Net Assembly – 2.2
Contents – 2.2.1 – The net assembly shall consist of the net, its suspension and the supporting posts, including the clamps attaching them to the table.
Width – 2.2.2 – The net shall be suspended by a cord attached at each end to an upright post 15.25cm high, the outside limits of the post being 15.25cm outside the side line.
Height – 2.2.3 – The top of the net, along its whole length, shall be 15.25cm above the playing surface.
Distance from playing surface – 2.2.4 – The bottom of the net, along its whole length, shall be as close as possible to the playing surface and the ends of the net shall be attached to the supporting posts from top to bottom.
The Ball – 2.3
Dimensions – 2.3.1 – The ball shall be spherical, with a diameter of 40mm.
Weight – 2.3.2 – The ball shall weigh 2.7g.
Material – 2.3.3 – The ball shall be made of celluloid or similar plastics material and shall be white or orange, and matt.
Brand – 2.3.4 – The ball shall be of a brand and type currently approved by the ITTF
The Racket – 2.4
Size, shape and weight – 2.4.1 – The racket may be of any size, shape or weight but the blade shall be flat and rigid.
Material – 2.4.2 – At least 85% of the blade by thickness shall be of natural wood; an adhesive layer within the blade may be reinforced with fibrous material such as carbon fibre, glass fibre or compressed paper, but shall not be thicker than 7.5% of the total thickness or 0.35mm, whichever is the smaller.
Pimples – 2.4.3 A side of the blade used for striking the ball shall be covered with either ordinary pimpled rubber, with pimples outwards having a total thickness including adhesive of not more than 2.0mm, or sandwich rubber, with pimples inwards or outwards, having a total thickness including adhesive of not more than 4.0mm.
Rubber pimples – 126.96.36.199 – Ordinary pimpled rubber is a single layer of non-cellular rubber, natural or synthetic, with pimples evenly distributed over its surface at a density of not less than 10/cm2 and not more than 30/cm2 .
Sandwich rubber – 188.8.131.52 Sandwich rubber is a single layer of cellular rubber covered with a single outer layer of ordinary pimpled rubber, the thickness of the pimpled rubber not being more than 2mm.
Covering material – 2.4.4 – The covering material shall extend up to but not beyond the limits of the blade, except that the part nearest the handle and gripped by the fingers may be left uncovered or covered with any material.
The blade – 2.4.5 – The blade, any layer within the blade and any layer of covering material or adhesive on a side used for striking the ball shall be continuous and of even thickness.
The surface and color – 2.4.6 – The surface of the covering material on a side of the blade, or of a side of the blade if it is left uncovered, shall be matt, bright red on one side and black on the other.
Treatment – 2.4.7 -The racket covering shall be used without any chemical, physical or other treatment.
Accidental damage – 184.108.40.206 – Slight deviations from continuity of surface or uniformity of colour due to accidental damage or wear may be allowed provided that they do not significantly change the characteristics of the surface.
Inspection – 2.4.8 – At the start of a match and whenever he changes his racket during a match a player shall show his opponent and the umpire the racket he is about to use and shall allow them to examine it.
Brand – 2.4.9 – The racket covering shall be of a brand and type currently authorised by the ITTF.
Change of racket – 2.4.10 – A racket shall not be changed during an individual match unless it is accidentally damaged so badly that it cannot be used.
Definitions – 2.5
A rally – 2.5.1 – A rally is the period during which the ball is in play.
In play – 2.5.2 – The ball is in play from the last moment at which it is stationary on the palm of the free hand before being intentionally projected in service until the rally is decided as a let or a point.
A let – 2.5.3 – A let is a rally of which the result is not scored.
A point – 2.5.4 – A point is a rally of which the result is scored.
Racket hand – 2.5.5 – The racket hand is the hand carrying the racket.
Free hand – 2.5.6 – The free hand is the hand not carrying the racket; the free arm is the arm of the free hand.
Strike – 2.5.7 – A player strikes the ball if he touches it in play with his racket, held in the hand, or with his racket hand below the wrist.
Obstruction – 2.5.8 – A player obstructs the ball if he, or anything he wears or carries, touches it in play when it is above or travelling towards the playing surface, not having touched his court since last being struck by his opponent.
Server – 2.5.9 – The server is the player due to strike the ball first in a rally.
Receiver – 2.5.10 – The receiver is the player due to strike the ball second in a rally.
Umpire – 2.5.11 – The umpire is the person appointed to control a match.
Assistant Umpire – 2.5.12 – The assistant umpire is the person appointed to assist the umpire with certain decisions.
Player wearable’s – 2.5.13 – Anything that a player wears or carries includes anything that he was wearing or carrying, other than the ball, at the start of the rally.
End line – 2.5.14 – The end line shall be regarded as extending indefinitely in both directions
The Service – 2.6
Resting position – 2.6.1 – Service shall start with the ball resting freely on the open palm of the server’s stationary free hand.
Projection – 2.6.2 – The server shall then project the ball near vertically upwards, without imparting spin, so that it rises at least 16cm after leaving the palm of the free hand and then falls without touching anything before being struck.
Strike – 2.6.3 As the ball is falling the server shall strike it so that it touches first his court and then touches directly the receiver’s court; in doubles, the ball shall touch successively the right half court of server and receiver.
Visibility – 2.6.4 – 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 the server or his doubles partner or by anything they wear or carry.
Free arm – 2.6.5 – As soon as the ball has been projected, the server’s free arm and hand shall be removed from the area between the ball and the net.
Umpire satisfaction – 2.6.6 – It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he complies with the requirements of the Law and either may decide that a service is illegal.
Warnings – 220.127.116.11 – If either the umpire or the assistant umpire is not sure about the legality of a service he may, on the first occasion in a match, interrupt play and warn the server, but any subsequent service by that player or his doubles partner which is not clearly legal shall be considered incorrect.
Physical disabilities – 2.6.7 – Exceptionally, the umpire may relax the requirements for a good service where he is satisfied that compliance is prevented by physical disability.
The Return – 2.7
Procedure – 2.7.1 – The ball, having been served or returned, shall be struck so that it touches the opponent’s court, either directly or after touching the net assembly.
The Order of Play – 2.8
Singles – 2.8.1 – In singles, the server shall first make a service, the receiver shall then make a return and thereafter server and receiver alternately shall each make a return.
Doubles – 2.8.2 – In doubles, the server shall first make a service, the receiver shall then make a return, the partner of the server shall then make a return, the partner of the receiver shall then make a return and thereafter each player in turn in that sequence shall make a return.
Para doubles – 2.8.3 – In doubles, when at least one player of a pair is in a wheelchair due to a physical disability, the server shall first make a service, the receiver shall then make a return but thereafter either player of the disabled pair may make returns. However, no part of a player’s wheelchair nor a foot of a standing player of this pair shall protrude beyond the imaginary extension of the centre line of the table. If it does, the umpire shall award the point to the opposing pair.
A Let – 2.9
Conditions – 2.9.1 – The rally shall be a let:
Service – 18.104.22.168 – if in service the ball touches the net assembly, provided the service is otherwise correct or the ball is obstructed by the receiver or his partner;
Player unready – 22.214.171.124 – if the service is delivered when the receiving player or pair is not ready, provided that neither the receiver nor his partner attempts to strike the ball;
Disturbance – 126.96.36.199 – if failure to make a service or a return or otherwise to comply with the Laws is due to a disturbance outside the control of the player;
Umpire interruption – 188.8.131.52 – if play is interrupted by the umpire or assistant umpire.
Wheelchair players – 184.108.40.206 – if the receiver is in a wheelchair owing to a physical disability and the ball, provided the service is otherwise good,
220.127.116.11.1 – leaves the receiver’s court after touching it in the direction of the net;
18.104.22.168.2 – comes to rest on the receiver’s court;
22.214.171.124.3 – in singles leaves the receiver’s court after touching by either of its sidelines.
Interruption of play – 2.9.2 – Play may be interrupted
126.96.36.199 – to correct an error in the order of serving, receiving or ends;
188.8.131.52 – to introduce the expedite system;
184.108.40.206 to warn or penalise a player or adviser;
220.127.116.11 because the conditions of play are disturbed in a way which could affect the outcome of the rally.
A Point – 2.10
Conditions – 2.10.1 – Unless the rally is a let, a player shall score a point
Incorrect service – 18.104.22.168 – if his opponent fails to make a correct service;
Incorrect return – 22.214.171.124 – if his opponent fails to make a correct return;
Volley – 126.96.36.199 – if, after he has made a service or a return, the ball touches anything other than the net assembly before being struck by his opponent;
Overhit – 188.8.131.52 – if the ball passes over his court or beyond his end line without touching his court, after being struck by his opponent;
Through the net – 184.108.40.206 – if the ball, after being struck by an opponent, passes through the net, between the net and the net post or between the net and the playing surface;
Obstruction – 220.127.116.11 – if his opponent obstructs the ball;
Double hit – 18.104.22.168 – if his opponent deliberately strikes the ball twice successively;
Playing racket – 22.214.171.124 – if his opponent strikes the ball with a side of the racket blade whose surface does not comply with the requirements of 2.4.3-2.4.6;
Moving the playing surface – 126.96.36.199 – if his opponent, or anything his opponent wears or carries, moves the playing surface;
Touching the net – 188.8.131.52 – if his opponent, or anything his opponent wears or carries, touches the net assembly;
Free hand on the playing surface – 184.108.40.206 – if his opponent’s free hand touches the playing surface;
Doubles incorrect playing order – 220.127.116.11 – if a doubles opponent strikes the ball out of the sequence established by the first server and first receiver;
The Expedite System – 18.104.22.168 – as provided under the expedite system (2.15.4).
Wheelchair players – 22.214.171.124 – if both players are in wheelchairs owing to physical disability and
Maintaining seat contact – 126.96.36.199.1 – his opponent does not maintain a minimum contact with the seat or cushions with the back of the thigh when the ball is struck;
Touching the table – 188.8.131.52.2 – his opponent touches the table with either hand before striking the ball;
Touching the floor – 184.108.40.206.3 – his opponent’s footrest or foot touches the floor during play
Order of play – 220.127.116.11 – as provided under the order of play (2.8.3)
A Game – 2.11
Scoring – 2.11.1 – A game shall be won by the player or pair first scoring 11 points unless both players or pairs score 10 points, when the game shall be won by the first player or pair subsequently gaining a lead of 2 points.
A Match – 2.12
Number of games – 2.12.1 – A match shall consist of the best of any odd number of games.
The order of serving, receiving and ends – 2.13
First to serve or choice of ends – 2.13.1 – 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.
Second choice – 2.13.2 – 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.
Order of service – 2.13.3 – After each 2 points have been scored the receiving player or pair shall become the serving player or pair and so on until the end of the game, unless both players or pairs score 10 points or the expedite system is in operation, when the sequences of serving and receiving shall be the same but each player shall serve for only 1 point in turn.
Doubles service order – 2.13.4 – 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.
Doubles change of service – 2.13.5 – 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.
Second game order – 2.13.6 – 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.
Second game end choice – 2.13.7 – The player or pair starting at one end in a game shall start at the other end in the next game of the match and in the last possible game of a match the players or pairs shall change ends when first one player or pair scores 5 points
Out of order of serving, receiving or ends – 2.14
If a player serves out of turn – 2.14.1 – If a player serves or receives out of turn, play shall be interrupted by the umpire as soon as the error is discovered and shall resume with those players serving and receiving who should be server and receiver respectively at the score that has been reached, according to the sequence established at the beginning of the match and, in doubles, to the order of serving chosen by the pair having the right to serve first in the game during which the error is discovered.
If players have not changed ends – 2.14.2 – If the players have not changed ends when they should have done so, play shall be interrupted by the umpire as soon as the error is discovered and shall resume with the players at the ends at which they should be at the score that has been reached, according to the sequence established at the start of the match.
Reckoned – 2.14.3 – In any circumstances, all points scored before the discovery of an error shall be reckoned.
The Expedite System – 2.15
Except – 2.15.1 – Except as provided in
Timing – 2.15.2 – the expedite system shall come into operation after 10 minutes’ play in a game or at any time when requested by both players or pairs.
Scoring – 2.15.2 – The expedite system shall not be introduced in a game if at least 18 points have been scored.
If the ball is in play – 2.15.3 – If the ball is in play when the time limit is reached and the expedite system is due to come into operation, play shall be interrupted by the umpire and shall resume with service by the player who served in the rally that was interrupted; if the ball is not in play when the expedite system comes into operation, play shall resume with service by the player who received in the immediately preceding rally.
13 returns – 2.15.4 – Thereafter, each player shall serve for 1 point in turn until the end of the game, and if the receiving player or pair makes 13 returns in a rally the receiver shall score a point.
Order of service – 2.15.5 – Introduction of the expedite system shall not alter the order of serving and receiving in the match, as defined in 2.13.6.
Duration – 2.15.6 – Once introduced, the expedite system shall remain in operation until the end of the match.