Table Tennis: Gentlemen’s Rules

You figured out all the essentials to style and spin, but Billiards believes in a well-rounded, respectable player; so we’re imparting a few tips to help keep your games well mannered and civil.


There’s no clock, so don’t rush it. Your opponent should give you the OK before your service. That doesn’t mean take an exorbitant amount of time before each service; it means each player should be completely set before service.

There’s no clock, so don’t rush it.

If you’re playing singles table tennis, you are allowed to serve the ball from anywhere inside the width of the table and behind the end of the table. The ball must be served with an open palm to prevent unfair spin and from above the table to prevent unfair surprises. Don’t be cheeky. If you win from cheap plays, you’re still losing.

Don’t be cheeky.

If you’re playing doubles, you need to serve from your right side diagonally to the opposing player’s right side. Each volley after that should alternate players.

When serving, make sure the ball is thrown at least 16cm or about 5 inches in the air before it hits the paddle. This prevents any lingering spin and allows the opponent to clearly see the service. 

If your service hits the net and does not go over or goes off the table, the point goes to your opponent. If your service hits the net, goes over and hits the opponent’s side of the table, it is a let and you are allowed to serve again without penalty.


If you hit the net or skim the edge of the table and your opponent is unable to return the ball, it’s common courtesy to acknowledge that it was a mishap. Games get out of hand when a table tennis player celebrates luck and attempts to pass it off as purpose.

Games are played to 11 points unless you’re in the finals or the rules otherwise stipulate that you play to 21. Service should be two per player and then switch. If you’re playing doubles, the player on the right serves to a receiver on the opposing team’s right side. Then after two serves, you switch places with your partner and the opposing team serves.

Many players add rules to change the style and flow of the game. For the sake of continuity between players—and if you find yourself on someone else’s turf—don’t follow any of these ancillary rules before you’ve established a thorough understanding of the basics.

Hand wiping ritual

If you ever watch professional table tennis players, they seem to have a habit of touching the table in a certain spot after each play. As an observer, there’s no real benefit to them doing so, but you notice they do it almost religiously anyway. Why do they do this? Players often wick the sweat from their hands by wiping them on the table in a place that is unaffected by gameplay. The table’s surface retains the moisture and allows for better grip before the player’s next volley.


The Chinese equivalent of “yes!” or “come on!” is “Cho!,” which is generally shouted after an intense rally where one player gets a point. But, as of late, this kind of celebratory shout has been used to distract, annoy or put off opponents in order to throw off their rhythm. Some schools even encourage younger children to “cho!” loudly after each point, though it is generally seen as distasteful and discourteous to employ this type of behavior. We suggest limiting your shouts and allowing your newly acquired table tennis skills to do most of the talking.

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