Here are the official rules of table tennis, from table tennis serve rules to point scoring, and basic rules for single and doubles games!

Table Tennis Serve Rules

  • The ball must bounce on your side of the table first, and then your opponent’s
  • No second serves
  • You don’t need to serve diagonally (in singles)

How to serve legally

  • You must throw the ball at least 6 inches (16cm) upwards in the air before serving
  • Before serving you must hold the ball in your flat open palm above the table height
  • You must strike the ball from behind the end of the table on your side

The video below is a quick example of a correct and legal table tennis serve:

Point scoring

  • If the ball hits the net but still goes over and bounces on your opponent’s side, it’s a ‘let’ and you can retake the serve
  • If the ball hits the net and doesn’t go over, you lose the point
  • If the ball goes long and doesn’t bounce on your opponent’s side, you lose the point

Misconception: the ball doesn’t need to ‘clear the table’ on the second bounce of your serve on your opponent’s side. It can bounce twice on your opponent’s side (a short serve or drop serve) and you still win the point.

Serving order

  • 2 serves each, first to 11 points
  • If both players reach 10 points, you must ‘win by 2 clear points’, and you begin taking 1 serve each instead of 2

Table Tennis Points Scoring Rules

  • First to 11 points wins a game, but you must win by 2 clear points (e.g., 12-10)
  • A match is won by winning the best of an odd number of games (e.g., best of 5 games wins a match)
  • Points are won irrespective of who has served (unlike badminton or volleyball for example)

What counts as a point?

  • If your free hand touches the table you lose the point
  • If your ‘bat hand’ touches the table before striking the ball you lose the point (but after is ok, as long as you don’t move the table)
  • If the ball bounces off the edge of the table (at an angle) you can win the point, but not if it bounces off the side of the table (as this is not the playing surface)
  • If the ball hits anywhere on your body behind your table line and the ball hasn’t bounced on your side, you still win the point
  • If you touch the ball before it bounces and it has still not passed your side of the table, you lose the point (even if it looks like it was going out)

Related: My guide to the best table tennis bats »

Doubles Rules in Table Tennis

The rules for doubles table tennis are the same apart from serving and rotating shots. 

Doubles Serving

Doubles serves must be diagonal, and always go from the right side of the server’s court to the right side of the receiver’s court. 

Players have 2 serves each in doubles, and the order goes like this: 

  • Team A Player 1 serves first to Team B Player 1 (2 serves)
  • Team B Player 1 serves to Team A Player 2 (2 serves)
  • Team A Player 2 serves to Team B Player 2 (2 serves)
  • Team B Player 2 serves to Team A Player 1 (2 serves)

If both teams get to 10 points, swap to 1 serve each (as you do in singles). 

Doubles Alternating Shots

You must alternate who returns the ball between you and your partner. 

The same player can’t return the ball twice in a row. 

It’s not the case that each player returns the ball from one side of the table each (unless you’re just playing casually of course!). 

For international table tennis tournament rules and more technical information, I recommend looking at the ITTF Handbook

Related: Check out my buying guide to the best indoor and outdoor table tennis tables.

Can you volley in table tennis?

No, you can’t volley in table tennis. The ball must bounce on your side of the table before you return it.

Can you hit the net in table tennis?

No, you can’t hit the net with your bat in table tennis. If you do, you lose the point!

Can you serve off the side in table tennis?

You can serve from the side in table tennis as long as you’re behind the table line on your side

Generally it doesn’t give you an advantage to do this. 

Can you touch the table in table tennis?

You can’t touch the table with your non bat holding hand at any time in table tennis. 

You can touch the table with your hand that’s holding your bat, but only after you return a shot

If you touch the table before playing a shot, you lose the point.

Can you switch hands in table tennis?

Yes, you can switch bat holding hands in table tennis during a point if you want to. 

Professional table tennis player Timo Boll has famously done this in competitions before, for example.

How many let serves are allowed in table tennis?

You can have unlimited let serves in table tennis.  

Just keep restarting the point until a legal serve goes over.