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Table Tennis Rules Quiz Question 7 - Answer


Photo of table tennis triples players

Just be glad it's not table tennis triples!

Photo © 2007 Greg Letts, licensed to About.com, Inc.
You can find the original question and the poll results here.

The Answer

I threw in an extra complication in this week's quiz question, just to make things more interesting. Although I must admit that I wished I hadn't when it came time to start explaining the correct answer!

Results at the time of writing are as follows:

Option 1: 12 votes (25%)
Option 2: 4 votes (8%)
Option 3: 1 vote (2%)
Option 4: 21 votes (44%)
Option 5: 3 votes (6%)
Option 6: 6 votes (12%)

with a grand total of 47 votes.

Option 4 was the most popular choice by far with readers, with Option 1 coming in a distant second. The other options all received a smattering of votes, but nothing that significant.

Option 1 - Not Bad, But Not Correct

All things considered, Option 1 - Call a let, keep the score at 4-3, and have Player A serve to Player C - isn't that bad a choice, since at least it's an attempt to do the fair thing by all players. The previous point was played out of order by everyone, so it's not unreasonable to argue that since everybody was at fault, the point should be considered a let and replayed using the correct order. I think that as an umpire, you could take this course of action and you would probably not get too many complaints from players.

Option 4 is the Correct Choice

Nevertheless, Option 1 is not the correct answer, which is in fact Option 4 - Call the score 5-3, change ends, and now have Player C serve to Player A, since Player C should have been the receiver in the previous point, and Player A should have been the server..

Let's look at the reasoning step by step.

Should the Point be Counted?

The first thing to decide is whether the point should be counted, due to the error in the order of play. Here's the relevant ITTF Laws:

2.14.01 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.
2.14.03 In any circumstances, all points scored before the discovery of an error shall be reckoned.

Law 2.14.03 is the first thing to consider - since the point had finished before the mistake was noticed, the point must be reckoned. This means that Players A and B do win the point, and move to a score of 5-3. This is why Option 1 is not the correct answer in this situation.

With that decided, we can now move do the problem of deciding who should be serving, and who should be receiving.

Who's On Serve?

The score has moved to 5-3 in the final game, so the players must change ends. We know that it is now Player C and D's turn to serve, but who should be doing the serving, and who should they be serving to?

According to Law 2.14.01, the umpire should interrupt play now that the error has been discovered, and play should resume with the player who should have been serving at the score of 5-3, serving to the player who should have been the player receiving at the score of 5-3, according to the original sequence determined by which player served first and received first in the final game.

This is a convoluted way of saying that since Player C was the player who was supposed to be serving at 5-3, we must return to that order, even though the previous point was played out of sequence. It does not matter that Player D was the receiver in the previous point, all that matters is that Player C is the player who is supposed to be serving at 5-3.

The same reasoning applies to who should be receiving, although the change of ends complicates things a little. Player B would normally be the receiver at the score of 5-3, but since we have changed ends in the final game, Players A and B must switch orders, so Player A must be the receiver.

So we conclude that the score is 5-3 in favor of Players A and B, and the game resumes after the players change ends, with Player C serving to Player A.

Now that the Laws have been explained, here's another way of keeping track of what happened. We know that 7 points have been played up to the score of 4-3, and we know that Player A was supposed to be serving to Player C at 4-3. We also know that it doesn't matter in which order the points were scored in order to reach 4-3, so we can explain the sequence as follows:

  • Final game starts at 0-0, with Player C serving to Player B
  • Player C serves 2 serves to Player B: Score 2-0
  • Player B serves 2 serves to Player D: Score 2-2
  • Player D serves 2 serves to Player A: Score 4-2
  • Player A serves 1 serve to Player C: Score 4-3
  • Player B serves 1 serve to Player D (out of order, but point stands): Score 5-3
  • In a game that is not the final game of the match, we would resume play with:
  • Player C serves 2 serves to Player B
  • which is the continuation of the sequence of play set at the start of the final game, when Player C served to Player B. But since we changed ends for the final game, Players A and B must switch their order of returning serve, so Player A must return serve instead of Player B. So what actually happens is:
  • Change ends
  • Play resumes with the server and receiver who should have been serving and receiving at 5-3 if no mistake was made, which is:
  • Player C serves 2 serves to Player A.


Whew! That will teach me to try to make things complicated! The short version of all this is:

The point played out of order must be counted, which means that the players change ends. Then play must resume with the players back in their original correct sequence of play, taking into allowance the fact that the change of ends will switch the order of Player A and B in returning serve.

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