One of the most confusing aspects of any sport for beginners is learning and understanding all the rules of the game. Ping-pong is no different, and sometimes it is even harder due to the constant rule changes in some areas, such as the service rule.
As a beginner, it's nice to be told which basic table tennis rules are the ones that you need to know straightaway, and also to have a bit of an explanation about some of the tricky aspects. So that's what we are going to do in this article. I'll tell you the basic ping-pong rules I think you should know before playing in any competition using ITTF rules (and almost all serious competitions follow them), and I'll help you understand what the rule means and why it is there.
I will be referring throughout this article to the Laws of Table Tennis, which I will abbreviate to Law, and the ITTF Handbook for Match Officials (which can also be obtained from the ITTF website, under the Committees category, subheading Umpires and Referees), which I will abbreviate to HMO.
The racket must be black on one side of the blade, and red on the other. If two rubbers are used, that means one rubber must be red and the other rubber must be black. If only one rubber is used (which is legal, but in this case the other side of the bat that has no rubber is not allowed to hit the ball), then it can be red or black, but the other side which has no rubber must be the contrasting color. (Law 2.4.6)
The rubbers must be authorized by the ITTF. You are required to show that your rubbers are authorized by putting your rubber on the racket so that the ITTF logo and the manufacturer's logo or trademark are clearly visible near the edge of the blade. This is normally done so that the logos are just above the handle. (Point 7.1.2 HMO)
Damage to the Racket
You are allowed to have small tears or chips anywhere in the rubber (not just the edges), provided the umpire believes they will not cause a significant change in the way the rubber plays if the ball hits that area. This is at the umpire's discretion, so that means that one umpire may rule that your bat is legal, while another may rule that it is not legal. You can protest against the decision of the umpire (Point 7.3.2 HMO), and in that case the referee will make a final decision on whether your bat is legal for that competition. (Law 220.127.116.11)
Changing Your Racket During a Match
You are not allowed to change your racket during a match unless it is accidentally damaged so badly you cannot use it. (Law 3.04.02.02, Point 7.3.3 HMO). If you do get permission to change your racket, you must show your opponent and the umpire your new racket. You also should show your opponent your racket at the start of the match, although conventionally this is only done if your opponent asks to look at your bat. If he does ask, you must show it to him. (Law 2.4.8)
The top of the net, along its whole length, must be 15.25cm above the playing surface. So before training or playing a match, you should quickly check both sides of the net and the middle of the net to make sure that the height is correct (if the umpire has not done this already). Most manufacturers make a device that checks the net height, but a small ruler will do the job just as well. (Law 2.2.3)
You are not allowed to move the table, touch the net assembly, or put your free hand on the playing surface while the ball is in play. (Laws 18.104.22.168, 22.214.171.124, 126.96.36.199) This means that you can actually jump or sit on the table if you like, provided you don't actually move it. It also means that your free hand can touch the end of the table (which does happen from time to time), just as long as you touch the side and not the top of the table. You can also put your free hand on the table once the ball is no longer in play.
For example, imagine that you have hit a smash past your opponent, who failed to touch the ball, but you are starting to overbalance and fall over. Once the ball has bounced a second time (either on the table, floor, surroundings, or hits your opponent), the ball is no longer in play and you can put your free hand on the playing surface to steady yourself. Alternatively, you could have simply allowed yourself to fall on the table, and provided you did not move the table, or touch the playing surface with your free hand, that would still be perfectly legal.
One thing to watch for is a player who bumps and moves the table while hitting the ball, such as smashing the ball. This can happen quite often and is an automatic loss of the point, and is the reason you should always check that the brakes are on when using a table with rollers, since it makes it harder to accidentally move the table.