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Important Table Tennis Rules for Ping-Pong Beginners

What You Need to Know About the Table Tennis Rules


Hitting the Ball

It is considered legal to hit the ball with your fingers, or with your racket hand below the wrist, or even any part of the bat.(Law 2.5.7) This means that you could quite legally return the ball by

  1. hitting it with the back of your racket hand;
  2. hitting it with the edge of the bat, instead of the rubber;
  3. hitting it with the handle of the bat.

There are a couple of important provisos though:

  1. Your hand is only your racket hand if it is holding the racket, so this means you can't drop your bat and then hit the ball with your hand, because your hand is no longer your racket hand. (Point 9.2 HMO)
  2. In the past, you were not allowed to hit the ball twice, so if the ball hit your finger, and then bounced off your finger and hit your bat, this was considered a double hit and you lost the point. If the ball had hit your hand and the bat at the same time, then this was not a double hit, and the rally would continue. As you could imagine, determining the difference was often very difficult for the umpire to do!

    Fortunately, in recent times the ITTF changed Law to say that the point is lost only if the ball is deliberately hit twice in succession, making it much easier to enforce this rule - accidental double hits (such as when the ball hits your finger and then hits the racket) are now legal, so all the umpire has to do is make sure that he believes the double hit was accidental, not intentional. A very good rule change.

You cannot make a good return by throwing your racket at the ball. You must be carrying the racket when it hits the ball for it to be a legal hit. On the other hand, you are allowed to transfer your racket from one hand to the other and hit the ball, since your other hand becomes the racket hand. (Point 9.3 HMO)

The Free Hand

The free hand is the hand not carrying the racket.(Law 2.5.6) Some players have interpreted this to mean that it is illegal to use both hands to hold the racket. However, there is no provision in the rules that the player must have a free hand at all times, so the use of two hands is perfectly legal, if a little strange! The only exception to this is during the service, where there must be a free hand, since the free hand must be used to hold the ball before serving. (Law 2.6.1) Players with one hand or the inability to use both arms are able to be given special exceptions. (Law 2.6.7) In addition, since it is legal to transfer the racket from one hand to the other (Point 9.3 HMO), at some point both hands would be holding the racket (unless the racket is thrown from one hand to the other), and the player would not have a free hand, so this is another argument for allowing both hands to hold the bat.

Rest Periods

You are allowed a maximum rest period of 1 minute between games. During this rest period you must leave your racket on the table, unless the umpire gives you permission to take it with you. (Law, Point 7.3.4 HMO)


Each player (or team in doubles) is allowed to claim 1 time-out period of up to 1 minute during a match, by making a T-sign with the hands. Play resumes when the player(s) who called the time out are ready, or when 1 minute has gone by, whichever happens first. (Point 13.1.1 HMO)


You are allowed to towel off every 6 points during a match, starting from 0-0. You are also allowed to towel off at the change of ends in the last possible game of a match. The idea is to stop towelling from interrupting the flow of play, so you are allowed to towel at other times (such as if the ball has gone out of court and is being retrieved) provided the flow of play is not affected. Most umpires will also allow players with glasses to clean the glasses if sweat gets on the lenses at any time. (Point 13.3.2 HMO)

If sweat gets on your rubber, simply show the rubber to the umpire and you will be permitted to clean the sweat off. In fact, you are not supposed to play with any sweat on the rubber, due to the effect this will have on the ball when hit.

Warm Up Period

Players have a 2 minute practice period on the table before starting a match. You can start after less than 2 minutes if both players agree, but you cannot warm up for longer. (Point 13.2.2 HMO)


You are not permitted to wear a tracksuit during a match unless given permission to do so by the referee. (Point 8.5.1 HMO) Wearing bike shorts underneath your normal shorts is generally allowed, but it is recommended that they should be the same colour as the normal shorts. Again, this is still at the discretion of the referee. (Point 8.4.6 HMO)


These are the main rules that beginners should know, and generally find most confusing. But remember there are plenty more rules that I haven't mentioned, so make sure that you have a good read through the Laws of Table Tennis to make sure you are familiar with them all. I'd recommend having a quick look through the ITTF Handbook for Match Officials too when you can. If there are other questions you need to ask, feel free to email me and I'll help to explain what you need to know.

Return to Table Tennis - Basic Concepts

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