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Table Tennis- A Complete Guide with History, Rules & Ways to Play


History of Table Tennis

table tennis players in black & white image

Most of the famous games today, began in a simple way. Likewise, table tennis also had a humble beginning as a ‘parlor game.’ Approximately during the 1880s, lawn tennis players started to play the game as an indoor version of tennis during winter times. It was the origin of the game.

The old name for table tennis was ‘Ping-Pong.’ And the name belonged to J.Jaques and Son as a trademark name. The name later became the trademark of the Parker Brothers. It was a board game company in the United States.

The game started to become popular, and sports enthusiasts conducted tournaments. Even during the year 1901, hundreds of players participated in the tournaments. The name of the association ‘Ping – Pong’ became ‘ Table Tennis Association’ in the year 1922.

In 1901, James W.Gibb, a British table tennis follower discovered celluloid balls when he is on a trip to the U.S. Moreover, the balls were in the right conditions, and he found it very much suitable for the game.

Then the next innovation followed in the year 1901 when E.C. Goode invented the modern version of the racket. He used a bubbled rubber sheet and stuck it over the wooden blade of the racket.

Because of the popularity of the game, people conducted many tournaments. Not only that, but an unofficial world championship was also held in 1902.

In 1902, a visiting Japanese Professor took the game to Japan and introduced the game to the University students.

Then Edward Shires, a British salesman introduced the sport to Vienna and Budapest. In Britain also, the game came out of the particular section of the people, and many provinces began to play the game.

In 1922, All England Club came into place, and when “The Daily Mirror” organized a nationwide tournament, as many as 40,000 competitors participated.

The game earned a place for it, and the Britains started the English Table Tennis Association on April 24, 1927. At the time, there were 19 leagues as members, but now the number is more than 300 with 75,000 players.

In the year 1927, the first world championship began, and a Hungarian Dr.Jacobi won the title. The Hungarians dominated the game in the thirties, and the very famous Victor Barna led them. His passion and skill elevated the game to the next level. During the same period, Fred Perry became a famous English player.

With the invention of the sponge or rubber sandwich in the 1950s, the game underwent many changes. Until then, the bubbled thin cover had only a minor part in producing the spin.

But the new bats with the sponge rubber had the capacity to move the ball in a very different way. The ITTF acted quickly and standardized the thickness and quality of the sponge. But the nature of the game changed forever with the fast attacking speed and spin style.

The game continuously gained its popularity and got its place in the Olympics in the year 1988. During that time, the live relay of the men’s final attracted more than two billion worldwide audiences. In China, millions of people play the game, and the top heroes of the game enjoy the celebrity status there.

Read more to know about the history of Table Tennis

Basic Rules of Table Tennis

The Table

table tennis table

The playing surface of the table tennis table is 2.74m long and 1.525m wide. And it lies at the height of 76 cm above the floor. The vertical sides of the table don’t form the playing part.

The playing surface consists of no particular material. But when the ball drops from the height of 30 cm, the bounce should be 23 cm.

The color of the top surface is dark. But the sidelines and the end lines will be in white with a thickness of 2cm.

A net that divides the surface into two halves is at the center of the surface. It runs parallel to the end lines.

For playing doubles, each half-court is further divided into two halves. The line which divides the courts runs parallel to the sidelines and is of 3 cm width.

The Net Assembly

table tennis net assembly

The net is at the center of the table, and the suspensions, the supporting posts, and the clamps which attach it with the table form the net assembly.

The posts at each end measure 15.25cm in height. And the posts shall be at a distance of 15.25cms outside the sideline.

A cord at each end suspends the net from the post, and the top of the net shall be at 15.25 cm above the playing surface along the whole length.

The ends of the nets are attached to the supporting post. Moreover, the bottom of the net is as close as possible to the playing surface along the whole length.

The Ball

The ball which is spherical has a diameter of 40mm. The ball which is of celluloid or plastic material weighs 2.7g and shall be white, orange or matt.

The Racket

The blade of the racket is flat and rigid. But, it can be of any size, shape, or weight. The material which covers the surface shall be in bright red or matt on one side. The other side shall be black in color. As per the standards, at least 85% of the blade thickness should be of natural wood.

The Service

The ball rests freely on the open palm of the server’s free hand when the service starts.

The server then projects the ball vertically upwards so that the ball rises to at least 16 cm height. The server will hit the ball before it touches anything.

Then the server strikes the ball in a manner to let the ball touch his court and then the opponent’s court after passing over the net assembly. In doubles, the ball touches the right half court of the server and the receiver.

When the server starts the service, the ball should be above the level of the playing surface and behind the server’s end line. The server, the doubles partner or anything the server wears should not hide the ball and the view from the receiver. Moreover, the server should remove his free arm from the space between the ball and the net, after he released the ball.

While serving, it’s the responsibility of the player to keep the right distance between the ball and net. The umpire or the assistant umpire decides the legality of the service.

The Return

When the receiver returns the ball, it should either pass over or around the net assembly. Moreover, the ball should touch the opponent’s court directly or after touching the net.

The rotation of service

In singles, the server makes the first service and the receiver returns it and then alternate the serves between them.

In doubles, the server starts the service, and the receiver returns the serve. Now the partner of the server returns and the partner of the receiver strikes back. In this order, the service and play rotate in doubles.

Losing Points

A player loses the point, if
The service is wrong
The service is not returned.
A shot goes into the net.
A shot goes off the table without touching the court.
A player moves the table, touches the net or touches the table with their free hand during play.

A Game

A player or a pair who first scores 11 points wins the game. If both of the competitors are at 10 points, a leading of two points decides the winner.

A Match

The best among any odd number of games decide the match.

Table Tennis Equipment

( Ball, Table, and Rackets – Read a bit more about the equipment)


table tennis balls and two rackets

As per the international standards, the ball should weigh 2.7 grams and should have a diameter of 40mm. Moreover, the ball should bounce up 24-26 cm when dropped from the height of 30.5cm on to a standard steel block. Thus, the coefficient of restitution of the ball should be 0.89 to 0.92.

Balls made of a polymer are in use today, and balls in colored white or orange with mat finish are mostly used. To make it easy for the players and the viewers, the color of the ball is always in contrast with the color of the table.

Though manufacturers use a rating system to indicate the quality of the ball (one to three and three being the highest rating), in international matches and official competitions, the approval of ITTF is a must to use the ball.


The standard table tennis table measures 2.74 m long, 1.525 m wide and 76 cm in height. To get the right bounce, the surface should be made of a uniform and continuous material. By the rules, when a standard ball is dropped from a height of 30 cm, the table should yield a bounce of about 23 cm in height.

Mostly, the surface of the table is dark in color, and a net is fixed at the center. The net divides the table into two halves and measures 15.25 cm in height. However, ITTF approves only wooden and related materials.


table tennis rackets and a ball

Players use wooden rackets with rubber cover on one or both sides which depends upon the grip of the player. Though the ITTF uses the term “racket,” people call it as “bat” in Britain and “paddle” in U.S. and Canada.

The surface of the racket, which we commonly call as “blade” is made of plies of wood which may vary from one to seven in number. Instead of wood, cork, glass fiber, carbon fiber, aluminum fiber, and Kevlar are also in use.

As per the rules, ITTF prescribes that at least 85% of the blade by thickness shall be of natural wood. In addition, the rules prescribe 17 cm long and 15 cm wide dimensions for the blade. However, the restrictions are more for the flatness and rigidity of the blade.

Interestingly, the regulations allow different surfaces on each side of the racket. These surfaces provide different levels of spin or speed and some materials also nullify spin. And so, the players can get different types of shots by flipping the racket.

Moreover, the rules specify that one side must be red, and the other side must be black. It helps the players to distinguish the rubber used by the opponent player. The rules also allow the players to inspect the opponent’s racket before the match to know about the rubber material. During the play, players can’t change the racket unless it gets damaged.

How to play Table Tennis


The rules of table tennis don’t recommend any particular way of gripping the racket. And so numerous grips are in use in the game.

Though players use different styles of gripping all of them can be grouped under two major divisions. One is ‘penhold’ style and the other is the ‘shakehand’ style.


table tennis pen hold position
Image Source: https://www.liveabout.com/

In this method of gripping, players hold the racket like a writing instrument, and so it got the name “Penhold.” But the holding style varies from player to player.

The famous among the styles is ‘Chinese Penhold Style.’ In this style, players curl the middle, ring, and the fourth fingers on the back of the blade. Moreover, the fingers always touch each other. The players who adopt this style prefer round racket head, which is suitable for over the table style of play.

In another style, what the players call as Japanese/Korean style, they hold the racket in the same manner but keep the three fingers in a spread position. The fingers don’t touch each other or lay one over the other.

In some instances, players use a combination of both styles. And the Japanese and Korean players prefer a square-headed racket, which helps in playing the away from the table style of play.

Table tennis players from east Asian countries prefer penhold style. Countries like China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan are popular among them.

In the penhold style, players only use one side of the racket. Traditionally, they don’t use the side where they keep the three fingers.

But from the 1990s, the players began to use both sides of the racket after a Chinese innovation. It helps the players to produce backhand strokes.


table tennis shake hand hold

In this style of holding the racket, the players hold the rackets as doing a handshake. And so the style got its name. We generally call it a western-style as players from Europe and America use it exclusively.

This grip is simple and allows versatility in shots. As most of the top players and players and coaches from China also adopt this style, it has become the most used style. This style is suitable for both the offensive and defensive styles of play.


The American Table Tennis Champion Danny Seemiller used this technique, and so the holding got the name. Players place the thumb and the index finger on either side of the bottom of the racket head. And they use the other fingers to hold the handle.

As only one side of the racket is in use to hit the ball, it became a practice to use two rubber types on the same side to get the ‘twiddle.’ In 1985, four of the five participants from the United States used it in the World Championships, and it became very famous.

Types of strokes

In table tennis, there are two kinds of strokes. One is an offensive stroke, and the other one is defensive.

Offensive strokes


It’s direct hitting on the ball which propels the ball to the opponent. While playing the hit, the racket will be in a perpendicular position to the direction of the stroke. Moreover, the aim of the shot is to create more speed than the spin. Subsequently, the speed and power of the ball will make it difficult for the opponent to return.

Image Source: https://www.tokopedia.com

In playing this shot, the racket is in a position parallel to the direction of the ball. However, the shot is reverse to the ‘speed hit,’ and the racket makes a slight touch with the ball. Once hitting the opponent’s court, the ball will jump forward, and a good loop will arc quite a bit.


This hit is a shot against drives. In particular, the racket will be close to the ball and meets it just off the bounce. Thus the return will be faster, and the accurate counter hit resembles a smash hit.


For returning the ball which doesn’t come beyond the edge of the table, the player has to apply the ‘flip’ shot. As he/she would have no room to get the backswing, the player has to attack the ball with quick wrist action. The resulting shot is a flip. However, it’s not a single shot and may resemble a looping shot.


Hitting the ball with the big backswing and quick acceleration to get high speed on the ball is a ‘smash.’ When the opponent returns the ball that bounces too high or too close to the net, the player can play his ‘smash.’

Table tennis players play the smash shot to make it difficult to return the ball. The players also hit the ball to impart sidespin which further alters the trajectory of the ball. Subsequently, the opponent will get it tough to return the ball.

Defensive strokes


In ‘Push,’ the player cut the ball underneath with the racket. It’s like a slice in tennis and imparts backspin to the ball, and the ball floats slowly to the other side of the table. Moreover, returning the push is not as easy as it seems.

The opponent has to return the push with a loop or a flip. But choosing the push shot to return would result in a ‘push’ rally.


A chop is a defensive shot which is like a bigger and heavier ‘push’ and is taken well back from the table. The aim of the chop is to match the topspin of the opponent with backspin. And so, the racket face is in a horizontal position and a little bit upward to get it right.

Moreover, the direction of the stroke is straight down and floats horizontally back to the table. A good chop is difficult to return due to the high amount of backspin. Some players also play ‘no spin’ and ‘high spin’ variations of chop.

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A block is a simple defensive shot, and the players get it by placing the racket against the ball after it bounces. This shot rebound the ball and the direction, spin, and the speed depend on the shot with which the opponent first hit the ball.

When your opponent plays an offensive shot, returning it with ‘block’ may be helpful. For instance, your return may land in an unexpected area. Moreover, your opponent might also take time to get the posture back from the offensive shot he played.


In hitting ‘lob,’ the defensive player has to back off to four or five meters from the table. And also he/she lifts the ball to an enormous height before the ball falls back in the opponent’s side.

A good defensive player can handle even the quick smash with the lob shot. As lobs yield a heavy amount of spin and unpredictability, the defensive player can earn his point. However, in matches players don’t prefer this shot much as it would end in a loss

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Table Tennis Tournaments

World Table Tennis Championships

Image Source:http://www.lesports.com/

This competition began in the year 1926. After that it is being conducted once in two years from the year 1957. Men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s doubles, women’s doubles, mixed doubles are the five events that together make this event.

Table Tennis World Cup

This tournament began in the year 1980 and still happens every year from the starting. The team competition was included in the year 1990 and Women’s singles began in the year 1996. In this tournament, players are divided into groups, and the tournament is conducted in three stages.


Table tennis joined the list of Olympic Games in the year 1988. In the tournament, singles and doubles matches are being played and both men and women participate.

In the Olympics, the Chinese has won most of the games, and in 28 events they won 24 gold medals.

ITTF World Tour

This tournament began in the year 1996, and the name was ITTF pro tour. In the year 2011, the name was changed to ITTF World Tour.

This tournament has six categories of matches like Men’s and Women’s Doubles, Men’s and Women’s Singles and Men’s and Women’s under 21 matches.

It has its own point system. The players gaining the most number of points get the entry to play the ITTF world tour grand finals.

Table Tennis Trophies

St. Bride Vase for Men’s Singles − In 1929, C.Corti Woodcockin donated this award, in London.

Swaythling Cup for Men’s Team − In 1926, ITTF’s first President donated this award.

Iran Cup for Men’s Doubles − In 1947 World Championships, this award was presented for the first time.

Corbillon Cup for Women’s Team − In 1933 Marcel Corbillonin donated Corbillon Cup.

W.J. Pope Trophy for Women’s Doubles − In 1948, the General Secretary of The ITTF W.J. Pope donated this trophy.

Heydusek Cup for Mixed Doubles − Donated by Zdenek Heydusekin 1948.

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