Keeping score in table tennis, or ping pong, is a relatively straightforward matter.

Unlike its courtly counterpart, table tennis doesn’t use the “love, 15, 30, 40, game point” system.

Instead, it uses good ole natural numbers in their proper order – 1, 2, 3, 4, etc.

Since the counting system in ping pong is basic, you need only worry about how points are earned in ping pong and how many points it takes to win a game/match.

How to Score a Point in Table Tennis

To score a point in table tennis, you must complete fair shots and keep your opponent from returning them.

That’s it. That’s the most basic definition.

A fair shot is any shot that goes over (or around) the net and hits your opponent’s side of the table.

If you do not complete a fair shot, your opponent gets a point.

With this in mind, a player in ping pong gets a point whenever –

  • They serve a fair ball (bounces off their side of the table, bounces over the net, and bounces off their opponent’s side of the table) that their opponent cannot return.
  • They return a shot or serve from their opponent fairly (the ball goes over or around the net and bounces off their opponent’s side of the table) that their opponent cannot return.
  • Their opponent fails to make a fair serve.
  • Their opponent fails to make a fair return.

Table Tennis Scoring Rules – Scoring While Serving

For a serve to be fair in ping pong, the ball must bounce off the server’s side of the table first, go over the net, and bounce off the opponent’s side of the table.

The server must hit the ball on the attempt to serve.

If the server attempts to serve and misses (whiffs) the ball, this is a foul that awards a point to the opponent.

A ball that hits the net during a serve, but falls to the opponent’s side of the table is a “let.”

The point is played again, the same person serves, and no points are awarded.

There is no maximum number of “lets” a player can have during a game (or in a row).

A player can hit the net multiple times in a row and, as long as the ball falls to the opponent’s side, it is still a “let” and re-served.

If the player hits the net and the ball fails to fall to the opponent’s side (if it bounces back to the server’s side or misses the table completely), this is a fault and the opponent gets a point.

Note: Though the official rules in ping pong state “lets” are unlimited, some recreational players prefer to set a limit for the number of “lets” a player can have in a row (such as three or five).

After this, the opponent is awarded a point and play moves forward.

Tables Tennis Scoring Rules – Scoring While Returning

For a return to be fair in ping pong, a player must allow it to bounce on their side of the table one time, and then strike it so it passes over (or around) the net and bounces off their opponent’s side of the table.

Other rules that determine whether a return is fair or unfair (and awarded a point) in ping pong include:

  • If the ball bounces more than once on the player’s side, it’s a failed return and a point is awarded to their opponent.
  • If the player strikes the ball before it touches their side of the table, it is an illegal volley and a point is awarded to their opponent.
  • If the player trying to return misses the ball completely, a point is awarded to their opponent.
  • If the player trying to return the ball strikes the ball twice with their paddle, it’s a fault and a point is awarded to their opponent.
  • If the player strikes the ball with any part of their body beside their paddle hand, it’s a fault and a point is awarded to their opponent.
  • If the player returns the ball, but fails to hit their opponent’s side of the table, a point is awarded to their opponent.
  • If the player returns the ball and the ball touches the net, but then falls to their opponent’s side, it’s a fair return. The opponent must return the ball, or the player is awarded a point.
  • If the player returns the ball and the ball touches the net and then bounces back onto their side, it’s a fault and their opponent gets a point.
  • If the player returns the ball and the ball touches the net and misses the table completely, it’s a fault and their opponent gets a point.
  • If the player touches the table with their non-paddle hand during gameplay, their opponent gets a point. (Incidental touches with a player’s paddle hand or other parts of the body are permitted, as long as they don’t move the table. If the table moves, the opponent gets a point.)

How Many Points to Win Ping Pong

In competition, ping pong games go to 11 points with five to seven games per match.

Matches are “best of” (best of 5, best of 7), so if a player wins the first three games of a five-game match or the first four games of a seven-game match, only three or four games are played.

Games must be won by two points, so if a player reaches 11 points when their opponent has 10 points, the game goes on until one player is two points ahead.

Recreational Ping Pong Scoring

While these are the official rules for scoring and gameplay in ping pong, recreational players often choose to amend the rules to play only one game (as opposed to multiple games in a match) and may play to any score (15, 21, etc). It’s really up to you.

The important thing, when keeping score in ping pong, is that players know the rules of when and how to award points.

It doesn’t matter how many points are in a game, as long as those points are fairly awarded.

Brand new to ping pong and need a little help sorting this all out?

Bone up on the basic rules with How to Play Ping Pong (Table Tennis).

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