How to Keep Score in Ping Pong – Scoring Rules and Guidelines

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Are you off to a good game of ping pong with your buddies? Or perhaps an office party where they’ve decided to include ping pong in the lineup of activities. 

Whatever it is, if you want to win at ping pong, you have to know what the rules are, from knowing who gets to serve first or whether or not hitting a ball without bouncing counts.

In this write-up, we break down the important ping pong rules and guidelines to ensure you know how to win and avoid having a buddy put one over your head because you don’t know the rules.

Ping Pong Match: The Basics

To help us with the proper definition of any competitive ping pong match, we will refer to the International Table Tennis Federation 2022 Handbook. This complete guide is the bible for competitive table tennis enthusiasts worldwide.

However, we’ll focus only on the scoring system and parameters defined in the guide.


Typically a match consists of playing the best of any odd number of games. For example:

  • best of three – comprises winning two out of the three games or 
  • best of five – consists of winning three games out of five


In a ping pong Match, the server is the player with the right to start a rally or point by hitting the ball first. The server can be chosen by mutual agreement between players or randomly determined by a coin toss. In competitive play, the server must keep one foot on the floor and hit the ball diagonally across the table toward their opponent.


The receiver must be on the opposite side of the opponent’s table and can move anywhere behind the server’s end line along the baseline. Once a service has been made, both players can hit the ball back and forth until one loses possession by missing or hitting it out of bounds.


A point is won after a series of exchanges between two players called a rally in which, based on certain rules and parameters, a point will be awarded to a side.

Is it 11 or 21?

Before 2001, games were played up to 21 points. It was eventually changed to increase the pace of the game and for the enjoyment of the watching audience.

In 2001 and onwards, table tennis games were usually played as the first to reach 11 points. However, in the event of a 10-10 score, the game is won by gaining a lead of 2 from this point.

It’s a given to play up to 11 points for a game if you are in official competitive matches. But if playing at home or somewhere with a friend, you can have the option to play up to 21 points.

Playing the best of 3 or 5 games applies to a similar concept. If playing in an official competition, then be sure to follow the rules set by your league or tournament organizers.

Of course, when playing in public spaces and if others would like to have a turn, common courtesy dictates playing the 11-point format to give others a chance.

How Do You Decide Who Serves First in Ping Pong Matches?

Like in any competitive sport, the choice for the first serve is usually left to chance. 

Official matches typically rely on a tossed coin. However, when playing with friends, you can try spinning the paddle and picking whether a logo is upwards or down. Another way to decide is by putting the ball in either left or right hand and letting a friend guess which hand has it.

Winning this first part does not automatically mean the winner serves first but instead gives them the option to serve or receive at a particular side.

Order of Service and Receiving


In ping pong, the service alternates between opposing players every two points. It means that after two points, the opponent (formerly the receiver) serves the next rally. 

It is a crucial rule in ping pong as it ensures a fair and competitive match by giving both players a chance to serve. It also encourages players to focus on defensive play, as they know that the person who first wins two points will be able to serve again.

Note that in singles, a player may serve from anywhere behind the end line and aim down the line or diagonally as long as proper service form is followed, no spin, open palm, and unobstructed.


The exact form required is double, however, the only difference is all service will take place from the right side box to the box diagonal. The serving order of the players remains the same throughout the game, with each player serving every two points. 

After each player serves two points, the other person will serve two consecutive points and then return to their partner. It allows for a continuous service cycle throughout the match and balances the game. It also keeps both players engaged and involved in rallying, as they know which one is about to serve next.

Scoring Rules of Ping Pong

Let’s look at how points are awarded in ping pong, namely the Service ace, Service error, Double bounce, Net error, and a Return winner.

Service ace

A service ace in ping pong is when a player serves the ball and goes directly into an opponent’s court without being touched. You can also refer to this as an ‘ace’ or a ‘winner.’

It counts as one point, and the score goes to the server.

Service error

A service error in ping pong is when a player serves the ball illegally and doesn’t score a point. The service error can be committed by either failing to hit the ball diagonally over the net or serving the ball out of bounds.

A service error will end the rally, and the opposing player (the receiver) will get the point.

Double bounce

During the rally, the opponent will win the point when the receiving player fails to return the ball after it has bounced once on their side. Double bounces can occur when a receiving player is displaced far enough that the ball returned has enough momentum to bounce faster, such as a drop shot.

Return error

A return error in ping pong is when a player fails to hit the ball back over the net. You commit this error by missing the ball, hitting it out of bounds, or sending it into the net. A return error results in a point for the other player, and they will get to serve next.

Return winner

A return winner in ping pong is when a player successfully hits a return shot over the net and into their opponent’s court, with the player unable to return the shot. You can do this with either power or placement, resulting in a point for the returning player.

Return winners are a crucial part of the game, often leading to winning rallies.

Double hit

A double hit in ping pong is when a player hits the ball twice with their paddle before it goes over the net. It is considered a fault and results in a point for the other player.  They are often caused by players slamming their paddles together to hit the ball rather than using the standard single-stroke technique.

Other Ways to Win a Point

Aside from the common ways stated above to win a point, there are still unusual ways to win points, such as having your opponent’s free hand touch the table, accidentally moving the table or net, or having a piece of clothing hit the ball more.

Knowing these actions that can result in a point for you is vital if you want to stay on top of the competition.


Ping pong, or table tennis, is an exciting and intense game that requires both strategy and skill. Knowing the scoring rules, guidelines, common and unusual ways to win a point are critical to staying on top of your opponents. 

You can increase your chances of winning each match by understanding the different techniques, such as service ace, double bounce, and return winners.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you lose when serving in ping pong?

Yes, it is possible to lose on a serve in ping pong. 

When serving, the player must ensure they are within the boundaries of the table and that their opponent can reach the ball with their paddle. It is considered an illegal serve if you don’t meet the above conditions and this results in a score for the opponent.

 A double-bounce serve or any other violation can also cause a player to lose on a serve. The key is knowing the rules and staying within them.

What happens when a table tennis game is scored at 10-10?

In a ten-all scenario, players can win a game by winning two consecutive points. Instead of giving each player two service points before alternating, service is now rotated after each point until one player reaches 11 points. 

Additionally, players will only be allowed to win a game by two clear points, meaning that if they are tied at 11-11, and the next point wins it for them, the score is considered tied once again, and other methods must be used to break the tie. It can include using sudden death rules or third-party scoring systems.

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