Can You Hit Your Table Tennis Bat on the Table?

Two Ping Pong Players Play Table Tennis

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Table tennis can be a tense sport. It's not unheard of for a player's bat to hit the table during an intense battle. Is that allowed? Can you hit your bat on the table top during play? What happens if you smash the ball perfectly, but your bat hits the table as it comes down?

Most players understand that if the bat moves the table, that's a fault. But the fact is that any touching of the table will move it. It may not be obvious or apparent to the naked eye, but it will happen according to Newton's equal and opposite law of motion. So what happens if a player's bat makes contact, but no one sees the table move? 

Forget Newton and Trust Your Eyes 

You can knock your bat against the table top during play provided that you don't visibly move the table. You can lean, sit or even jump up onto the table during a point, as long as you don't move the playing surface. Umpires will only rule that the table has been moved if they can see it happen with the naked eye. If they didn't see it move then the table hasn't been moved as far as they're concerned. This is the only practical way to deal with this type of situation. 

So if your bat makes contact, keep playing. Don't assume the worst and give up. Keep the ball alive unless or until the umpire calls it, making it clear that he saw the table move.

Your Hand Is a Different Story

The only thing that can't touch the playing surface during play is your free hand. This is the case whether you move the table or not. If you do it, you'll lose the point. The pivotal words here are "during play." If the ball is not in play, there's no penalty. The words "playing surface" are also important. This does not include the sides of the table top. And if the ball hits the sides, it's considered out. 

Don't confuse this rule with touching the ball—that's completely different. Your finger or even your hand can come in contact with the ball. The rule book defines your hand as any point of contact up to your wrist. The ball can touch your finger and your bat as part of the same motion. This does not apply to your free hand, however, the one that does not hold the racket. 

Laws of Table Tennis

According to the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), the exact rule sequence that applies is:

  • 2.10.1 Unless the rally is a let, a player shall score a point.
  • If his opponent, or anything his opponent wears or carries, moves the playing surface.
  • Or if his opponent's free hand touches the playing surface.