How to Keep Score in a Game of Table Tennis

Pingpong follows International Table Tennis Federation rules

Happy businesswomen playing table tennis against businessmen at casual office.
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When you are playing ping pong, or table tennis, in your home, you can make up your own rules and keep score any way you like. But when you play in a competition that follows the International Table Tennis Federation rules and regulations, you need to know the rules for keeping score correctly. It is not uncommon for matches in local competitions to have no umpires, and the players must umpire and keep the score themselves.

Before the Match Starts

To prepare, get the match score sheet and a pen or pencil. Don't wait until the end of the match to write down the scores, or you may not be able to remember them all. It also helps to check the score sheet to make sure that you have the correct opponent and are playing on the correct table.

Next, check to see if a match is a best of five or seven games (these are the most common by far, although any odd number of games can be used). Note on the score sheet which player serves first (often determined by a coin toss). 

Score Rules

Each player gets to serve for two points in a row, and then the other player has to serve. You are not allowed to give the serve away and choose to receive all the time, even if both players agree.

When serving, you must follow the rules for a legal serve, and hit the ball so that it touches your side of the table once, then bounces over or around the net, and then touches your opponent's side of the table. A serve that touches the net assembly (the net, net posts, and net clamps) on the way, but still touches your side first and then your opponent's side on the second bounce, is called a let serve (or just a " let") and must be replayed with no change to the score. There is no limit on how many lets you can serve in a row.​

Returning the Ball

If you are playing doubles, you must serve the ball diagonally so that it bounces first in the right half of your side of the table, goes over or around the net, and then bounces in the right half of your opponents' side of the table.

Your opponent then attempts to return the ball over or around the net so that it bounces first on your side of the table. If he cannot, you win the point. If he does, you must hit the ball over or around the net so that it bounces first on his side of the table. If you cannot, he wins the point. Play continues in this manner until either you or your opponent cannot return the ball legally, in which case the other player wins the point.

In doubles, each of the players takes turns hitting the ball. The server hits the ball first, then the receiver, then the server's partner, then the receiver's partner, and then the server again. If a player hits the ball when it is not his turn, his team loses the point.

Winning in Pingpong

The first player or team to reach 11 points with a lead of at least two points is the winner. If both players or teams reach 10, then the game is won by the first player or team to get two points ahead. Also, if the match reaches a score of 10-all, both players or teams serve only one serve each until the game is won. The score is called out with the server's score first.

Point Values

If you do forget who is supposed to be serving in the middle of a game, an easy way to find out is to look at the score sheet and see who served first in that game. Then count up in twos (two points per server) until you reach the current game score.

For example, imagine the score is 9-6 and you and your opponent cannot remember who is to serve. Start with either score, then count up by twos. Starting with 9, you would count in this way: 

  • 2 points for the original server at the start of the game
  • 2 points for the original receiver
  • 2 points for the server
  • 2 points for the receiver
  • 1 point for the server

That's the full 9 points. Continue with the other score in the same way:

  • 1 point for the server (carrying on from the previous score of 9)
  • 2 points for the receiver
  • 2 points for the server
  • 1 point for the receiver

That's the full 6 points. The receiver has only had one serve, so he has one serve left.

If the score is past 10-all, it's a lot easier to remember whose serve it is. The original server at the beginning of that game serves whenever the overall scores are equal (10-all, 11-all, 12-all, etc.), and the original receiver serves whenever the scores are different.

The winner is the first player or team to win more than half of the maximum possible games. Once a player or team has done this, the match is over and the remaining games are not played. So the possible game scores are a 3-0, 3-1, or 3-2 win in a best of five games match, or a 4-0, 4-1, 4-2, 4-3 win in a best of seven games match.