How To Keep Score In Ping Pong

If you’re playing ping pong at home or recreationally, chances are that you’re not following official table tennis rules.

It’s more likely that you’ve made up your own way of scoring and have your own system for it. However, if you plan on competing, you should definitely know how to keep score during a match, as per the International Table Tennis Federation’s guidelines.

That’s why we’ve put together this article so that you can educate yourself and get some practice!

Before You Start 

Obviously, before you start playing the game you’ll need something that you can keep score with. This can be done by using a few different things. The old-fashioned way is to get a piece of scrap paper, or even an official scorecard, and use a pen or pencil to write down everything

a person writing on a match scorecard

A scorecard is great for quickly jotting down every time a player scores a point.

Alternatively, you could always use some sort of app for scorekeeping. If you’re playing at some sort of competition, the scorecard will have more information about the table that you’re playing at and which opponent you’ll be up against.

Make sure that you double-check this information! The last thing you want to do at an official match is to get mixed up! Beyond that, the only thing you’ll need to do is figure out if a match is a best of five or seven games.

Really, only professional games will be a best of five or seven, if you’re playing recreationally, you could even do a best of three. If time is of the essence, you could simply play a single match. 

Scoring Rules

Now that you have everything you need to keep score, you’ll need to know all of the rules. That way, you can accurately and efficiently judge when someone has made a point. Therefore, the first thing you should be able to keep track of is a service.

When it comes to serving, a player serves for two points in a row before it switches to the other person. It can be handy to write down who served first, that way you can easily figure out who’s turn to serve it is.

Additionally, for a round to begin a service must be legal. This means that your ball must clear the net, posts, and clamps after bouncing once on your side and landing on your opponent’s side. If your ball hits any part of the net, but somehow still makes it over, the service must be replayed. 

With doubles, there’s one slight change. The service must be diagonal. This way it goes from the right side of your end to the opponent’s right side. Once a legal serve is made, the round has really begun and it’s up to your opponent to return the ball! 

If an opponent does not successfully return the ball, you get a point. An unsuccessful return happens if you miss, let the ball bounce two or more times, your return shot hits the net, or if your shot does not land on the table. If any of these things happen, you will receive a point!

Doubles, again, has some extra stipulations. In this mode, each player has to take a turn hitting the ball. The order goes like this: Server, receiver, server’s partner, receiver’s partner, and then back to the server. If the right person doesn’t hit the ball, then a point is awarded to the opposite team. 

How To Win 

Now that you know all of the rules to score, the next thing you need to worry about is how to win! To put things simply, to win a match of ping pong, you need to be the player with 11 points. However, there is some stipulation to this.

You must have at least a two-point lead by the time you reach 11 points. So, what if both teams end up with 10 points? Well, you’ll simply keep playing until one player or team ends up with two points ahead. Essentially, you’ll need to earn two points in a row as a tie-breaker

close up of a table tennis player returning a shot

The longest rally in a table tennis tournament took place between VickyNelson and Jean Hepner in October 1984. The 6-hour and 22-minute match ended with a tiebreak that went on for 1 hour and 47 minutes!

As a side note, during this tie-breaker period, both players will serve once. Once a game is won, the players will reset and get ready for another round. Remember, you have to win a certain amount of games before the match itself is won.

There are no tiebreakers when it comes to the number of matches won, so be ready for a fierce competition if you and your opponent are close in game wins! 

After Your Match

Now the match is over, either you or your opponent has won the necessary amount of games and have been declared the victor! There are some formalities that need to be discussed for what happens after the match.

If you’re playing with a friend or just recreationally, it’s very likely the two of you will either get ready for another game or talk about the match. Whether your post-match banter is friendly is up to you, of course. However, in a professional setting, things are a bit different. 

Additionally, you’ll want to make sure that all of your equipment is accounted for. Take a quick once-over of your paddle for any damage if necessary and remember to grab your ping pong balls. After that, you’re ready to head off.

After a match, you should always shake hands with your opponent and perhaps say some kind words to them out of respect. Be sure to give a firm, sincere handshake with a smile and eye contact. Being disrespectful is highly frowned upon in the world of ping pong!

It’s also not uncommon to shake the hands of coaches if they’re present. Finally, if you have some sort of score sheet, you should look over it and make sure everything is correct. If you’re in a competitive setting, you really should look over your score sheet, regardless if there’s some sort of referee present.

Even they make mistakes from time to time and it’s important to identify the person who actually won.

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Riley Draper

Avid table tennis player, world traveler, and content creator. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn.