I can imagine the following being a common scenario. You and your buddies are out having a drink, or watching Netflix, or hunting, or whatever you do when you’re not playing ping pong, and someone raises the topic of who the best player is.

What follows is probably a reasonable, impartial discussion where each player’s weaknesses and strengths are weighed up against their historic performances against each other, which you have stored on a spreadsheet that’s hosted in the cloud.

Lol. Jokes.

You probably trash talk each other until someone cries and the whole matter is left disappointingly unresolved, weaving itself through the rest of your evening, disrupting your fun like a toxic WiFi signal.

Well, there are two options you can take to prevent future occurrences of this awful scene. You can never hang out with each other again, or you can host a regular ping pong tournament.

I suggest the latter.

Let’s take a look at how you’d go about doing this if you want to take it seriously. Because ping pong is serious business.

NOTE: This article also applies to people who actually HAVE to schedule a ping pong tournament because they’re part of a table tennis club or something like that.

What Equipment Do You Need to Host a Ping Pong Tournament?

I speak from experience when I say that a tournament’s success is quite dependent on leveling the playing fields. The last thing you want is the runner-up complaining afterward how they only lost because the winner played with a better paddle or that the ping pong table wasn’t up to their elevated standards.

Creating an equal experience for everyone taking part in the ping pong tournament, make sure that you have two high-quality ping pong paddles of the same type available. Unless you’re hosting an “open” tournament, in which case, each person for themselves.

Get your hands on a really great ping pong table and place it in a space where there is enough free space around it to accommodate a robust matchup.

Ensure you have enough ping pong balls, too. A tournament could go on for a while and there’s always the likelihood that some sore loser will take their frustration out on the fragile little spheres. Buy a couple of dozen ping pong balls before the tournament.

Decide on the Tournament Format

This goes without saying, but you’ll need to communicate the tournament’s format to all the players ahead of time. If it’s a social ping pong tournament, try to get everyone’s buy-in on how the tournament will be played out. This, again, just removes the risk of someone disputing the result.

Let’s take a look at the various ping pong tournament formats.

Single-Game Knockout Ping Pong Tournament

This is the simplest (and quickest) tournament format, but it is dependent on having an even number of players. Opponents are chosen using some kind of lottery mechanism (names in a hat, for instance) and in each round, the loser is eliminated from the competition.

This happens with each subsequent round until the final match when there are only two players left. A 3rd, and 4th place match between the losers of the two semi-final matches, is also an option.

Pros of this format are that it’s quick, and can be finished in a couple of hours, making it ideal for a large group of players.

Cons of the single-game knockout ping pong tournament are that losing players will stand around doing nothing for the rest of the tournament. There also won’t be a final ranking list at the end of the tournament; only the top four players will be identified. This could result in future arguments about who the WORST player is. Because, obviously, this is as important as knowing who the best is.

Best-Of-Three Knockout Ping Pong Tournament

This is pretty much the exact same format as the abovementioned ping pong tournament, with the exception that a winner is determined by winning two matches, rather than a single match. In this case, each matchup can consist of three matches.

This is a great format if you have a small number of players and you want to eliminate people feeling that they didn’t get a fair shot at redeeming themselves after one poor display. Other than that, the pros and cons of this format are the same as with the single-match knockout ping pong tournament.

League-Style Ping Pong Tournament

This is my personal favorite ping pong tournament format. Each player plays every other player once or twice (depending on the number of players and the time you have available). The winner of each match is allocated a “league point”. At the end of the tournament, the player with the most league points is the winner. The rest of the tournament ranking is also easy to establish, using this method. Simple!

What’s crucial to running a league-style ping pong tournament is logging scores so that they can be used as a tie-breaker. Since players will often end the tournament with the same number of league points, you will need to use some other metric to establish the final ranking.

The best tie-breaker to use is the player’s points-difference. At the end of each match, the number of points lost is subtracted from the number of points won for each player. This will sometimes be a negative number. At the end of the league, if there are players with a similar number of league points, the player with the superior points difference is placed above the other.

Other Things to Consider

Make sure everyone knows the rules of ping pong. There are certain variables that have to be decided ahead of the tournament. The most important one being the number of games per match. The number of participants and the time you have available will play a big role in this decision.

It’s also a great idea to have one person NOT participate in the tournament to play the role of umpire and tournament arbiter. There WILL be disputes over points. If you can draft in an observer who knows the rules really well, this would be ideal.

The alternative is making things democratic and having the participants act as a committee when deciding on a particular point of disagreement. But there’s obviously room for gamesmanship here, especially if you’re playing a league-style tournament.