While you don’t need to be a tournament level umpire (scorekeeper) to enjoy a game of table tennis, most of us prefer to play by the correct rules.

I’m guessing you’re arguing with someone you’re playing with and looking for the definitive answer on what’s right, what’s wrong.

Well, here’s how they do it according to tournament rules.

Understanding the Ping Pong Scoring System

The scoring system is based on points, games, and matches, all of which contribute to determining the winner.

In a standard match, players compete to reach 11 or 21 points, depending on the agreed-upon rules. Points are awarded when an opponent misses a ball, hits it into the net, or fails to make it bounce on the correct side of the table.

The game is won when the first player or team scores 11 (or 21) points. The winning team must have a lead of at least two points. If both players or teams reach 10 points, the game continues until one side achieves a two-point lead.

Now that we have a basic understanding, let’s explore the details of points, games, and matches, including the final game.


In table tennis, points are earned when the opponent fails to make contact with the ball after it has been struck over the net or when the ball bounces out of bounds without coming into contact with the table.

A valid serve must touch the server’s side of the table once, bounce over or around the net, and then touch the opponent’s side of the table.

A let serve occurs when the ball touches the net assembly but still bounces on the server’s side first and then the opponent’s side on the second bounce.

There is no limit on the number of lets a player can serve in a row, which adds an extra layer of excitement (or security, if you’re bad) to the game!


In a game of table tennis, the first player to reach 11 points is declared the winner, provided they have a two-point lead over their opponent, which means that having only one point advantage is not enough.

As each player hits the ball, the excitement increases and the anticipation builds as players get closer to the winning mark. Alternatively, players can agree to play to 21 points, if they’d like to extend the game.

I’m a sore loser so I’ll often propose this after losing the first 11 points 🙂 One loss is better than two, right?

In doubles matches, serving becomes more challenging as the ball must be served diagonally, bouncing first in the right half of the server’s side of the table, then over or around the net, and finally in the right half of the opponents’ side of the table.


A match in table tennis is won by winning games. The amount of games that are played in a single match depends on the type of competition. This can range from different categories such as professional or amateur leagues.

Singles matches are usually best-of-seven events and doubles are typically best-of-five affairs.

An odd number of rounds are always played, ensuring a clear winner emerges from the match.

The Role of Serving in Scoring

A table tennis player performing a fast deep serve
Serving is the foundation of your game, as it’s the only shot where the you have complete control over the ball. Therefore, mastering the art of serving is essential for success in the game.

In this section, we’ll explore the significance of serving in scoring, focusing on rotation, double faults, and lets.

Rotation is important in ping pong because it guarantees that each player has an equal opportunity to serve and receive. Double faults and lets also contribute to keeping the game fair and balanced.

Let’s delve deeper into these aspects of serving to understand their role in scoring.


Rotation in ping pong can refer to the spinning of the ball during play or the rotation of players during doubles matches. In doubles matches, the service alternates every two points between teams and between players on the same team.

This rotation ensures that each player gets an equal chance to serve and receive, maintaining fairness in the game.

Double Faults

While the term “double fault” is more commonly used in tennis, it’s essential to understand the consequences of consecutive serving faults in table tennis. If a player serves two consecutive faults, the point is awarded to the opposing team.

Being aware of this rule can help players focus on improving their serve and avoiding costly mistakes.


A let in ping pong is where the ball hits the net during a serve, but still bounces on the opponent’s side of the table. This results in the point being replayed, with no points awarded.

Let’s also refer to a rally where the result is not scored, I’ll explain more later on.

Understanding the rules of lets can help players stay focused and prepared for any unexpected twists (or arguments) during the match.

Doubles Match Scoring

Two table tennis players playing a match with a net in the middle
Doubles matches in ping pong present unique challenges when it comes to scoring, as players must work together as a team and navigate the complexities of rotation and order of play. In this section, we’ll explore the nuances of doubles match scoring to help you conquer the doubles court with confidence!

To win a doubles match, the first team to reach 11 points and maintain a two-point lead wins the game. If the score is tied at 10-10, the game continues until one team achieves a two-point lead. A doubles game is usually best-of-five games, making for an intense and thrilling match.

Let’s take a closer look at the rotation and order of play in doubles matches.


In doubles ping pong, the service alternates every two points between teams and between players on the same team. Once a team has finished their two serves, they swap sides with their partner. The person they were serving now serves, and then the receiver is their partner.

This rotation continues in that order until the end of the set, ensuring balance and fairness in the game.

It may take you a bit to memorize it but once you get into a flow, it’ll become instinctive.

Order of play

The order of play in doubles matches is crucial for maintaining a smooth and fair game. In doubles, the team decides which player serves first, then the server’s partner will serve next, and the rotation continues in that order until the end of the set.

Players must alternate shots with their partner and serve diagonally, adding an extra layer of complexity to the game. Beginners tend to struggle with this as they’ve yet to develop the accuracy needed to do so consistently.

Common Scoring Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

No one wants to lose points due to a scoring mistake! In this section, we’ll explore common scoring mistakes, such as edge and net balls, the skunk rule, and misunderstandings about service rules and scoring.

Edge and net balls can be tricky to navigate, as they often result in confusion about whether a point should be awarded or not.

The skunk rule, although not an official rule, is sometimes used in casual play to shorten the length of a match. Misunderstandings about service rules and scoring can also lead to lost points, so let’s dive into these common mistakes and learn how to avoid them.

Edge and Net Balls

An edge ball occurs when the ball hits the top edge of the table and bounces off the horizontal table top surface. It is considered a good return and is counted as valid, even if it bounces sideways.

On the other hand, a net ball occurs when the ball touches the net before it bounces on the table. It is considered a fault, and the point is awarded to the other player. Again, remember that if you touch the table before (e.g. during a serve) and then the net, it’s considered a let and not a fault.

Being aware of the difference between edge and net balls and their rules can help players avoid confusion and focus on the game.

Skunk rule

The skunk rule is a home, work, or pub rule that states that if one player reaches a score of 7 points while their opponent has 0 points, the game is over. The purpose of the skunk rule is to shorten the length of a match by increasing the point difference required for a player to win.

While not an official rule, it’s essential to be aware of it, especially in casual play.

Misunderstandings about service rules and scoring

Some common misunderstandings about service rules and scoring include not switching serves after every two points, not counting the score correctly, and not understanding the rules of the game.

To avoid these mistakes, ensure that you have a clear understanding of the rules, and always communicate with your opponent about the score while the game is going. This can help prevent any confusion and keep the game running smoothly.

Essential Equipment for Keeping Score

To efficiently keep score in ping pong, having the right equipment may be helpful.

In this section, we’ll explore the essential equipment for keeping score, including verbal scoring, scoreboards, umpires, and other helpful tools. With these tools at your disposal, you’ll be well-equipped to keep an accurate score and focus on the game!

Verbal scoring is a simple yet effective way of keeping score, as players announce their score to each other during the game. Scoreboards, both electronic and manual, are also useful for tracking the score in a visually appealing manner. An umpire can be an invaluable asset in ensuring the rules are followed and disputes are resolved.

Let’s delve deeper into these essential scoring tools, taking into account the previous score.


Verbal scoring is an essential aspect of ping pong, as it helps players communicate with each other during the game. This can include calling out the score, discussing tactics, or even using hand signals for the service.

Effective communication can enhance teamwork in doubles matches and ensure that both players are on the same page when it comes to the score.


Scoreboards are fantastic devices used to keep track of the score in a ping pong match. They can be either electronic or manual, and often include incredible features such as player names, doubles support, and custom score counting rules.

Utilizing a scoreboard can help players stay focused on the match, knowing that the current game score is accurately displayed for all to see.


An umpire (scorekeeper) is responsible for managing the match, making sure the rules are followed, and deciding the result of each point or rally. They must be familiar with the laws and regulations of the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) and have the authority to make decisions on any disputes that may arise during the match.

Having an umpire on hand can help ensure that the game is conducted fairly and that any misunderstandings are promptly resolved.

Other tools

Other tools used for keeping score in ping pong include electronic scoreboards, automatic scorekeepers, and manual scoreboards. These devices can help players keep an accurate score, allowing them to focus on the game without worrying about remembering the score.

By having the proper equipment on hand, players can enjoy a smooth and efficient ping pong experience.

Official Competitions and International Table Tennis Federation Rules

Official competitions in ping pong are organized by the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), which supervises the staging of World Championships annually and several other world title events. In these competitions, the ITTF rules and regulations are strictly followed.

Matches in local competitions usually do not have umpires. Therefore, it falls on players to umpire and keep track of the score. By understanding the official ping pong rules and adapting to various competition settings, players can ensure a fair and enjoyable experience.

Alternative Scoring Systems

In addition to the standard scoring system, there are many alternative scoring systems in ping pong. These include playing to 21 points and switching serves every five points, as well as playing to 11 points with alternate serves every two points until the score reaches 10-10, at which point players alternate serves each point until one player is ahead by two points.

These alternative possible game scores can add variety and excitement to the game, providing a unique challenge for players looking to mix things up!

Tips for Improving Your Ping Pong Game

To elevate your ping pong game, focus on understanding and reading the spin of the ball, practicing regularly, and using your whole body to hit the ball. Set aside time each day to practice, focus on specific skills, and practice with a partner to enhance your abilities.

By applying these ping pong tips and continually working on your game, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a formidable ping pong player!

If you’re just getting started with the sport, check out our guide to the best ping pong paddles as well as the ultimate guide to the best ping pong tables. This might save you a bunch of money assuming you’ve not already made the investments.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the scoring system in table tennis?

Table tennis is a fast-paced sport with a simple scoring system. A game is won by the first player scoring to 11 points, with a two point lead needed to win the game. Points are won when your opponent fails to return the ball according to the rules.

Matches are determined over the best 3 of 5 games. So serve up your best shot and let’s get ready to play!

Is ping pong played to 11 or 21?

The most popular way of playing ping pong is to 11 points. A point in table tennis is won after the ball is served and one player fails to hit it back, or if the serving player makes a mistake.

You can win the game with an exciting two-point difference after both players have reached 10 points each! So make sure to serve your best shot for victory!

How do you lose points in table tennis?

In table tennis, you can lose points by failing to make a good serve, hitting the ball into the net or off the table, touching the table with your free hand, moving the table, or touching the net or any part of it during a rally.

Keeping the ball in play longer than your opponent will help you score points and avoid losing them.

How is ping pong played?

Ping pong is played by two or four players. Players take turns volleying a small, lightweight ball across the table using paddles, aiming to hit the ball onto their opponent’s side in such a way that it can’t be returned.

Scoring happens when one player fails to return the ball correctly.