The non-rules of table tennis

One thing I miss about working at Autodesk (yeah, that happened) is playing table tennis regularly. I used to play a fair bit when I was in school but almost entirely stopped during the four years of university. I’ve been trying to join some table tennis meetups recently (Meetup is awesome in that regard), but it has been pretty sporadic so far.

When I started playing again, I was a little surprised to learn that the rules had changed somewhat. After a bit of research spurred on by an office tournament that I took part in, I realised that all of the “rules” below were made up! Here’s the list (the explanations are thanks to some Googling and the official ITTF handbook):

  1. Deciding who will serve by playing a rally

    This one felt wrong even when we were doing it all those years ago. Basically, deciding which player will serve is done by a toss (or something similar). Choosing by playing a single point doesn’t really make much sense, especially when you think about all the other silly rules tacked on top of it, e.g. you can’t smash in this ‘deciding’ rally.

  2. Allowing re-serves up to a maximum of three times

    If the ball touches the net when serving, the player serves again. Turns out there’s no limit to the number of times this can consecutively occur. I suppose the limit of three came from lawn tennis or something.

  3. Losing the point by banging the racket on the table

    Sometimes when returning an especially short low ball, the racket can accidentally end up hitting the table. This is perfectly fine, unless it causes the table to move in which case it is perfectly not-fine.

  4. Losing a point by accidentally hitting the ball with your hand instead of the racket

    This I suppose is only partly true – it’s fine insofar as the part that touches the ball is below the wrist.

  5. Catching the ball after tossing it when serving

    I’ve seen variations on this one – some folks consider it a ‘let’ if the server’s racket moved but didn’t hit the ball, others allow the server to catch the ball after tossing it up as long as they didn’t move their racket. Both are illegal serves.

  6. Returning a shot that goes out/volleying

    As long as it happens outside the playing surface (i.e. the table), this is okay.

Interestingly, these so-called rules weren’t local to just my group of friends in school – coworkers I recently played with followed some of them too. I even found folks from some other countries following them, which makes me wonder if perhaps they used to be rules but no longer are.


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