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" Whose serve is it ? "

Keeping score in table-tennis (when there is no umpire)

The 21 point system was replaced with the 11 point system in 2001 & is described at the bottom (Useless except for historical purposes)

The new 11 point system is a good idea to help spectators more involved in a match. A 21 point game takes so long and even at the professional level, one player can get ahead by 10 points and the other player has no chance. From a spectator point of view, it is better to keep each game close. At the professional level, the players are very closely matched and there had been cases even below professional level where a losing player dug himself or herself out of the grave being down like 1-9 or so. At the professional level for spectator interest therefore, the 11 point system is much better. The old 21 point system is hardly used even at the lowest levels (except in cases where it was kept in certain events to satisfy a chosen few (actually one person who has passed away) ). The professional matches are usually 4 games out of 7 and if it is 3 all, it is anybody’s match and is definitely far more exciting from the spectator point of view.

" Whose serve is it ? " New 11 point system

Implemented long ago in 2001       

In the new system it is somewhat easier as it is only to 11 points.

Mark down or remember who started serving at the beginning of Game 1.


Always remember who started serving in the beginning of a given game (This is critical). You can try to remember the end.


Call this person serving at 0-0 as A. Call the other person (or team)  B

If the point  total is  0 or 1,  4 or 5,  8 or 9, 12 or 13, or 16 or 20, then A should be serving

If the point total is  2 or 3,  6 or 7,  10 or 11, 14 or 15,  18 or 19,  then B should be serving

What if the score is 8-7 (who is ahead is irrelevant) ? 

The point total is 15, this means  B should be serving , since B should serve when the score  total is 14 and therefore 15 as well (the next odd point)

What if the score is   6-3 (who is ahead s irrelevant)   the point total is 9 , this means  A should be serving , since A should serve when the score total is 8 and following point 

What if the score is 3-9 (who is ahead s irrelevant)   the point total is 12 , this means  A should be serving , since A should serve when the score total is 12 & 13, the following point 

What if the score is 1-6 (who is ahead s irrelevant)   the point total is 7 , this means  B should be serving , since B should serve when the score total is 6 & 7, the point after 6 

At deuce (any equal score of 10-10  and after such as 13-13 or  11-11 or 14-14 etc) , the person who served in the beginning of any game at 0-0  must serve.

At any unequal scores after deuce called the advantage or ad point  (such as 11-12 or 14-15 or  16-15  , who is ahead is irrelevant),  the person who did not start serving at the beginning of the game must serve

If the serving order is missed at any point during a game, the serving order must be preserved as it was at 0-0 but the point or points that were played still count 

    This means that , A started at 0-0 and let us say the score is  7-7 and B should be serving but A served the next 2 serves by mistake (or deliberately but B did not catch it !!) and the score is now 9-7 in favor of A. The mistake is identified by B only then. This means A now gets 2 more serves (Yes ...A would have served 6 serves in a row.....tough luck to B)  and A also keeps the points (LOL) .

    On a side note, the choice to serve or receive is decided by lot (such as coin toss or pick  hidden ball hand below the table etc) . The winner of the toss does not have to serve. They can choose to serve or receive (or choose the end). The loser of the toss will choose the end, unless the winner of the toss chose to pick the end first and not the serve or receive, in which case the loser of the toss decides whether they want to serve or receive.  In doubles, from a tactical standpoint, it is always better to choose to receive if you win the toss, so you can decide, which player you want to receive from first. However keep in mind you will switch the receiver(only), if there is a deciding game 3 or 5 or 7 etc, when either team reaches 5 points, so it kind of evens out.

" Whose serve is it ? "  Old 21 point system

Discontinued long ago (in 2001)

Even the sharpest minds, in the heat of the battle during a table-tennis match, sometimes seem to forget the serving order. Usually in a tournament an umpire is expected to keep track of these things but most USATT matches are played without umpires.If you remember some simple rules this problem can be handled easily by players themselves, if they have no umpire.

Let us first examine some important service order rules. The winner of the toss has four choices:- (1) Choose to serve first (2) Choose to receive first (3) Choose a side first (4) Choose to make the opponent make the first choice (to serve or receive or a side). ( I am not sure about choice 4. I believe the rules were changed in 95 BGM) In any case the opponent has the next choice (that is you cannot both choose to serve AND choose a side also). The player with the second choice however can also make the opponent to make the second choice if (s)he so desires. In doubles, you can only either choose to or serve or receive, that is you cannot choose to serve & also choose a particular receiver (that choice is upto the receiving team; however, the serving team can choose either server to start a game regardless of who started two games ago).If errors are discovered in the serving order (singles or doubles), it should be corrected immediately (to match the order when match started, based on present score); however the score will remain the same, that is all the points played from the beginning of the error till discovery of the error DO count. The players (or teams) must change ends when either player (or team) reaches a score of 10 in the last possible game (3rd or 5th) of a match & in doubles the receiver also changes (server stays the same in singles or doubles)

Sometimes you forget (at the end of a game), who should start the next game, that is you don't remember who started the previous game. Using some very simple methods, you can decide who is to start this new next game. For all examples we will use player A (or doubles team A) is playing player B or (team B).

(1) Deuce situations are very simple. The player (or team) who served last in any deuce game (regardless of the final score or who won the game) will always start the following game (because the player who serves "at" deuce(s) is the player who started the (deuce) game at 0-0).

(2) If the score was other than deuce, then you use the following two guidelines:-

(i) Who served at the end of the last game (ii) How many points did the loser get.

If A was serving at end of game 1 & if loser got 0 thru 4 or 10 thru 14 points (remember first decimals of 0 thru 4), then B gets to start serving game 2.If A was serving at end & loser got 5 thru 9 or 15 thru 19, then A gets to start serving the next game. Examples:- If Game 2 ended with a score of 21-17 & A was serving at end(it NEVER matters who won the game), then A gets to start serving at Game 3. If Game 2 ended with a score of 21-14 & A was serving at end, then B gets to start serving at Game 3.

On the other hand you can determine service changeovers, if you remember who started the game at 0-0. Add both players' scores .If it ends in a 0(that is 10,20 or 30), then the player who started the game at 0-0 should get the next 5 serves. Otherwise(score total ends with a 5 which is 5,15,25 or 35),the player who did NOT start the game 0-0, gets the next 5 serves. Examples:- If the score now is 13-7 & A started serving the game, then A gets the next 5 serves. If score now is 18-17 & B started serving the game, then A gets the next 5 serves. (It is very interesting here at 18-17 because if this is the deciding third or fifth game , the person

who chose to serve first is at a disadvantage in that the opponent is serving at this crucial

point assuming you would rather be serving)

Similarly you can also determine who should be serving at any given point during the match if you remember who started at 0-0.Add both players scores. If ends with numbers 0 thru 4 then the player who served at 0-0 should be serving;otherwise (score end with numbers 5 thru 9) the player who did NOT serve at 0-0 should be serving. Examples:- If the score is 12-1 & A started serving the game, then A should be serving now. If the score is 12-6 & B started serving the game, then A should be serving at this point .(This is true, even if by mistake B served the last serve because the rules require that an error be corrected as soon the error is discovered ;however the score stays the same & all points thusfar should be reckoned also).

Again all of this is of course an umpire's job but if you don't have an umpire (such as when you play in your local weekly club league or practice etc), then you have to keep score yourself. If all these rules (& methods) seem overwhelming or confusing to you, do not worry. Just apply & practice one rule at a time, till it becomes second nature before trying out another rule. Remember, most of us had trouble remembering service changeover points when we first started playing (ping-pong) in the basement (You may have noticed many a player have trouble with service changeovers in a 51 point handicap match !!).Eventually you should be able to use all of these tricks without even thinking about them .For example, if a game ended 21-18 & you were serving, you will know right away (without having to give much thought) that you get to start serving the next game (unless of course you screwed up the serving order in the previous game !!!).

These guidelines hopefully will also help umpires if they lose track of serving order during a match.

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