Table tennis – or Ping Pong – is the king of table games.
A parlor game adaptation of lawn tennis in the 1880s, ping pong was originally reserved for the upper class. It was a way to play indoors after dinner or at a party. But it caught on quickly amongst the commoners.
By the turn of the 20th century, ordinary folks were playing competitively around the globe – spreading from the United States to Japan to Budapest, Vienna, and beyond.
The first table tennis world championships were held in 1927.
And by 1988, the agility, hand-eye coordination, speed, and stamina needed to win a professional ping pong tournament landed the sport in the Olympics. More than two billion people tuned in to watch the men’s singles matches that year in Seoul. It's the only table game to receive such recognition.
Today, ping pong is everywhere...
In China, professional players are sports celebrities and national heroes. They’re afforded the same star status as football Superbowl champion Tom Brady or basketball icon Michael Jordan in the U.S. Here at home, you can play at arcades, at bowling alleys, and even in your own basement.
We see the game in TV shows and movies… most famously in the classic film Forrest Gump, where the title carrier got so good at ping pong, he was sent to play in China on the All-American Ping-Pong Team as part of the ping-pong diplomacy program.
I know by now you're ready to run out, buy a ping pong table, and join Forrest Gump in the ranks of history. Before you do, take some time to brush up on the rules…
The Rules of Ping Pong
The most important piece of equipment in ping pong is the paddle.
In the 1950s, sandwich rubber replaced wood as the primary construction material in a ping pong paddle. This literally changed the game. The rubber allowed players to put a “spin” on the ball when they served. This new level of control over the ball took the sport from a game of defense to a game of offense.
Today, the International Table Tennis Federation (ITFF) governs specific regulations that each paddle, ball, and table must meet.
For example, at least 85% of the hitting surface of every paddle needs to be made of natural wood. The rest is used for the pimpled rubber and adhesive, which is red on one side and black on the other. Every ball must be either orange or white with a size of 40 millimeters. Every table must be 2.74 meters long, 1.525 meters wide, and have a thickness of 0.76 meters.
The rules of the game are much like regular tennis. You start with one person “serving” the ball. They hold the ball in the open palm of their hand, toss it up at least 6 inches into the air, and hit it with the paddle so it bounces on the server’s side of the table then pops over the net and bounces again on the opponent’s side.
A player receives one point if their opponent fails to return the ball over the net, if it bounces twice before being returned over the net, or if the opponent’s ball goes out of bounds.
The first player to reach 11 points wins the game. A match consists of three games.
Ping pong is a simple, fun game for both children and adults. You don’t need to adhere strictly to the rules to have a quality bonding experience. It teaches patience, agility, strategy, quick thinking, and - perhaps most important of all - the concept of winning versus losing.