Table Tennis Scoring – What You Need to Know (+Alternatives)

There are always misunderstandings and disagreements about the scoring method in table tennis. To save you from that, this post quickly explains the official scoring method. You’ll also find instructions on how to correctly play to 21 and more. But first things first: 

  • The first player to have 11 points wins a set (at the score of 10:10, the game is played until one player is 2 points ahead)
  • Whoever wins 3 or 4 sets first, wins the match (depending on the competition)

Do you want to know more? No problem! In the following, I will explain the scoring in table tennis in more detail. Here’s another overview for you, in case you’re looking for something specific: 

Official Scoring Method: Playing to 11

Since the beginning of the 2000s, sets in table tennis are no longer played to 21, but to 11. But more about that later. First, the basics:

In table tennis, there are two units of scoring: Points and Sets. The points decide the set and the sets then decide the match. So how is it counted: 

How To Win a Set

  • The player who first has 11 points wins the set.
  • Important: A set can only be won with a 2 point lead. Therefore, if the score is 10:10, it goes to 12, so a set cannot be won by 11:10. Theoretically, a set could also end with 29:27 or 35:33.

How often does the serve change? 

The serve changes every 2 points, so that each player serves two times in a row. Tip: The serve always changes at even scores. If you don’t know who is serving, this is always a good orientation. 

The only exception is at the score of 10:10. From this score on, the serve changes after each point, so that a player cannot win the set with two serves in a row.

Here you can read more about the serving rules.

How to Win the Match

Depending on the competition, the player who first wins 3 or 4 sets wins the match. Here, one also speaks of “Best of Five” or “Best of Seven”. Each competition can decide this for itself. 

In most cases, individual competitions (each player competes for himself) are played to 4 and team competitions to 3 winning sets.

Here is an overview of the most important competitions:

Overview: winning sets per competition (individual): 

CompetitionWinning Sets
World Tour4
World Cup4
College Table Tennis3
German Bundesliga3
Number of winning sets for relevant competitions

How to Score a Point?

One thing should not be forgotten when it comes to scoring: When is a point actually won?

Basically, a point is won whenever a player does not play the ball onto his opponent’s side of the table in accordance with the rules. Typical situations are as follows: 

  • The ball goes into the net
  • The ball misses the table
  • A player does not get to the ball

Of course, there are trickier situations but I won’t go into those here. 

Old Scoring Method: The game to 21

If you don’t take part in official competitions, you have all the freedom to count as you like. In recreational play, it is often the case that you prefer to play to 21 instead of 11. But what is the correct way to do this? 

How to Win a Set to 21

  • The player who first has 21 points wins the set.
  • Important: Again, a set can only be won with a 2-point lead. Therefore, when the score is 20:20, it goes to 22 and so on. 

How often does the serve change in a set up to 21? 

In the set up to 21, the serve changes every 5 points. Again, the exception is during the extension of the set at 20:20. From this score on, the serve changes after every point. 

How to Win the Match 

If the set is up to 21 points, the player who first wins 2 sets wins the match. But of course this is only an orientation, because this is not the official rule anymore. 

Why Did the Scoring Method Change?

Since April 26, 2001, sets in table tennis only go to 11 points instead of 21. Also, a player now needs at least 3 winning sets (previously 2). But why was this changed in the first place?

The main reason for this change was the higher tension. Because in sets up to 21, the first 10 points were often rather uninteresting for the spectators. Also, when one player was clearly better than the other and sets often ended 21:4, the tension was limited. 

To make the sport more attractive, it was decided to shorten the sets and therefore to start more often “from scratch”. Moreover, with an additional winning set, the possibility of deciding a set in extension (i.e. at a score of 10:10) is more likely, which increases the suspense even more. 

By the way: It was not certain that the length of the sets would be shortened to 11. It was also considered to shorten the sets to 15 or even only 7 points. 

Useful Tools – So nobody forgets the score

Who doesn’t know it: You are in the middle of the game, you are serving but you have completely forgotten the score. Here are 3 tools and tricks to help you remember the score: 

1. Change of Serve as a Reference Point

If you don’t know the exact score, it is worthwhile to think about how many times the serve has changed. 

Example (set length up to 11): If you have started serving and it is your turn to serve for the 4th time, 12 points have been played so far. This means that the score is between 10:2 and 6:6 and you usually have a good feeling who is leading.

Admittedly, this trick can’t always tell you the exact score, but it always helps me a lot. 

2. Scoreboard – like the professionals

If you always want to be on the safe side, you can of course choose the official way and record the score on a scoreboard:

The Official Way: If you always want to be on the safe side, you can of course choose the official way and record the score on a scoreboard:

3. Counting App

As for everything, there is also a suitable app for this case, with which you can record the score: 

Still got questions? FAQ about scoring in table tennis

Finally, here are some quick answers to some common questions about the scoring method in table tennis: 

Is scoring different in doubles?

No, the counting is not different in doubles. The sets are also played up to 11 points. 

However, in some competitions, there are differences in the number of winning sets required. For example, a match at the World Championships goes to 3 winning sets in doubles and 4 in singles. 

How often does the serve change?

  • Set length up to 11: The serve changes every 2 points. Exception: Set overtime at 10:10, then the serve changes every point. 
  • Set length up to 21: The serve changes every 5 points. Exception: Set overtime at 20:20, then the indication changes at every point. 

Thank you, if you have read the post up to here 🙂 I hope I could answer all your questions about the scoring method in table tennis. And no matter how the score may be, one thing always comes first: 

The fun of the game 🏓

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