Official Air Hockey Game Rules

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My friend was hosting an air hockey tournament at their place and nobody could finish a game because of disputes over the rules. Before the next one I decided that I was going to declare myself the air hockey referee and research the official rules of the game. 

Because air hockey is a relatively physical sport, it’s important to make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to the rules so you can avoid any heated disagreements. The official rules of air hockey are made by made by the US Air Hockey Players Association. Of course you don’t have to go by these standards but I’ll be using these standards in this article. 

Official Rules:
  • One air hockey match is made up of 7 rounds. A player wins a round by being the first one to make 7 goals.
  • The only way to score a point is by making a goal. For a goal to be made the puck must fall through the slot or if it’s partially in the slot and is tilted upwards. A goal is not made if the puck goes into the goal and bounces back out of it.
  • The only equipment allowed to be used are the mallets (1 for each of the two players) and the 1 puck available for the table. If a player uses any part of their body, cloths, or another object in the playing area to help them win they will be given a foul.
  • There are many reasons to give a player a foul. When a foul is committed then the round will stop and start off with the offended player serving.
  • After every round the players must switch sides. Servers also switch after every round. If one player started off the previous round then the other player will start the next round serving.
  • Once the initial serve has been made the player who lost a point will serve next.
  • If at any point a player stops the puck by placing their mallet on top of the puck they will be given a foul.
  • Once a player has control of the puck they have a total of 7 seconds to shoot the puck. If they fail to do so within the time limit they will be given a foul.
  • Players are allowed to call time out at any time but the time out must last no longer than 30 seconds unless allowed by an official.
  • The center line cannot be crossed by either player, they must stay on their own side of the table. This means they are allowed to move around their side of the table as long as they don’t cross the line.

The Basic Rules of Air Hockey

Before you start a match players must find out which side of the table they’re going to play on. A simple coin toss from an unbiased third party is the traditional way to make decisions. Whoever wins the coin toss gets to pick which side of the table they start off on and after each match the players switch.

You don’t have to flip a coin to decide who gets to hit the puck first in this game. To start the first play off, you set the puck in the middle of the table and each player goes for it at the end of a count down. After the first play of a match, the player lost the play gets to start the next one with the puck.

The first game is the only one where the puck is placed in the middle. A second coin toss is used to determine who starts with the puck on the 2, 4, and 6 game  while the other player gets to start the 3,5, and 7 game with the puck. This is because there is an odd number of games in each match.

A match consists of 7 games and the player that scores 7 points first wins the game. The only way to score a point in air hockey is by getting the puck into the other person’s goal. If you have the puck on your side of the table you have exactly 7 seconds to make your move on the puck.

Each player gets exactly one mallet to use during each match. This mallet is not to be lifted from the surface of the table. Commonly people like to stop the puck by placing their mallet on top of the puck (referred to as “topping”) but according to the official AHPA rules this is an illegal move. You can’t use anything else other than the mallet to touch the puck either unless it is to remove the puck from the slot.

A player can be anywhere around their side of the table as long as they stay on their own side of it. If the puck is on the other player’s side they are not allowed to cross the centerline of the table. Like all other fouls, if a player crosses the centerline the other player gets the puck.

You are allowed to call timeout in air hockey but only for the duration of 30 seconds. The player who calls a timeout must be very clear that he wants the timeout and they can only call timeout if they have the puck right after the puck is scored. They have 10 seconds to play the puck after their 30 second timeout.

What Does and Doesn’t Count as a Point in Air Hockey?

In the game of air hockey, there are certain situations that aren’t clear whether a point has been scored or doesn’t count. Every once in a while, if the puck is going very fast it will go into someone’s goal and bounce back out. This does not count as a goal and the players can continue playing for the point.

Sometimes the puck will get caught between a player’s mallet and their goal causing this player to score in their own goal. When this happens the other player gets the point. Because the rule is that the player who gets the puck is the player that didn’t get the point they start the next play with the puck.

Attempting the ‘look, what’s that?!’ trick is always a fun and easy way to score a point against your opponent but it’s actually illegal according to the rules of AHPA. Taking advantage of distractions to score is considered a foul and the serve goes to to offended side. To be safe, if something else requires your attention during a game make sure to call a timeout.

During an intense round, sometimes a player can lose their mallet on accident. Because it’s illegal to use any other part of your body or another object to stop or hit the mallet your opponent can score. You’re only allowed to call a timeout before a match starts so all you can do it hope you can get your mallet back before your opponent scores.

What Constitutes a Foul in Air Hockey?

When one player commits a foul, the other player gets to start the match off with the puck but when does a foul occur? I’ve mentioned a couple ways already (crossing the center-line, using distractions, topping the puck) but there are a few others to keep in mind.

It might not seem very fair but one way to get a foul is by doing what is called “charging a puck”. This is when a player’s hit packs too much of a punch and causes the puck to fly off the table. This only applies to hits. If a player blocks a hit and it bounces off there is no penalty. Penalties can differ depending on whose rules you go by.

In Air Hockey, What Variations to the Rules Are There?

There aren’t too many differences to the air hockey rules. Most of the differences are what constitutes as a foul. In some leagues, you are allowed to use your hand to stop the puck if you lose your mallet.

Some leagues vary on the way you can score goals. Like I stated before, if a puck bounces out of the goal it doesn’t count as a goal. Other sets of rules would count this as a goal. In the end it doesn’t really matter what your rules are as long as everyone is on the same page and are having fun.

Related Questions:

Are There Professional Air Hockey Leagues?

There are of course professional leagues that have their own official rules. This article is based off of AHPA’s rules and they have their own set of tournaments they host in the US and in places outside the US. These are the most famous tournaments but there are of course other ones.

If you’re looking to get involved in a tournament there are many other associations all over America that you can sign up for. There isn’t a particular air hockey season but different associations have different times in the year they hold their competitions.

What Can You do to Improve Your Air Hockey Game?

If you’re an amatur player there are a couple things you can do to expand your air hockey abilities. If you ever have the opportunity to go see a professional league air hockey match you can learn a lot by simply watching the players and their techniques.

One thing you can do that doesn’t require any skill is to properly hold your mallet. Most beginners hold the handle of the mallet which doesn’t allow for a whole lot of movement. To allow more wrist movement and more control, most players put 2-3 fingers in the base of the mallet.

After getting comfortable with the speed and movements of the puck you can find ways to fake your opponents out. Typically when a player shifts the puck in a certain direction they plan on hitting the puck that way. You can hit the puck in the opposite direction you shift it to trick your opponent into protection the wrong side of their goal.

You can read all you want on how to become the best air hockey player but the best thing you can do is to get out there and practice. There are tons of places that have air hockey machines (bars, movie theatres, arcades) so you don’t have to spend too much money to enjoy them. You’ll be a pro in no time!

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