What is a “Let” Serve in Table Tennis

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If you’re new to the game of table tennis there is a long list of different terms and rules that you need to keep up with. Whether you plan on playing the game or you enjoy watching the tournaments, knowing the rules and terminology will help you understand the game better. One term that is often used in table tennis games is a “let” serve.

So, what is a let serve in table tennis? A let serve is when you are serving and you hit the ball and it touches the net and then touches  your opponent's side of the table. A let serve is a point that does not count, so the server will have to serve again.

Think of it like a "mulligan" in golf, a second chance, a do over.

Often times a let serve is confused with a fault. If a server serves the ball and it hits the net and bounces back onto their side then this is considered a fault and not a let serve. A fault would be considered a point for the other player.

If a player serves a let serve then they are allowed to reserve that point. There is no limit to the amount of let serves a player can make. However, in order for a let serve to count, the serve must be a legal serve in every other way.

If the receiver has hit the ball after the let serve and they don't realize it was a let the umpire will usually call a let and no points will be given out.

The original server will have to reserve. Often times during games a player will continue playing the game but will wait till the end of the play to announce his serve was let. This is controversial but is usually legal. Don't be this guy!

A Legal Serve

There are a lot of variables that go into a legal serve. To start the serve off the server must keep the ball in their open palm. Their palm must be completely open in order to prevent any spin being added to the ball. At all times the ball must be kept within sight of the other player.

When the server is ready they must first throw the ball up at least 6 inches upward into the air before striking it as it comes back down.

After striking the ball it must then bounce on the servers side once, bounce over the net and hit the opponent’s side. During this whole process the server must keep behind the baseline and keep both his hands above the table height.

If you’re playing doubles then there is one other added rule to a legal serve. Serving is done exactly the same way but instead of serving the ball anywhere on the table the ball must be delivered to the opponent’s right side of the table.

If you’re playing recreational table tennis and the players aren’t sticklers on the rules it’s best to keep things simple. You would almost need a referee if you were to follow all of the rules listed for a legal serve.

A common serve performed during recreational playing is a bounce serve. This is when a server bounces the ball on the table surface instead of throwing it up and striking it. In an official tournament this would not be legal but it is common with non-professional playing.

Other Definitions

If you’re planning on getting in to table tennis then there are a couple of other terms you should learn in order to understand the game completely:

  • Spin: Spin is often used to cause the ball to deflect from its original path. Players can add backspin, topspin, and side spin to the ball. Using these types of spin alternatively can give your opponent a run for their money.

  • Dead Ball: a dead ball is either a ball that has bounced twice on either player’s side or if it has bounced on the floor. Once this happens it means that the round is over and one of the players gets the point depending on who failed to hit the ball at the appropriate time.

  • Deuce: A deuce is when the two players are tied at the winning point. Because players need to win by at least two points in table tennis the game must continue until someone jumps two points ahead.

  • Skunk: Skunk is a rule that is used in an informal setting. Usually, when a player wins or loses with an obscene amount of points between the two scores it’s called a skunk. Recreational games make the loser of the skunk do something as punishment.

Related Question:

What Happens When the Ball Hits a Player’s Hand?

Way back when, if the ball hit the knuckle or a finger of a table tennis player’s hand it was considered a double hit and the point was given to the other team. However, that later changed and players are now able to keep the game going as long as this hit was an accident.

Can You Hit the Ball Before it Bounces on the Table?

According to the official rules of table tennis you need to allow the ball to bounce on your side of the table once before you hit it. If you let it bounce more than once the point goes to your opponent.

There has been some debate on whether this rule should be allowed if the ball was going to miss the table. Typically if you hit a ball that was going over the table without bouncing on your side first the point will still be yours because they failed to make a legal hit first.

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