Air Hockey Rules: Simple Guidelines For New Players

by Mike Jones

If you have ever been to a gaming arcade you already know just how fun and exhilarating the game of air hockey can be. Air hockey is a game that can be played by the whole family and is competitive enough to offer some nail-biting fun when the final score looms.

It is fast and easy to jump right into air hockey, with each player grabbing a couple paddles and commencing with smashing the puck up, down and across the table. However, there are some fairly basic rules to the games that should always be followed and adhered to for maximum enjoyment of the game and a spirit of fair play.

In the following article we will cover some of these rules in great detail. Keep in mind that this list of rules is more like a blueprint for play, and not something that ALWAYS has to be followed to the letter.

When played recreationally players should feel free to adapt these rules to their own style of play, as long as both parties in the competition agree to any changes prior to the beginning of the match.

About the Air Hockey Rules

About the Air Hockey Rules
About the Air Hockey Rules

The rules we have listed below have been established over decades of air hockey play. In fact, if you ever decide to take what you have learned from the game over the years and turn professional, it is this set of rules that you are most likely to encounter, as they are established by the official governing body for the sport of air hockey.

Again, if you decide to just play recreationally, feel free to create your own house rules using this list as your foundation-as long as you establish them prior to the game and NOT as the game rolls along. The last thing you want is to have a rule interpretation lead to an argument, as this defeats the very purpose of air hockey, which is to provide friendly competition between the two players involved in the game.

Also, if you are playing on an air hockey table that is smaller or larger than the official-size table, some of these rules may have to be amended to match your table.

The rules governing the game of air hockey have been put in place in order to maintain a fair and balanced level of competition between opposing players. These rules also help provide structure to the game. For example, they set a standard for things like who shoots the first puck, a way to define and call fouls and the number of points needed to win a game. This list is perfect for beginners just starting out with the sport of air hockey, as it provides all the basics they will need to know. This list may not, however, cover everything that may be involved in a professional tournament. For that you would need to seek out the official USAA Air Hockey Rules, as defined by the sport's governing body.

Basic Air Hockey Rules

Without further ado, here are some of the most basic and foundational air hockey rules that every player should know.

General Rules of Play

When playing air hockey, typically a coin toss is held to determine which player will get the puck first. When playing recreationally, any system for deciding who gets the puck first is acceptable as long as both players agree.

  1. The first player to accumulate seven (7) points wins the game (Of course, when playing recreationally, games can go up to any point total that the two players agree upon, as long as that agreement is reached prior to the commencement of the game).
  2. When the puck enters and drops inside a player's goal, the player's opponent receives one point (unless play had been suspended by the referee or the offensive player had committed a foul during or prior to the shot.)
  3. After each game, players will alternate table sides.
  4. The player scored upon receives possession of the puck for the next serve.
  5. A player may hand serve the puck only after it has entered his goal-in other words, the puck cannot be touched with the hand unless after a score.
  6. A player may play with only one mallet on the playing surface at one time. Violation results in a foul.
  7. The puck may be struck with any part of the mallet.
  8. The puck cannot be "topped" by lifting the mallet and placing it on the top of the puck. This cannot be done at any time whether before a serve or after a serve during play. Violation constitutes a foul. Using the mallet to bring an airborne puck to the table or opponent's goal is not a topping violation no matter which side or edge of the puck is contacted.
  9. Only one puck may be in play at a given moment.
  10. A player has seven (7) seconds to execute a shot, which crosses the centerline. The seven (7) seconds begins as soon as the puck enters and remains on that player's side of the centerline. Violation of this rule is a foul. (This is a rule that is seldom followed during recreationally play, but at least you can impress your friends when you throw this one out during a game).
  11. When the puck is in contact with any part of the centerline, either player may strike the puck.
  12. A player may stand anywhere around the table on his/her side of the centerline. He/she may not stand past that line.
  13. If any part of a player's hand, arm, body, or clothes touches the puck, "palming" will be called by the referee, which constitutes a foul. (As with most fouls, this one results in the loss of the puck)
  14. Each player may take one time-out per game. The time-out may be no longer than 10 seconds.
  15. A player may exercise his/her time-out only when the puck is in his/her possession or not in play.
  16. A player must make a clear indication of time-out so that the referee understands the player's intention.
  17. When a player is scored upon, he/she will have ten seconds to remove the puck from the goal and place it in play. The ten seconds start as soon as the puck has fallen completely through the goal and is available for the player to place into play. This rule is suspended during the course of a time-out.

These basic rules of air hockey apply whether playing recreationally or in a tournament. Of course, some of these rules can be adapted or even ignored (see number 17) when playing recreationally to win, but for beginners this serves a great handbook of sorts for the way air hockey is traditionally played.

There are other rules of course, as we mentioned above, that typically apply only when playing competitively in tournaments. These rules cover things like the legal shape and weight of the air hockey mallets and pucks; the dimensions of the tournament table; and all the actions (and inactions) that would count as fouls.

Other rules cover things like scoring, the procedure used when beginning the game, the parts of the table that are considered in play or out of play, player conduct and rights, tournament procedures and the rights and responsibilities of referees during tournament play.

Common Questions About Air Hockey Rules

While we've covered the basic rules of the game above, there are still a few questions that we commonly hear from both new and experienced players. So, to clear up any confusion you might have, check out the answers to these common questions below.

Are You Allowed To Stop The Puck In Air Hockey?

If you're like most recreation players, then you've stopped your opponent from scoring by putting your mallet down on top of the puck to stop it. This practice is called "topping" and it is not part of legal game play.

If you try to stop a puck by bringing your mallet down on top of it, then that is considered a foul.

How Fast Does The Air Hockey Puck Travel?

According to Retroland, the tables that started being manufactured in the 1990s are designed to achieve puck speeds of nearly 80 miles-per-hour. Yup, 80mph is the top speed you can expect to ever achieve until table design changes again.

Can You Cross The Middle Line In Air Hockey?

If you're asking this question because you're not sure where you can legally stand during the game, then the answer is anywhere on your side of the table that is behind this center line.

If you're asking if you can cross that line during game play, then the answer is NO. Your arms cannot cross it, your body cannot cross it, and your mallet cannot cross it.

You also cannot touch the puck, either with your body or your clothes.

How Many Points Do You Need To Win In Air Hockey?

As previously mentioned, the first player to accumulate seven (7) points wins the game (Of course, when playing recreationally, games can go up to any point total that the two players agree upon, as long as that agreement is reached prior to the commencement of the game).

Can You Block The Goal In Air Hockey?

Growing up, this was a common strategy when my brother and I played a game against each other. And it turns out that it is a completely legal move.

When it comes to air hockey defense, your number one objective is to block your opponent from scoring. Keeping the mallet directly in front of the goal is not the best defensive strategy, but you can do it if you want.

About Mike Jones

As a child of the 80's, my fondest gaming memories are playing Pitfall, Frogger, Kaboom! and Chopper Command on our old Atari 8600. These days I've been rocking the Nintendo Classic and learning some new card and board games with the family."

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