Method for working out whose serve it is

Table Tennis Discussion

Last updated 3 months ago

Beauford P

Beauford P Asked 8 years ago

Hi guys,

I'm sure this has happened to everyone. You're playing against an opponent and for some reason in between points, you, your opponent and the referee (or is it umpire in TT?) all forgot who just served or whose serve it is.

What is your method to work out whose service it is with 100% accuracy and as quickly as possible? I have a method I think I've invented but it is so ingenious that I'm sure I'm not the first to come up with it.

Before I tell you my method, I'd like to hear any of yours and other players methods. I'll post mine after your comments (unless someone else has already worked it out before me :)).

Alois Rosario

Alois Rosario Answered 8 years ago

Hi Beauford,

I just try to remember who served first and then work through it from there thinking about how many points have been played and dividing it into 4s for singles and 8s for doubles.

I would be really interested in hearing your idea.

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Steve Billmire

Steve Billmire Posted 8 years ago

I can honestly say I don't think I have ever had that problem. We are only talking about 2 serves a piece so it shouldn't be to confusing. Plus I have a TT scoring app on my tablet that is really cool and works great. I just keep my tablet propped up on a table where I can see it. When someone wins a point I just tap on the on my or the opponents side on the app and it automatically tells me who's serve is next.

So Beauford, we are all waiting.... What's the big secret??? ;-) 

Beauford P

Beauford P Posted 8 years ago


It's not a big secret. It's just that I've googled it and can't find anyone offering the tip and nobody told me. I worked it out myself because humans are pattern seeking creatures and I just saw the pattern. Surely I'm not the first to see it.

Alois mentioned divide by 4 so I think he's seen the pattern but does he come to the same conclusion as me?


Beauford P

Beauford P Posted 8 years ago


I think you got it because you mentioned divide by 4 but you didn't go into the math or simplest way to work it out so lets see if we are doing the same thing:



All you have to remember is 3 points (not even that, see the summarised 1 question below), but the explanation as to how I came up with the conclusion is a bit long winded so I'll start with the 3 rules first, then the explanation/calculation after. Here goes.


Conclusion (rules to remember):

After adding up the score (eg 9/4 = 13);

1. Is the number odd or even?

2. If it's even, is it divisible by 4?

    Yes: It's initial servers service
    No: It's the initial receivers service

3. If it's an odd number, subtract 1 then refer to point 2.

OR the above put simply with 1 question:

Is it divisible by 4?
    Yes: It's initial servers service
    No: It's the initial receivers service

In order for the above to really sink into your psyche you have to understand the math.


Explanation (The Math)

When beginning the set, you obviously have the Initial Server (IS from now on) and the Initial Receiver (IR from now on).

The IS starts serving when the score is 0/0, therefore we can say they start when the score adds up to 0.

The IS serves for 2 points, so we can say the IR serves when the score adds up to 2 (either 2/0, 0/2 or 1/1).

The IR then serves for 2 points so the IS serves again when the total score adds up to 4 (either 4/0, 0/4, 3/1, 1/3 or 2/2).

The IS serves 2 points again so the IR serves when the score adds up to 6 (either 6/0, 0/6, 5/1 etc etc).

And so on...

So we've established a pattern of multiples of 4, starting from 0 for the IS and starting from 2 for the IR. So the IS serves when the score adds up to 0, 4, 8, 12, 16, 20 etc (which is divisible by 4) and the IR serves on 2, 6, 10, 14, 18 etc (which is NOT divisible by 4).

Therefore an even score divisible by 4 = IS's turn and an even score not divisible by 4 = IR's turn.

If the score is odd eg, 10/7 = 17, this means somebody has had one serve and therefore has one serve left. To work out who, just subtract 1 to make it an even number then see if it's divisible by 4 (IS) or not (IR). That person then serves one more serve.

So in its simplest form all you have to remember is:

Is it divisible by 4?
Yes = first Server
No = first Receiver

I call it the Divide by 4 Method or DB4 for short.

Surely someone else before me has seen this pattern in TT and has already come up with this? Maybe not gone into so much detail or thought as me though?? laughing

Beauford P

Beauford P Posted 8 years ago

Also Steve,

When I referee I call out the score and flip the board, but as I play in the lower ranks, 80% of the time, people just flip the board and don't call out the score. Saying the score helps you remember what you just said.

It happens alot when I play because we have lots of tables tighly packed and those little blue dividers don't help with high balls, so there's alot of let calling and waiting for your ball to come back if it went a long way so people forget some times.

If I'm refereeing, and I call out the score, I 9 times out of 10 remember the score I just called out and because you ALWAYS cal out the servers score first, I can remember who just served. But like I said when people don't call out the serve or there's a long delay between points, OR someone says are you sure (when I remember my last call), I have to use my DB4 method.

Steve Billmire

Steve Billmire Posted 8 years ago

Well, all that math you are explaining above is a little more than I would want to think about when playing. Like I said, I use my TT scoring app and it works great for me. Go to the Google Play store and type in Table Tennis, scroll down and you will find the TT scoring app. I highly recommend it!!!

Beauford P

Beauford P Posted 8 years ago

Steve, you don't have to remember what I wrote everytime you need to use this method. It's just background on how I came to my 3 rules, then from that, just 1 question which gives you an instant answer...

I don't even think you read it.

Anyway, hopefully others can appreciate the simplicity of it.

btw it happens in my leagues often, which is why I started thinking about it. I often saw players counting left to right, 1, 2, 3, 4 etc and thinking surley there's an easier way to do this.

When flipboards are replaced with tablets I'm sure everyone will use your app.

Steve Billmire

Steve Billmire Posted 8 years ago

Hello Beauford,

Yes I did read your DB4 method which is fine and works. Sorry I ment no disrespect and think your method is great for those times when we forget who's serves is next. It is always nice to see now other people try and make things like what you are talking about easier for us TT player's.

My only point was that I like to use my TT scoring app to keep score. As long as you tap on whoever wins a point, then the app tells you who's serve is next.. It is so easy to use and it keeps historical context so you can see how many times you and your opponent have won. Like best out of 2,3,5,7 games. But whatever works best for you and the time you put into your post shows me that you are really good at thinking about the game and making sure that you know who's serve is next. :-) 

Beauford P

Beauford P Posted 8 years ago

Sorry Steve,

After re reading, yes it does look I came on a bit strong. That was not my intention either.

jesus  h christ

jesus h christ Posted 3 months ago

Isn't it easier to just use this formula?


(Player 1’s score + Player 2’s score) mod 2

if the result is 0, player 1 is serving; if it's 1, player 2 is.


jesus  h christ

jesus h christ Posted 3 months ago

never mind delete my post it's moronic. that's just checking if even or not hah. 

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