Joseph works as an editor in one of the magazines dedicated to video games. Here, at RecRoomPick, he’s given the opportunity to enjoy the reverse of the medal – the no less engaging world of offline games.
Ryan knows everything when it comes to gaming, both online and offline. Since his early years he’s been in love with arcades, air hockey, and foosball. Finally, he’s given the opportunity to share his knowledge and opinion on the hobby of his life (and even get paid for it!).
Last updated: December 08, 2023
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Any game worth playing is worth playing well, and the only way you can do that is by learning its basic rules so that you can adopt or customize them with your family and friends to compete fairly and fully enjoy the gaming experience. So, what are the rules for air hockey? We have simplified the official rules of this game from The US Air Hockey Association to make it easier for recreational players to learn and play it. We have also included a few handy air hockey tips from experts that will improve your gameplay.
You first flip a coin before the match and the winner chooses their side of the table. When playing recreationally, the simple air hockey rules do not include a referee. Instead, participants flip a coin to determine the player who should possess the puck first. However, official tournaments must include a referee who oversees the face-off. This involves the referee placing the puck on the centerline with the two players moving their mallets to within an inch of it, and then they both fight for the puck after the referee counts to 4. To win a face-off, you must either score or gain puck possession. A score on the opponent or gaining the first clear possession without fouling. A puck that has not yet left the centerline cannot constitute possession for either player. The winner of this face-off round starts the rest of the odd-numbered games in that match while the other player starts the second, fourth and sixth game.
The players also switch their sides of the table after every subsequent game – the remaining 6 – until the match is over.
Basic amateur air hockey rules
A match consists of seven games.
Air hockey rules of play state that participants can only play with one puck, and each player can only play with one mallet.
You can only strike the puck when it is on your side, or anywhere on the centerline. If the latter is the case, then either player can hit it.
Letting your mallet extend to your opponent’s side when striking the puck is a foul.
You can stand at the end or side of the table as long as you do not cross past the centerline to your opponent’s side.
You can strike the puck with any part of the mallet but covering the puck with the mallet before or after a serve is considered a foul. However, you can lift the mallet and strike an airborne puck to the table or to score.
As soon as the puck crosses to your side, you have 7 seconds to strike it back to avoid a foul.
A player is allowed 10 seconds to retrieve the puck from their goal and place it back on the table unless he is on timeout.
It is considered a foul if the puck comes in contact with your hand, arm, body, or clothes. The exception is hand serving after the puck enters your goal.
According to air hockey table rules, each player is allowed a timeout of 10 seconds as long as the player possesses the puck at that time and has notified the referee.
The first person to earn seven points wins the match.
For you to earn a point, the puck must drop fully into your opponent’s goal without rebounding or sticking out halfway. Each goal earns you one point.
If you score, your opponent possesses the puck and makes the next serve.
Fouls and penalties
In penalty rules of air hockey, players forfeit the puck whenever they commit a foul.
Add some pro rules to your game
If you aspire to play professionally, then you will need to learn some of the rules on how to play air hockey in tournaments, including the timing, fouls and penalties, and the specifications of the table, puck and ball.
Air Hockey Table Rules
Tournament tables should not have a long overhead light. They must also be broken-in.
Mallets must meet the USAA requirement of a maximum weight of 6 ounces and a diameter that does not exceed 4-1/16 inches. The mallet may be of any color as long as it’s different from that of the playing surface.
Lexan-yellow, Lexan-red and Dynamo green pucks are the only ones approved for use for sanctioned games. The top side must have at least one layer of white plastic tape.
You can wear gloves or attach the mallet to your hand with bands, strings and straps.
Some of the air hockey rules of play are flexible upon agreement by the two players. These include changing pucks during the game, playing with pucks with more tape layers, and using shields that are perpendicular to the playing surface.
A puck that scores after hitting a player’s hand is considered a goal if it would have still scored without the contact.
A puck that hits your hand after rebounding from the goal and then rebounds back into the goal mouth earns you a point.
Players also earn a point if the table loses power after they had struck a scoring puck.
An opponent scoring as you commit a foul nullifies your penalty and earns a point.
An own goal that results from you dropping your mallet after striking a puck that was not deflected by the opposing side earns you a point. It also gives you permission to stop the puck with your hands or body.
During tournaments, players can take a break of up to 2 minutes between games and up to 15 minutes between sets.
The referee issues an automatic conduct warning if a player requests for a second time-out during a game.
Players have 15 minutes to report to the referee when their match is called, or else they lose a point for every extra minute they do not do so. It gets worse for players who have been informed in person that their match is ready, since they start losing one point per minute if they do not report within 5 minutes.
More penalties and fouls
If you commit a foul, you forfeit the puck as penalty. This also applies in the simple air hockey rules that govern leisure play.
In addition to puck forfeiture, a player who commits a technical foul will also have to contend with leaving their goal unprotected for their opponent to take free shots.
Striking the puck off the table in an offensive manner is considered a foul.
Losing control of your mallet, regardless of whether it is attached to your hand, when striking a puck is a foul.
Air hockey game rules that each player be allowed only one false start but the second one is penalized by giving the opponent possession of the puck.
Other fouls in air hockey rules of play include hand serving the puck into your opponent’s goal, extending the mallet beyond your side of the centerline, talking during the game, and sending the puck flying off the table by using excessive force.
Intentional, excessive and distractive talk is a foul that could also get you a conduct warning penalty.
A penalty is nullified for players who commit fouls related to topping or the centerline if their opponents possess the puck immediately.
Official air hockey rules for tournaments with referees allow them to ignore the 7 seconds requirement for an edge-flipping puck and wait for it to rest flat.
The referee may call an official time-out for a reasonable duration for warranted situations such as emergencies and interference.
Air hockey playing tips
To help you learn how to play air hockey like a pro, we have also included tips below on how to stand, hold the mallet, and actually strike the puck.
Adopt a strategic stance: Your dominant foot should be the one nearer to the table so you can move your arms freely to the left or right direction. Lean forwards to take shots and lean at 90 degrees when defending your goal.
Get a professional grip: You can identify most novices by the way they hold on to the knob at the center of the mallet. This takes more effort because you are using your whole arm to move it and restricts how quickly you can strike the puck. The ideal way to maximize movement and speed is to place your three fingers in the ring at the base.
Drift to distract: We have established the kind of distraction that is considered a foul in both the simple air hockey rules and the official ones for sanctioned games, and we promise this is not it. This kind involves tricking your opponent by sliding the puck in one direction and then striking it in the opposite direction.
The triumph triangle: Position your mallet above your goal to create the Triangle Defense that is more successful in blocking straight, banked and angled shots.
Knowing what are the rules of air hockey for leisure and professional play enables you to choose the ones that you can adopt or customize in your games to suit the participants and the setting. We have seen that even some tournament rules are flexible if both players are in agreement. We hope you also appreciate the valuable air hockey tips we have outlined above.