Air Hockey Zone

Air Hockey 101- Air Hockey Rules Made Simple to Understand

Air Hockey 101

Fast, fun, and frenzied- Three words that perfectly define air hockey! Played at a furious pace, this tabletop game is every bit as exciting as ice hockey, but nobody ends up with a bloody nose or broken bones when playing it.

Since you are here, chances are that you have already seen two opponents having a go at each other, ferociously slamming the puck back and forth in a bid to score. At first glance, it may seem like an “everything-goes” kind of game.

But actually, there are set air hockey rules that are followed even when it’s only a friendly game. So, if you have just developed an interest in this exhilarating sport, learn more about it with this air hockey 101 guide.




The basics of air hockey!


Think of this game as a cross between pool and traditional hockey. Like pool (billiards), you will need a table and like hockey, you will be playing with a puck. But the hockey stick is replaced with a mallet. The objective is to hit the puck into your opponent’s goal, which gets you a point. Your opponent on his part will try to stop the puck from getting into his goal and hit it right back to get it into your goal.


How many players do you need- Usually, the game is played by two people, but playing doubles can be more fun and fast-paced.


Who can play air hockey: Anybody who enjoys a thrilling game that’s played at a lightning pace! This is certainly not an age-specific sport. However, any player below the age of 10 will need a smaller table.


What skills do you need to play this game: Quick thinking, strategy, and fast reflexes are all used when playing air hockey, but you will develop these as you continue to play. So, you don’t need a specific skill set to start playing just a desire to score and beat your opponent while having loads of fun.


For how long does a match last: Air hockey follows the 7 in 7 formats; that is 7 points scored over 7 rounds. There isn’t a time limit, but generally, a round lasts for about 15 minutes. However, that’s pro-playing that we are talking about. If it is a friendly game, you can always limit a game to as many rounds as you like. To win, a player needs 7 points scored in each round and 7 such rounds. The first player to get there is the winner.


What makes air hockey so popular: The fact that you can start playing anytime and anywhere as long as you have the hardware is a definite plus. Add to this the fact that players don’t really need expertise or experience to start playing, and it is easy to understand the popularity of air hockey. Then there is the bit about the fast pace of the sport and the fact that it is a truly exciting game.


Are there air hockey pro tournaments: Yes, air hockey is played at a professional level. The governing entity is called the United States Airhockey Association (USAA). Pros play at local, state, and regional tournaments to get to the Air Hockey National Championship held once a year.




What do you need to play air hockey?


The table: It’s a flat surface like what’s required for all table games. But unlike the table used for pool or foosball, an air hockey table actually comes with a fan placed underneath. The tabletop has small holes and the air is channeled by the fan upwards and through these small holes to the surface of the table.



Air Hockey Table



This forms a kind of air cushion that allows for easier and faster movement of the puck across the surface by greatly reducing friction. As you may have guessed, the fan is the most expensive component of an air hockey table and also the one that earned the sport its name air hockey instead of just table hockey.

The table has banks and rails on all four sides that keep the puck inside. The sides can be used to take a bank shot to score a goal. The table is divided into two equal parts with a central line and the goalposts are on the far side of these two opposing ends. The goalpost can be equipped with a digital score counter or a manual one.



Air hockey mallet




 The mallet: This is the striker used by the players to hit the puck. Also called a pusher, goalie or paddle, the mallet is a circular plastic object that the players move around with one hand. Its circular shape means that you get more precise control over the direction in which the puck moves when struck by the mallet.


Air Hockey Puck



The puck: In terms of its shape, an air hockey puck is almost the same as an ice hockey puck albeit the latter is made of rubber and is heavier. The puck used in air hockey is made of plastic and is lighter which makes it easy for players to move it about the table by striking it with the plastic mallet.

Together these 3 make the hardware needed for an air hockey match. At the pro level you will often see players using gloves and even finger tape. But unless you intend to be a part of a professional team, it’s  unlikely that you will need these.



Starting the game with 20 basic air hockey rules



Air hockey table rule



1. Players get one mallet each and there is one puck on the table even if it is a doubles match. Of course, enthusiasts have been known to double-fist but you will never see that happening in a professional tournament.


2. You can strike the puck with any part of the mallet but it cannot be topped. So, you can never put the mallet on top of the puck.


3. You have to keep the mallet behind the center line of the table on your side.


4. While playing you have to stand on your side of the table or on the side but you can never cross the center line when playing from the side of the table.


5. The player who has possession of the puck takes the subsequent serve.


6. Players have to switch sides after each game.


7. You only get one time-out per game and that too lasts just for 10 seconds, and you only get this time-out if you have the puck.


8. Nothing else other than an injury to one of the players/hardware failure can lead to a second timeout.


9. You can only strike the puck when it is on your side of the table or bang on the center line.


10. When the puck is on the center line either player can strike it.


11. If your mallet extends into your opponent’s side of the table, it will be considered a foul.


12. If the puck is airborne, that’s the only time you can lift the mallet off the table to strike the puck.


13. Once the puck has been served and it is on your side of the table, you only get 7 seconds to strike it back to the opposite side of the table.


14. Once you score a goal, your opponent gets only 10 seconds to retrieve the puck and place it back on the table.


15. Except for when the puck is retrieved from the goal, touching the puck or any physical contact with the puck is considered a foul.


16. You will need to strike the puck such that it lands into the goal of the opponent; only then will you score a point for it.


17. If the puck is half out of the goal or rebounds from the side wall of the goal, you won’t score for it.


18. You get one point for each goal and the first player who gets 7 points wins the match.


19. Once you score a goal, your opponent will retrieve the puck and then take the subsequent serve.


20. If a player commits a foul, he/she has to forfeit the puck allowing his/her opponent to take the next serve.




What happens during an air hockey game?



During an air hockey game


During an air hockey game



The start of the game: You begin by flipping a coin; the player who wins the toss gets to choose the side of the table he plays on. From thereon, sides are changed after every game.


After the players assume their positions on their respective sides, the referee puts the puck on the center line and the players position their mallets an inch away from the puck. The referee then uses a whistle to signal the start of the game. At this point, the player who is the fastest, hence the first to strike the puck, gets the first serve.

But, there is also a false start:
Because you have to wait for the starting signal from the referee, this creates room for false starts. This is when you jump the gun and strike the puck before it is officially released for play. Both players are allowed one false start. A second slip-up of the kind means that you will have to forfeit the puck. If you don’t have a referee, as is the case when playing a friendly game, you can always use the coin toss to determine who gets the chosen side and the first serve.


The play: The game after the first strike, or face-off as it’s called, is all about getting control of the puck and driving it into the goal of the opponent while thwarting all attempts from the opponent to block it.


In tournaments, the winner of the face-off; i.e. the player who is the first to strike the puck upon its release at the start of the game also gets to take the first serve in all subsequent odd-number games. So, if you win the face-off, you get to serve for games no- 1, 3, 5, and 7 while your opponent will get to serve for games no 2, 4, and 6.


Scoring as you play: As mentioned above, you score a point only if the puck lands squarely and completely in your opponent’s goal. If the puck rebounds or if it comes to a stop with half its body out on the table without tilting into the goal, you won’t score a point for it.


However, if the puck is halfway out but tilts into the goal, this is good enough to score a point. If the puck stops halfway into the goal without tilting, you can hand it over to your opponent or move it away from the goal and into the game by shimmying it.


Rebounds are not considered goals unless the puck hits the hand of the defending player and then rebounds into the game


If your serve hits the defending player’s hand and stops, but if it’s obvious that in the absence of this contact, the puck would make it to the goal, this would score you a point. If the puck is struck and makes it to the goal before the table loses power, you win a point.



Air hockey rules about penalties and foul



Air Hockey Table Rules


A foul is to penalty what cause is to effect. In simple words, foul is the act of breaking a rule and penalty is the punishment for breaking the rule. Fouls are of two types:


Regular foul: You will have to forfeit the puck and let your opponent have the serve if you commit a regular foul.


Technical foul: You will lose points if you commit a technical foul or your opponent will be allowed to take a free shot at your goal without you being given the chance to defend.


In case of a technical foul, the game resumes as normal after the free shot, whatever its outcome. Take a look at what qualifies as a foul:

  • Touching the puck with any part of your body or your clothing.
  • Deliberately striking the puck hard enough to send it flying off the table.
  • Blocking your opponent’s view of the puck.
  • Blocking the opponent’s strike by hitting or touching his mallet in any manner.
  • Crossing into your opponent’s side of the table with the mallet or physically as you play.
  • Intentionally slowing the game down or delaying play either by refusing to play or stalling.
  • Trapping the puck by lifting your mallet off the table (all the way or halfway).





Air hockey 101- All about boundaries



The puck can only touch the table surface, its side walls, the goals, and the mallets. If the puck served by you touches any other surface, it is considered out of bounds. As such the serve will result in the forfeiture of the puck.

If the puck ends up grazing the rail guards, even if the contact is only for a moment, the shot will be considered out of bound and out of play.



Tips to up your air hockey skills



air hockey skills


Air hockey skills



When you start playing air hockey, your first instinct will be to wildly strike the puck as hard and as fast as you can, without putting any real thought into the shot. But, that isn’t going to help you to improve your game. Instead, work on both your form and your shot strategy. Here’s how:


Work on your grab: At first, it may seem that grabbing the knob of the mallet which sticks out from the center of its body is the way to go. But, pros do things differently. The idea is to allow your hand to have as much dexterity as possible when striking and defending, and a firm grip isn’t going to do that.


Instead, try holding the mallet with three of your fingers resting on its ridge or the shallow ring around the base. This will give your wrist and hand, and hence the mallet, a wider range of motion.


Play every shot strategically: Random and hurried strikes are hallmarks of amateurs. If you want to improve your game, drift the puck one way to retain it and then hit it another way to deceive the defense and score a goal. You can use either a straight shot that moves from left to right or a slicing motion cut shot.


Be proactive about your defense: Use the “out defense” method to stop your opponent’s strike. To use this approach, hold your mallet slightly forward (around the first screw) instead of right in front of your goalpost. This will help you to block more effectively.

Another way is to use the triangle method in which you hold the mallet on either end of your goal. This helps you to block the shot from an angle. Plus it gives you quicker possession of the puck.


When faced with a service, don’t panic: When you have the puck hurtling towards you at full speed, your instinct will be to strike it forward and send it whirling away from your goal. But, by doing so you are simply handling the possession of the puck right back to your opponent.
Instead, try to work with the puck’s momentum to slow it down and gain control. Then, take a deliberate shot in a direction that the defense will find hard to block/cover.






How much space does an air hockey table occupy?
The standard table is 7.5ft x 4.1 ft, but you will need at least 2.5 to 3 feet of room on all sides of the table to play comfortably. So, you should place the table in an area that gives you at least 10 feet x 7 feet of space.
How big is an air hockey puck?
Official pucks have a diameter of 3.5 inches and a width/thickness of ¼ inch thick. They are made of plastic and can be yellow, red or fluorescent green. But unofficial pucks can come in different shapes.
How heavy is the air hockey mallet?
There is no lower limit on the weight of the mallet, but the upper limit is 6 oz. Of course, you can’t go above this maximum. But, it goes without saying that the heavier the mallet the more force it will put into your strike.
What is the cost of an air hockey table?
Depending on its features and type, an air hockey table can set you back by a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars. As is to be expected, professional tables are at the higher end of the price spectrum while beginner and children’s tables are the cheapest and often cost in the range of $50- $250.An intermediate or midrange table can cost you between $250 and $1500 while a pro, high-end table can even set you back by as much as $6000.
How do I find a competitive air hockey league?
For information on local leagues and upcoming tournaments visit the website of the United States Air Hockey Association or the Air Hockey Players Association.



Ready to play an air hockey match?



Now that you know about air hockey rules and everything needed to start playing, all you need to do is actually put the mallet to a puck to start your love affair with a game that is so much more than just entertainment.


Start playing young and you will be giving your noggin a sound workout. If you are taking up the game as a young or even middle-aged person, it offers a fun-filled way to keep those brain synapses in top condition.


Older players too can get much from this thrilling sport. For starters, the exercise can do you a world of good. Plus, the adrenaline rush of competing is a wonderful way to chase away stress and depression.


Moreover, this is a two-player game, so you are certainly not going to feel lonely when playing it. Air hockey is simple to play but it packs quite the punch in terms of excitement and fun. So, if you haven’t already enjoyed your first match, now is as good a time as any to give air hockey a shot.


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