How To Play Air Hockey: Rules, Tips & Tricks

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While there is the United States Table Hockey Association that regulates professional play, if you found yourself here, chances are you are not a member. Nor are you looking to play the game as a pro. Instead, you want to avoid arguments about rules when playing with your friends in your rec room or in a bar.

In this article, I will provide you with a detailed guide on how to play air hockey. While I will cover the rules, I will start with the basics of the game, and I will also provide you with some tips and tricks that you can use to win.

How To Play Air Hockey: Rules, Tips & Tricks

Air Hockey Equipment You Will Need

Unlike with ice or field hockey, air hockey can be played with minimal equipment. In fact, if you are planning to play it in an arcade, you will not need to bring anything. However, if you plan to play at home, you will need to get a couple of things.

Namely, you will need to get an air hockey table like the Triumph Lumen-X Lazer. Whether you get a 6-foot one or larger is up to you and mainly up to the amount of space you have available.

You will also need something to keep track of the score. Some tables are equipped with a scoreboard. If yours is not, however, it’s no big deal. You can simply use pen and paper, an abacus, or a proper scoreboard like this one.

Finally, you will need a set of paddles (mallets) and a puck. If it didn’t come bundled with your table, I recommend this one from Qtimal.

HRW Recommends

Triumph Lumen-X Lazer 6’ Air Hockey Table

A stylish black six-foot air hockey table equipped with an electronic scoreboard. Comes with a set of mallets and a puck.

How to Play Air Hockey: The Rules

If you are just playing air hockey with your friends to have fun, you can keep the rules really simple. You can simply decide a number of points, let’s say seven or ten, that one needs to reach first to win. Or you can simply keep counting the score for as long as you want to play.

That said, if you want to be a bit more serious, you can adopt some of the rules that the International Table Hockey Federation (yes, there is such a thing…) and its US counterpart, the United States Air Hockey Association (USAA), follow.

While there are some rules following which would make no sense in a home setting, there are also some that can help you keep your home game organized.

Below is a summary of the basic rules that serious air hockey players in the US follow:

  • A point is scored when the puck drops inside the opponent’s goal. The scored upon player gets to serve in the next play.
  • A player can stand anywhere around the table on his or her side of the centerline. A player cannot stand on the opponent’s side of the table.
  • The first player to score seven points is the winner of the game and players alternate the side of the table they are on after each game.
  • A player can only have one mallet on the table at any given time and the puck can be struck by any part of it. Only one puck can be in play at any given time.
  • The mallet cannot be lifted and placed on top of the puck, an act called “topping.” However, any part of a mallet including its bottom can be used to bring an airborne puck down to the table.
  • No parts of a player’s body (including hands and arms) and clothes can touch the puck, an act called “palming.”
  • A player has seven seconds to execute a shot. The count starts as soon as the puck enters that player’s side, i.e. as soon as it crosses the centerline.
  • A player can only strike the puck when its on his side of the table. When any part of the puck is on the centerline, either player can strike it.

While there are other rules as well, among other things detailing how to take time-outs and which air hockey table models are “approved,” you don’t need to worry about those. After all, the main purpose of a home air hockey match is to have a lot of fun.

However, if you are interested to learn in detail how the professionals play air hockey, you can check the full USAA rules here.

Air Hockey Tips & Tricks

Now that you know the rules – which is enough to get started – let’s go through some basic tips and tricks that will take your game to another level. Reading through and applying the below will not only help you win but also impress your friends.

Tip #1: Utilize the Triangle Defense Position

While scoring is what will make you win, defending is what will prevent you from losing. And, the first good step to winning is to stay as far away from loss as possible. To do that, you can learn the triangle defense position which will help you intercept shots headed at an angle.

To implement this strategy, defend with your mallet slightly out in the field (i.e. not right at the level of your goal). This will allow you to move the mallet backward to either corner of your goal.

Tip #2: Hold the Mallet Like a Pro

When people play air hockey, they generally hold the center of the handle of their mallet. While that might feel the most natural at the beginning, it is far from the ideal way to hold a mallet.

Instead, you should hold it with three fingers resting on the top of the handle. That allows for greater control of your movement.

Tip #3: Use Bank Shots

Every now and then, straight shots are good. However, most of the time, you should be trying to score with bank shots. Those are simply shots that rather than reaching the opponent’s goal directly, do so after hitting one of the side walls first.

Because bank shots reach the goal at an angle, they are more difficult to defend against than straight shots.

How to Play Air Hockey: Summary

Whether you are going to play at an arcade or at home, air hockey can be a lot of fun.

If you got all the way down here, you hopefully learned some new things about how to play air hockey. Hopefully, you know what equipment you will need to get started, what rules you should follow to get a game going, and what basic strategies you can deploy to win.

If you missed some parts, just remember these three things:

  • You will need a table, a scoreboard, a pair of mallets, and a puck to play air hockey
  • You can create your own rules, however, in official play, games generally last until either player reaches seven points
  • You should utilize the triangle defense strategy and use bank shots to maximize your chances of winning