AIR HOCKEY: Rules of The game

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By bernirr

The Fundamentals of Air Hockey (according to United States Air Hockey Association – USAA)

Basic Rules of Play


  • The first player to score 7 points wins the game.
  • A point is scored when the puck enters and falls into the goal.
  • After a point is scored, the player who was scored upon gains possession of the puck for the next serve.


  • If any part of the puck is on the centerline, either player may hit it. If the puck is completely within one player’s half of the table, not touching the centerline, the opposing player may not hit it. Violation of this rule constitutes a foul, resulting in the forfeiture of possession.
  • It is a foul if a player’s mallet completely crosses over the centerline.

Puck Off the Table

  • When a player offensively strikes the puck and causes it to leave the playing surface, that player commits a foul.
  • If the puck leaves the table while a defensive player is blocking a shot by moving their mallet sideways, backward, or not at all, the offensive player is at fault and the defensive player is awarded possession.
  • If the defensive player charges forward to block a shot and the puck leaves the table, the defensive player commits a foul and loses possession.

Loss of Mallet

  • It is a foul for a player to lose total control of their mallet.


  • It is a foul for a player to “top” the puck by lifting their mallet and placing it on top of the puck.


  • It is a foul if a player’s hand, body, or clothing touches the puck while it is on the table and in play.


  • If a player’s hand, body, or clothing blocks or deflects the puck while it is on a direct path toward their goal, it is considered “goaltending.” This results in a technical foul, allowing the opponent a free shot at the penalized player’s unprotected goal.

7-Second Rule

  • A player has 7 seconds to execute a shot that crosses the centerline. The 7 seconds start when the puck enters and remains on that player’s side of the centerline. Violation of this rule is a foul.


  • If a player commits a foul and is scored on during the same play, the goal counts and the penalty is nullified.
  • If a foul occurs and the innocent player immediately gains possession of the puck, the referee should allow play to continue without interruption.

Mallets and Pucks

  • Mallets and pucks must meet the standards of the U.S. Air Hockey Association (USAA).

Tournament/Challenge Match Play

  • Tournament play begins with a face-off. The winner of the face-off is the first player to gain possession or the player who scores off the face-off. The player who loses the face-off gains possession to start the second game, with first possession alternating each subsequent game. Players switch sides after each game.


  • Each game in tournament or challenge match play should be judged by a referee.


  • A face-off is used to begin a match or when the referee cannot determine who committed a foul. The puck is placed at the center of the table, and players’ mallets must be at least 1 inch away. When the referee releases the puck, both players may hit it.


  • A player committing a foul loses possession of the puck.
  • A technical foul allows the penalized player’s opponent one free shot at their unprotected goal. If the free shot misses, the puck is immediately in play.

For complete USAA rules, download the official Rules & Regulations.

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Air Hockey Terminology

Air Hockey

  • A competitive table game where players strike a floating puck with mallets, aiming to score by sending it into the opponent’s goal. The first player to score 7 points wins.

Bank Shot

  • A shot where the puck bounces off at least one rail before heading towards the opponent’s goal.


  • When a defensive player prevents an incoming puck from entering their goal by positioning their mallet in front of it.


  • The horizontal line dividing the top of the air hockey table into two equal halves. Players may only strike a puck on their side of the table or touching the centerline.

Challenge Match

  • A competitive match where one player challenges another for ranking or rating points.


  • A defensive move where a player lunges forward at an incoming puck and deflects it back at the opponent.

Chase Shot

  • A shot where a player moves out and redirects a moving puck that has just rebounded off one of their own back rails.


  • A straight shot where the puck crosses from one side of the table to the opposite side of the opponent’s goal.

Cut Shot

  • A shot where the mallet’s perceived motion and the direction the puck is hit are opposite, involving “slicing” the puck’s edge with the mallet.


  • A controlled movement of the puck on a player’s side of the table, serving as a setup for an executed shot or attack. Popular drifts include the Circle drift and the Right-to-Center drift.


  • A situation where the referee places the puck at the centerline and releases it for both players to attempt to gain possession or score simultaneously.


  • One of the two gaps on either end of the table where the puck enters to score. It also refers to scoring itself.

Goal Blocker

  • A training device that covers part or all of one goal, allowing players to practice shots without delay.
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Rules of the game

Goal Tending

  • A technical foul where a player stops a puck from entering their goal with something other than their mallet, such as their hand or clothing.


  • Game states asserted by the referee. During time-outs or penalties, the game is out-of-play until the referee signals otherwise.

Interference Defense

  • An aggressive defense maneuver aiming to deflect a moving puck or distract the opponent to gain possession or score.


  • The plastic material used to make pucks.


  • The device used by players to strike the puck. There are high-tops and low-tops, traditionally made of soft plastic but can be made from various materials as long as they conform to USAA guidelines.


  • A technique where the offensive player directs the puck at one of the back rails instead of the opponent’s goal, typically causing the puck to return directly for another shot.

Over the Line (Centerline)

  • A foul where a player hits a puck that is completely on the opponent’s side of the table.

Over the Mallet

  • A type of bank shot where the puck crosses in front of the opponent’s mallet and enters the goal at the far corner from the rail used.


  • The object floating on the table that players strike with their mallets to score points.

Pump Fake

  • A maneuver where a player winds up to strike the puck but stops just before impact to deceive the opponent.

Rail (Wall)

  • The metal beams outlining the table surface, containing the moving puck within the play area.


  • The specific motion a player makes when their mallet strikes the puck.

Straight Shot

  • A shot traveling across the centerline towards the opponent’s goal without hitting a side rail.


  • A foul where part of the mallet touches the top of the puck.

Triangle Defense

  • A common defensive strategy where a player holds their mallet 12-16″ in front of their goal, pulling diagonally to block banks and holding the center to block straights.

Under the Mallet

  • A type of bank shot where the puck bounces off the rail and enters behind the opponent’s mallet, typically freezing the opponent on defense.

USAA (United States Air Hockey Association)

  • The governing and rules-making organization for air hockey, founded in 1978.

Getting Rated in Air Hockey

  • To get a USAA rating, contact them to request a default beginner-level rating. Improve this rating by playing in a sanctioned major tournament or challenging another USAA-rated player to a sanctioned match. Winning matches will adjust your rating accordingly.

Getting World Ranked in Air Hockey

  • Everyone can obtain a USAA World Ranking. The World Championships are open to anyone, and your world ranking is based on your position in the last USAA-sanctioned World Championship. Rankings can also change through Challenge Matches. Winning against a World Ranked player shifts your rank, with the loser and others below moving down one spot. Ranked players must accept one challenge per month from the highest-ranked challenger.

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