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Beginner's Guide to Air Hockey

Air hockey is a fun and engaging tabletop game for anyone to enjoy. The game is not solely reliant on skill, but by knowing what you're doing, you can gain the upper hand and make the game more exciting. This air hockey for beginners guide will teach you how to play, what you need, basic strategies and practice tips so you can start your air hockey hobby on the right foot.

Required Equipment

Before you start playing air hockey, gather all the necessary equipment.

  • An air hockey table: An air hockey table has tiny, symmetrically drilled holes across the entire playing surface to create an even and frictionless playing field. A built-in fan beneath the table blows air through these holes. The air pressure keeps the air hockey puck floating, allowing it to glide swiftly along the table.

  • Goalies: Players strike the puck with goalies, also called mallets or paddles. Each player needs one, so at least two are necessary to play.

  • Scoreboard: Most air hockey tables come with a built-in scoreboard or scorekeeping system, but if yours lacks this feature, you'll need another way to keep track of the score, like a notepad or whiteboard.

  • Coin: A simple coin toss will determine which player starts with possession of the puck.

That's everything you need to play air hockey. Plug in the table to power the fan and let the good times roll. Fun, easy to set up and simple to learn, air hockey is an accessible game.

Basic Air Hockey Rules

Before you begin playing, you'll want to understand the rules. Typically, the winner of an air hockey game is the first player to score seven points. You can extend the game by playing matches. If both players score five or higher, but neither has reached seven, the winner is the first person to get two points ahead of their opponent. 

These are the official air hockey rules every player must know.

  • Flip a coin: Every game begins with a coin toss to determine which player starts.

  • Scoring a point: A point only counts if the puck fully crosses the goal line. Rebounds or pucks that stop partway inside the goal do not count.

  • The opponent serves next: When one player scores, their opponent gets to serve the next puck.

  • When to strike: A player may only strike the puck when it's in their half of the table or if it's in the area of the centerline.

  • Goalie limits: A player's goalie may not cross the centerline at any point while the puck is in play.

  • Standing positions: Players can stand either behind or alongside the table, as long as they remain on their side of the centerline.

  • Centerline pucks: A puck that touches any part of the centerline is fair play for both players.

  • No lifting: Lifting the goalie is off-limits, as is placing the goalie on top of the puck to keep it in place. Goalies must always remain flat on the surface.

  • Fingers only: Players can only touch the goalie with their fingers. Using your hands, arms or other body parts is against the rules. 

  • The three-finger grip: The best way to hold the goalie is by bending the middle finger of your dominant hand and placing it in the groove behind the goalie's handle. Then, put your index and ring finger on either side of the handle for better maneuverability.

  • Timeouts: Each player can call a 10-second timeout in each round, provided the puck is in their possession or is not currently in play.

How to Play Air Hockey

Every beginner should be familiar with some offensive and defensive strategies. A useful offensive tactic is drifting, which involves lightly tapping the puck with your goalie to get it into the ideal position to take your shot — think of it as a pass to yourself in your shooting zone. Tapping the puck too lightly might be ineffective, while tapping with excessive force sacrifices finesse. Practice striking a balance to reap the full accuracy and strength benefits of drifting.

The best defensive tip we can give beginners is to avoid holding your goalie too close to your goal. Taking up a lot of space near your goal might sound like a good idea, but it is a poor defensive strategy. The closer you are to the goal, the more vulnerable you are to a quick, straight shot going straight into your goal. 

The triangle strategy lets you deflect most shots. Place your goalie between the two circles in your zone and just beyond your goal line. Now, you can draw an imaginary triangle connecting that spot with the two sides of your goal for maximum coverage and defense. Always keep a close eye on the puck and your opponent's goalie.

Practice Makes Perfect

The secret to getting better as a beginner is to know what skills to hone. These include grip, accuracy, ability to keep the puck on your side of the table, defensive techniques, reflexes, offensive strategies and familiarity with the table. You can enhance these skills alone or by sparring with a practice buddy. 

Don't worry about scorekeeping at first. Keep working on the basics until you are comfortable enough to move to more advanced techniques like the moving puck shot, the casting cut shot, the one-two shot and other offensive and defensive techniques with a training resource.

Get Good at Air Hockey With an Imperial Table

Whether you're an air hockey novice or a veteran, playing on a high-quality table makes all the difference. There is no better place to learn how to master this pastime than with an air hockey table from Imperial. We design our tables to blend with any home's décor while providing an excellent playing experience. Shop Imperial's air hockey tables online and enjoy unparalleled air hockey for beginners.

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