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What is Air Hockey? History and Gameplay

air hockey championships

Air Hockey is a game played on a tabletop where two players use mallets and a puck to score goals against each other. The table surface is smooth and resembles an ice hockey rink.

The edges of the table are raised, which reflects the puck. The table can be visualised to be similar in structure to cardboard. However, there are two goals at each end in Air Hockey, more like hockey goals, as against four pockets at each corner in the carrom.


The air hockey concept is said to be based on an old technology of the 1960s, called an Air Table. This table had holes on the edges which would throw a blast of air which lifted heavy objects (such as cardboard boxes) just so slightly in the air and acted as a cushion allowing the heavy object to be moved across easily. It could be imagined as an early version of a conveyor. This version saw a few modifications till it matured and evolved into the game we know today as air hockey.

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Air Hockey Table

  • The air hockey table is a rectangular shaped highly slippery surface which allows for free movement of the puck.
  • The edges are raised and bouncy which helps in reflecting the puck and also prevents the pucks and the mallets from leaving the table.
  • At each end, there are slots in the edge rail that act as goals.

In some high-end tables, there is also a mechanism to maintain a smooth blast of air which helps in further reducing the friction on the table and enhances the swift movement of the puck around the table.

In some instances, the pucks have built-in features that produce a cushion of air to help the puck move smoothly on the table.

The typical size of air hockey tables is 8 feet long, 4 feet wide, and they stand about 3 feet tall. Although, there are many versions of smaller tables ranging to as small as 1.5 feet are also available for casually engaging in a fun game of air hockey.

The popularity of the game led to the formation of the Air Hockey Players Association (AHPA) and the introduction of the USAA World Championships in 1978 followed by the US Championship in 1983 and the AHPA World Championship in 2015. Colin Cummings is the reigning world champion of the USAA World Championship.

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Game Play

  • The air hockey striker has a disc with a holder at the centre.
  • The player needs to hold the mallet like a joystick with fingers inside the groove which provides a decent grip to strike the puck.
  • The striker is used for both attack and defence.
  • The striker is usually positioned in front of the goal to act as a defensive mechanism.
  • The striker needs to be in contact with the table to hit the puck on contact.
  • The player can defend the goal by making swift movements of the striker to the left or right and blocking the movement of the puck into their goal.
  • The player can also strike the puck with force to score a goal by netting the puck into the opponent’s goal.
  • The circular edges of both the striker and puck create a lot of avenues for cut shots using the various angles at which the striker makes contact with the puck.
  • The reflective edge rails also provide for creative shot-making by players to outsmart their opponents and score goals.

Air Hockey is usually a two-player game, but it can also be played by 3 or 4 players. The game follows specific rules:

  • The puck must be placed in the centre of the table after each goal is scored.
  • The player who scored the last goal gets the next serve.
  • Players are only allowed to use their paddle to hit or block the puck.
  • No physical contact is allowed between players or between the player’s strikers.
  • Each player has five seconds to make a shot, if it exceeds the time limit, play is stopped and a face-off occurs in the centre of the table.
  • If an illegal shot is made such that it does not cross over into your opponent’s side of the table, then possession is transferred to the opponent.
  • The team that scores seven goals first wins the game. However, the number of goals to win can be flexible and otherwise specified by the players or tournament rules.
  • The game can also be constrained by time and if time runs out, then the player with the most goals wins. The usual time limit for each game is 5 minutes. Air hockey can also be played as a best of 3 or 5-game format with each game lasting for 5 minutes or where each game could be a race to who scores 7 goals first.

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Air Hockey is a fun-filled game that involves skills such as Dexterity, agility, hand-eye coordination, and reaction time. To succeed at the game, here are certain tricks you can use:

  • Keep your striker close to the table and move swiftly when trying to block the shots of your opponent.
  • Master the bank shots as they can be extremely productive. Bank shots are shots in which the puck hits off one side or more of the table before it goes into the opponent’s goal.
  • While attempting a stop shot, have an open stance with your body facing towards your goal. It will help you to react quickly if needed.
  • Use short, quick strokes for maximum control over the puck and higher shot accuracy.
  • Focus on your movement around the table rather than just random shooting.
  • Keep a close lookout for openings in your opponent’s defence that you can exploit with passes or creative angled shots.

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