Air hockey is a game for two competing players trying to score points in the opposing player's goal.
Air hockey requires an air hockey table, two mallets, and a puck.
A typical air hockey table consists of a large smooth playing surface, a surrounding rail to prevent the puck and mallets from leaving the table, and slots in the rail at either end of the table that serve as goals. On the ends of the table behind and below the goals, there is usually a puck return. Additionally, tables will typically have some sort of machinery that produces a cushion of air on the play surface, with the purpose of reducing friction and increasing play speed. In some tables, the machinery is eschewed in favor of a slick table surface, usually plastic, in the interest of saving money in both manufacturing and maintenance costs. Note that these tables are technically not air hockey tables since no air is involved, however, they are still generally understood to be as such due to the basic similarity of gameplay.
Currently, the only tables that are approved for play and sanctioned by the USAA (United States Air-Table-Hockey Association) for tournament play are 8-foot tables manufactured by Dynamo. Approved tables include the Photon, Pro-Style, older Blue Top, Brown Top, Purple Top or Black Top with unpainted rails. The HotFlash 2 and other full-size commercial tables with neon lights and/or painted rails are not approved for USAA play but are still great tables on which to learn the game.
A mallet (sometimes called a goalie, striker or paddle) consists of a simple handle attached to a flat surface that will usually lie flush with the surface of the table. The most common mallets, called "high-tops", resemble small plastic sombreros, but other mallets, "flat-tops", are used with a shorter nub.
Air Hockey pucks are slim discs made of a plastic material known as Lexan. Standard USAA-approved pucks are the yellow lexan, red lexan and the Dynamo green. In competitive play, a layer of thin white tape is placed on the face-up side.
Four-player tables also exist, but they are not yet sanctioned for competitive play.
Here are some basic rules as defined by the USAA:
* A face-off or coin toss decides which player gets the first possession of the puck.
* The first person to score 7 points by shooting the puck into the opponent's goal wins the game. When the puck breaks the horizontal plane inside the goal, a point is counted, whether or not captured by the electronic scoring device.
* Once the puck is on a certain player's side of the center line, he/she has 7 seconds to hit the puck back across the center line. Otherwise a foul is committed and the opponent receives possession of the puck.
* Placing one's mallet on top of the puck, known as topping, is a foul. Here the opponent receives possession of the puck.
* A player cannot touch or strike the puck with any part of his/her body or with any object other than the mallet. Doing so causes a foul and possession changes hands.
* If the puck is on a clear path into the goal and the player stops it with anything other than the mallet, this is goaltending. Here the opponent receives a free shot.
* Hitting the puck when it is on the opposite side of the center line, or crossing the center line completely with one's mallet causes a foul. Here the opponent receives possession of the puck.
* If the puck leaves the table, a foul is called on the player that caused the puck to go out of play due to offensive motion and the opposing player gets possession of the puck. Generally, when a player causes the puck to leave the table with a forward motion of the mallet, even defensively (known as charging), the foul is charged on them. An out of play foul results in the opponent receiving possession of the puck.
* Grip the mallet behind the knob using your fingertips, not on top of it. This will allow more wrist action and help you be able to move the mallet around the table faster.
* For basic defense, keep your mallet centered about 8-10 inches out from the goal. From that point, very slight movements to the left and right will block virtually all straight shots. Pull back quickly to the corners of the goal to block the bank shots. This is known as the "triangle defense".
* Gain control of the puck before you take a shot. Shots are often hit out of "drifts", where the puck travels in set patterns designed to throw off your opponent's expectations and timing. The most popular drifts are the "center", "diamond", "diagonal", and "L". After establishing your drift, set up your shots like you would set up a shot in a game of pool - take your time, figure out where you want to shoot, aim and fire!
* Practice "combos": these are groups of shots which are hit with the same apparent delivery but opposite locations, caused by hitting the puck at slightly different locations on the mallet. For example, a transverse motion of the right arm can lead to a "cut shot" to the left corner of the opponent's goal or a "right wall under" (bank off the right wall, into the right corner of the opponent's goal). Keep your opponent guessing!
* There are many ways to get around your opponent's defense. Aim for the corners of the goal. On bank shots, try to get the puck in the goal off of a one-wall bank. If you hit double or triple banks, the puck loses velocity and will be easy to block.
Air hockey was invented by Bob Lemieux, an avid ice hockey fan and engineer at Brunswick Billiards, in 1972. It was an immediate financial success, and by the mid-1970's there arose substantial interest in tournament play. To ensure uniform play standards of the highest competitive quality, the United States Air-Table Hockey Association (USAA) was formed in 1978 by J. Phillip "Phil" Arnold, largely as an official sanctioning body. Since its inception, the USAA has sanctioned at least one national-level or World championship each year, crowning 11 different champions over 28 years. The USAA remains at present the only recognized worldwide player organization for air hockey, and has maintained a close relationship with table manufacturers and event promoters over the years. Today, competitive air hockey is played by a close-knit community of serious players around the world, with extensive player bases near Houston, San Francisco, Denver, Chicago, New York, and Boston in the United States, Barcelona in Spain, and Saint Petersburg in Russia. From the late 1980's, Caracas, Venezuela served as a hotbed of activity; two-time World Champion Jose Mora and other finalists originated from there. By 1999, however, most of the Venezuelan activity had disappeared.