Last Updated on March 3, 2020 by Jake
At its core, air hockey is a simple game. In order to win, you have to score by pushing the puck into your opponent’s goal while simultaneously keeping the puck out of your goal. It’s that simple! Nevertheless, just like any game, knowing a few tips and tricks will help you with how to win at air hockey.
Before we go into the tips and techniques that will help you win at air hockey, let’s start by briefly looking at the rules and basics of the game. A basic understanding of the rules will help you with strategy and how to win at air hockey.
Starting an Air Hockey Game
- First, you need to kick off. For a casual game among friends and family, you can simply flip a coin or play rock paper scissors to decide who starts the game. When it comes to playing a casual game, participants can simply choose whichever way they wish to start the game.
- If you want to follow the procedures set aside by the United States Air Hockey Association, you have to start with a coin toss.
- The winner of the toss decides which end they want to play from. The first round, which is also the “face-off” round, starts with the puck at the center.
- Both players can have their mallets at least an inch from the puck.
- On the count of three, both players try to hit the puck first.
- The winner of the face-off round starts the third, fifth and seventh game, while the other player starts the second, fourth and sixth game.
How to Play Air Hockey
During gameplay, players must not cross the centerline marked on the air hockey table. In addition, each player’s mallet has to stay in his or her half of the playing area at all times. Players can only play the puck if it’s in their half or touching the centerline.
In USAHA play, matches are played as a best of 7 series. In other words, the first player to win 4 games wins the match. A game is won by the first player to score 7 goals. Obviously, if you are playing casually then you can crown the winner in any way you want. Some people like to play the first to a certain amount of goals, and some like to play with timed halves and see who scores more at the end.
Scoring in Air Hockey
- To score, the puck has to enter the opposing player’s goal and tilt over the horizontal plane. If the puck enters the goal but doesn’t tilt over, the player can give the puck back to the opponent or work their mallet around the puck to play it without committing a foul. If the player’s mallet manages to push the puck farther into the goal for it to tilt over, it counts as an own goal.
- If the puck rebounds out of the goal, it doesn’t count as a score. It needs to fully enter the goal without returning.
- If the puck hits the defending player’s hand or other body parts on route to the goal it counts as a point. In this case, it doesn’t matter if the defending player loses their mallet, the point stands. If the defending player stops the puck with their hand or other body parts and the puck would have scored if it hadn’t been stopped, it still counts as a goal.
- Own goals can be scored. If a player accidentally hits the puck into his own goal, that counts as a point for the other player.
- If the defending player commits a foul but is still scored upon in the same play, the goal counts and the foul is nullified.
Bounds of Play
- The puck needs to be on the playing area at all times. The puck can touch the rail walls, the inside and front faces of the goals, the players’ mallets, and the playing field. If the puck touches anything else, it is out of the play and out of bounds. When this happens, the play must be restarted.
- If the puck touches the top of the rail even momentarily, it is considered out of play even if it returned back to the playing area.
- If any foreign object touches the playing area during the game (this is called an interference), play is suspended until the object is removed. Possession is then given back to the player who had possession before the interference.
Air Hockey Fouls
- A player has seven seconds to play the puck once it enters their half. Failure to play the puck within seconds is a foul.
- During play, players can’t place their mallet on top of the puck. This is referred to as “topping”. Topping is a violation and a foul.
- Having more than one mallet at any point of the game is a violation.
- It’s a violation for any part of a player’s body to touch the puck. This is referred to as “palming” and it results in a foul.
In the case of a foul, the player who commits the foul concedes possession to the other player.
How to Win at Air Hockey
While air hockey is a relatively easy game learn, winning games take skill and practice. When practicing, you have to practice right. Mastering the basics is the most important think when looking at how to win at air hockey. From there, you can move on to more advanced strategies.
The Straight Shot
An essential skill for how to win at air hockey is to master is the straight shot. This involves driving the puck straight and with force. Beginners usually make the mistake of swiping sideways at the puck. With this swiping technique, you are unable to generate enough power and speed. Directing the puck is also difficult when you swipe.
You should be trying to hit the puck from behind and drive it forward. This is the best way to generate the speed and control the direction of the puck. Learning this simple technique properly will massively improve your offensive prowess.
A great mindset to have for the straight shot is to focus on your follow through. Keep driving your mallet towards your target even after impact with the puck for maximum power and accuracy.
Ricochet shots happen all the time in air hockey. It takes time to master the ricochet, but a great way to begin mastering ricochet shots is to pay attention to angles. For example, if you or your opponent hit the boundary with a steep angle, the ricochet will be steep. Paying attention to ricochet angles will lead to better anticipation and reactionary defense over time.
Scoring on yourself is a real danger when it comes to air hockey. After striking the puck, it can ricochet off the rail walls back to your own goal if you aren’t careful. Scoring own goals is both frustrating and disheartening. The best way to prevent this is to practice getting back to a defensive position with your mallet centered and slightly in front of your goal as soon as you strike the puck. It will take time but eventually doing this becomes second nature.
Air Hockey Triangle Defense
In order to win at air hockey, you need to score while preventing your opponent from scoring. As such, having a stout defense is one of the best ways to win at air hockey. In addition to keeping your opponent out of the goal, a good defense will frustrate your opponent into making mental mistakes. The most important defense technique you can learn is the triangle defense.
This defensive technique allows you to defend against shots easily and efficiently. Start by positioning your mallet directly a foot in front of your goal. Now imagine that the mallet connects to both ends of the goal front to form a triangle. To defend against shots, you move your mallet backward toward the goal along the imaginary triangle. This allows you to effectively deal with banking shots and straight shots with a well-established set of movements.
The advantage of the triangle defense method is its simplicity and efficacy. Unnecessary and random movements that characterize poor defending are eliminated. Players using the triangle defense always have an advantage over players not using it.
For this defense method to be effective, the player has to practice. Practice improves both the speed and accuracy in movement. Over time, you can become so efficient with your defensive movement that it will become second nature and you will consistently be winning air hockey games.
Track the Puck
It’s good practice to always mirror the movement of the puck with the movement of your mallet. If the puck is moving to the left, move your mallet slightly to the left. If the puck is moving to the right, move your mallet slightly to the right. When this is combined with the triangle defense, you will be able to intercept almost all incoming pucks with ease.
This sounds like a really simple concept, but doing it will position yourself for success. Since the mallet moves along the triangle, while tracking the movement of the puck, you will always be in a position to stop the puck from entering your goal.
When the puck ricochets off a wall, it loses speed. As such, a double bank reduces the speed massively and makes your shot much easier to defend. A bank shot is best when the final shot ricochets off just a single wall.
There are basically two types of bank shots, namely the over bank and the under bank. The over bank shot refers to a bank shot where the puck ricochets off the wall in your half, while the under bank shot refers to a bank shot where the puck ricochets off the wall in your opponent’s half. These two types of bank shots can be combined in different sequences to produce strategic shots such as the one-two shot, the casting cut shot, and the moving puck shot.
With the one-two shot, you ricochet the puck off the sidewall close to the opponent’s goal (corner of your opponent’s side). When not intercepted, the puck will come right back at you, which you can then strike when it is about a foot from your goal towards the sidewall near the centerline. This will send the puck straight to the opposing goal. This shot relies on throwing off your opponent since there is a lot of ricochets and movement right before you sink the scoring puck. To be successful, the bank shots must be performed in quick succession.
Casting cut shot is used right after the play is restarted, either from a foul or after you have conceded a point. Float the puck diagonally to one direction, and then quickly hit it towards the goal in the opposite direction.
How to Win at Air Hockey – Conclusion
Air hockey is a great social game and a great way to get any get-together started. It is also very engaging and entertaining. Winning a friendly game is a way to build self-confidence while enjoying yourself. The best tip I can give any novice who wants to know how to win at air hockey is practice. Be sure to know the basics.
Start with a good defense, and then learn to strike the puck properly as described in the article. From there on, you can practice and play around with different types of strategic banks shots. Lastly, ensure you know the rules. Rules make the game fun and fair.
Now that you have the basics for how to win at air hockey, check out our post on best air hockey tables so that you can get a great set up for your game room!