What’s Air Hockey?

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Air hockey is a fast-paced board game with a smooth, perforated playing surface suspended above the floor. The goal is to use a striker to force a plastic puck into the opponent’s goal. Players cannot trap the puck or block shots with their body, and have only 7 seconds to hit the puck. The most common strategy is to establish a repeating pattern and wait for the opponent to move away from the position. Professional air hockey tournaments exist with larger tables and more elaborate patterns.

Air hockey is a fast-paced board game often seen in the company of other family games such as ping-pong, foosball, and pool. A typical casual-use air hockey table consists of a 6 by 4′ (1.8288 by 1.2192 feet) playing surface suspended approximately waist-high above the floor. The smooth top is perforated with hundreds of small holes that allow the air generated to pass through. The playing field is often decorated with red and blue lines similar to those found in ice hockey.

The purpose of the air cushion is to suspend a round plastic puck slightly above the playing surface. Some less expensive models sold as air hockey tables do not feature this cushion of air, relying more on the smoothness of the surface itself. The air hockey table is also designed with side rails to keep the puck in play and provide a bank for trick shots. Much of the game in air hockey is based on deception and misdirection, so bank and rail shots are very important to master.

There are two slots on either end of the air hockey table which are the equivalent of hockey goals. The object of the game is to use a special striker called a hammer or paddle to force the puck into the opponent’s goal. The first player to score a set number of goals is declared the winner. In tournaments the winning score is 7, but amateur players can set any number as the winning score.

To start an air hockey game, one player is designated as the server. The puck is placed on his side of the table and the other player must serve early. Once the puck crosses the center line, it can be returned by the receiving player.

Players may only use their clubs to hit the puck, not to trap it. This would be considered a foul and the other player would receive the puck. Air hockey players cannot block shots with other parts of the body and have only 7 seconds to hit the puck once it reaches their side.

The most common strategy in air hockey is to establish a repeating pattern and wait for the opponent to move away from the position. Usually a direct shot on goal is successful. Other game strategies include tilting the puck to hit the corners of the goal or changing the pace to misdirect the opponent. A basic defense is to hold the bat 6 to 8 inches (about 15 to 20 cm) in front of the goal to block straight shots, then pull the bat toward each corner to defend angled shots.
There are actually professional air hockey tournaments sanctioned by an official air hockey association. Tournament air hockey tables are larger and longer than those found in arcades and homes, and players use more elaborate patterns to distract their opponents.

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