To begin the game, the ball is served through a hole at the side of the table, or simply placed by hand at the feet of a figure in the centre of the table. The initial serving side is decided with a coin toss. Players attempt to use figures mounted on rotating bars to kick the ball into the opposing goal. Expert players have been known to move balls at speeds up to 56 km/h (35 mph) in competition.
Most rules consider “over 360-degree shots”, or “spinning” (using the palm of the hand to swiftly spin the bar all around, instead of using wrist strokes to kick the ball with a bar-mounted figure) illegal. However, there are many rules variations – in some variations, the keeper is allowed to spin, in others as long as a goal is scored from a controlled position, rotations of the rod after striking the ball are permitted. Generally, shots short of a full 360-degree rotation before (or after) striking the ball are legal. Since the establishment of the ITSF, the rules have become standardised in most international competitions. However, since January 2012, the annual World Championships and the World Cup will permit two full 360-degree rotations.
The winner is determined when one team scores a predetermined number of goals, typically five, ten, or eleven in competition. When playing Bonzini competitions the target number of goals is seven. You must win by 2. Table football tables can vary in size, but a typical table is about 120 cm (4 ft) long and 61 cm (2 ft) wide. The table usually contains 8 rows of foos men, which are plastic, metal, wooden, or sometimes carbon-fibre figures mounted on horizontal metal bars. Each team of 1 or 2 human players controls 4 rows of foos men.
The following arrangement is common to ITSF competition tables, though there are substantial variations, particularly in Spain and South America – where the Futbolín table model (or variants) is common and uses a different configuration. Looking from left to right on one side of the table, the configuration is usually as follows: