Air Hockey Strategy: 7 Tips to Win Every Time

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Looking to improve your air hockey game and play like a pro? We want to help! In this air hockey strategy guide, we'll teach you the following...

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  • How to properly hold an air hockey mallet.
  • Offensive strategies and trick shots you can start learning.
  • The best way to maintain puck possession.
  • Methods the pros use for their defensive game.

Let's get started!

How to Hold the Mallet Like a Pro

Holding the mallet or striker properly is key to having a good shot in air hockey. Many casual players playing one off games will hold the mallet with their entire hand, as if they were holding a joy stick of some sort.

The primary reason why this grip is bad is because it takes your entire arm to move the mallet. As such, you can't move it as quickly and won't be able to create a "whipping" motion which is what you need to do for maximum speed. 

Here's what a bad air hockey grip looks like:

example of a bad air hockey mallet grip

This is not how you should hold an air hockey stick.

As you can see, the player's hand is covering the entire mallet and getting any sort of force is going to require use of his entire arm.

The proper grip for air hockey is one where you have a few fingers are placed inside the mallet. If you watch the video below, you'll notice that in addition to moving his arms, Collin Cummings is applying a secondary whipping motion with the wrist, akin to throwing a frisbee.

Some players will opt to wear air hockey gloves in order to lessen the impact and improve their grip. The exact finger count you use (you'll need at least two) and whether you want to wear a glove or not comes down to your personal preference. Some players even opt to tape their fingers to the mallet itself. As per the typical air hockey rules, so long as your fingers don't interfere with the puck then you should be fine.

How to Play Offense

If you want to win at air hockey, then you need a good offense. The game is won on scored points, so if you can't put the puck in your opponent's goal you're in trouble! By learning some of these basics and advanced offensive strategies, you'll be able to start developing a game that's uniquely your own.

What is Drifting And Why Is It Important?

Drifting the puck is as simple as gently sliding the puck towards one direction. Then, as the puck slides you shoot the puck in the opposite direction and hopefully score a goal before your opponent adjusts. The idea is that if you're drifting the puck to the right, your opponent will have to adjust slightly their mallet to block a straight shot. Before he readjusts back to the center, you have a small window to smash it into their goal.

You can also use drifting to set up trick shots.

3 Easy Trick Shots

As the name implies, trick shots are designed to deceive your opponent. Here are three super effective trick shots that you can start using next time you play:

We learned these shots from Mark Robbins, two time national air hockey champion.

To make things easy, we've also created diagrams of these trick shots. The (1) on the diagram represents the initial position of the puck while the (2) represents the next time that you should strike it.

The One-Two Shot

The "One-Two Shot" is really two shots in one. It's designed to throw off your opponent because to them the puck will simply look like it's bouncing around everywhere. However, the reality is that you're using your mallet to strategically place the puck onto the bank and then into their goal.

air hockey trick shot the one two diagram

Here's how to do it:

  • Hit the puck towards the corner of your opponents side. To set it up properly, the puck should hit the top of their corner (closest to you) and then the bottom of their corner (closest to their goal).
  • As the puck returns to you from the second bounce, immediately shoot the puck to the spot on the rail where it will bounce and go into your opponents goal. 
  • Don't delay or stop the puck when it's returning to you, it will make the shot far more predictable and give your opponent a chance to block the shot.

The Casting Cut Shot

The "Casting Cut Shot" isn't nearly as complex as the "One-Two", but its insanely effective. There's also a mental aspect to this shot because you can only use it after your opponent has scored. Many times, inexperienced opponents will have inflated egos after scoring on you. This shot punishes them for their hubris and momentary lapse of attention and focus.

casting cut shot air hockey diagram

Here's how to do it:

  • After your opponent has scored, remove the puck from your goal and float it on a diagonal towards the opposite direction of where you're going to be shooting it.
  • As the puck is drifting, use your mallet to shoot the puck into the opposite corner of your opponents goal. This means, if you're floating it towards the right, aim towards the left corner of their goal. Hence the term "casting cut shot".
  • If done properly, your opponent will be focused on where the puck is gliding and not expect to have it placed in the opposite goal corner.

The Moving Puck Shot

The "Moving Puck Shot", also known as the "Chase Shot" is similar to the "One-Two" in the sense that you're relying on the rails for the setup of the shot. The idea is to confuse the opponent by keeping the puck in motion on the rails. If done correctly, your opponent's mallet won't be in the right place as you slide the puck down the center.

moving puck shot air hockey diagram

Here's how to do it:

  • Hit the pick off of your rail so that it goes into the opponents corner.
  • You want to place it so that the puck bounces from your opponent's corner back to your corner.
  • After doing two bounces on your corner ,at the side and by your goal, the puck should then be in the perfect place to send it straight across the table.
  • plus
    Immediately shoot the puck across the table into the opponent's goal. You want to do a straight-shot without anymore banking, but you an decide in the moment whether you want to shoot it into a corner of the goal or directly down the middle.

How to Maintain Puck Possession

Getting possession of the puck is key to setting up most of your trick shots. Many beginners will simply smack the puck towards the other end when it comes their way and not actually take possession.

The key to taking position is bracing your mallet while moving it back slightly to "catch it". It's a motion that's very difficult to describe and more something that an individual player has to feel out themselves. A great example of maintaining puck possession can be seen in this match:

You'll notice that both players are attempting to gain control of the puck rather than shooting it directly back. Pay close attention to the movement of their mallets on the catch so that you can better understand the "catching" motion.

How to Play Defense

The cool trick shots tend to get most of the glory in air hockey. However, having a solid defensive strategy in air hockey is just as, if not more important, than having a good shot. After all, if the other player can't score, then they can't win!

When people are first starting out, the most common mistake that they will make is holding their mallet close to the goal, probably around the middle. While it looks like this takes up most of the goal's real-estate, it's actually a poor defensive strategy.

But why?

Leaving your mallet close to the goal leaves you really open for straight shots. A properly placed "Casting-Cut" shot that we detailed above, would quickly find its way past your mallet and into the goal.  

Executing the "Triangle Strategy"

To combat this, many of the top players in air hockey will utilize what's called a Triangle Defense. This strategy is detailed in the video above and the diagram and write-up below. The black mallet and grey triangle indicates the ground you want to be covering when playing this defense style.

diagram of air hockey triangle defense

The Triangle Defense calls for your mallet to be placed above where your goal is, typically at the first notch on a good table. This places you in the best position to block the three main shots that people are going to throw at you: straight shots, angled shots, and banked shots.

Blocking Straight Shots: Because of the nature of the triangle defense, you're already in a great position to block straight shots. You don't really have to move the mallet too much, most straight shots are going to hit it directly.

Blocking Angled Shots: To block angled shots, you also don't have to move that much. A slight shift from left to right will be enough 

Bank Shots: Bank shots are intended to hit the rails and then go behind your mallet. Because of this, they're going to require the most movement on your part to block. If you see a puck going towards the rails, you'll need to move your mallet in a triangle motion down towards the side that it's coming from. This will effectively get your mallet in front of the shot so that you can block it.

Wrap-Up

We hope you've enjoyed these tips and strategies. Once you start putting them into practice, you'll be amazed at the edge that you're going to have over your friends and competitors. Trust us, it will seem like magic.

If there's any other tips, strategies, trick shots, or anything else that you think we left out, please do let us know. You can leave any questions, comments, tips, and suggestions of your own in the comments section below.

We'd love to hear from you!

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