Blogs

Larry Hodges' daily blog will go up Mon-Fri by noon USA Eastern time (usually by 10 AM, more like noon on Mondays when he does a Tip of the Week and has three days to cover). Larry is a member of the U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame, a USATT Certified National Coach, a professional coach at the Maryland Table Tennis Center (USA), and author of eight books and over 1500 articles on table tennis. Here is his bio.
NOTE - Larry is on the USATT Board of Directors and chairs the USATT Coaching Committee, but the views he shares in his blog are his own, and do not necessarily represent the views of USA Table Tennis.

Make sure to order your copy of Larry's best-selling book, Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers!
Finally, a tactics book on this most tactical of sports!!!
Also out - Table Tennis Tips and More Table Tennis Tips, which cover, in logical progression, his Tips of the Week from 2011-2013 and 2014-2016, with 150 Tips in each!

Or, for a combination of Tales of our sport and Technique articles, try Table Tennis Tales & Techniques
If you are in the mood for inspirational fiction, The Spirit of Pong is also out - a fantasy story about an American who goes to China to learn the secrets of table tennis, trains with the spirits of past champions, and faces betrayal and great peril as he battles for glory but faces utter defeat. Read the First Two Chapters for free!

July 5, 2011

U.S. Open Ratings Champions - No Fear!

When I looked over the rating champions at the U.S. Open, what jumped out to me was that, for once, most of the champions were actually players that were seeded very high in the event. Often players like that avoid playing in such events in order to protect their ratings (sigh...), leaving the event to lower-rated "ringers." Not so much this time! Here's a rundown of these champions - congrats to all these fearless champions! (Note that in three cases, a player is actually rated over the cutoff, but that's because the ratings used for eligibility purposes is well in advance of the U.S. Open; otherwise, players wouldn't know until the last minute what events they were eligible for.)

  • Under 2600: Gao YanJun (2607) over Adam Hugh (2570). Over by 7 and under by 30 points.
  • Under 2400: Raghu Nadmichettu (2390) over Mark Croitoroo (2319). Under by 10 and 81 points.
  • Under 2250: Klement Yeung (2239) over James Therriault (2206). Under by 11 and 44 points.
  • Under 1950: Cameron Siou (1930) over Jeremy Hazin (1631). Under by 20 and (gulp) 319 points.
  • Under 1800: Marina Leitman (1811) over Edmundo J. Lozada Salazar (1759). Over by 11 and 41 points.
  • Under 1650: Natasha Carr-Harris (1535) over Alex Bu (1530). Under by 115 and 120 points.
  • Under 1500: Edward Guo (1328) over Rohan Mannem (1283). Under by 172 and 217 points. Mannem didn't win here, so he got his revenge in...
  • Under 1350: Rohan Mannem (1283) over Paul Scobey (1267). Under by 67 and 83 points.
  • Under 1200: David Stone (1167) over Wilson Chen (1209). Under by 33 and over by 9 points.
  • Under 1000: Anton Berman (641) over Michael Gustafson (798). Under by 359 and 202 points. Someone's a bit under-rated? And just for the record, the fearless Gustafson, with the 798 rating, also played Under 800 but didn't reach the final - but he did get revenge on the girl who took him out of Under 800, beating her in Under 1200.
  • Under 800: Anton Berman (641) over Wang Yee (756). Under by 159 and 44 points.

The Evil Fayed: Nuking U.S. Cities and Terrorizing Hardbat

Here's Abu Fayed discussing the destruction of America on "24." Here's Adoni Maropis (at the U.S. Open) terrorizing the hardbat community, where he's achieved a 2110 hardbat rating. He reached the semifinals of Over 40 Hardbat at the U.S. Open. (He made the final at the Nationals in December.) Yes, he has knee problems, and is a little soft on the backhand, but he has that look that says I will tear out your liver and feed it to your children. So try to catch him in a good mood. (Table tennis pictures are by Steve Hopkins.)

Hidden Serves - not always noticed

I wrote yesterday about some of the problems with hidden serves. One irony I didn't mention is that often a player doesn't even notice when an opponent hides his serve. Like all other shots in table tennis (at least for a well-trained player), you don't consciously react to shots. Your subconscious reflexively reacts to the various incoming spins. So when returning a serve, it's the subconscious that's actually reacting. When the serve is hidden, the subconscious doesn't see contact, and so often misreads the spin - but the conscious mind doesn't always notice since you don't normally consciously react to the contact. A well-trained player learns to blank out his conscious mind while playing, and so doesn't consciously see contact unless he makes an effort to look for it. Of course this doesn't change the fact that at the higher levels, many players hide their serve and most umpires don't call it, so for now, players will just have to learn to read hidden serves by watching the ball, as players used to do before hidden serves became illegal.

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July 4, 2011

HAPPY 4TH!

2011 U.S.Open

I flew back to Maryland last night from the U.S. Open in Milwaukee - didn't have any coaching duties today. At the airport in Milwaukee there was a Killerspin table set up with sponge paddles and barriers! I watched for a while as parents played with kids, often "coaching" them in ways that made me squirm a bit. I debated whether to help out, but decided they were having fun, so who was I to tell them what to do?

Because I had a bunch of stuff to take back to Maryland, I had two bags to check in at Airtran, which would cost $45. The attendant told me that since first-class passengers get two free bags, I could upgrade to first class for $49, and get the two bags free. So for $4 I traveled first class. The only other time I did that was nearly 20 years ago when I traveled with Andre Scott - we had regular tickets, but when they saw he was in a wheelchair, they put him in first class (for free), and since they had an open seat next to him, they gave that to me.

Funniest part of the U.S. Open for me was watching opponents struggle with Sun Ting's ("The Sun King") serve. Whenever he serves, it's showtime as opponents miss shots all over the place. The problem isn't so much that they misread the type of spin as they misread the amount of spin. How he puts so much spin on the ball without seemingly doing so is a mystery that only Albert Einstein might have solved. Alas, Sun Ting lost 11-9 in the seventh (from up 3-1), 4,-2,-4,-11,9,8,9, in the quarters to Canada's Pradeeban Peter-Paul. Sun Ting has been at my club, MDTTC, for the past month, and will be here for another month. He defeated Ma Lin in a tournament a few years ago, and had a 2730 rating from the 1999 North American Teams, when he was 15.

The players I coached had up and down records; unfortunately, we were 0-5 in five-game matches this time around. Have to work on that. Because I was mostly coaching or playing hardbat, I didn't see many big matches, and so can't report on them.

My Hardbat Results at the Open - skip if not interested!

While I was there primarily to coach, I did enter three hardbat events. (I normally play with sponge.) I had to default out of Open Hardbat because it conflicted with the junior team competition. I've won that event twice at the Open and Nationals, and while I probably wouldn't have won it, I had a good chance to do pretty well, maybe make the semifinals, and after that, who knows?

I made the final of Over 40 Hardbat. (I've won this four times at the Open or Nationals, including the last Nationals.) In the preliminaries, I had to play Peter Cua, one of the top Philippine hardbat players. He had me 16-11 in the third (two out of three to 21 in hardbat), but I went on a hitting binge and won ten in a row. (I told myself to just take the shots and let the shots happen, and they happened.) I had another huge battle with Jeff Johnson in the semifinals, who as usual ran me all around the court in a battle of his steadiness versus my forehand hitting/backhand chopping, and despite a near comeback by him late in the second game I won two straight, 15 & 16. In the final I played Richard Gonzalez, but his forehand hitting and heavy & varied backhand chopping was just too much, and he won easily, 13 & 11. I think I may be able to take on his chopping in a rematch, since I'm good against that, but it had been a while since I'd played a hardbat chopper of that level - but if I had, he'd have just attacked more, and his attack was way too strong. The guy was a member of the Philippine National Team and I believe is their hardbat and sandpaper champion.

I also played hardbat doubles with Ty Hoff. I've won that event ten times, six times with Ty (including at the last Nationals), and we did pull off a nice win over Dan Seemiller Sr. and Jr. - I had to smash Dan Sr's loop from down 19-20 match point in the second to deuce it! - but we lost in the semifinals to Jeff Johnson and Scott Gordon. They in turn lost to the Philippines, Richard Gonzales and Joseph Cruz. Those two pretty much dominated all hardbat play.

Tip of the Week

This week's Tip is about Coaching Against Yourself. It's short and to the point. 

Reverse Pendulum Serve

Here's a great example of the reverse pendulum serve, by 2010 U.S. Open Men's Singles Champion Sharath Kamal of India. It's shown in both real and slow motion. (37 seconds long.)

Hidden Serves

Unfortunately, Sharath Kamal, like many others, doesn't always serve legally. Here's a video of him on Youtube from the 2010 Egypt Open - it's not easy finding videos that give the right angle so you can see if the serve is hidden. See his serve 29 seconds in. Here is a four-sequence screen shot of the serve, showing how it disappears behind his body. At the 2010 U.S. Open, he and many of his opponents served illegally, hiding the ball (and especially contact) as they served, but umpires rarely call this.

Notice how with the arm stuck out, it's easy to thrust out the shoulder and hide contact. If the player pulls the arm back, as the rules require, then the shoulder isn't naturally thrust out, and if the player does thrust the shoulder out while pulling the arm back, it becomes rather obvious. This is what happened at the U.S. Open a few days ago when, at the request of the players I was coaching, I twice had to call an umpire against the same opponent because he sometimes stuck his arm and shoulder out, thereby hiding the serve. (This led to a very unhappy parent; hopefully he and I can put aside our disagreement on this so as not to be a distraction to the kids. After all, if the serves are legal, then there shouldn't be any objection to having an umpire.) The opponent may not even have been aware he was doing it, but the umpire warned him immediately to pull his arm in - on the second serve after the umpire came to the table - and the rest of the way the serves were pretty much all visible.

It's important players know the service rules, so there are the pertinent ones regarding hidden serves. (Bolds are mine.)

Rule 2.06.04: "From the start of service until it is struck, the ball shall be above the level of the playing surface and behind the server's end line, and it shall not be hidden from the receiver by the server or his doubles partner or by anything they wear or carry." (Here are the service rules.)

Rule 2.06.05: "As soon as the ball has been projected, the server’s free arm and hand shall be removed from the space between the ball and the net."

Rule 2.06.06: "It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he complies with the requirements of the Laws, and either may decide that a service is incorrect."

Rule 2.06.06.01: "If either the umpire or the assistant umpire is not sure about the legality of a service he may, on the first occasion in a match, interrupt play and warn the server; but any subsequent service by that player or his doubles partner which is not clearly legal shall be considered incorrect."

Many players push the service rule to the limit - which in itself is okay in most cases - but they serve with the ball so close to the body, with the arm or shoulder thrust out, that it's difficult to tell if the ball was actually hidden or not. Many forget that a "tie" goes to the receiver, i.e. if the serve is not clearly legal, then it's supposed to be a warning or a fault, even though many umpires don't call this.(See 2.06.06 and 2.06.06.01 above.) So when a player serves with the ball so close to the body, or with the arm or shoulder stuck out, and the umpire can't tell if the serve was visible or not, then he's supposed to give a warning and then a fault. But many umpires do not. Some umpires enforce the rule about the arm being pulled out of the way, but then ignore it when the player continues to hide the ball with the shoulder, even when it's seemingly obvious.

On the other hand, illegally hiding the serve is so prevalent at the higher levels, since umpires usually don't call it, that many coaches believe you should just accept it, and learn to return such serves, while (at least publicly) saying you shouldn't do them yourself. The problem is that it doesn't take that long to learn (or teach) illegal hidden serves, but it's extremely difficult these days for a junior to learn to return hidden serves effectively because they are against the rules, and so if the junior trains in a junior program, he won't see hidden serves unless the other juniors are being trained to serve illegally. So he only sees them infrequently at tournaments. As he reaches higher levels, he sees them more and more, but by then he's already been trained to read the spin of legal serves, and now has to almost start over, when of course to really be able to return these serves at a high level he'd have to start training against them at an early age.

Of course a coach could spend his coaching time serving illegally to the student so he can learn to return hidden serves. But since most students only have limited hours of private coaching per week, you can't spend much of that time on that, and it takes a tremendous amount of time to learn to read and return such serves effectively.

So what's a coach to do? Call for an umpire every time an opponent serves illegally, thereby causing hassles while often just getting an umpire who will not call hidden serves, and so essentially giving their stamp of approval to the illegal serves? Teach illegal serves to all or most of their juniors so they can both practice against them and use them in tournaments as so many others do, and ignore the fact that it is illegal, and to be blunt, cheating? Or just serve legally, and accept the fact that they will always be at a large disadvantage when opponents do not? I've talked it over with some of our cadets and juniors, and most don't want the hassle, and lean toward just accepting that some opponents are going to serve illegally, and they'll just have to try to learn to return them, and accept that because they serve legally they are at a severe disadvantage. Is this fair?

There is currently a new service rule proposal being worked out that may solve the hidden serve problem. I'll post about that later, since I'm not sure if they want to go public yet.

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July 1, 2011

It's pretty hectic here at the U.S. Open in Milwaukee and I have to leave shortly to play & coach, so I won't have time to write too much. I'll write more next week after I return home. Here are a few tidbits:

  • Richard McAfee ran a nice 30-minute clinic for new players. Just before that they ran a tournament for new players, with about 50 entries.
  • Comedian Frank Caliando did a comedic exhibition with five-time U.S. Men's Champion Sean O'Neill.
  • Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki at Subway is GREAT.
  • Had to call an umpire in a team match I was coaching because an opponent was hiding some of his serves. It's very frustrating to have to do this. (The umpire gave him a warning on the second serve he did after she went out, for holding his arm out, which is how he was hiding serves - with the arm and thrust-out shoulder. I think he did this under pressure, and probably didn't even realize it. I don't think he did this at the Nationals, the last time I saw him play.) The father of the one who was hiding his serve . . . let's just say he didn't take it very well. 'Nuff said.
  • Because I was busy coaching I had to default out of Hardbat Singles. I'm still hoping to play Over 40 Hardbat and Hardbat Doubles, but we'll see. (Ty Hoff, my partner in doubles, knows that if there's a major conflict we'd have to default, but decided to go for it - we've won it together a number of times.)
  • Did I mention how good Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki is?
  • I introduced USA Cadet Team Member Tong Tong Gong to movie & TV star Adonis Maropis. I'm not sure who was more in awe of the other.
  • Greg Mascialino pulled off not one, but two around the net loops that basically slid on the table - in the same point! The opponent somehow got the first back.
  • Tomorrow I'm coaching Tong Tong Gong against a top player with the Seemiller grip. FINALLY I get to make use of all my knowledge of tactics against this grip!
  • Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki at Subway is very good. Thought you should know.

I know you want more, so…

here's three minutes 45 seconds of spectacular beer pong shots.

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June 30, 2011

USATT Paralympic Camp

I landed in Milwaukee for the U.S. Open around 8AM on Wednesday, and was at the Hyatt Hotel at 8:40AM. At 8:45 I was told that the room wouldn't be available until sometime between noon and 3PM. So I hopped in a taxi and went to the USATT Paralympic training camp, which was being held in a local high school. Dan Rutenberg was the head coach, assisted by Keith Evans. I had coached one of the players, Timmy La, for much of the last year. So for two hours (9:30-11:30 AM) I helped out as a practice partner, coach, and ball-picker-upper. I believe there were 16 players, a mix of wheelchair and standing disabled. Newgy was also there for a robot demonstration, and for an hour the players took turns going through a series of robot drills on four robots.

Visit to Spin Milwaukee

The playing hall wasn't open Wednesday for practice, so I visited Spin Milwaukeewith Tong Tong Gong, the cadet player I'm coaching at the Open. For $16 we rented a table for an hour of practice. I played great at the start, but toward the end - especially when we started playing points - he came alive and things became far more difficult from my end. Since I'm a coach, that's a good thing, right? Then we went out for mint chocolate chip ice cream.

Hyatt Hotel and Roosevelt (non-table tennis related)

There's a plaque at one of the hotel entrances that declares it to be the site of the Oct. 14, 1912 assassination attempt on Theodore Roosevelt by saloonkeeper John Schrank, who'd been plotting the attempt for three weeks. As an amateur presidential historian, I spent some time reading over the old newspaper clippings on the wall. The hotel was then called the Hotel Gilpatrick. Roosevelt was saved by his thick coat, eyeglass holder, and the 50-page manuscript of his speech - folded over once, so really 100 pages - which slowed the bullet down before it entered his body. Before going to the hospital, Roosevelt read the entire speech, taking 90 minutes. The bullet was lodged in the muscles of his chest, and doctors concluded it would be more dangerous to remove it than to leave it in, so it remained there until Roosevelt died in 1919.

Woman in bed playing table tennis

Here's a continuous video of a woman playing table tennis in bed by herself, holding one racket in her hand, the other with a her feet. Enjoy!

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June 29, 2011

Thoughts on the U.S. Open

I leave for the U.S. Open in Milwaukee in just a few hours. Here are a few last-minute thoughts.

  • Will the umpires at the U.S. Open enforce the service rules, in particular the one that states, "It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he complies with the requirements of the Laws." I am so tired of opponents hiding their serves against players I'm coaching, with the umpire saying they weren't sure if the serve was visible to the receiver and so didn't call it. If you aren't sure if the serve is visible to the receiver, then the server has failed "to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he complies with the requirements of the Laws." Umpires, please reread that ten times, and consider: if a server is serving so that it's so close to whether the receiver can see contact that you aren't sure, that means the server is trying to hide the serve. Are you going to let him cheat? (And to be fair, umpires are among the hardest workers at a tournament doing one of the most thankless jobs, so let me thank you in advance - but only if you call those faults!!!)
  • I keep getting accused of coaching during matches at major tournaments, something I've never done. If I clap, they think it's a signal. If I fidget, grin, frown, or so much as breathe, I'm told I'm coaching. The players I coach think it's hilarious when I get warned, but it's rather irritating. It happened twice at the North American Championships and twice at the Nationals.
  • Just how good are Sun Ting and Jeffrey Zeng Xun? Jeffrey, 23, started coaching at my club (MDTTC) in December, and won the Cary Cup and Easterns, despite being out of practice. He's rated "only" 2612. He's been practicing for the Open, often with Sun Ting, so we may finally see how good he is. As to Sun Ting, 27, he's rated 2730 from the 1999 Teams when he was just 15. Has he improved? (I've nicknamed him "The Sun King.")
  • Should I spend Wednesday at the hotel hot tub, lounging around the hotel room reading and watching movies, lounging around the playing site, helping with the Paralympic training camp, touring Milwaukee, surfing the web, practicing, walking about looking important, or writing? (I arrive around 8AM.)
  • Should I have gotten a haircut before the Open?

Celebrities Playing Table Tennis

I just updated the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page. There are now 1204 pictures of 707 celebrities. In the last month I've added pictures of Barack Obama, David Cameron (prime minister of England), Wen Jiabao (premier of China), Nicolas Sarkozy (president of France), basketball player Yao Ming, tennis players Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, alpine skiers Lindsey & Thomas Vonn, Vince Coleman (former senator of Minnesota), Milwaukee Brewers baseball players Zack Greinke, Corey Hart, and John Axford, and new pictures of tennis player Bobby Riggs, boxer Rocky Marciano, and financier Warren Buffett. This is just a small taste of what's there, which includes sections on Politicians/Leaders, Athletes, Talk Show Hosts, Writers, Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Cartoon Characters, and Other. Two celebrity players at this year's U.S. Open are pictured - acter Adoni Maropis and calligrapher Julian Waters. Now go explore the 707 different celebrities caught in the act of playing table tennis! (Top table tennis players do not count as celebrities here.)

Full-time training centers and junior programs

Twenty years ago there were no full-time training centers in the U.S. devoted to full-time training. So we opened the Maryland Table Tennis Center.

Four and a half years ago I made a proposal to USATT urging them to make it a goal to have 100 successful junior programs in the U.S. in five years. The plan involved recruiting and training coaches to become full-time coaches and run junior programs. At the time there were at most ten junior programs in the country that I'd call successful. USATT had no interest. This was a major reason why I resigned all my positions with USATT - editor, webmaster, and programs director.

Now we have a number of full-time training centers and junior programs around the U.S. The result is that the competition in junior and cadet events is much stronger than before. Imagine if USATT had taken the initiative by recruiting and training coaches, instead of sitting around and watching while every now and then someone would take the initiative and create such a program, usually having to reinvent the wheel from scratch. (Actually, they learned from each other; I've spent a huge number of hours talking and emailing with coaches and promoters interested in opening such centers and running junior programs, as have others.) If USATT had made this a priority, there would be far more successful junior programs and the competition could have been even tougher - and since I'm coaching there, I'm thankful at least for that.

Penguin playing ping-pong

Yep, here's a 40-second video of a penguin playing table tennis. Enjoy.

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June 28, 2011

U.S. Open

I leave for the U.S. Open tomorrow morning. Since my flight out of BWI is at 7AM I'll be leaving around 4:30 AM - it's an hour away. (Guess I have to get up really early tomorrow to do my blog.) I'll try to blog about tournament while I'm there, though between coaching and playing in hardbat events, I'm not sure how many of the "big" matches I'll get to see. I'm also going to attend some USATT meetings.

If you are at the Open, come by and say hello. And before you go there, make sure to get lots of sleep, eat well, and PRACTICE YOUR SERVES! Service practice and match play are the two most important table tennis things you can do just before a tournament. On the other hand, I may have to play or coach against you, so stay up late, eat potato chips, and watch plenty of TV.

U.S. Open Table Tennis Dream

About an hour ago I woke from the strangest table tennis dream possible. I grabbed a notebook and wrote it down.

I was at the U.S. Open Table Tennis Championships, which starts in two days in Milwaukee. I was coaching Tong Tong Gong, a member of the U.S. cadet team who I'll be coaching there. His opponent complained about his racket, pointing out that Tong Tong was using a book as a racket. The referee, an extremely old man with a white beard that dragged on the floor, examined the book, and declared it illegal, saying the racket needed to be made of wood. He handed it back to Tong Tong, who started to cry. (Sorry Tong Tong, I'm just reporting the facts!) I argued that paper comes from wood, but the referee just smiled and then dissolved into nothing. Then Arnold Schwarzenegger, wearing a black raincoat and dark sunglasses, walked over, followed by eight others. The eight also wore black raincoats and carried black umbrellas, though it wasn't raining. Right about now I realized that we were outdoors, with hundreds of table tennis tables set up on railroad tracks. Arnold snatched the book out of Tong Tong's hand, and then leaped into the air and flew away like superman. The other eight black raincoat-clad umbrella-waving men flew after him. I leaped into the air and flew after them, holding a ping-pong paddle. I landed next to a railroad car, and looked inside, and found Arnold and the eight there. They came out and attacked me with their umbrellas on the railroad tracks. I knocked each one out with my paddle with a forehand or backhand stroke. Each time I knocked one out I said, "Happy birthday." I knocked out Arnold with a backhand and grabbed the book from his hands. Then I saw Tong Tong lighting fire to an old jeep that was apparently Arnold's. We pushed it down a road that paralleled the railroad tracks, and it slammed into a cliff and exploded. Then I woke up.

The Grip

Here's a nice article on the shakehands grip by German National Coach Richard Prause.

Ping-pong without a partner or a ball.

The Japanese have developed a table-tennis game that you play by ear. Make sure to play the two-minute video demo. And to think it all started with a simple video game called "Pong"!

Milwaukee Brewers versus the Chinese National Women's Table Tennis Team

Guess who won? (Former Chinese team member and all-time great Zhang Yining also "competed.")

Allstar Challenge

Here are the results, pictures, and other info on the International Table Tennis All-Star Challenge held this past weekend in Markham, Ontario, Canada. The winner was a blast from the past - Zoran Primorac, who defeated Wang Xi in the final. Here are the (somewhat convoluted?) results.

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June 27, 2011

Gmail problem

This weekend I was hit with a virtual avalanche of spammers on both the Forum and Blog comments. They all came with varied (and apparently random) gmail addresses. I ended up spending many hours personally deleting several hundred postings and blocking (one by one) over one hundred gmail addresses. Finally, rather than put into place more stringent requirements for registration - something I may have to do later on - I simply blocked all gmail accounts.

If you have a gmail account, you probably can't post or comment right now, and probably can't register. If you have an alternate email, please use that. If you only have gmail, please email me and let me know; it would be helpful to know if many real people are affected by this. Sorry for the inconvenience!

Since I'm leaving for the U.S. Open on Wednesday, I'm probably going to have to leave gmail blocked until I return. Then I'll decide if I have to use more stringent registration procedures. (Which I haven't really researched yet.) The last thing I want to do is spend the U.S. Open deleting spam and blocking individual posters all day long.

Speaking of the U.S. Open...

I leave in (checks watch) exactly 46 hours and six minutes. It's in Milwaukee; here's the info page. I'm there primarily to coach, but I'm also entered in three hardbat events: Open Hardbat (I'm two-time champion), Open Hardbat Doubles (I'm ten-time and defending champion from the Nationals), and Over 40 Hardbat (I'm four-time and defending champion from the Nationals). (Note that when I list how many times I've won I'm including both the Open and Nationals.) If there's a conflict between playing hardbat and coaching an important match, I'll have to default and coach - that's my primary purpose there. (I'll mostly be coaching Tong Tong Gong, a member of the USA Cadet team from my club.) I'm normally a sponge player, but I've been playing hardbat on the side for a few decades. I also expect to attend a few USATT meetings.

Complex Versus Simple Tactics

This week's Tip of the Week is on [read headline, duh!].

The Dominating and Limiting Factors in Your Game?

What are the dominating and limiting factors in your game? Too often players only look at what they do well, and forget the latter, the things they don't do well, i.e. the things opponents go after. I remember watching a player with great footwork and a great loop lose a match because he couldn't effectively return the opponent's simply short backspin serve. Over the next week, the player practiced every day, focusing almost exclusively on his strengths, footwork and looping. He never addressed the problem of his weak return of a short backspin serve. 

A player's level is really based on three things. There are the things he does well (i.e. the things you dominate with); the things he doesn't do well (i.e. the limiting factors that hold you back), and everything else (things you don't dominate with but don't hold you back). I generally advise players to practice everything you do in a game, but focus on making the strengths overpowering while removing any weaknesses. At any given level you need to have at least one thing that scares the opponent while not having any glaring weaknesses the opponent can easily play into.

Great exhibition points

Here's a montage of great exhibition points (4:31), to the tune of "Sweet Home Alabama." You can always turn off the sound.

Forehand Pendulum Serve

Here's an interesting two-minute video that shows ten different forehand pendulum serves, both in real time and in slow motion.

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June 24, 2011

Pushing those non-push receives

A lot of beginning/intermediate players tend to push back any serve that comes at them slow. This is fine at the beginning level where backspin serves come at them slow, while topspin serves come at them faster. At the higher levels, this is not true; intermediate players can serve with sidespin and topspin that goes out slowly, since they've learned to graze the ball, and so most of their energy goes into spin. And so if you push these serves, the ball flies off the end or to the side.

The problem is that beginners get it ingrained that they can push a slow serve, when they should be reacting to the spin, not the speed of the ball, and pushing only against backspin or no-spin balls. How do you teach them to break this habit?

I find it useful to have them put their racket down and simply watch (from a ready position) as I serve short sidespin and topspin serves, and to call the spin each time. (I simplify it to having them call out either backspin or side-top.)  They can't always pick it up from just contact, but between contact, and the way the ball travels through the air and bounces on the table, they can begin to read the spin. I stress that they should be looking to attack any serve that's mostly sidespin or topspin, and to look for those serves, rather than look to push. Then, if the serve obviously has backspin, they can choose to push.

Once they can call out the type of spin correctly, I then have them practice attacking the side-top serves. When they can do that, then I vary the serve, and they have to attack those serves, push the backspin serves. This seems a good way to break the "push anything slow" type of receive problem.

MDTTC camp happenings

Today's the last day of the MDTTC June Camp. (We have five this summer, all five days long - see schedule.) The camps are primarily for junior players - we have about 30 in the camp, average age is about 11, ranging from 7 to 18 - but all ages and levels are welcome. I mostly run the morning sessions (short lectures, multiball, games) with Cheng Yinghua and Jack Huang helping out; they run the afternoon sessions. We also have Jeffrey Zeng Xun (2612) and Sun Ting (2730) coaching, and in the afternoon sessions Raghu Nadmichettu (2390) and Vahid Mosafari (2284) as practice partners.

I'm always amazed at how so many new kids pick things up so quickly. Over and over I'll start one on something new, perhaps something basic like the forehand or something more advanced liked looping, and after a few minutes I'm starting to think, "He'll never get this." And then something clicks, and he gets it. One kid absolutely could not get looping for three days, and then, suddenly, yesterday morning something went "CLICK!," and he was looping over and over during multiball.

Balls are everywhere during the sessions. We have nets that are dragged across the floor to pick them up. While picking up balls yesterday, I told one kid who had a net full of balls that we'd picked up enough. He looked at me, sort of shrugged, and turned the net upside down, emptying the balls onto the floor. I exclaimed, "What did you do that for?" He looked at me defensively and cried out, "You said we had enough!"

Probably the funnest part of the sessions is when I take a number of the new players and we have target practice. They rotate, each hitting two forehands (one from backhand side, one from forehand side), aiming for a bottle I put on the table. I tell them it's full of worm juice (!), and whenever they hit it, I have to take a drink. They take great delight in making me drink the worm juice; I take great delight in trying to convince them that they aren't good enough to hit that tiny target, which turns out to be excellent reverse psychology. I get bloated from drinking too much . . . worm juice. I also bring out the cups - I put them on the table either in a bowling pin pattern or lined up on the endline, and they see how many shots it takes to knock them all down, or how many they can knock down with ten shots.

Ping Pong Power Puma Girl

She shows her magic powers over masses of ping-pong balls in this 48-second video. Do not try this at home; she's a professional. (See lots of other humorous videos in the TableTennisCoaching.com Fun and Games section.)

Why Sponge is Valuable

There are still a lot of players who use plain pimpled rubber (no sponge, i.e. hardbat) rather than jumping on the bandwagon and using sponge like just about all the top players. It’s time we settle this once and for all! So here are 12 advantages of sponge. (This is an updated reprint of something I wrote long ago.) 

  1. You can’t clean a table with pimpled rubber.
  2. You can’t pimpled rubber off a friend.
  3. Pimpled rubber baths hurt and leave abrasions on the skin.
  4. You can’t cleanse the oceans with pimpled rubbers.
  5. You can’t dress up Tim Allen as Santa Clause with pimpled rubber padding.
  6. PimpledRubberBob SquarePants just doesn’t have the same ring.
  7. Pole vaulting onto pimpled rubber hurts like heck.
  8. Pimpled rubber cake tastes like rubber.
  9. A child with a mind like a pimpled rubber will probably be in trouble.
  10. You can’t develop a complex brain from a pimpledrubberioblast
  11. Sponge flies can’t survive off of pimpled rubber, since they live off of fresh-water sponges.
  12. You can’t do public experiments in perception, phenomenology and desire at http://topologicalmedialab.net/xinwei/pimpledrubber.org – you need http://topologicalmedialab.net/xinwei/sponge.org. (You can look it up!)

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June 23, 2011

Those topspin drills

When practicing, most players start off most drills with a simple topspin serve so they can get into the drill, whether it's a looping drill, a footwork drill, or some combination or other drill. But in a match, how often does a rally start that way? Far more often rallies start with someone opening by attacking against a backspin, the most common type of serve. So if you are relatively consistent in these straight topspin drills, you should move to a more advanced version, and start the drill by serving backspin, your partner pushes it back, you attack (normally by looping the deep pushes, flipping the short ones), and then continue with the drill. If you want to get better, you need to both push yourself with more and more difficult drills, and do drills that match what you'll face in a match.

Marty Reisman plays lobby pong

Yes, the flamboyant two-time U.S. Men's Champion passes the time ponging in a hotel lobby (1:21). And here's a clip of him winning the 1949 English Open over five-time World Men's Singles Champion Viktor "Mr. Backhand" Barna (1:50).

Rafael Nadal and Kevin Spacey playing table tennis

I think I posted this once before, but this two-minute video deserves reposting. Spacey says to Nadal, "You should be nervous because I'm about to beat you in a game that demands the physical stamina of a boxer, the agility of a gymnast, the tactical acting of a chess player." Here's Nadal again, hitting forehands

Shakehanders versus Penholders? Oops!

Here's an article in the China Daily (in English) about a match-up of the best shakehand players in the world against the best penholders. But what's really interesting is that they got shakehand and penhold mixed up throughout the article! For example, in the caption at the start, it says, "Shakehand group members (from left) Wang Hao, Ryu Seung-min and Ma Lin, and penhold group members (from right) Ma Long, Zhang Jike and Timo Boll and China's men's head coach Liu Guoliang (center) pose before the match." But of course (as you can also see from the picture), Wang, Ryu, and Ma Lin are penholders, while Ma Long, Zhang, and Boll are shakehanders. I'm wondering if they are going to correct it or not; the story went up yesterday afternoon and they still haven't fixed it.

40th Annual Ping-Pong Diplomacy Festivities - Thrice

As I noted in my blog last Friday (June 17), the 40th Anniversary of the iconic U.S. team's trip to China in 1971 is this year. I gave links to two festivities, but I've added a third, the Bay Area one. (There is also a U.S. delegation going to China for festivities there, but I don't have info on that.)

Also as noted last Friday, you can read more about Ping-Pong Diplomacy in Tim Boggan's two online books on the subject, "Ping-Pong Oddity" (covering the U.S. Team's trip to China in 1971) and "Grand Tour," covering the Chinese team's trip to the U.S. in 1972. Better still, buy the books, along with Tim's other table tennis history books, at TimBogganTableTennis.com! (Disclaimer: I do the page layouts and fix up the photos for these books, and created and maintain his web page.)

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June 22, 2011

Sun Ting and Jeffrey Zeng Xun practice session

Had a fascinating time watching these two train together yesterday as they prepare for the U.S. Open. Sun (rated 2730) is here for much of the summer, and is seeded fourth in Men's Singles at the Open (which starts in about a week), while Jeffrey (2612) is almost the same level - he's way out of practice, as he lamented during his first serious practice session in some time. (That's what happens to players who become coaches.) They spent most of the session taking turns feeding multiball to each other. How many of you do that, as opposed to just hitting?

Sun Ting ("Sun King"?) is a lefty with short pips on the backhand. He's basically a put-away machine on both sides. He's one of those players who absolutely rips his forehand. His backhand is like Shao Yu's, a top New York player also with a great pips-out backhand smash. Together, there's no safe place to put the ball. Add in great serves, and you see why the 2730 rating is probably way too low. The rating actually comes from playing in the North American Teams back in 1999 - when he was 15! He's now 27, and I'm told considerably better.

Jeffrey's loops aren't quite as punishing, but he's very steady, and has a nice backhand loop. He controls play with a great receive game. He won his last two tournaments, the Cary Cup and the Eastern Open, but since he's basically been coaching the last year or so without training, we haven't seen his best yet. During the training session, he was a bit disgusted with himself because he was winded several times. When he looked over at me one time after doing several minutes of an extremely fast footwork drill, I jokingly jogged in place and pointed at him, and he nodded. I think he's doing some serious physical training to get ready for the Open.

We're in the middle of a training camp here at MDTTC; during the camp, Sun took juniors John and Nathan Hsu (both about 2200 players) and put them through some serious drills. Watching this and watching Sun and Jeffrey train tired me out.

Are you missing an ingredient?

Here's something I wrote in a comment recently, and thought I'd repeat it here. It's amazing to me how many players never learn the joys of chopping. Personally, I find that if you don't use all of the major attacking shots (FH and BH looping and smashing) and all of the major defensive shots (chopping, blocking, lobbing, fishing), and a sampling of everything else, table tennis is like fine food that's missing an ingredient.

Feature on Ariel Hsing and Michael Landers

Yes, the documentary is coming! I'm proud to say that Michael came to four of our training camps in Maryland when he was about 12 or 13, and I had the opportunity to work with him with lots of multiball training. And I once proudly lost a "clipboard" challenge to Ariel, where I used a clipboard for a racket, and she showed me the advantage of sponge! (Prepare for some controversy - the documentary calls Ariel the youngest U.S. Women's Champion ever - she won in Dec. 2010 at age 15 - which many will contest since Patty Martinez was the U.S. Open Women's Singles Champion in 1965 at age 13, in the days before we had a USA Nationals, and the Open champion was considered the U.S. Champion. Ariel is, of course, the youngest to win Women's Singles at the USA Nationals since its debut in 1976.)

Will Shortz, Robert Roberts, and the Westchester Table Tennis Center

New York Times columnist and table tennis addict Will Shortz (and an 1800 player) and Caribbean champion and 2500+ player Robert Roberts have combined forces to open the full-time 13,000-foot Westchester Table Tennis Center in Pleasantville, New York. Here's an 18-minute video that chronicles their odyssey from idea to fruition. Here's an article about it.

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