June 2, 2014 - Playing Short pips

Short pips dominated the 1960s and much of the 1970s. (They are often called pips-out, which can be confusing as long pips is also pips-out, though conventionally speaking pips-out means short pips.) But by the 1990s inverted was pretty much dominating. The last great short pips player was probably Liu Guoliang, the 1996 Olympic Gold Medalist for Men's Singles and the 1999 World Men's Singles Champion. But as two-winged loopers became more and more powerful while playing closer to the table, and with the ball going from 38mm to 40mm in 2000 (which slowed the game down some, a disadvantage for most short pips players) the day of the short pips player pretty much died – there are very few left at the elite levels. At the club level, the style is also dying out as the huge majority players use inverted.

But one of the ironies of this is that since there are fewer short-pips players, inverted players often no longer know how to play them. And so the time is ripe for short pips players to dominate again – at least at the intermediate level, where players not only don't know how to play them, but don't yet have the powerful and consistent looping games of the elite.

I had great difficulty my first few years against short-pips players, but I played against several of them regularly - and then they became one of the easiest surfaces for me to play against. Since I'm used to playing them and know how to do so, I'd rather play a short pips player now than an inverted one any day - you've got a gun and he's using a bow and arrow. (But beware - some of these short pips players are still deadly with their bow and arrow!) 

So how do you play a short-pips player? This is sort of like asking how to play an inverted player; there are many styles of short pips players. But here are some general tips that will work against nearly all short pips players.

  1. Keep the ball deep on the table. This both makes things difficult for the short pips player, but also gives you more time to react to a ball that you aren't as used to. Against a deep ball he can't rush you, nor can he create heavy spin.
  2. Don't take on a short pips player in a battle of quickness. Find your comfort zone, as close to the table as you are comfortable and consistent. When in trouble (especially if rushed), back up and spin the ball deep on the table. 
  3. Remember that than their blocks and hits are deader than you expect since you are used to playing inverted, so if you don't adjust by aiming your loops and drives slightly higher, you'll go into the net. Because the ball is dead, you'll have to use a bit more force to generate the same amount of topspin. (An incoming topspin ball rebounds out with topspin, while you can convert the spin of an incoming backspin ball into topspin. You can't do either with a dead ball.) One problem you'll have to overcome is many short pips players will rush you, and so you have less time to stroke, and yet you may need a longer stroke to generate topspin if you are looping. Or just go with a bit less spin, but control the ball deep on the table. 
  4. If you keep looping into the net, don't think of the short pips block as a block; think of it as a very quick push without that much spin.
  5. Surprisingly, many players have the opposite problem when looping against a short-pips blocker - they loop off the end. This is because they are rushed, and when rushed, most players lift over-react and lift too much. Perhaps more importantly, they back off the table expecting the ball to jump out to them (as an inverted ball would), and so by the time the ball gets to them, it's dropping, and so the looper has to adjust and lift a ball that's dropping - and they often over-react by over-lifting, and go off the end.
  6. Remember that their serves and pushes have less spin than you are used to. The real problem here is that if you are used to playing inverted players, your instinctive reaction is off, as you'll reflexively expect more spin. The only cure is to play against them, and learn to adjust.
  7. Most important, play against short pips players every chance you can, and you'll become comfortable against them and soon realize why short pips has almost died out at the higher levels. They are easy to play against once you are used to playing them. They cannot put as much spin on the ball, so short pips serves, pushes, and loops (which they can do against backspin) are less spinny, which is a weakness when you get used to it. They don't have as much topspin to pull the ball down, and so have difficulty against deep and spinny topspins and backspin. Because short pips doesn't rebound the ball out as easily as inverted, short pips players have to stroke the ball more when blocking and hitting, and so they are weaker when they have to move, especially in covering the middle, so attack there every chance. Ultimately, a good looper can turn most short pips players into blockers, and in the modern game, winning by blocking is more and more difficult than by looping. (But there are still some very good blockers out there.)