April 25, 2013

Defaults and Rating

There's been an email exchange among some USATT officials, of which I was CCed, on the subject of players defaulting tournament matches to protect their rating, It was instigated by a gentleman who was the victim of this - a player didn't want to play him, perhaps because he had long pips, and so defaulted, apparently to protect his rating. The question raised is why don't players who default matches lose rating points? It's a good question - and below is my response.

I'll jump in and give the reasons for why they do not give away rating points for a default, and then (at the end), I'll offer a possible solution.

It would be somewhat unfair to take away rating points for certain defaults. So the only way I see for a rules change that would allow a rating loss for defaults is if the referee were given the responsibility of determining if the default was "legitimate" or not. That would not be easy to determine, as someone who wanted to avoid playing a match for rating purposes could easily fake one of the below reasons. Here are some legitimate reasons why players default that have nothing to do with avoiding rating point losses - and over the course of 37 years of play, I've defaulted matches at least once for each of these reasons (except for #3 and #8), as have many others. (I'm sure there are other reasons I haven't thought of.)

  1. Tournament runs late, and player has to leave.
  2. Player is injured or sick.
  3. Player is too tired. This happens all the time - sometimes someone older or out of shape advances in multiple events, and simply can't play all of the matches, and has to default some. This especially happens to elderly players.
  4. Player is unhappy with the playing conditions and decides to drop out. If a tournament has poor lighting, a background where you have trouble seeing the ball, slippery floors, or some other such problem, a player might decide to default rather than play in such poor conditions.
  5. Player's equipment is broken, defective, or stolen.
  6. Player is unable to attend a tournament he entered, or is called away from the tournament unexpectedly. Some people are on call, such as doctors. Players have defaulted out of less important matches at big tournaments to do table tennis TV interviews, or to do commentating, or some other function. Or a player may be called away due to a family or work emergency.
  7. Player is also a tournament official or volunteer, and he is unexpectedly needed, and so he drops out (i.e. defaults) to help run the tournament.
  8. Player unexpectedly advances in a major event, and so defaults a less important event. This happens at the U.S. Open and Nationals quite a bit. When I have a top junior who is pulling off upsets and has a chance to win a major age event, I'm almost always going to advise him to drop any rating events so he can focus on the age event and a national title. The problem is the player might not know in advance he'd do so well in the age event, and so enters the rating events as well. This also happens in Men's and Women's Singles, where a player might find himself advancing deep into the draw, and so not want to tire himself out in another event, such as a rating event, some age events, hardbat, sandpaper, etc. When Dan Seemiller, in his late 50s, pulled off some upsets and advanced deep into the Men's Singles event at the 2011 USA Nationals, he defaulted his senior events to save energy for that event.

Some would argue that if a player chooses to default, he should always lose the rating points. But besides being unfair in some cases (such as reason #1 above), that would just make the rating system less accurate. We have enough trouble with under-rated players showing up and sweeping the rating events and messing up the seedings; do we really want to take away 50 points in a default from a player - and possibly multiple times if the player defaults several matches - knowing what this will mean when he shows up at his next tournament? Suppose a player is rated 1830, but defaults out of two round robin events for one of the reasons above. That could be six matches, and perhaps 200-250 rating points. His next tournament he shows up way under-rated and playing in events he should not be eligible for.

What I would suggest as a solution is to have a player who defaults lose rating points unless the referee approves the default, i.e. the defaulting player must give the referee a reason for the default, and the referee must accept it, based on guidelines from the bullet points above. I'd also limit it to a maximum of 50 points lost in one tournament from defaults. I don't think players should gain rating points from a default. There's no perfect solution, and a liar would still get away with defaulting matches to protect his rating, but it would happen less often as many players might have some difficulty flat-out lying to the referee, and sometimes the player's actions would convince the referee he is lying. Also, if a player defaults regularly, then the referee could turn him down.

I'd rather not get into a long discussion of this - I have a busy day coaching and writing tomorrow. But hopefully the above will offer some grounds for thought, discussion, and possible action by those in a position to make changes.

The Plastic Poly Ball

Here's the ITTF's report on the ball. It's 32 pages and seems pretty comprehensive with lots of scientific-looking studies - but no, I haven't read it yet. I'm hoping some of our readers will read it and report your thoughts on it. This could be a scary situation, as one thing that comes out is that the new poly ball plays differently than the current one. Do we really want that? Does the report give a strong reason for doing so?

Stance for Returning Serve

Here's the video from PingSkills (1:16), plus an article on the topic of proper stance and how far to stand from the table when receiving serve.

Table Tennis Master

Here are four new articles from Table Tennis Master.

Crystal Wang on TV

Here's the video (4:34) of Crystal and her dad getting interviewed on NBC 4 yesterday. Crystal (just turned 11 and rated 2292) just won the Hopes Trials at the North American Cup.

Texas Wesleyan University Team on TV

Here's the video (5:03) of the team after winning their tenth straight national collegiate championship, on CBS Local.

Central Florida Table Tennis Club

It's not full-time, but it's 27,000 square feet!!! Here's their web page. They have 18 tables, but with rather large courts.

Great Chopping Point

Here's a great attack versus defense point from the 2012 China Open, featuring world #1 Ding Ning versus world #11 Wu Yang, perhaps the best chopper in the women's game. When it all ends, guess how Wu wins the point?

Roman Table Tennis

I think that's Julius Caesar playing TT!

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August 15, 2012

Try a New Style

Why not experiment with a new style? Add some variety to your game? You could do something really crazy, like a shakehander playing penhold or Seemiller style, or try out some weird rubber. But why not try out a style you could actually use in your game? You'll have fun as well as adding a new dimension (i.e. tactical tool) to your game.

I suggest chopping. It's a nice weapon to have both as a variation and when you are out of position, especially on the backhand. Some players really have trouble with sudden chops, and it's a crime not to have this skill against these players. Plus, next time you are out of position against a ball wide to your backhand, just chop it back. Just as importantly, you'll quickly see the game from a chopper's point of view, and become a lot stronger playing choppers as a result. (Your biggest shock will probably be how weak a chopper can be on receive - yet many attackers assume choppers can just chop any serve back, and so don't take advantage of this.)

Though most choppers use long pips on the backhand, that's mostly to chop back loops. If you are only going to chop as an occasional variation or when you are out of position, any surface will do, including super charged-up inverted. That's what I have on my backhand, and I regularly throw in chops.

Table Tennis Foot Dream

Last night I had one of those weird table tennis dreams. (Warning - this is sort of gory.) I was battling with "the enemy" (not sure who my opponent was, it was never clear) at ping-pong on a table in a street. Bullets and bombs were exploding everywhere as soldiers ran about shooting at each other. And then my left foot got shot off! I grabbed it from the ground and tried jamming it back on, and it sort of stuck, but kept falling off as we played. I finally just held the foot in my non-playing hand while hopping about, still playing, as an ambulance arrived. I handed them the foot and asked them to sew it back on, but only after I finished the match. I woke up about then, and had to check my foot to make sure it was still there. (Obligatory bad joke: I had not been defeeted.)

Maryland Table Tennis Center in Washington Post

It's on the front page of the sports section this morning. Here's the article, and here's the video (3:26). Featured are Nathan Hsu, Derek Nie, Amy Lu, and I'm quoted quite a bit. A few corrections: the article has me founding MDTTC, when Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and I did it together. It also has me saying there are 11 full-time centers in the country, but there are now about 50. (I may have said there are about 10 that could be considered really strong. And I never was able to get USATT interested in promoting these training centers, alas.) Also, I think the $100,000 investment mentioned was by several owners, not just one.

Pictures from the Southern Open and Junior Olympics

Here are some pictures taken at these two tournaments, mostly featuring MDTTC players.

Olympian Diana Gee to Run Clinic in Cary

If you are around Cary, NC on Sept. 1, you might want to join Olympian Diana Gee ('88 and '92) for a pair of one-hour clinics. Here's the info page.

Can Ping-Pong in the Office Increase Productivity?

Yes, according to this article in the Enviable Workplace. "With a game like ping pong you can get up, play for 20 mins, break a lil sweat, get your brain racing and come back to work refreshed." Here's another segment:

Dr. Daniel Amen, a renowned member of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, specifically points out that table tennis:

  • Increases concentration and alertness
  • Stimulates brain function
  • Develops tactical thinking skills
  • Develops hand / eye coordination
  • Provides aerobic exercise
  • Provides social and recreational interaction

Chinese Blitz at the Olympic Games

Here's a video from PingSkills (7:01) where they discuss Chinese dominance at the Olympics.

The Duchess of Cambridge Playing Table Tennis

Yes, that's "Smashing Kate" rallying with kids at a sports project. She's pretty good - can keep the ball in play.

Ping-Pong with Sharks

At first you only see the sharks swimming around. It's not until the camera pulls back in this video (1:18) that you realize that they are playing ping-pong on this shark infested table!


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January 23, 2012

Tip of the Week

Forcing an Opponent Out of Position.

Changing tactics

I had an interesting practice match this weekend - a best four out of seven. My opponent was an extremely steady blocker without a strong attack, rated about 2100. When I say "extremely steady blocker," I mean she hasn't missed a backhand since the Reagan Administration. So how to play her?

I started out well, winning the first game easily on third ball loops, attacking her forehand, and steady countering, taking advantage of the fact that in any rally I could suddenly attack hard, while she mostly just blocked side to side. She often served deep, and I was often able to loop those. 

However, three things began to happen. First, she began wear me down to the point that I felt like I'd just run a marathon - and we were only into the second game. Second, her forehand, which has only missed twice since the Reagan Administration, wasn't missing. Third, she was pinning me down to my backhand, and while I can hit a hundred backhands in a row when needed, she hasn't missed a backhand since the Reagan Administration. Like Romney, what I was hoping would be a quick run to victory instead turned into a war of attrition. And she wasn't attritioning.

And so I found myself down 2-3 in games. At this point I simply was too tired to continuously attack forehands when needed or to run around and loop her serves (I don't have a strong backhand loop, alas), and my 1% backhand miss rate was way too high against a backhand with a 0% miss rate. So I began to look for chances to chop to get out of these backhand rallies. I chopped her deep topspin serves back (so I didn't have to run around to forehand loop them, and because I get more spin when looping backspin), and if we got into a fast rally, after a few shots I'd find a ball to chop on the backhand. She'd push, and I'd get to loop, usually to her forehand or middle, about 2/3 of the time going for slow, spinny and deep loops, about 1/3 of the time going for rips, usually to the forehand side. 

And lo and behold, it through off her rhythm, and I started getting balls to smash or loop kill when she blocked my loops! I won game six. I started game seven with a barrage of attacks that put me in a 1-4 hole. So I went back to mixing in chopping and looping, and finally won, 11-8 in the seventh. If I'd stuck with my normal steady backhand countering game in rallies, and continued to attack the deep serve (as I'm always coaching players to do, since 90% of the time it's the right strategy), I'd have lost. 

This strategy was reminiscent of how Dan Seemiller won the men's singles at the USA Nationals one year over Eric Boggan.

Beginners learning forehand and backhand

Recently I've coached a lot of beginners, especially new kids. I've noticed an interesting dynamic. In nearly every case, by the end of the first session they had picked up either the forehand or backhand pretty well, but struggled on the other side. None had trouble on both; none were good on both. In each case, they so mastered the proper technique on one side that by the end of the session I was able to challenge them to see how many they could hit in a row - something I never do until I'm confident they'll do so with good technique. But on the other side we never got to that stage. In most cases they got it down in the second or third session, but even then it was obvious they were more comfortable on the other side. I wonder if this is something that'll be true the rest of their table tennis playing days?

Twelve Tips to Table Tennis Perfection

Here's the latest coaching article by Samson Dubina. They are all great items; I find #1 (goals) and #10 (visualizing) the two that players most overlook. Until you set specific goals (and then work out what you need to do to achieve those goals), it's hard to improve. It's like going on a journey without a destination. As to visualizing, it's the most underused way to improve.

Returning the forehand pendulum serve

Here's a video from PingSkills (1:53) that shows how to return a forehand pendulum serve into the backhand.

2012 Hungarian Men's Singles Final

This was a great match from this past weekend, where shakehand attacker Ma Long of China (#1 in the world) barely defeats South Korea's chopper/looper Joo Se Hyuk (2003 World Men's Singles Finalist), -7,4,-4,4,-7,7,8, in the final of the Hungarian Open. Time between points is taken out so you can see the entire match in about ten minutes. Joo upset current World Men's Singles Champion Zhang Jike (also of China) in the quarterfinals by the unlikely scores of 5,7,7,4. (Here's that match on youtube, but it's shown continuously, so takes about 30 minutes.) Here are articles, pictures, and results.

Liu Guoliang teaching his one-year-old daughter table tennis!

Yes, former World and Olympic Champion and current Chinese Men's Coach Liu Guoliang is already teaching the next generation the family business (1:09).

The bearded Liv Tyler paddle

Here's actress Liv Tyler with her bearded paddle! And the sixth picture down shows her playing with the paddle. She's promoting her upcoming movie "Robot and Frank," but is probably best known for her roles in Lord of the Rings (she's Arwen!), Armageddon, and The Incredible Hulk.


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June 16, 2011

The unconventional path

If your goal is to challenge the best players in the world, then you want to play the best possible style. But for anything less, almost any style will do. One of the ironies of coaching is that if certain styles have a 1% advantage over another, then nearly 100% of students are taught those styles. After all, who wants to be the coach that teaches someone an "inferior" style? And so very few new players are taught to be choppers, long pips blockers, pips-out penholders, hardbatters, the Seemiller (or American) grip, and so on. These aren't considered the "best" styles, and so almost nobody teaches or learns them. Is there a place for these styles?

One of the kids I coach discovered chopping just yesterday. He has a decent forehand, but isn't that strong of an attacker yet. He has a good backhand push, and is now learning to push on the forehand. Obviously, it's very early in his game development. But once he learned what a chop was, he wanted to learn to do it. It was his first time, and his chops weren't very heavy and they popped up, but he had fun. Conventionally, you don't teach juniors to be choppers. And conventionally, even choppers are supposed to develop a good foundation of forehand and backhand attack before becoming choppers. So . . . should we go conventional, or go with chopping? I'm leaning toward the latter.

I've never understood why more players don't learn to chop. It's not that they'll win many points that way - most won't - but it's a lot of fun, and adds a new dimension to your game. Why not give it a try?

Saskatchewan wants YOU!

Well, if you're a really good coach and organizer they do. To be exact, those crazy Canadians want to hire two coaches. Here's the STTA Coaching Job Posting.. And here's the notice they put out:

"The Saskatchewan Table Tennis Provincial Technical Coaches are responsible for the overall planning, identification, training, and development of an elite Saskatchewan provincial table tennis team. The successful candidate will identify, train, and develop athletes for the National Championships and the Canada Winter Games. The Provincial Technical Coaches, as members of The High Performance Committee, will design and implement table tennis programs necessary for a highly competitive Saskatchewan team at major national/regional championships and the Canada Winter Games. The Saskatchewan Provincial Technical Coaches will also be responsible for the organization and development of Table Tennis as a recreational, competitive and school sport in Saskatchewan. The Technical coaches will also be responsible for the development of all levels of coaches in the province."

Engineers defeat Architects; Doctors defeat Lawyers

"The docs kicked butt, and the lawyers couldn't even object," said Doug Wade, tournament organizer and president of Corpus Christi Table Tennis Club. For more, you'll just have to read the article.

Cheaters Cruise?

A lot of people cheat, but do you know how to cheat well? Probably not. And in fact some believe cheating is bad, when of course cheater is just an anagram of teacher. And so to meet this growing demand I hereby announce the International Cheaters Cruise to Yemen (ICCY). Whether you are a proficient cheater, or just a wannabe, you can join us on this one-way cruise to the land of milk and bombs and honey. We will teach you to lie about the score with a straight face; to hide your serve with a cupped hand and a two-inch toss; to quietly (or loudly, if need be) call edges on your shots that go long and vice versa. We will teach you to blackmail officials, even supplying you with a starter kit of the known vices of all National umpires and referees. We will teach you to use speed-glued frictionless long pips and how to serve wet balls. Above all, we will teach you the guise of good sportsmanship because if you can fake sincerity when you cheat, you are well on your way toward being a Champion. To apply for this special cruise, send us a personal essay on why you believe you have what it takes to be a top-level cheater--lying is encouraged--along with a non-refundable check for $666 made out to ICCY. Results guaranteed; you can trust us. (And no, we are not making fun of the ICC Table Tennis Club, though of course we hope to cheat all their juniors out of their lunch money.)


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