2013 Spring Break Camp

April 1, 2013

Tip of the Week

The Many Ways to Receive a Short Backspin Serve.

12-Year-Old Derek Nie Defeats Three 2600+ Players to Win Coconut Cup

All you have to do is train the players really well, and they will get really good.
Perhaps that's a little simplistic, but it's what a top coach once told me, and he was
right. This past weekend 12-year-old Derek Nie, all of 70 pounds, won Open Singles
in the MDTTC Coconut Cup tournament. In the quarterfinals he upset Mang Bang
Liang, a chopper/looper rated 2600 - Derek's best win ever. "Before the match, I
found a whole chapter in Larry Hodges' book "Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers"
on playing choppers," Derek said. "I read it over in the back room. Everything worked!"
Only it was just the beginning of his banner tournament. In the semifinals he defeated
Lee Zhang Wook, a 2650 pips-out penholder visiting from China. "There's a section
about playing them in the Tactics book," Derek said, "and before the match I read it. I
played to the wide forehand, then came back to the backhand, like the book said, and it
really worked!" In the final, Derek played 2700+ Sammy Callaghan. "He's a bratty kid from
Ireland. But the Tactics book has an entire section on playing bratty kids!" Derek was able to
loop Sammy's serves, which had created havoc against other players. Most players had
found the serves almost unreturnable, but Derek had few problems. "There's a whole chapter
on returning serves in the Tactics book," Derek said, "and I read it over before going
out to play him." Derek won the match in a seven-game battle, ending the match by
loop-killing Sammy's serve at 11-10 in the last game. Congrats to Champion Derek!

World Team Cup

China sweeps Men's and Women's Teams, though it wasn't always so easy this time. Here are articles from Table Tennista on China winning Men's Teams and Women's Teams. Here's an article from them on the huge upset of Germany by Egypt in the quarterfinals - and here's a video (1:47) of the end of the match when Egypt wins. (There are several more articles on the tournament at Table Tennista.) Here's the ITTF home page for the event, with results, articles, pictures, and video.

Spring Break Camp

Spring Break Camp ended on Friday. In the morning we had "Player's Choice," where players chose what they wanted to work on during multiball sessions. Usually we do regular multiball drills, but most of the players in my group wanted to work on serves, so we did that.

Right after lunch, when I was about to take 16 of them to 7-11, a group of about 16 kids and parents came in unexpectedly and asked if someone could run a clinic for them. So I got Coach Raghu to take the kids to 7-11, and I ran a 45-minute clinic where covered grip, stance, forehand, backhand, and basic serves. They stayed and played another hour. Hopefully some will return.

In the afternoon most of the players had a practice tournament. I worked with the beginners, doing a lot of one-on-one play (instead of multiball). And then we were done!

Over 60 players attended the camp, though not all at once. One session had 47 players, most were in the 35-40 range. We used 18 tables, with both one-on-one drills, multiball, and robot play.

Ball Bouncing

We often have ball-bouncing contests in our junior classes on weekends. This Sunday Matvey Stepanov (11) had done about 100 at the start of class. He was supposed to be on ball pickup, but I told him he could keep bouncing until he missed, and then go on ball pickup. Mistake!!! We had to work around him on ball pickup as he went on and On and ON!!! He shattered the previous record of 1360 (I believe set by Kai MaClong, also 11) with 2216 bounces before missing.

Jim Butler on Receiving Serve

Here's a great quote from Jim Butler (Olympian and 4-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion) on how he approaches serve return, from the about.com forum.

When I'm receiving serves in a tournament, I usually have a mental plan each serve.  I will look at the server, look at his racket angle and service motion, and anticipate what serve I feel he's about to do.  The serve I'm anticipating is the one I'm looking to attack, or receive with aggression.  If the server does a different serve I'm not expecting, I have a plan to react to the serve, and play it safe on the table.... not too much speed.  If a server does a serve you are not expecting, it's usually best to play that receive conservative.  

For example:  If I'm receiving I may decide to step around with my forehand and attack any long serve or half long serve that comes to my bh corner..  As I go around on the receive to attack with my forehand, I'm looking to pounce on any serve to my backhand that's long or half long.  If any other serve comes though, I will cancel on a hard attack, and react accordingly with a safe receive.  I'm in position to only aggressively attack a long or half long serve to my bh.  Any other serve that comes, I will not  be in a good position to do much but receive it back safely, and hopefully with good placement.  

Tribute to Ding Ning

Here's a video tribute (4:17) to China's Ding Ning, world #1 since November, 2011.

Oriole Pingpong

"I've stayed here until 4 o'clock playing pingpong before." -Orioles pitcher Darren O'Day, in this article in the Baltimore Sun yesterday.

Happy Easter!

Here are two Easter Bunnies playing table tennis.

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March 29, 2013

Spring Break Camp

Yesterday was Day Four of our Spring Break Camp, which finishes today. My main lecture was on the backhand attack, which covered both the backhand drive and especially the loop, against backspin and topspin. This time I had Roy Ke (age 13, rated 2209) as my hitting/demo partner. His backhand loop has improved dramatically over the last few months.

The first highlight of the day was an amazing shot by a beginning junior girl, age around nine, who had just started playing on Monday. I was feeding multiball to her while she practiced her backhand, and she kept saying "Faster! Faster! Faster!" Finally, as a joke, I fed her three balls at once. They arrived at her very close together, and, unbelievably, she stroked and returned all three with one shot!

The second "highlight" of the day was an accident where, right at the end of the morning session, one nine-year-old player got too close to another who was hitting forehands, and got hit in the face, just above the right eye. It left a severe wound which bled pretty badly for a time. His father came in, but for the moment they didn't think he needed to see a doctor about it. We were worried he might need stitches. We have a pretty safe record at MDTTC, and I can't remember anything like this happening in our 21 years, though of course there have been occasional cases of players accidentally hitting others when they get too close. The injured player sat out the first half of the afternoon session, but joined in the second half. I'm always harping with the players to stand back when others are hitting, but now I will redouble that effort. Up until age 12 or so, kids seem to have no awareness that they are standing in someone's way in table tennis.

Fourteen of us walked to 7-11 after lunch. I picked up some ice for the injured player to hold against the injury. The others mostly got Slurpees and various candies. The manager gave me a free hot chocolate, and gave out free mini-Reeses to the players. We're sort of regulars there.

Today I'll be lecturing about pushing and footwork (and probably some on serves), and trying to do more live play with the new players (who have been doing mostly multiball and robot play). I'll both hit with them (or have other practice partners hit with them), or have them try to do drills among themselves, which often isn't pretty when beginners first try it.

Table Tennista

Here are three more articles from them on the World Team Cup. (Here's the ITTF home page for the event, with results, articles, pictures, and video.)

Interview with Kong Linghui

Here's a video interview (4:36) with the Chinese Women's Coach and former star player. It's in English through a translator.

Help Wanted in Table Tennis

Want a job in table tennis as an "Entry Level Account Executive"? Here's a help wanted notice from JOOLA USA!

The Wanted

Here's an article from Table Tennis Nation on the British band The Wanted, and their new mansion with a ping-pong table.

Non-Table Tennis - Sunday Night Fantasy Heaven

We have the season finale of The Walking Dead (on AMC locally at 9PM and repeated at 11PM, with "The Talking Dead" in between, where cast and crew members talk about the show and show clips for an hour), and then the season premiere of "Game of Thrones" (on HBO locally at 9PM, and replayed at 10PM and 11PM). So it's nerd heaven for some of us. (Each of these shows are one hour.) I plan on watching The Walking Dead at 9PM, then The Talking Dead at 10PM, and then Game of Thrones at 11PM. After that, the rest of my life will seem gray and drab by comparison.

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March 28, 2013

Spring Break Camp

This week I'm mostly blogging about the Spring Break Camp since that's what I'm doing for eight hours each day this week, Mon-Fri. I almost put up a note saying no blog today as I was so tired last night that I wanted to collapse into bed, knowing full well that I'd be unlikely to have the energy to do it in the morning before leaving for camp. Then I sat down at my computer at around 9:30 PM and it just came together, as it always does.

Yesterday we focused on forehand looping. As I often do I brought out 12-year-old Derek Nie to demonstrate, as he has nice technique to go with his 2234 rating. He demoed against my block, then I demoed it against backspin, where I served backspin, Derek pushed, I looped, he blocked, I chopped, he pushed, and we started over again. Then I gave a short lecture on it, and then it was off to the tables to practice.

Most memorable moment for me yesterday was dealing with a kid who was trying to serve backhand sidespin, but kept throwing the ball into his racket rather than tossing it up six inches or more and contacting it on the drop. I kept trying to show him how to do it legally, but he kept saying over and over (without letting me show him how), "I can't. I can't. I can't." Finally, in disgust (but trying to be nice about it), I told him I didn't want to hear it any more unless he changed it to "I can't yet," or better still, "I will." Several others around seemed to take this to heart, but the kid didn't get it, and actually sort of threw a tantrum and began smacking balls all over the place on purpose. I finally had to give him a "time out," the first one I'd given for the camp. Afterwards, when he'd calmed down, I told him I'd work with him on the serve tomorrow. I really, really hope it works out better today.

The beginning kids I'm working with are now progressing rather well, including the ones who had trouble at the start. Today I introduced them to pushing, and all of them picked up on this far more quickly than I expected. I wish I had a video of their expressions the first few times they pushed with enough backspin so the ball came to a stop and bounced or rolled backwards! The best news is the kid who's been resisting fixing his grip is finally holding the racket properly. I hope I never again see that awkward claw grip he was using.

At lunch I played a practical joke on everyone. We have Chinese food delivered for lunch each day - I had Chicken Lo Mein. I'd been jokingly grumbling about how my fortune cookies always predict disasters for me - that I'd be hit by a car, by lightning, or mauled by a bear or something. On Tuesday I brought home my fortune cookie to eat that night. While eating it I had a brainstorm. It took me about five minutes to create my own fortune, with the same size and type of font, the same blue color, and the same blue design along the sides, with the message, "A meteor will kill you in five minutes." I printed it out, carefully cut it out to match the exact size of the sample fortune, and brought it to the club. At lunch yesterday, I once again complained about my fortunes I get, and then, while several watched, I opened the cookie, and let the fortune drop down out. I did this so that it fell behind the plastic food box holding my food, where I'd hidden the fake fortune. I picked the fake one up, and read it aloud, while carefully tossing the real one under the table. When no one believed me, I let them read it. They went crazy in disbelief! Most of the camp gathered around trying to figure it out. (I'm also a part-time SF & fantasy writer, and one of the stories published in my anthology "Pings and Pongs: the Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of Larry Hodges" is a story titled "A Meteor Will Kill You In Five Minutes." About ten of the kids in the camp have read that story, adding to the consternation.) Finally, when five minutes were up, I stood up, looked up at the ceiling, and tossed a ping-pong ball up, which hit me in the head. I then told them what had happened. I'll save the fortune for future camps with new players.

It would be a crime not to mention that I'm spending our breaks taking on challenges with my clipboard as a racket. So far I'm about 30-0 in games to 11, including several wins over 1900+ players. The higher-rated ones are shying away in stark terror.

Ma Long's Coaching

Here are five coaching videos from Ma Long of China, who recently regained his crown as #1 in the world. It's all in Chinese, but even if you don't understand Chinese you can learn from just watching.

World Team Classic

The event is being held right now in Guangzhou, China, March 28-31. Here's the ITTF home page for the event, with results, articles, pictures, and video.

Interview with Bastien Steger

Here's a video interview (2:17) with Germany's Bastian Steger, who speaks to itTV after securing victory against Thiago Monteiro to give Germany a 3-2 win over Brazil at the Times Property 2013 World Team Classic.

Ryan Giggs Plays Table Tennis

Here's an article from Table Tennis Nation on how Manchester United player Ryan Giggs used table tennis to improve his soccer game. (That's football outside of USA.)

Zhang Jike and Xu Xin

Here's 21 seconds of these two practicing before the World Team Classic in Guangzhou, China. It starts out as regular counterlooping before they get creative.

Smart Table Tennis

Here's a new highlights video (8:28) from PerfectionisTT

Table Tennis Cartoon

Here's an interesting table tennis cartoon - but it has no caption. Why not come up with your own? Here are three of mine:

  • "Never stare in open-mouthed admiration of your opponent's shot."
  • "The secret to Mr. Specs' game was ball placement."
  • "It was an inadvertent ping-pong accident that led to his revolutionary discovery of the ping-pong diet- filling yet few calories."

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March 27, 2013

Spring Break Camp

We had 47 players in camp yesterday, all at the same time. How did we accommodate them all with 18 tables? In the morning session, we had 7 coaches feeding multiball, leaving 11 free tables. With 22 players on those 11 tables, that meant we had 25 players at any given time on the 7 multiball tables, rotating around between doing multiball, picking up balls, or practicing on the free tables. In the afternoon session the advanced players did more live play (two to a table), while younger beginners were grouped on a few tables for multiball and various games - such as hitting a bottle supposedly filled with my dog's saliva, where I had to drink it if they hit it. (I'm working with the beginners mostly this camp.)

The coaches are myself, Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, Wang Qing Liang ("Leon"), Chen Bo Wen ("Bowen"); Chen Jie ("James"); and Raghu Nadmichettu. Jack Huang used to be Huang Tong Sheng ("Jack"), but he's been Jack so long we no longer use his Chinese name.

While most of the players are local from Maryland or Virginia (since Spring Break Camp coincides with spring break in local schools), we have a bunch from out of town. There's a nine-year-old from Japan who's about 1900; four members of the University of Missouri team; and several from New Jersey and New York.

One of the beginners who was having so much trouble yesterday did a bit better today. However, he's still got a ways to go - every now and then he'll do a series of proper strokes, and then he'll fall back into bad habits. The other also showed some signs of learning, but doesn't seem too motivated to learn. Surprisingly, the latter one picked up serving pretty well, while the first one is struggling with that.

I gave lectures on the backhand, on serving, and on doubles tactics. However, since most of the players are local juniors, I kept the lectures short. I had a problem with a few overly excited kids who kept talking among themselves during the doubles lecture, which took place right after we got off break.

I got to talk some with the University of Missouri team for a bit. Their best player is about 2100, the other three somewhere in the 1700-1800 range or so. One (I think the 2100 player) was having trouble covering the table after stepping around his backhand to do a forehand penhold loop. Many players have this trouble because they don't position themselves properly so that they'll follow through in a balanced position, which is what allows a player to recover quickly. Players often follow through with their weight going off to the side, which means they waste precious time recovering. Instead, players should position themselves so their weight is moving more toward the table as they loop, putting themselves right back into position to cover even a block to the wide forehand. I can still do this at age 53 (well, against most blocks!), not because of foot speed, but because of proper footwork technique.

I'm getting a bit banged up. (This is me.) Here's a roll call:

  • Sore throat and hoarse voice from lecturing and coaching.
  • Slight limp from an injured right toe. I can't really put any weight on it. It feels like I've fractured it at the base (though it's probably something less serious), but I have no idea when or how. If it persists, I'll have it x-rayed after the camp.
  • Slight limp from pulled upper front left thigh muscle, which I originally injured at Cary Cup on March 15, and keep aggravating. (See my blog from March 22.)
  • Major infection from that cut on left index finger I got during the exhibitions last Thursday. (See my blog from March 22.)
  • Jammed middle finger on my right (playing) hand. This has been bothering me for months, and I don't know how I hurt it originally, though I know I aggravated it recently giving someone a high-five, where we missed and I rejammed it against his hand. I can't make a fist with my right hand - the middle finger won't bend all the way. (Insert appropriate middle-finger joke here.) If it were any of the other four fingers (including the thumb), this would affect my playing, but this one doesn't.
  • Growing upper back problems from being too busy to do my regular back stretching. This one's my own fault.
  • Exhaustion from my dog getting me up at 4AM to go out (see yesterday's blog), while trying to coach all day at our camp, do various paperwork and other stuff at night, and still do the daily blog.

Returning Serve: Part One

Here's the article from Table Tennis Master. I'll post part two and others as they come up.

ITTF Level 2 Course in New Jersey

Richard McAfee will be running an ITTF Level 2 Coaching Course at the Lily Yip TTC in Dunellen, NJ, Aug. 26-31. Here's a listing of all upcoming ITTF coaching seminars in the U.S.

Ariel Hsing Article

Here's a feature article on her from the ITTF.

Table Tennista

Here are four new articles on China Table Tennis.

Multiball Training in Hungary

Here's a new video (3:18) featuring multiball training with members of the Hungarian Woman National Team and with some young players in the Hungarian Table Tennis Centre in Budapest. This is roughly what I do all day long at our MDTTC training camps.

Multiball Training in China

Here's a video (7:09) showing multiball training in China. There are many styles of multiball feeding; I was fascinated to see that the man in red feeding multiball uses almost the exact technique I do, i.e. first bounce on the table. Even the drills he does are about the same as the ones I do.

The Correct Way to Finish a Point

Here's a six-second video where Richard Lee demonstrates your basic serve and zillion mile per hour loop kill. Do not try this in your basement; he's a professional.

Best of Xu Xin vs. Ma Long

Here's a video (8:29) of the best rallies between these two Chinese superstars. Many of these points are truly impressive - are we reaching the pinnacle of human performance in table tennis? (I'm sure someone will quote this back to me someday when someone makes these two look like amateurs.)

Artistic Table Tennis Pictures

Here's an interesting and artistic table tennis picture. And here's an artistic table - it's like playing bumper ping-pong.

Staged Shot-Making

Here are 13 spectacularly staged trick shots.


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March 26, 2013

Spring Break Camp - Grip Problems

Once again it's obvious that the biggest problem when working with beginning juniors is the grip. If they get the grip right, the rest of their strokes tend to come together. But no matter how many times you correct it, about half of beginning juniors will immediately go back to whatever weird-fangled grip they were using, leading to weird-fangled strokes that can drive a coach to dark, weird-fangled places as they try to keep smiling as they correct the grip for the zillionth time.

A poor playing stance usually leads to a poor grip, and a poor grip often leads to a poor playing stance. Most kids can fix one problem at a time, but here you have to correct two problems at once. If the kid fixes one problem but not the other, he'll almost immediately unfix the first problem and go back to the bad grip or stance, since you have to fix both together. It's a difficult cycle to break out of.

I spent much of yesterday working with five beginners, ages roughly 7-9. Three are picking things up pretty fast. Two are not. These two are still falling back into these bad habits. One insists on using sort of a "claw" grip, where he faces the table perfectly square on his forehand shots, grabbing the racket with his index finger up the middle, and his other fingers wrapped tightly around the edges in a way that tightens his forearm. Until I can get him to turn at least slightly sideways, it's going to be difficult for him to develop a real forehand. The other has limp-wristitis, where he flops his wrist all over the place on all his shots. He doesn't seem to want to fix the problem, but I'll keep trying.

Two other items came up several times when working with these beginners. All have timing problems, but when I tell them to start their forward swing when the ball hits their side of the table, they improve dramatically. It's a great timing mechanism. It's also helpful when feeding multiball to sometimes change the rhythm, so they have to time their stroke with the ball coming toward them, rather than just doing it automatically in rhythm to the rate I'm feeding the balls.

Another helpful hint was to keep reminding them to aim the racket where they want the ball to go. It's one of the more amazing things that younger kids often really don't associate these two together - you have to really harp on this before it really dawns on them that yes, the ball's going to go where the racket aims. (We're not dealing with spin yet - these are beginners.)

I'm writing this at 4AM. My dog, Sheeba, 15, a corgi mix, has taken to waking me up around 4AM each morning to go out. If I don't let her out, she makes a mess.

Finding a Service Spot

Here's the article from Table Tennis Master.

Table Tennista

Some more interesting articles from them on Chinese players.

ITTF World Team Classic Promo

Here's a video (5:05) promoting the Classic, which starts on March 28 (Thur) in Guangzhou, China. Lots of highlight plays and scenic views, done to music.

Kids Making Their Own Rackets

Here's the picture, where an industrial arts teacher has students make their own paddles. If you click on the picture, you get another rather interesting "leaning" picture.

Real Madrid Soccer Stars

Here they are, posing with their rackets

Table Tennis Is Our Drug

Here's a funny "table tennis" video (1:55). I put table tennis in quotes because you don't actually get to table tennis until the last 30 seconds - the rest is build up. But it's a pretty good build up!

Harlem Shake Gangnam Style

Here's a video (30 sec) starring the Alguetti brothers (junior stars from New Jersey) and others in the hilarious table tennis version of this dance.

Send us your own coaching news!

March 25, 2013

Tip of the Week

Importance of Constant Competition.

Spring Break Camp

In Friday's blog I mentioned that we have so many coaches/practice partners that we can't always use them all. Actually, it looks like that was incorrect - they will all be used in our camps, either coaching, feeding multiball, or as practice partners.

Day One starts this morning. As usual, I do all the talking, introducing the camp and giving short lectures. However, unlike our summer camps, where we have a lot of out-of-towners, the Spring Break Camp is mostly locals (since it coincides with the local spring break), and so the lectures will be extra short, with the goal to get them out on the tables. I'll probably be feeding multiball in the morning, working with beginners in the afternoon.

Mornings are mostly multiball. I'll be feeding multiball, along with coaches Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and Wang Qing Liang ("Leon"), and perhaps one other. If not feeding multiball, then Chen Bo Wen ("Bowen") and Chen Jie ("James") will be practice partners for players waiting their turn at multiball. (We have other part-time coaches - not sure yet of their hours.) In the afternoon, it's mostly table play, with the first half drills, then games. I'll be taking the beginners to the back tables to work on basics (and then games near the end), while Cheng and Jack run the session for the rest, with the others as practice partners.

The big question each day, of course, is what to order for lunch. We order Chinese food delivered each day. I'm thinking Orange Chicken, though Mongolian Beef also sounds good. Right after lunch it's sort of set that most of the kids will all want to go to the 7-11 down the street, and so we walk there as a group. The 7-11 manager always sneaks me a free mini-Slurpee for bringing them. Not sure if I'll want a cold Slurpee today - we had four inches of snow last night. Maybe we'll build snowmen during lunch break.

Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers - Kindle Version

After a long battle with the formatting, I've finalized the new version for Kindle with the 90 pictures used in the print version, and it is ready for downloading. I've also contacted Amazon about giving free downloads of the new version to anyone who bought the previous text-only version. Here's their response:

We've now entered your request to provide updated content to customers who purchased your book. Thanks for providing specific details about the changes made. We’ll perform the review of the changes to determine the most appropriate way to describe the updates to your customers. As we previously told you, this review will be complete within four weeks, and the possible results of our review listed below.

1. If the changes made to your content are considered critical, we’ll send an email to all customers who own the book to notify them of the update and improvements made. These customers will be able to choose to opt in to receive the update through the Manage Your Kindle page on Amazon.com. www.amazon.com/gp/digital/fiona/manage

2. If the changes made to your content are considered minor, we won’t be able to notify all customers by email, but we will activate their ability to update the content through the Manage Your Kindle page on Amazon.com.

Chinese Publisher for Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers

I started googling for Chinese publishers that might be interested in translating and publishing the book in China. And then it hit me - it's already been done! Well, sort of. My previous book, Table Tennis: Steps to Success was translated into five other languages (Chinese, Korean, Indonesian, Malaysian, and Hebrew - plus of course the English version). So all I have to do is contact the Chinese publisher of that book and see if they'd be interested in this one. It was published in China by China University of Mining and Technology Press. (Someone also contacted me about possibly doing a Swedish translation. I'll get back to him soon.)

Combating Nerves - Playing Against a Big Reputation

Here's the article from Table Tennis Master.

International Articles from Table Tennista

Here are four more.

Do You Try at 10-0?

Here's an interesting discussion at the OOAK Table Tennis Forum on whether to give away a point if you are leading 10-0. Personally, in non-competitive matches, I always give it away, or at least put up a high ball for them to smash (though then I might try to win the point lobbing). Against players near my level in practice I might also put a ball up like that, but not in a tournament.

Forehand Loop Against Block

Here's a nice video (3:11) from PingSkills that demonstrates and explains this.  

Assembling a Racket

Here's a video (1:57) showing how to put sponge on your racket - plus a little behind-the-back play by Steven Chan.

Bruce Jenner Plays TT

So how does 1976 Decathlon Olympic Gold Medalist Bruce Jenner spend his free time? Playing table tennis with a robot! Here's a video (33 sec) of him hitting with the robot at his home.

Chimp Picture

Here's a new Chimpanzee ping-pong picture. (Here's an older one.)

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