Adam Bobrow

January 30, 2014

Yesterday's Coaching Events

Had a lot of interesting things happen yesterday - here's a rundown!

  • For the second time, those months when I was about twelve where I learned how to pick locks paid off, making me a hero. On Tuesday night someone accidentally closed the bathroom door while it was locked. We have two bathrooms at MDTTC, but this was the one where we stored paper towels and toilet paper - and the other bathroom was running low. When I came in Wednesday afternoon they hadn't been able to open it, and were about to call a locksmith. So I grabbed a credit card and a paper clip, and picked the lock. I was a hero!!! For future cases, I taught Coach Jack how to pick that particular lock. The previous time my lock-picking made me a hero was about 15 years ago at a U.S. Open or Nationals, where nobody came to unlock the playing hall at 8AM, and about 100 of us were stuck outside, with events to start at 9AM. I picked the lock, to thunderous applause.
  • During a practice session a student mentioned that some of my blocks against his loop came out flatter than others. There's a simple reason for that - when the ball lands at normal depth or deep, a player blocks normally. But when the ball lands shorter and you have to reach forward, there is sometimes a tendency to block flatter. This is also why players who block right off the bounce tend to block flatter. 
  • One student tended to block from about five feet off the table. So we spent some time working on blocking within an arm's length. There are generally two types of blockers: those who take it right off the bounce (and go for quickness, consistency, angles, and change-of-pace - penholders with conventional backhands are notorious for this) and those who take it a bit later, but still on the rise, and focus on blocking more aggressively.
  • I did drills with one player where he had to loop to my middle. This is easier when backhand looping then with forehand looping. Why? For the simple reason that when backhand looping the opponent is in front of you, clearly in sight, while for forehand looping you are looking to the side, and so can't see the opponent. I know several top players who are great at finding my middle with their backhands, but aren't so good at doing this with their forehands.
  • One of the sessions was a lot of fun. Why? The student had had recent problems against players who lobbed and fished. And so I spent a good 20 minutes lobbing and fishing to him! This happens to be a strength of mine, and so we had some vicious rallies. I can lob down pretty much anyone under 1800 level, and (at my peak, when I was faster) most 2000 players.
  • Had one of the most interesting conversations ever while driving kids to the club - see next segment!

Blue Whales at the MDTTC

Recently we've started an afterschool program where I pick up some of our students from their schools and take them to the club. Yesterday I picked up a 7-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl. What follows is a rough synopsis of the conversation, mostly with the 7-year-old. Be forewarned - it gets silly, and if you're not in a silly mood, skip ahead or it'll ruin your non-silliness by making you laugh. (And there's plenty of other table tennis stuff afterwards.)

Me: "I'm going to drive the car up the Washington Monument, which is 555 feet tall, and drive off the top."
7-year-old: "No, don't do it! We'll all die! And the police will arrest you!"
Me: "I'll drive off the top so fast we'll land in the Atlantic Ocean and get swallowed by a blue whale."
7-year-old: "You won't make it to the Washington Monument because the police will stop you with their bazookas!"
Me: "They'd arrest me for driving off the top of the Washington Monument?"
7-year-old: "Yes!"
Me: "But then they'd have to wait until I'd actually driven off the Washington Monument before they could arrest me for driving off the Washington Monument. Then they'd only have three seconds to do so. Besides, the hungry blue whale will stop them from arresting us."
7-year-old: "Blue whales don't eat people, they eat plankton!"
Me: "Ah, I see you know your whales. But this is a special man-eating whale that's realized that in one bite, it can save hours of scouring the ocean for plankton."
7-year-old: "The police will kill the blue whale with their bazookas!"
Me: "No way. In a fight between a 100-foot blue whale weighing 200 tons, and a few puny humans with bazookas, the blue whale would win."
7-year-old: "Not if I bring in the army!"
Me: "If you bring in the army, I'll bring in a gang of octopuses with machine guns. And I think the plural of octopus is octopi."
7-year-old: "Then I'll bring in all the rest of the animals in the world!"
Me: "Then I'll bring in blood-sucking vampire cheetahs, since you missed them since they are dead."
7-year-old: "I'll bring in tanks!"
Me: "I'll bring in super-plankton, this little plankton that's been lifting weights and beating up blue whales everywhere! He's small but deadly."
7-year-old: "I'll eat your plankton!"
Me: "I'll bring in the planet Mars, and smash your policemen, armies, animals, and tanks."
7-year-old: "I'll smash your Mars with Jupiter!"
10-year-old, joining in for first time: "I'll smash Mars and Jupiter with my Jupiter-sized fists, which are made of rock."
Me: "Okay, now I'm scared."
[We arrive at club.]
Me: "But this raises the age-old question: How many blue whales could we fit in the Maryland Table Tennis Center?"
7-year-old: "None, they're too big."
Me: "I think we could fit four across the floor, and stack four more on top, so we could fit eight of them."
7-year-old: "How are you going to get them into the club? You can't carry eight blue whales!"
Me: "I'll toss them over my shoulder, one by one, of course."
10-year-old: "I'll smash your blue whales with my giant fists."
7-year-old: "But blue whales won't fit in the club!"
Me: "Let's find out." 

And so I paced off the club, and got its dimensions: 77' wide and 126' long. By measuring the size of the panels on one wall that went up to the ceiling, I calculated the height at 18 feet. (Technically, we have two bathrooms sticking out of one wall, which reduce the volume, but we also have a back room of about the same size.)

Now according to my Internet research, an adult blue whale is roughly 100 feet long, and (when lying out of water on dry land) about 10 feet tall and 25 feet wide at its widest. The 10 feet tall thing is problematic since that would make it difficult to stack them since the ceilings are 18 feet high, but I'm going to assume we can squeeze them down a bit more and stack them two high - but this would make them wider, perhaps 30 feet wide. Since the club is 77 feet wide, we would be able to fit two side by side, and two on top of that. Then we'd have 17 feet left on the side. We should be able to squeeze one more in there. But the club is 126 feet long, so we have an area 26 feet by 77 feet left over. Taking into account that the whales don't take up as much space with their flukes, and being careful to load them into the club fluke first, we should be able to jam in one more blue whale, left to right, if we fold its flukes back over. So that makes us a six blue whale club.

Here's another way of looking at this. A blue whale's density is pretty close to water. A blue whale can weigh up to 200 tons, let's assume we have a very large one at 200 tons. Now if MDTTC's dimensions are 77x126x18, then it has a volume of 174,636 square feet. A square foot of water weighs about 62.4 pounds. So MDTTC could hold up to 10,897,286 pounds of water, or about 5448 tons, which equates to 27.24 blue whales at 200 tons each. Suddenly I'm realizing that my blue whale packaging above wasn't very efficient. So now we're a 27 blue whale club, assuming we can fold and perhaps cut up the whales to make them fit. The key question - will they pay membership?

Balancing Training of Strengths and Weaknesses

Here's the article from Table Tennis Master.

The Laughmaster of Ping-Pong - Adam Bobrow

Here's an article on this entertaining player, "The Laughmaster Of Ping-Pong, Adam Bobrow Combines Comedy And Table Tennis And Tours The World In Leopard Print," which includes a link to a video (4:08) that compiles some of his adventures.

Liu Shiwen Criticized by Liu Guoliang

Here's the article, which includes a link to a video (18:06).

Top Ten Table Tennis Points of 2013

Here's the video (3:37).

Top Ten Shots of the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals

Here's the video (4:24) from the ITTF.

Eager Thief Tries to Gift Wrap Table Tennis Table

Here's the article! (Alas, it links to a video that is no longer available, which I saw last night, with video footage of the hapless criminal actually trying to wrap the table.)

Cat Smacking in Forehands

Here's the latest cat-playing-table-tennis video (27 sec) starring an acrobatic cat with a world-class forehand, I mean forepaw.

Will Ferrell Playing Table Tennis

Here's the picture, where he demonstrates his unique penhold grip - while wearing white with a white ball, the cheater.

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January 7, 2014

Away Wed-Sun

I'll be away the next five days, Wednesday to late Sunday night (Jan. 8-12), going to my nephew's wedding and family gathering in New Orleans. So no blog until next Tuesday. (I'll also put the Tip of the Week up on Tuesday.) At that point things get exciting - USATT Historian Tim Boggan moves in with me on Monday, and we begin the grueling two-week task of doing the photo work and layouts for Volume 14 of his History of U.S. Table Tennis, as I've done with the previous volumes. 

USATT Election Results

USATT just completed a special election for the open seat vacated by Christian Lillieroos. Here's the announcement - Jim McQueen wins over Ross Brown. Here's the USATT Board of Directors listing.

Ratings Records

I don't like to harp on ratings, but a record's a record. Here are two new ratings records, by Crystal Wang and Klaus Wood, both from my club, MDTTC. (However, as noted below, Klaus has spent most of the last four years in Taiwan.) 

Just as she did as a 9-year-old (with a 2150 ratings) and a 10-year-old (with a 2355 rating), Crystal Wang just set the all-time record for highest rating for an 11-year-old, boys or girls, with a 2402 rating after the North American Teams. Alas, it didn't last - at the USA Nationals, where she became the youngest ever to win Under 22 Women (beating in the semifinals soon-to-be three-time USA Women's Singles Champion Ariel Hsing), she sort of imploded in Under 18 Girls' Singles with several huge rating losses, and so came out at 2304. Suffice to say that few who play her think of her as "only" 2304.

Did she deserve the 2402 rating? You decide. (And remember that she beat the 2511 Ariel Hsing three weeks later at the Nationals!)
Wins: 2359, 2356, 2348, 2345, 2315, 2305, 2304, 2289, 2277, 2276, 2262, 2247, 2134, 2059, 2012.
Losses: 2781, 2542, 2394, 2325, 2305.

Crystal has been chasing after Kanak Jha's records for the last few years. Kanak, 13, set the record for highest rated 9-, 10-, 11-, 12-, and now 13-year-old in history, with Crystal breaking the first three. (Kanak's highest ratings at age 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13 were 2017, 2265, 2366, 2468, and 2635. This last one especially is going to be tough for anyone to top! Note - I'm not absolutely certain Kanak's 2017 rating at age 9 was the record, but I think it was.) The two are leading a huge surge in elite cadet players in the U.S., which is stronger than it's ever been. Just for the record, both Crystal and Kanak are U.S.-born citizens. I had a listing of Kanak's highest ratings at each age, and now I can't find it, alas - but I know his highest as an 11-year-old was somewhere in the 2350 range, which is still incredible.

At the USA Nationals, Klaus Wood, 12, went from 637 to 1747, a gain of 1110 points, which I believe might be a record. If anyone's gained that many in a tournament, let me know. At worse, it's probably a record for the Nationals. The amazing thing is that's way, way too low for him. Just look at his results - he beat players rated 2261, 2068, 1906, and 1892, and his worst loss was to a 2132 player in five games! He's really 2100+. But his 637 rating was from 2009. Here's his story: he started out as a 9-year-old at the Maryland Table Tennis Center in 2009 (my club), and played five tournaments that year, getting that 637 rating. I coached him a number of times that year in group sessions. Then his father got a job in Taiwan, and so he moved there and spent the last four years there training. (He's half Chinese.) He came back to Maryland for a time this summer and attended two of our camps. Then he attended the USA Nationals. He's back in Taiwan again, but he's supposed to return to Maryland permanently later this year. We look forward to having him back.

Full-Time Table Tennis Centers

I've added two new clubs to the list I maintain of full-time table tennis centers in the U.S.; there are now 67 on my list.  The new ones are the Zaman TTC in Westminster, CA, and the Washington TTC in Gaithersburg, MD. Let me know if there are any I've missed. I'm sure there are a few out there that I don't know about. One rule - the club needs a web page in order to be listed.

There are full-time centers in 23 states. The leaders are California with 20 and New York with 12. After that it drops down to four in Maryland and Texas, and three in Georgia and Oregon, and two in Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. States without a full-time center (in order of population) are MI, TN, MO, WI, CO, AL, SC, LA, KY, OK, CT, IA, MS, AR, KS, NE, WV, ID, HI, ME, NH, MT, DE, SD, AK, ND, VT, AND WY.

I was curious as to how they match up if you divide the state's population by the number of centers, and here's what I found, with number of full-time centers in parenthesis.

Population Per Full-Time Center in Millions

  1. RI (01): 1.1
  2. OR (03): 1.3
  3. MD (04): 1.5
  4. NY (12): 1.6
  5. CA (20): 1.9
  6. NM (01): 2.1
  7. NV (01): 2.8
  8. UT (01): 2.9
  9. GA (03): 3.3
  10. MA (02): 3.4
  11. NJ (02): 4.9
  12. MN (01): 5.4
  13. WI (01): 5.7
  14. PA (02): 6.4
  15. IL (02): 6.5
  16. IN (01): 6.57
  17. TX (04): 6.61
  18. AZ (01): 6.63
  19. WA (01): 7.0
  20. VA (01): 8.3
  21. NC (01): 9.8
  22. OH (01): 11.6
  23. FL (01): 19.5

Expert Table Tennis

Here's a growing step-by-step guide to playing table tennis. Not all the segments are complete, but it's halfway - nine articles done, nine to go!

Around the Net Winner

Here's video (41 sec) of Adam Bobrow winning a match in Vietnam with a spectacular around-the-net backhand counter-smash winner.

Imitating the Stars

Here's a funny video (1:56) of someone imitating four top Chinese players. See if you can identify which is which!  If you're stumped, the comments below it identify them. (Anyone who doesn't recognize the first hasn't been paying attention!)

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December 26, 2013

Hidden Serves at the Nationals

There were a lot of problems with hidden serves at the USA Nationals. For example, in the Men's Singles Semifinals, David Zhuang was faulted several times for this, and I commend the umpire for this. He often pulls his free arm out of the way immediately, as you are supposed to, but then brings it back just before contact to hide the ball. And yet, even there he got away with a few hidden ones. For example, see the service winner at 8-9 in the second, where he ties it up and goes on to win that game, though he'd go on to lose the match to Cory Eider. (Link should take you to 2:43:42 in the video.) Can't quite tell from the video? Here's a freeze frame image.

But it was also happening in junior events, in particular by one player in the mini-cadets (under 13). There were several matches where the player's opponent, coaches, parents, and spectators bitterly protested, but the umpires didn't enforce the rule, leading to often comical mishits on the receive. In one match, the player hiding the serve won at 5,3,4. Later the two played again, and this time a different umpire enforced the rule, faulting the illegal server several times in the first game - and this time the other player won.

Because I was worried the players I coach would play someone who was hiding their serves, I complained to the deputy referee, who was the acting referee at the time. I know how difficult it is to umpire - I've umpired hundreds of tournament matches and was once a regional umpire - but the rules do say, "It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that s/he complies with the requirements of the law." (Bold is mine.) Like it or not, that's a pretty specific statement, and means that if the umpire isn't sure whether the serve is hidden or not, he cannot possibly be "satisfied" that the serve complies with the requirements of the law, and has to warn or fault the player. And if a player is hiding a serve, there's no way the umpire can say that he's satisfied that the serve is not being hidden, though of course he might not be sure - in other words, not "satisfied."

To my astonishment, the deputy referee insisted that "satisfied" meant only that the player probably served legally, or several other similar vague definitions. When I pointed out that "satisfied" meant "believe something to be true," both he and another referee/umpire argued vigorously with me, saying I was wrong. However, as the Merriam-Webster definition shows clearly, I was 100% right. The pertinent definition is "to cause (someone) to believe something is true."

You cannot say you are not sure if the serve is hidden and simultaneously say that you believe the serve is not hidden; that's a direct contradiction. And yet, a number of umpires seemed to believe they could! Sorry, but you can't have both ways. But this was the argument made by the deputy referee and a number of others.

My opinion? It's a combination of convenience and group think. It's not an easy rule to enforce since most enforcement of it isn't saying the serve is illegal, but saying the umpire couldn't tell if the serve was visible. And so it's much easier to fall for the group think where satisfied means something other than what it really means. As I wrote yesterday, I Princess Brideian finally told them, "I don't think that word means what you think it means." I then wrote out the exact definition from Merriam-Webster, but I don't think it swayed them. Alas.

Things actually got worse after this. I was told there was a video of the player in question serving illegally. The deputry referee refused to look at it. I asked why not. He said, and this is a direct quote, "Because we don't." I point out that was not a reason not to look, and asked three more times, but he would only say the exact same words: "Because we don't." I pointed out that the referees and umpires of every major sport - baseball, basketball, football, etc. - look at video to improve their officiating, but he still refused, and only got angry about my repeated requests for an actual reason. I argued that since it is the responsibility of the referee to make sure that the rules are enforced, how could he not look at a video to see if a player was not following the rules, and then look for a way to make sure they were enforced, i.e. by instructing the umpire to follow the rules? But he refused to even consider looking at a video or watching a match of the player in question. It was like Galileo arguing with church officials to look through his telescope.

So we're stuck with many referees and umpires who will not enforce the rules, and worse, will not even look at evidence that rules are being broken. There's no easy way to say this, so I'll say it like it is; they are allowing players to win by cheating.

I'm told that at the international level, the umpires are far stricter in junior events, and that hidden serves are faulted - and so some of our up-and-coming juniors may face a shock when they go overseas. However, at the same time, they are lax in international men's and women's events, and so the top men and women often do get away with hiding their serves. It's not a good situation. What do you tell the players to do? If an opponent is hiding his serve and the umpire allows it, then I guess you have no choice but to do so yourself. But it gets trickier - how can a player learn to return such serves unless his practice partners also hide their serves? And so we're stuck with a choice between training all year long and losing to players who are allowed to cheat, or teaching our players to cheat so they can compete.

I'd like the referees and umpires who do not enforce these rules to do three things.

  1. Explain to kids who train all year why they let opponents win by cheating;
  2. Explain whether they think coaches should teach their students to cheat so they can compete;
  3. Explain to parents why coaches are teaching their kids to cheat.

The irony is that since the service rule isn't always enforced, many players who do not hide their serve are lax some of the rules. For example, a player I coach got faulted three times at the Nationals because he didn't pull his free arm away as soon as the ball had been projected when doing high-toss serves. He wasn't hiding the serve; he was actually pulling his arm out while the ball was still above his head, but in the umpire's judgment, he hadn't pulled it out quickly enough, and so got faulted. As long as all the umpires are instructed to enforce the rules this strictly, I don't see a problem. Pulling the arm out of the way immediately isn't hard, and no one hides the ball unintentionally; it takes practice to do so.

My Tip of the Week on Monday was inspired by these hidden serves: Returning Hidden and Other Tricky Spin Serves. Some players are better at reacting to hidden serves than others, and often this is simply a matter of how quickly they take the ball off the bounce. For example, the player I mentioned above who lost at 5,3,4 tends to take the ball very quickly off the bounce, and so when caught off guard by a hidden serve was unable to react as quickly as a player who habitually takes the ball later.

I've always said there are three main ways to hide the serve so that the umpire might not call it. Well, at the Nationals I learned there is a fourth way. Sorry, I'm not going to post a tutorial on these four ways to cheat or how to do them!

Seamless Plastic Poly Ball

[I blogged Monday about the USA Nationals, and buried in it all was a segment about the new seamless plastic poly balls. It was easy to miss, and really deserved a segment on its own, so here it is again.]

A month ago I had ordered a packet of the new poly balls, the non-celluloid seamless plastic ones. As I blogged previously, they weren't really acceptable. However, Kagin Lee had several of a newer version (Xu Shaofa balls, also seamless) and he let me and others try them out. Verdict? These ones are usable, and only subtly different from a regular celluloid ball. Even the cracked sound is almost gone. I had several of our junior players try them, and they also said they were usable. One had said of the earlier version, "Unacceptable but fun to use," but these passed both his and my test for usability. So I think this problem has been solved.

NOTE added later: I also compared the ball to a Nittaku 3-star, and found them the same size, unlike the previous poly balls I'd tested, which had been slightly larger. I also bounced them side by side, and found the new poly ball had the same bounce as the Nittaku, as compared to the previous version which was faster, i.e. bounced higher. Because of ongoing arm problems, I couldn't loop with any power and so relied on others to judge how they looped, though they looked pretty much like any other looped ball. 

Alameda Coach

During the USA Nationals last week I found myself coaching against players from the Alameda Table Tennis Club in California. Afterwards I met coach Pieke Franssen (from the Netherlands), and discovered my blog was responsible for his being there at Nationals with them. Below is an email he sent me afterwards.

Hi Larry,
We met some days ago in Las Vegas. I told you that you and your blog were the reason why I am in the States right now. I saw your post about a northern Californian table tennis club looking for a full-time coach. Then I wrote to them and I came over for a visit to see the club and meet their players. I like it a lot now here and want to return to Alameda to coach if we can arrange the visa. I send you my resume, so you know a little bit more about my background. I hope we will meet in the future again. Best of luck with your center!
Best regards, Pieke Franssen

Chinese Team's Military Training

Here's an article where Ma Long talks about it.

Top Five Angry Players in Table Tennis

Here's the video (5:14).

Under 1200 Final at USA Nationals

Here's the video of the last few points (3:20) - go to 2:53 to see the celebration of all celebrations!

Twas the Night Before Vegas

Here's Adam Bobrow's poem, with great apologies to Clement Clarke Moore.

Merry Christmas from Junior Stars from Around the World

Here's the video (56 sec).

Santa Claus Plays Table Tennis

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October 2, 2013

Wider Stance

Because of my arm problems (see below), I only gave one lesson yesterday, and it was an all-multiball session. The 12-year-old player (hi Sameer!) has a tendency to stand up too straight when he plays. This leads to some awkward strokes. At first glance some would say he needs to loop more forward, or use less arm, or something similar, but that would be treating the symptoms. The problem was how straight he tends to stay, with his feet too close together. So much of the session was focused on not just staying down, but on keeping the feet wider. This gives extra stability and power. The results were good - his looping form was perhaps the best ever. It also helped when he took the ball a little later so he wouldn't be rushed. As he gets used to the wider stance he'll get quicker with it, along with the increase in stability and power. (Stability increases both the consistency as well as the recovery from the previous shot.)

This is true for most players. Watch videos of the top players and see how wide their stance is when they play. It does take some leg muscle, but not as much as you'd think; it's more a habit you have to develop. Once you get in the habit, I think it's actually less tiring as the extra stability means you aren't tiring yourself recovering from shots over and over.

Here's a video (5:37) of the Chinese team training earlier this year before the Worlds. Watch the very first drill sequence, and see how wide the players keep their feet - both the player moving and the one blocking. A few key things about a wider stance: feet should point slightly outward. Knees should be bent. Body should be bent slightly forward at the waist.

I spent some time this past weekend watching some of our top juniors train, especially Nathan Hsu and Derek Nie, whom I'll be coaching at the Nationals. Their stances were plenty wide, but the interesting thing they and our other top juniors all pretty much do is keep their feet mostly parallel to the end-line even on forehands, as they've been trained to do. In the past it was standard to have the right foot back some when playing forehands (for righties), and that's still how beginners are taught. But as players advance, more and more they keep the feet parallel, and rely on the wide stance (for stability and power) and flexible hips and waist to rotate around for most forehand shots. This has several advantages: it means they are equally ready to play forehand or backhand; it makes it easier to loop forehands close to the table; and it makes it easier to rotate the hips and body into the shot. They do bring the right foot back for some shots, but mostly when they have extra time. They also bring it back of course when stepping around the backhand corner, but not as much as players in the past.

Arm Problems

As expected, I had to cancel my three hours of private coaching scheduled today (Wednesday). The arm is still very sore, though I hope it'll be okay by the weekend. Other than a one-hour class I teach on Thursday (where I'll only feed multiball) I've cancelled everything until Saturday. The good news is two of the kids I normally coach today have made arrangements to meet to practice and play matches.

60 Full-time Table Tennis Clubs in the U.S.

I just added the King Pong TTC from NYC to the list of full-time table tennis clubs in the U.S. Let me know if there are any I missed! How did I find out about them? From this article in the Tribeca Citizen, "Our Friendly Neighborhood Ping Pong Parlor."

The Most Common Mistakes Made by Beginners

Here's the article from Table Tennis Master.

ITTF on Waldner and Waldner Stamp

Here's the ITTF article on Waldner and the new Waldner Chinese stamp.

Synagogue Welcomes Government Workers to Ping-Pong

With the government closed, this Synagogue is attracting "government refuges" for ping-pong and West Wing reruns. Here's the article.

Adam Bobrow Takes on San Francisco Mayor

Here's a video (17 sec) of Adam Bobrow and a partner (jumpy guy in striped shirt) he apparently chose at random from the crowd taking on San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and 11-year-old William Bai (rated 1970) in a doubles match. 

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September 20, 2013

Walter Wintermute Visit

Coach and player Walter Wintermute from North Carolina visited MDTTC last night. He'd emailed in advance, saying he would be in town for a business trip, and wanted to observe our coaching. So he watched while I ran a one-hour session with five beginning junior players. Then he watched some of our top juniors in training (Crystal Wang, Derek Nie, Nathan Hsu, others), and played a practice match with another local top junior (Josh Tran). Then we talked table tennis coaching for half an hour. He's been coaching more and more and wanted to see how we did it. So I went over the various techniques used for coaching juniors, as well as how we ran the sessions, the games we played at the end, etc.

Walter and I go way back. In early 1977, when I was 17 and had been playing about a year, I was rated 1480; he was rated just a few points lower and was two years younger. We played in three finals in a tournament in Virginia - I believe it was Under 1500, Under 1600, and Under 1700. He won two of them, alas. Later that year we would both shoot up in ratings to 1900. Two years later, in 1979, I would move to North Carolina for two years, where I would play Walter regularly on weekends and at the monthly tournaments.

The last two years his son, David, 15, has been coming to our camps. He has an unearthly resemblance to his dad from 35 or so years ago, so it's sort of nostalgic when I work with him. 

Looping Seniors

Sometimes a student surprises you. Yesterday I was coaching an older player, one of the few non-juniors I'm coaching . He had some major technique problems with his forehand, and we'd been working for a few weeks on fixing them. His backhand, however, was pretty good. His overall level was about 1200 or so. I decided it was time to start him on looping. I figured we'd start with the backhand loop against backspin and spend a few weeks on that before moving on to the forehand loop, where I figured we'd have some problems.

So I went over the backhand loop stroke with him, making sure he had the technique down before actually hitting anything. Then I began feeding him multiball to his backhand with backspin. And he picked it up immediately! I was pleasantly surprised, but not shocked as he did have a pretty good backhand. We worked on it for perhaps 8-10 minutes, and I told him he should make that a strength.

Then, with about 15 minutes left in the session, I asked if he wanted to focus on serves the rest of the way or start work on the forehand loop. He wanted to try looping. So, weeks ahead of schedule, I went over the forehand loop with him, again making sure he had the technique down before hitting anything. Then I began fed him multiball. The very first shot - wham, a perfect loop! Okay, not perfect; he tended to stroke from the shoulder, and hit inside-out. But it looked like one of Timo Boll's patented inside-out forehand loops! We worked on it for ten minutes, and he did the shot over and over, no problem. I was severely impressed. We're going to continue working on these shots so that he can serve and loop from both wings against any push return. And then - dare I say it? - looping out of the rally? Or even counterlooping???

Message from Saive

Here's a video interview (7:19) from Belgium superstar Jean-Michel Saive, former world #1. He talks about his beginning, coaches, the importance of talent, and family.

Ellen Degeneres Surprises Tour Group with Private Ping Pong Tour

Here's the story and video (4:59) from Table Tennis Nation.

Adam Hugh's Second Entry

Yesterday I linked to Adam Hugh's entry to the ITTF Trick Shot Competition. He has a second entry (1:17). He wrote of this one, "This is my 2nd submission. Actually it was the first one I recorded and was originally intended to be a test for the camera but I figured what the heck." Here's the page showing videos entered so far.

Adam Bobrow's 40-Shot Dialog Rally

Here's the video (60 sec) as he lobs away. (Spoilers ahead!) The smasher (Sherwin Afshar) yells something like "Foo-aw!" over and over, and Adam does it right back. Then the dialog begins: "Die!" "No." "Die!" "Not yet." "Die!" "Why?" It all ends with - you guessed it - an edge ball.

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May 7, 2013

Spammers

Due to massive spamming attacks, I've been forced to switch to requiring administrator approval for new accounts. Yesterday I had to block over 50 new accounts, each of which was posting spamming notes all over the comments section on my blog and the forum, which I also had to delete. (Fortunately I can generally delete all postings by a spammer with a few clicks - but it does take time.) So starting last night, new visitors can create accounts but administrator approval is required. It seems to be working - since last night 18 more accounts were created, but only two legit. (On a related note, anyone who has to constantly waste time battling these spammers believes in the death penalty.)

Table Tennis Leagues in the U.S.

Last night I had a debate on the MyTableTennis forum on the future of leagues in the U.S., and whether a nationwide network of local leagues is possible. Here's where I join the discussion. I ended up posting thirteen notes. (You can also read the previous postings of course.) I was thinking of copying and pasting the entire discussion here, but I'll just post my first note, and link to the rest. There's some lively discussion, so if you have any interest in leagues or the growth of table tennis in the U.S., I hope you read the rest of it.

The goal of a nationwide network of local leagues isn't to set up leagues for currently existing clubs. The purpose is to use the leagues spur the creation of new clubs and players. This is how it was done in places all over the world, including Europe. Germany didn't start with 11,000 clubs and 700,000 and then decide to set up leagues; the leagues are what spurred the development of these 11,000 clubs and 700,000 players. The whole point is to set up local leagues, so nobody needs to drive hundreds of miles. [Note: I'm responding to a note that said leagues wouldn't work in the U.S. because players might have to drive hundreds of miles to get to the next local club.]

I remember when we opened the Maryland Table Tennis Center many years ago. Over and over we were told there weren't enough players to support a full-time table tennis center devoted to coaching, and that there was no way players would pay enough hours for coaching to make it pay for itself. They missed the point - we weren't going after current players, we were going after NEW players. Now we have seven full-time coaches and over 300 hours of private coaching per week (plus group sessions), and full-time clubs with full-time coaches are popping up all over the country (about 60 of them now, compared to about 10 just seven years ago). Similarly, the purpose of a nationwide network of local leagues would be to bring in new players and new clubs, not just for existing ones.

It will not an easy task, and it probably does need to start in populated regions. If there are local organizers, as tennis does in the U.S. and other countries do in table tennis, than any city can develop table tennis leagues, and from the players signing up for those leagues more clubs can pop up, just as they do overseas. Tennis has such local leagues all over the U.S. and huge numbers of players, and they started out just where we are now. There's no reason why table tennis can't do the same; in Europe, nearly every country sports associations have more table tennis members than tennis members.

Striped Balls and Backhand Flip

Yesterday I blogged about using colorful soccer-style ping-pong balls for table tennis, since it makes it easier to see the spin on the ball. Here's a video (3:25) of Ma Long's backhand flip (also called a flick) where he's using a striped ball so you can see the spin. The video quality isn't good enough to really see the ball spin with the stripes - you can see it much better in person. I wonder how it would show up on normal TV?

USOC Athletes of the Month

USATT has two nominees for USOC Athlete of the Month for April - Lily Zhang and Timothy Wang. Please vote for them! You can vote for both a male athlete and a female athlete. Here are short bios on both, provided by USATT Webmaster Sean O'Neill.

Timothy Wang, Table Tennis
Olympian Timothy Wang (Houston, Texas) battled to a silver medal at the 2013 ITTF-North American Cup, held April 21 in Westchester, N.Y. Rising to the occasion, Wang registered an impressive 3-0 win over top-seeded Pierre-Luc Theriault of Canada. He followed with a 4-1 semifinal victory over 2011 U.S. champion Peter Li (Laurel, M.D.). Wang, the current U.S. men’s singles No. 1, will lead the U.S. men at the 2013 World Championships taking place in Paris in May.

Lily Zhang, Table Tennis
Olympian Lily Zhang (Palo Alto, Calif.) captured first place at the 2013 ITTF North American Cup, held April 21 in Westchester, N.Y. With the tournament featuring some of the best players from the U.S., Canada and Bermuda, Zhang defeated Olympic teammate Ariel Hsing (San Jose, Calif.), 4-1, in the women’s singles final. The victory qualified Zhang to compete in the STARTS Women’s World Cup, while ending Hsing’s attempt to three-peat as the North American Cup winner. Zhang advanced to the final upon beating fellow world team member Tina Lin (Edison, N.J.), 4-0, in the semifinal. Zhang will be representing the U.S. at the 2013 World Championships in May in Paris.

Table Tennis Master

Here's another interesting coaching article from Table Tennis Master, "Mastering the Counterloop."

Chinese Ping-Pong Song for the Worlds

Here's a music video (4:37) of the Chinese National Team singing their Ping-Pong Song for the 2013 World Championships and thanking their fans. How many of the players can you name?

Jesse Metcalfe

Here's a short article from Table Tennis Nation where actor Jesse Metcalfe (best known for his work on Desperate Housewives and the remake of Dallas) says he sees ping-pong as the future of nightlife.

Six Pictures Preparing for the Worlds

Here are six Facebook pictures from the ITTF showing players preparing for the Worlds at the Werner Schlager Academy in Austria. How many of the players can you name?

Ariel Hsing with Uncles Warren and Bill

Here's an article and photos from Table Tennista on Ariel Hsing, Warren Buffett, and Bill Gates playing table tennis at the annual Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder Meeting this past Sunday. They've been bringing her in annually for this since she was a little kid. And here are three more photos.
Ariel with Bill and Warren
Warren Holding Ariel
Warren and Bill Play Doubles
(If you can't see these on Facebook, try this, this, and this.)

Learn from a Pro

"Adam Bobrow Now on Table 1." Here's the Facebook picture. (If you can't see it there, try this.)

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February 22, 2013

Forehand or Backhand Receive in Doubles?

More and more these days top players receive short balls with their backhand whenever possible. In doubles, where players only have to cover half the court on the receive, most players used to return everything with their forehands, so that they'd be ready to forehand loop anything that went long. But that paradigm has changed.

Here's a video (4:21, with time between points removed, not all points shown) of the all-Chinese Men's Doubles Final at the Kuwait Open this past weekend, where Xu Xin and Yan An defeated Zhang Jike and Ma Long, -6,9,10,4. The video showed 44 points; below is the breakdown on receives. Overall, players received forehand 24 times and backhand 20 times. However, these results were skewed by Yan An, who received forehand 12 times, backhand once. Take him out, and the other three had 12 forehand receives to 19 backhand ones.

  • Ma Long: FH 4, BH 8
  • Zhang Jike: FH 2, BH 7
  • Xu Xin: FH 6, BH 4
  • Yan An: FH 12, BH 1

Make sure to see the nifty ducking move by Ma Long in the point starting around 46 seconds in. Also, see where Zhang Jike and Ma Long accidentally bump into each other, about 65 seconds in. (Xu is the lefty penholder; Yan An his righty shakehands partner. I sometimes had trouble telling Zhang Jike and Ma Long apart in the video, especially on the far side where you couldn't see their names on their backs - they are dressed identically right down to their shoes, both have black on their forehands, have nearly the same haircuts, are about the same height, and from a distance look similar (at least to me on the video). I did so by keeping track of who was serving to who. In game one, Ma Long served to Xu Xin, and you can work out the rest from that.)

I did a similar analysis of an early-round match at the Qatar Open, which started yesterday. Here's a video (3:14, with time between points removed, not all points shown) from the Qatar Open just yesterday showing most of the points in a match in Men's Doubles in the round of 32 where Xu Xin (the same lefty penholder from the match above) and Fan Zhendong (righty shakehander) of China defeated Hungary's Janos Jakab (all-blue shirt) and Czech Republic's Michal Obeslo (blue shirt with orange sleeves), -10,4,8,6. The video showed 39 points; below is the breakdown on receives. Overall there were 27 forehand receives and 12 backhand, but the stats are again skewed, this time by Jakab's 11-1 stats. Take him out, and the other three had 16 forehand receives to 11 backhand ones.

  • Xu Xin: FH 4, BH 4
  • Fan Zhendong: FH 7, BH 3
  • Janos Jakab: FH 11, BH 1
  • Michal Obeslo: FH 5, BH 4

You could say that Yan An and Janos Jakab are "old school," in that they received nearly everything forehand, just as players in the past (including myself) were taught to do, so as to be ready to loop anything deep. However, newer players like to receive short serves with the backhand whenever possible, using banana flips with heavy topspin and often sidespin. (As I've blogged about before, this is also true in singles.)

In most cases, the players set up in advance to receive forehand or backhand. However, often you'd see them switch, based on the incoming serve. Ma Long and Zhang Jike in particular would sometimes set up forehand and switch to backhand as the serve was coming in. It looks like they were trying to receive long serves with their forehands, and would switch to backhand as soon as they saw the serve was short. Late in the match in the Kuwait Final, there are two points where Zhang Jike looped two serves in with his forehand against Yan An's serve - they were the only forehand receives he used that match, and probably the only long serves he saw.

Xu Xin, the lefty penholder, was tricky to watch. Sometimes it was hard telling if he was receiving forehand or backhand when he pushed (almost always short).

Qingdao Great Personality Award for the year 2012

Zhang Jike has been named the Qingdao Personality of the Year for 2012. Here's the article.

Who is Liu Guoliang's Favorite Player?

Answer: Chen Qi. Here's an article on what the Chinese Men's Coach and former star said. (Actually, despite the article's headline, what he really said was "Chen Qi is one of my favorite players on the National Team."  He also said that fans call him a "cute murderer.")

Mario vs. Maria

Here's a video (1:23) of a three-point challenge match between Mario Lopez and Maria Menounos from Extra TV, with "pro" table tennis players Elie Mehl and Adam Bobrow first giving a demo.

Ryder Cup Table Tennis

Here's a video (1:30) of Ryder Cup Golf players discussing table tennis. Players interviewed include Webb Simpson, Bubba Watson, and the reigning table tennis champion, Matt Kuchar. They make fun of Phil Mickelson, who was the best until Kuchar came along. Some quotes:

  • "The Ryder Cup is all about ping-pong."
  • "Bubba thinks he's good, but he just plays defense."
  • "I think it's clear that Matt Kuchar is the best. Phil Mickelson's not quite ready to admit it. I think he's in denial."
  • "When you bring your own paddles and cases, and a briefcase with a paddle, then it's obviously about ping-pong. Phil Mickelson and Matt Kuchar have their own cases for their paddles. It's nuts."
  • "Phil Mickelson pouts every time we make him play Matt Kuchar. Love you Phil!"

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February 21, 2013

Preparing for Tournaments

Yesterday I coached two junior players who were getting ready for their first USATT tournament. (The MDTTC Open on March 2-3.) Neither have actual USATT ratings, but both have league ratings under 1000 - I'm not sure if they will use those or treat them as unrated. I coached a third this past weekend who is also getting ready for his first tournament, and who also has a league rating under 1000. What did I tell these players to do to prepare?

Sam, 11, a lefty, has a good forehand smash, and can forehand loop against backspin, though he's not too confident in the shot. He pushes and blocks well, and has decent serves, though he tends to have a short toss (under six inches) on his backhand serve, his best serve - we're working on that. Recently he's been learning to backhand loop. I told him to focus on practicing his serves, on steadiness with his backhand (pushing and blocking), and on steady hitting on the forehand side. Since he doesn't have great confidence in his forehand loop, I told him to focus on looping only on pushes to his forehand side. We also agreed to drop the backhand loop from his game for now. After the tournament, we'll get back to backhand looping, and work to increase his confidence in his forehand loop.

TJ, 12, a righty, likes to loop, and does so pretty well from both sides. I was at first unsure if he was ready to unleash his backhand loop in matches, but he has confidence in it, so he's going to be looping from both sides against most deep pushes in the tournament. He still has trouble controlling his serve when he puts spin on it, so we're going to focus on that more than anything else until the tournament. Because he's only recently learned to loop - though he has great confidence in the shot - he has trouble going from looping to hitting on both sides, so between now and the tournament we're going to focus on backhand hitting and forehand smashing. After the tournament we're going to focus more and more on mostly looping on the forehand side, while working his backhand loop into his game more and more. He already likes to spin the backhand even against fast incoming topspins, so he's undoubtedly going to become a two-winged looper.

Sameer, 11, a righty, most practices at home, where there's only about five feet behind each side of the table. Because of this he's mostly a hitter, though he has a decent loop against backspin. (He uses inverted on both sides, though I've considered having him try pips-out.) He's developing pretty good serves and a good follow-up loop or smash. Recently his backhand has gotten a lot better. In drills, his backhand loop is pretty good against backspin, but because he's so forehand oriented, he rarely uses it in games yet. For the tournament, I told him to focus on serves and following up his serve with his forehand (looping or smashing), which he has great confidence in. Once in rallies he needs to play a steady backhand until he gets a weak one to smash from either side. He's probably not going to be backhand looping at the tournament, but we'll work on that later. We worked a lot on his backhand push, since he can't step around to loop every ball with his forehand. We're also working on his balance - he tends to go off balance a bit when forehand looping from the backhand side, and so leaves the wide forehand open. (If he stays balanced, he'd be able to recover quickly to cover that shot with his forehand smash.)

What should YOU do to prepare for tournaments? Here's my Ten-Point Plan to Tournament Success.

Amazon Reviews

I'm still waiting for the first Amazon review of my new book, Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers. If you really liked the book, what are you waiting for??? I will not eat or sleep until I get a great review there, at least until I get hungry or sleepy.  

Extraordinary Nets & Edges Match

I once blogged about how nets and edges don't really even out - some styles simply get more than others. Unfortunately, I have the type of style that rarely gets either. My shots are very clean - a mostly steady and arcing forehand (until I get the right shot), and a steady backhand. This past weekend I had a rather crazy match with one of our juniors. When she began getting net after net in the first game, we (or at least I!) began keeping track. For the match (four games), she got 17 net balls and zero edges, winning 15 of those points. I got zero nets or edges. Now I normally get a few, so my getting zero was rare, but 17-0? In one game she got eight nets, winning all eight of them.

How to Hold the Racket

Here's a video from PingSkills (4:03) on how to hold the racket, both shakehands and penhold.

The Power of Sweden

Here's a highlights video (10:48) that features the great Swedish players of the past.

Susan Sarandon: Ping-Pong Queen

Here's a feature article from England's The Guardian on Susan Sarandon and table tennis.

The Dodgers Playing Table Tennis

Here's an article in the LA Times on the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team having a table tennis doubles tournament.

NBA All-Star Week

Here are ten pictures at NBA All-Star Weekend, where they invited members of the Houston TTC to play table tennis. Included are pictures of Houston player Jim Butler and NBA star Jeremy Lin.

Mario Lopez Plays Ping-Pong

Here's a picture of actor and TV host Mario Lopez (middle) posing with his paddle and table tennis player/actor/stand-up comedian Adam Bobrow (left) and no-doubt a famous woman (or top table tennis player?) on the right who I don't recognize.

Harlem Shake

Here's a video (33 sec.) of . . . um . . . if I could figure out what is going on here, I will die happy. A bunch of people dancing around and on ping-pong tables.

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February 13, 2013

Tactical Matches

Over the past year I've sort of been the nemesis of one of our top juniors. Since I also sometimes coach this player, I know his game well. Until recently I had a simple way to take his game apart - relentlessly going short to his forehand. I'd serve short to the forehand with varied spins. If he served short, I dropped the ball short to the forehand (usually faking to the backhand first). The only way to stop my going short there was to serve long, and then I'd loop. Plus, because I knew the player so well, I was able to read his serves and tell early in his motion if he was serving long.

Alas, it is no more. Or should that Thank God it is no more? He's finally figured things out. When I serve short to the forehand, he's finally developed a competent flip. He can also drop it short. Or he reaches over and flips with his backhand, often using a banana flip. The more I go wide to his short forehand to get away from his backhand, the wider the angle he gets to my wide forehand. When he flips there, I have to go so wide that I'm open on the backhand on the next shot.

When he serves, he's giving more variations, so it's not as easy to drop the ball short. And just as with my short serves, he's gotten better when I do drop it short, flipping both forehand and backhand. He's also disguising his long serves better so I can't see them coming so easily.

So after at one point beating him 14 times in a row, I am sad - I mean glad! - to say he's won our last two. In fact, I've had to completely revamp my tactics against him, since the relentlessly-go-after-the-short-forehand tactics doesn't work so well anymore. However, this has led to some good news - for me. It's forced me to get more aggressive against his serves, bringing out my own inner backhand banana flip. So I'm now mixing in short receives and flips, and my flips are getting better and better. Unlike many of our past matches, which (because of my tactics) were often sloppy-seeming ones with few good rallies, now we're having really good rallies, and I'm battling with him, shot for shot. He may have won, but he may have awoken a sleeping giant. Or so I hope!

Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers

***Get your copy of Table Tennis for Thinkers Now! ***

The price right now is $17.95, but it likely will go up to $19.95 sometime soon, when dealers start to distribute it. Dealers would prefer the higher price, and they probably know the business better than I do. Most likely I'll also raise the Kindle price (currently at $9.99 for the text-only version) to about $11.95 when I have time to create and upload the version with pictures (hopefully within a few weeks). As noted previously, if I make "substantial changes" to the original version (and going from text only to adding 90 photos certainly qualifies), then they'll give a free download of the new version to those who downloaded the earlier version.

Update - Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 13

So far we've done 20 chapters, 319 pages, 662 graphics. Projections: 29 chapters, 461 pages, 947 graphics. We expect to finish first draft Friday, and finish making corrections on Monday. Then it goes to the printer, and I sleep for a week. Or at least for an hour. (Note - besides the regular chapters, there are seven pages of covers, inside covers, acknowledgements, etc., which also include graphics, which is why the projections don't match up exactly to the ratio of the current 20 chapters to the planned 29.)

Ding Ning - Slow Motion Studies

Here's a video (1:57) that shows world #1 woman Ding Ning's technique in slow motion.

Samsonov over Ovtcharov in Swiss Open

Here's the article.

Ping Pong and Songs

It's for charity! "Lady Antebellum's charity initiative LadyAID™ Fund of the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee was created to bring awareness to and generate support for children in need locally, nationally, and globally through partners Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanerbilt, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Children's Miracle Network, myLIFEspeaks, and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)."

Adam Bobrow's Valentine's Birthday Party

It's this Friday in LA. It's 3000 miles from me, so I better start driving!!! Here's what he wrote about it: "I haven't thrown a birthday party in AGES! I figure it will be a great way to get to see lots of my friends... old and new and bring some great people together for a fun night. There will be a DJ, a menu will delicious food and drinks and of course... many ping pong tables and awesome people to hit on. 8>) Come hang out, say hi, have a conversation with me, my friends or introduce me to your friends or just hang come play. It's FREE and it will be a blast! Parking is up to you... and dress however you want! (21 and over... dress that way)"

Table Tennis Street Art

An outdoor Christmas decoration?

Awesome Table Tennis Tricks

Here's a video (2:29) showing lots of incredible (though staged) table tennis shots, including replays in slow motion. Some great stuff!

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January 30, 2013

Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers Update

I thought it was all done, finished, completo . . . but then I had to deal with the publisher (CreateSpace.com, which is a subsidiary of Amazon.com). They have online conversion processes for converting from Microsoft Word to two formats, one for Print on Demand (POD), the other for Kindle ebooks. Unfortunately, neither worked properly.

I'd tested this previously in converting "Pings and Pongs: The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of Larry Hodges" into both formats, and it had worked beautifully. However, that was mostly text, while the Tactics book has lots of pictures and (more problematically) captions and various formatting tricks. Over and over in both conversions the captions would move to some seemingly random spot on the page rather than stay under the photo where I put them. And when I did little formatting tricks, such as setting text at 99% (so as to pull up a line to line up the text on a page properly) it didn't always come out right. And let's not even talk about what it did with bulleting and tabs!!! One side result was that often text was now outside the margins due to the conversion.

Yesterday afternoon I emailed their tech support, explaining very specifically what the problems were. In response this morning I got a generic email explaining that text cannot go outside the margins, which was 100% unhelpful and didn't address the problem - that their conversion process was off, and that one of the side effects was it was putting text outside the margins. I am not happy with them.

One potential reason for the problem was that I was still using Word 2003. I've never needed to upgrade. However, I did have a lot of problems doing the layouts, in particular photo captions, which (just as with their conversion process) would often move away from where I put them over and over, causing all sorts of irritation as I kept redoing the same caption. At one point I spent three hours on one caption, not just to get it in place, but trying to figure out the pattern of what caused this to happen, but I never did figure it out. (I couldn't find anything helpful online either.)

So yesterday I bought Word 2010 ($115). I opened the file, and did some tests. Unfortunately, there was no change - captions still moved about on their own. However, I'd managed to get the captions where I wanted them, and hoping the base of the conversion process was my using Word 2003, I used the conversion process again. No change - the pages came out exactly as before. About here is when I started contemplating a universe without Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers, a scary thought indeed.

Then, late last night, I had an epiphany. I was renaming a file, and realized that even though I had opened it in Word 2010, it was still saving it in Word 2003 format!!! I checked on the file for the Tactics book, and sure enough, it was still in Word 2003 format. So I converted it to Word 2010, and tested the captions - and they now seem to stay in place!!! However, I noted that in converting to Word 2010, some of the page layouts changed, so I'm going to need to go through it page by page fixing things up. I then went to bed, not wanting to stay up all night again, as I had the night before in "finalizing" the book.

So this morning, after I finish this blog, and have a stiff drink (Ruby Red Grapefruit Juice), I'm going to fix the pages, and then test the conversion process with the new Word 2010 format. I need every one of you to cross your fingers for me.

Message to Yourself as a Beginner

If you could go back in time to when you first started playing, what would you tell yourself? Comment below! Here's what I would tell myself if I could go back to when I started in 1976, when I was 16:

  1. Why did you wait until you were 16 to start playing??? Start earlier!!!
  2. Develop your backhand. You won't always have the foot speed to race around the court playing forehand, and even if you did, you need something more than a steady backhand in the modern game. You're probably too stiff to have a really good off-table backhand loop, so develop the backhand loop as a quicker, close-to-the-table shot, i.e. a "topspinny" backhand. (Here's a blog post where I wrote about flat, regular, and topspinny backhands. I play a somewhat flat backhand, but wish I had a topspinny one.)
  3. Stop rolling short serves back with that steady but somewhat flat backhand, and instead learn to put some spin on the dang ball when you receive (i.e. a banana flip).
  4. Don't enter the University of Maryland Arm Wrestling Tournament in 1983 (I won! - but tore up my arm and shoulder in the final, the one pictured here, and was out of table tennis for the next six months, and have never fully recovered), don't try to develop your backhand loop while recovering from these arm and shoulder injuries, don't show off your strength at the weight room in 1986, and make sure to stay away from that kid who thought it would be funny to twist your arm while recovering from that weight room injury. Each of these led to many months of recovery time, and is why my arm and shoulder are the mangled and stiff messes they are today. Also, try to go back to when I was 12 playing baseball and tell myself to stop "throwing like a girl," which is how I hurt the arm and shoulder in the first place. Better still, drop the baseball and start practicing table tennis now, rather than waiting four more years.
  5. In the late 1990s, in the match to make the "A" division at the Teams, after beating those two 2300 players, make sure to glue up before the ninth match against that old guy or your racket will go dead (again) and you'll lose (again).
  6. Prepare for 36 years of table tennis politics that make Democrat-Republican battles look like a pair of warm puppies. Uggh.

USATT Board of Directors Minutes

Here are the minutes of the December 2012 USATT Board meeting, and here's the Tournament Advisory Committee Report.

French Junior Program

Here’s a video (5:19) of a top junior program in France.

The Chinese Serve

Here's a highlights video (3:30) from 2010 that I've never posted. Even though it's titled "The Chinese Serve," and does show slow motion of Chinese team members serving, a lot of it is great rallying.

Bad Lux

Last week, in an email discussion with USATT CEO Mike Cavanaugh, the subject of the minimum 1000 lux requirement needed for ITTF tournament play came up. Often-times potential playing sites for big tournaments do not have that minimum lighting. Then I had a brilliant idea. Here's what I wrote: "Wait a minute, 1000 lux (the ITTF standard) is about 93 foot-candles, the American equivalent of lux. Can't we just require all entrants to bring 46.5 candles to each match? And since they are playing a match, their opponent - the match - can light the candles. It's better to light 93 candles than to curse the bad luck in not having 1000 lux. (The plural of luck is lux, right?)"

Timo versus Adam Danceoff

Here is the first (60 sec) and second (37 sec) points of the confrontation last Friday at Spin LA between an unstoppable force (Timo Boll of Germany, current world #5 but #1 in the world several times – the only non-Chinese player to do so in nine years) and an undanceable object (Adam Bobrow, who does, in fact dance). Watch the first point to see Timo do his own short imitation of the Bobrow dance and Adam's own dancing response, and the second point where Adam does another over-exuberant shirt-tearing-off celebration.

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