Easterns

June 1, 2012

Easterns

I'm off for the Eastern Open this afternoon, where I'll primarily be coaching Derek Nie, one of the top 11 and under players in the U.S. with a rating of 2136. If you are there, stop by and say hello! 

Adventures of the Ping-Pong Diplomats by Fred Danner

Review by Larry Hodges

If you're a history buff, and enjoy reading the behind-the-scenes happenings in Ping-Pong Diplomacy; war (Chinese Civil War, Korean War, Vietnam War); China, the Soviet Union, and the U.S.; table tennis in the U.S., and even the aerospace industry during the Apollo era, then you'll find this book fascinating. The book is really four short books in one.

Chapters 1-3 (pages 1-86) covers the history that led up to, and the actual events of, the 1971 Ping-Pong Diplomacy trip to China. The three chapters are titled "Setting the Stage for Ping-Pong Diplomacy," "The 1971 World Team's China Trip," and "Who Won the Nobel Peace Prize for Ping-Pong Diplomacy?" These chapters include fascinating background on the Chinese Civil War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, and all the political infighting taking place in these countries, the Soviet Union, and the U.S.  The three wars were related in numerous ways, and all led to the eventual Ping-Pong Diplomacy of 1971-72. We also learn how it could have happened in 1961, but the U.S. blew it. The answer to the question posed in the last chapter is nobody won the Novel Peace Prize for any of this, but it goes over the possible recipients and explains why nobody ever did win for it. And here's a hilarious quote from Chairman Mao: "Regard a ping-pong ball as the head of your capitalist enemy. Hit it with your socialist bat, and you have won the point for the fatherland."

Chapters 4 and 6 (pages 89-125 and 162-170, "The Growth of Long Island Table Tennis" and "Table Tennis Becomes a Family Affair") cover the growth of Long Island Table Tennis, as well as how it became a family affair for the Danners. Slowly but inexorably Fred found himself running more and bigger events in Long Island (clubs, leagues, and tournaments) and for USTTA (now USATT), until it led to the U.S. Open (he was Operations Director) and the Long Island stop for Ping-Pong Diplomacy in 1972. He also begins to travel to tournaments with his son Carl, now a prominent player and coach in the bay area in California. Did you know that the 1972 U.S. Open in Long Island, forty years ago, had 725 entries? (A few years later these numbers would break a thousand in Houston and Oklahoma City.) For perspective, last year's U.S. Open in Milwaukee had 607. Fred also shows how the world has changed since those days, explaining how USTTA kept records in those non-computer days: "Each membership application required writing or typing the player's name and address nine times."

Chapter 5 (pages 126-161, "Life in the Long Island Aerospace Industry") is about life in the Long Island Aerospace Industry in the '60s, where Fred worked during the many years he was also working with Long Island Table Tennis. In some ways this seemed a bit off-topic, but it was related in various ways to Fred's continuing table tennis endeavors, in particular since all the corporate infighting both interfered with and somewhat mirrored what was going on in the world of table tennis, both in Long Island and the political intrigues in the background of Ping-Pong Diplomacy in the various wars and countries involved. Much of the chapter was about infighting and politics at Grumman Aviation, including their fights with GE and other companies as they bid for various aspects of the Apollo 11 trip to the moon. We also learn about the theft of atom bomb designs by the Soviets, how we could have avoided the Korean War, and how we outwitted the Soviets by helping to bring table tennis and China into the Olympics.

Chapter 7 (pages 171-204, "LITTA's Big Year: The U.S.-China Matches") is about the Chinese National Team's U.S. trip, covering primarily their stop in Long Island, and how that came to be, rather than it being in the New York City's Madison Square Garden, as New York City Mayor John Lindsey wanted. (He doesn't come off very well in the book.)

Now who is Fred Danner? He's not only one of the 134 members of the U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame (inducted as a contributor in 1993), but he's also one of the 14 recipients of the Mark Matthews Lifetime Achievement Award (2010). Fred has a long career promoting table tennis both in Long Island and with USATT. He was instrumental in getting table tennis in the Olympics. He was president of the Long Island Table Tennis Association, founded the National Junior Table Tennis Foundation, wrote the National School Table Tennis Guide, and was at various times USTTA's Junior Development Chair, Membership Chair, Treasurer, Corresponding Secretary, and Vice President. He also got USTTA its tax exempt status.

You'll note this is Volume 1. Volume 2 will cover what Fred calls "$7,000,000 worth of favorable publicity" as a result of Ping-Pong Diplomacy, and the various contrasting ideas on how USTTA should proceed, and the resulting successes and failures. (A third volume is also planned.)

The book has a catchy cover, with USA's D-J Lee (6-time U.S. Men's Champion) serving to a Chinese opponent against a background made up of the U.S. and Chinese flags and the earth as seen from space. It is available at amazon.com for $29.59 (hardcover), $13.22 (soft cover), and $3.99 (ebook). 

This is the third book I know of in English that covers Ping-Pong Diplomacy, at least from the table tennis angle. The other two are "History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 5," by Tim Boggan, $40, which covers the Ping-Pong Diplomacy Years, 1971-72, available at timboggantabletennis.com (along with his other eleven books on U.S. Table Tennis History); and "The Origin of Ping-Pong Diplomacy: The Forgotten Architect of Sino-U.S. Rapprochement" by Shigeo Itoh (1969 World Men's Champion from Japan), available at amazon.com for $90 or $65 used.

Backhand Loop

Here's a new video from Coach Brian Pace from Dynamic Table Tennis on Setting up the Backhand Loop in Competition (8:38).

New Coaching Video from PingSkills

Returning a Drop Shot (1:41)

Celebrating 40 Years of U.S.-China Exchanges

Here's a video that highlights 40 years of "Ping-Pong Diplomacy" (2:36).

Erica Wu in LA Times

Here's an article in yesterday's LA Times on U.S. Table Tennis Olympian Erica Wu.

Spelling Bee Ping-Pong Champion

Table Tennis Nation explains why Nicholas Rushlow, ping-pong player, will win the National Spelling Bee. (He didn't.)

Non-Table Tennis - How to Kill a Dragon

My fantasy story "In the Belly of the Beast" (6600 words) went up on Electric Spec yesterday. A sorcerer with a unique method for slaying dragons is swallowed by his dragon prey. While in the dragon's stomach, he uses a force field to protect himself, his daughter, and others, all of whom have also been swallowed. He abandoned his daughter when she was a child to go to sorcery school, and she doesn't recognize him. To her, there is the inept sorcerer in the dragon's stomach; the father who abandoned her; and the famous dragonslayer on the way to rescue them. She doesn't know that all three are the same. Most of the story takes place in the stomach of the dragon, which features the only battle between a wizard and a warrior in the belly of a dragon in history.

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May 27, 2011

Eastern Open

I'm off to the Eastern Open in New Jersey this afternoon, where I'll be coaching some of the junior players from Maryland. We've got a great crew going, including many of the top seeds in most of the junior events. In the listed ratings, not necessarily the ratings they'll use for seeding, they are follows: Under 22 Men: #2 and #3 seeds; Under 18 Boys: #1 and #3; Under 16 Boys: #1 and #2; Under 13 Boys: #2 and #3; Under 22 Women: #1 and #4 seeds; Under 18 Girls: #1 seed; Under 13 Girls: #1 seed. We also have the #1 and #4 seed in Open Singles, and #3, #4, and #7 seed in Women's Singles.

If you are one of the 247 players competing in the Easterns, have you practiced your serves today? Why not? Unless you are a non-Maryland junior, in which case you should take the day off, eat a few bowls of ice cream, and stay up late. See you at the tournament!!!

Point of the Day

Dimitrij Ovtcharov vs. Seiya Kishikawa at the 2011 World Championships (1:07), care of ITTF. 

Versatility

I mentioned yesterday how important versatility is when playing weaker players. It allows you to play into the weaker player's weaknesses - and by definition, if he's a weaker player, he has weaknesses, at least relative to you. Taken to an extreme, a player can learn to play all styles, and adjust to anyone. But that's probably a bit much; it's better to develop and try to perfect your own style of play, with enough versatility to adjust to varying opponents.

If you are a looper, learn to loop at all speeds to all parts of the table. If you are a blocker, learn to block at all speeds to all parts of the table. And so on. Ideally, even if you are a looper, you should be able to block when needed against a player who isn't consistent, and where all you need to do is block a few balls to win. And so on for other styles. But generally try to dominate with your style, with just minor adjustments, and make the opponent adjust to you.

I'm going to relate two interesting experiences from a number of years ago. As a coach, I've learned to play essentially all styles, and I sometimes use them all in tournaments. At the U.S. Open Teams in Detroit back in the 1990s (before it moved to Baltimore and became the North American Teams), I was in the back of an elevator when two teams we'd played came into the elevator. I was playing on a somewhat weaker team as a player/coach, and had swept both teams, winning all six matches. They didn't notice me in the back - if you remember the Pontchartrain Hotel in Detroit, you'll remember how big the elevators were, and with all the players there, the elevators were often jammed. They were talking about playing me. Roughly speaking, this is how the conversation went.

Player 1: "I lost to Larry Hodges. He was smashing everything."

Player 2: "I lost to Larry, but he was looping everything soft!"

Player 3: "Huh? I lost to Larry, but he's just a blocker!"

Player 4: "What are you guys talking about? He's a chopper!"

Player 5: "I lost to him, but all he did was fish and lob!"

Player 6: "Against me, he serve and ripped everything, and he looped in all my serves!"

I had a hard time not cracking up. The truth was I really had changed styles every match.

To balance things off, I'll relate an eerily similar experience, except this was quite different. Again, it was in the elevators at the Teams in Detroit, this time back in the 1980s when I was having arm problems. Here's the short version: I'd lost all my matches against two teams, all by upset. I'm not going to break it down player by player, but roughly it was like this: "I beat Larry Hodges!" "So did I!" "Me too!" "I also beat him!" "Me two!" "Me three!" (The latter should have been "Me six"?)

To add insult to injury, all these losses blew my rating, and I lost my table tennis sponsorship. So I switched to a new sponsor - and promptly had another poor tournament, losing even more rating points. I told the sponsor they should advertise me by saying, "Larry Hodges lost fewer rating points with us than with any other sponsor."  

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May 25, 2011

Eastern Open

If you are playing in the Eastern Open this weekend in New Jersey, hopefully you are in final preparations for creating utter devastation for your opponents. (I'll be coaching some of the MDTTC juniors there.) If you are not, then you should be planning out your final preparations for creating utter devastation for your opponents in future tournaments, leagues, club matches, or (sigh) beer pong. This should include:

  • Lots of rest. Sleep is actually more important the last few days before the tournament than during the tournament, not that you should skimp on sleep during the tournament.
  • Lots of carbohydrates. They'll load your muscles with glycogen, and give you energy in those long deuce-in-the-fifth matches.
  • Practicing serves. It's how you start half the points, and yet it's the most under-practiced aspect of table tennis. It's also the part you can get the most out of practicing just before a tournament. In my serious playing days I always did lots of serve practice the day before and the morning of a tournament.
  • Match practice. At this point, it's too late to fix up your basic techniques. It's time to get match ready. That means playing practice matches as if they were tournament matches.
  • Mental training. Yes, now's the time to visualize yourself playing tournament matches. Then, when you actually play them, there won't be many jitters since you'll have already played them over and over in your mind. I could go on and on about this, but it's best you just get a book on sports psychology (such as "The Inner Game of Tennis," the classic sports psychology book which uses tennis as an example), or these online articles and resources.
  • Morning warm-up. Have you arranged who you are going to warm up with before your first event? Or do you want to get stuck with your worst nightmare of a practice partner, the guy with bad breath and five surfaces who swats the ball randomly all over the place with 77 different strokes?
  • Look professional. Hey, it's a fashion show out there! Wear your best [your favorite table tennis brand name], and your opponents will quake at the sight of your professional-lookingness.

Presidential Ping-Pong Pictures Proliferate!

The Washington Post this morning ran a large picture at the top of the front page of President Obama and British Prime David Cameron playing table tennis. Really! The headline over it (at the top of the page) reads, "A new take on 'ping-pong diplomacy'?" The caption under it reads, "U.S. President Barack Obama (L) and Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron play table tennis at Globe Academy, in south London May 24, 2011. Obama on Tuesday begins a visit to Britain where he and Prime Minister David Cameron will review NATO action to help end conflict in Libya and Western policy towards uprisings in the Arab world. REUTERS/Paul Hackett."

In case you have been living under a large ping-pong ball the last 24 hours, numerous pictures of the two playing have been released, as well as this 3:46 video of them playing, with Obama giving nonstop commentary. Here are nine photos, which on June 1 will make their way into my Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page. I won't comment on the illegal white shirts with the white ball.

Barack Obama/David Cameron Table Tennis Photos (click to see larger versions)

Republicans released a press release, saying, "It's just another pair of lefties who, just like the economy, foreign affairs, and every other topic we can pin on Obama, can't keep their eye on the ball." (Okay, I made this up. Heck, Cameron is a conservative.)

This is just the latest in a long line of presidents playing table tennis. In the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page, we already had two photos of Obama playing table tennis - specifically, a photo of a large framed photo on the wall at the White House of him playing, this and this, as well as this one of him sitting down with paddles and ball. (And Obama also bought a ping-pong table for the White House.) Here are other presidents playing ping-pong:

If you explore the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page, you'll find, well, everyone! There are 1178 pictures of 699 celebrities. (Send me your own!)

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