A Tip of the Week will go up every Monday by noon.

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Published:

06/21/2021 - 17:06

Author: Larry Hodges

In the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer," there's a famous quote, "Don't move until you see it." It comes from a coach who is telling his chess-playing star not to move until he sees the line of moves he's about to play. Similarly, in table tennis (which we often call "Chess at light speed"), you shouldn't play a point until you have a game plan.

If you don't know the opponent, then the game plan at the start is a mix of forcing your game on him, and figuring out his game. Sometime in that first game you should have a basic game plan worked out. The game plan should be flexible, subject to change as needed. Against an opponent who gets used to or adjusts to what you do, you have to make changes. It is likely different when you are serving than when you are receiving. And the plan changes as the rally proceeds. But at any given time, you should have a basic game plan.

Here's an example of a game plan, one that I might use. On my serve, my basic game plan might be to serve a lot of short backspin, hoping to get a long push that I can loop. If my opponent pushes my serves long, and I am winning by looping those pushes, then my game plan is working. But suppose the opponent's pushes are very good and I have trouble with them, or he starts flipping or pushing my serve back short, and I'm unable to loop. Then I would have to change my game plan. For example, if he's pushing heavy or dropping my serve short, I might serve more no-spin serves, which are harder to load up with backspin or to drop short effectively. If he's flipping the serve, then I'd focus on varying the spin as well as making sure I'm serving very low. (In reality, my game plan would more likely have been to mix in short backspin and no-spin serves, so the opponent has to adjust to both - and I'd soon figure out which one is more effective against this opponent, and favor that one. Plus, I'd mix in long serves so he can't lean over the table waiting for the short serve.)

On the receive, my basic game plan might be to attack deep serves, so the server would be forced to serve short. Against short serves, my game plan might be to go for a consistent flip into the backhand, trying to force a neutral backhand exchange and thereby taking away his serve advantage. But suppose I have trouble flipping his heavy backspin serves, or perhaps he has a very good backhand and so this tactic doesn't work, and if I flip to the forehand, he attacks even better. Then I might decide to instead push his short backspin serves aggressively to his backhand, and see if that works. If he's able to attack them, then I might try dropping them short and low, making it harder for him to attack. Eventually I'll work out which of these is most successful, and favor that receive, though I'd still vary it so he can't get used to any one thing.

What's your game plan? Don't play a point until you have it.

Published:

06/14/2021 - 12:29

Author: Larry Hodges

Many players practice for many months, not playing in any tournaments until they feel they are completely ready. Then they enter a tournament . . . and flop. They don't understand it, so they go right back to practicing for many months, avoiding tournaments again. When they again feel ready, they enter a tournament again . . . and flop again. And the cycle continues. Others both practice and play regular tournaments, get lots of feedback on what works and what doesn't in tournament competition, practice it, get more feedback at tournaments, and their playing level spirals upward. They also become "tournament tough" - they get used to the pressures of playing in a tournament as opposed to practice, and they get used to playing new players and different styles. Which are you?

Good point-I agree that the best way to play better at tournaments is to play more tournaments with practice. I will add that there are many, many reasons for long breaks between tournaments. One is finances. It costs significant money to play tournaments often. Another is work/life. I am on call every other weekend for work. Lastly tournaments are often concentrated in certain areas, so many of us are a long way from tournaments. Add in family commitments and other responsibilities and it becomes quite hard.

PS The web site is fantastic. I have got to get back to reading it more often. Good stuff here.

Published:

06/07/2021 - 15:34

Author: Larry Hodges

Some players have reputation as being "winners" because they seem to be able to pull out close matches. There are two aspects to this. One is mental – nervous players don't do well in close matches. The other aspect is tactical – you need to learn what to do tactically in a "Big Point" near the end of a game.

This means being aware of what has worked, and what hasn't worked, up until that point. Many players find a successful tactic, but don't think to use it when the game is on the line. Or they use a tactic that hasn't worked. You probably aren't going to keep track of exactly how many times each tactic worked or didn't work, but you have to develop a feel for it.

If you have a serve, receive, or rallying shot that really gave the opponent trouble, there's often this tendency to not use it at a key point, since you figure the opponent is expecting it. That's over-thinking - overwhelmingly it's better at key points to go with what was working. It's just as likely your opponent is thinking you will cross him up with something different! If you don't, say, use that serve that your opponent kept missing, you may end up losing, with your opponent perhaps asking afterwards, "I'm curious why, at the end, you didn't use that serve I couldn't return?"

Published:

05/31/2021 - 09:39

Author: Larry Hodges

One of the more difficult styles to figure out is what to do against a player who attacks and blocks with a "dead" surface - either a slow inverted surface or short pips. The inverted may be slow because it's designed that way (often for beginners) or because it's old and used. Most advanced players uses livelier sponge, and that's what most players are used to playing - so when they play one of these deader surfaces, with the opponent attacking and blocking, it can be difficult to figure out. Here are three key things you should do against such players.

First, get used to the dead surface as quickly as possible. Rally against it early in the match as much as you can. The worst thing you can do is lose the match because you never felt comfortable against it. And that's the key - you have a stronger weapon with your livelier surface (a gun to this sword), but he's used to playing such surfaces, and you are not used to his. So get used to it, and then you'll have him outgunned. Often this just comes down to racket angles and stroke direction, where you have to aim higher against the deader incoming surface. But the reality is that most players over do this, and so go off the end more often than into the net. Make the adjustment so you are comfortable rallying against the dead surface, and you'll be in control.

Second, spin the ball. Dead surfaces can't counteract your spins as well as a livelier surface. If you put a good topspin on the ball, they are limited in how aggressive they can return it - and most likely will either block it slow (giving you time to attack that ball) or be erratic. Either way, once you are used to their surface, you are in control and you win. Heavy backspins also should give them a problem - they can't loop nearly as effectively, and if they push it back, it won't be as heavy as a push with a livelier and grippier surface. Once you are used to it, you should relentlessly attack these softer loops and weaker pushes.

Third, and perhaps most important, depth is your friend. If you put the ball short, an opponent with a dead surface has three advantages. First, he can rush you, and if you are being rushed against a surface that you aren't completely used to, you already have two strikes against you. Second, he can angle you, and the extra control from a deader surface makes this easier against a short ball. Third, it's easier to attack a short ball with a deader surface than a deep one, since it's all about precision, and the shorter ball puts them closer to their target. So keep the ball deep on the table, and the opponent loses all of these advantages and instead struggles to make any effective return that you can't jump all over, once you are used to his surface.

Just remember that there's a reason why few players use these dead surfaces - they are bringing a sword to a gunfight. If you are scared of the sword, then you will likely lose. But if you follow the principles above, then you'll be Indiana Jones to that swordsman.

Published:

05/24/2021 - 15:54

Author: Larry Hodges

Want to tie your opponent in knots – not to mention win a lot of points? Aim your backhand crosscourt. At the last instant, just before contact, let the racket fall behind (bringing it back with wrist and forearm), then continue your normal backhand forward stroke. Your racket will now be aimed to the opponent's forehand (against a righty) – but your opponent will likely have already reacted to a crosscourt backhand. This is especially good when blocking loops. Watch how often you ace your opponents or force them to make last second lunges! (You can also do the reverse of this, and aim your backhand down the line - and at the last second, aim it crosscourt. But that's trickier as instead of just pulling your racket back, you actually have to accelerate your forward swing to get the racket to aim crosscourt.)