September 6, 2012

Baltimore or Columbus?

This Thanksgiving a number of table tennis players will face a conundrum: Baltimore or Columbus?

The North American Teams in Baltimore (now in its 15th year) is a 4-star tournament that last year had 767 players playing 6557 matches, dwarfing the other two big U.S. tournaments that year, the 5-star U.S. Open (548 players, 2989 matches) and 5-star USA Nationals (502 players, 2934 matches). (The Open and Nationals stats don't include doubles, hardbat, or sandpaper matches, which might increase their numbers 10% or so.) They usually get about 200 teams, with 150 tables in a 150,000 square foot playing area at the Baltimore Convention Center, and give out over $20,000 in prize money. It's the biggest table tennis tournament in North America. One of my favorite activities each year is to watch newbies walk into the hall for the first time. The look on their faces when they see the endless rows of tables and equipment booths is priceless.

However, some players were unhappy with the prices and awards given out at the NA Teams last year. And so an alternative was born this year - the Thanksgiving Butterfly Teams in Columbus, OH. Though technically only a 2-star tournament, they promise players will have just as much competition in the same format for the three days of the tournament (both are run Nov. 23-25, starting the day after Thanksgiving), with better awards, though only $3000 in total prize money.

So what'll it be, Tradition or Upstart? Personally, I'm going to coach at whichever one my students go to, and I'll let them go wherever they choose. (My club is only an hour from Baltimore, while Columbus is seven hours away - but my club and many of its top players are sponsored by Butterfly. Quite the conundrum.)

Here's a quick comparison:

North American Teams in Baltimore

Thanksgiving Butterfly Teams in Columbus

Hardbat at the Nationals

Alas, I won't be playing hardbat events at this year's Nationals. Hardbat Doubles starts on the first day, Tuesday at 2:15, but with Under 22 Men at noon and the Junior Teams at 4PM, there's just too much conflict since I'll be coaching players in both events. Hardbat Singles and Over 40 Hardbat start on Wednesday and Friday, right in the middle of numerous events I'll be coaching.

It's the end (for now) of a "dynasty." I've won Hardbat Doubles at the Open or Nationals 13 times (9 times with Ty Hoff, 4 times with Steve Berger), and am the defending champion at both the Open and Nationals (both with Ty). I've also won Over 40 Hardbat four times and Hardbat Singles twice. (I normally use sponge, but play with hardbat as a sideline.)

Liu Guoliang: "I Am a Passionate Coach"

That's the title of this article on the Chinese National Coach and former superstar player.

Jim Butler on the Women's Game

Olympian and Three-time U.S. Men's Champion Jim Butler wrote a pair of insightful postings about the women's game recently on the about.com forum (responses #23 and 24), in response to questions. (After reading the second, I must sheepishly admit that I play my backhand like a woman - but I do it pretty well!!!) Here they are:

Question: Wouldn't THE best thing at this stage be for them [the top U.S. junior girls] to compete in international events against WOMEN?

Jim Butler: Yes in a perfect world with unlimited resources, that would be ideal. However, there is no USATT budget to do that. I have always felt that the U.S. Women's game has the best chance to reach success internationally. They have high enough level competition in this country to reach that goal.

To simulate that competition though, they must move over to the men's side. The women can compete year around in this country against men, and get the level and regularity of competition it takes to be successful internationally.

If you are a 2700 level man in this country, there are very few athletes higher than that, so competing internationally becomes a must to raise your game further to the likes of the Chinese, Germans, etc. The best women in the world are not better than 2700.

The U.S. Women's Team members are also in school, so competing in the United States also makes it possible to do both.

Question: Also, although the ratings suggest an equal level, playing against a 2600 man is a different experience from playing against a 2600 woman, and they need to face their peers and develop strategies against those styles

Jim Butler: It's not as different as one might think. The men's game clearly has more speed and power, but the women tend to be more consistent. I think most men can learn a lot by watching the women's game more, and appreciating the level of consistency they tend to play at.

If you watch a 2500 women beat a 2500 level man, they do it with consistency, and they make fewer unforced errors. The men can wow everyone with incredible power and speed on their shots. The highest level women force you to make a high quality shot nearly every point in order to beat them. They smother people with consistency.

Another very important aspect of the game the women tend to be better at than the men, is their ability to stay within their limits and game. Because men have the ability to hit the ball so hard, they tend to over play shots in their matches. If you watch most men play (especially at lower levels), you will see them lose many points a match because they tried to hit the ball out of the gym, instead of backing off and putting it on the table.

Younger male players really tend to do this, and so many points are wasted by trying to hit the ball too hard. Women will rarely hit the ball harder than they need to. 

Non-Table Tennis: "You're No Good, Baltimore Orioles"

My humorous poem (a takeoff on "You are Old, Father William") is featured on Orioles Hangout, the main online forum for the Baltimore Orioles baseball team. It's the seventh time they've featured my work. I wrote the poem on Tuesday night, the night that the Orioles tied the Yankees for first place in the American League East. (They had been trailing by ten games just a month ago.) Here's the first of the eight stanzas:

"You're no good, Baltimore Orioles," the sportswriter said,
"And your play all year long has been trite;
And yet you keep winning when you should be dead?
Do you think, since you're bad, it is right?"

Disastrous Table Tennis Slide

This video (17 seconds) shows why you should never jump on your ping-pong table when it is covered with ice.

***

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