May 6, 2014

The 27 Types of Spin

How many basic types of spin are there when someone serves to you? The simple answer is that, in theory, there are 27. In practice, there are 25. (Before we go farther, here's my article "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Spin But Were Afraid to Ask." If you are new to the idea of spin, or don't really know what corkscrewspin is - also known as deviation spin - you might want to read it.) In reality, of course, there are an infinite number of spins, but they can generally be categorized as these 27. In fact, you can narrow this down to three main types of spin - topspin/backspin, sidespin left or right, and corkscrewspin left or right. All spins just varying amounts of these three main types.

You don't really need to worry about identifying these 27 or 25 spins when receiving. When I list 27 different spins, these are only of theoretical and intellectual interest. When reading spin, you don't have to identify which combos of these spins it is. You simply have to read the direction the ball is spinning and how fast it is spinning, and then react to it. That's it.

How do you react to these spins? In simple terms, if it's spinning with any corkscrewspin, then if you see it coming you anticipate the sideways jump. (It'll also jump off your racket, but generally less than other spins.) If it's coming with any sidespin, you anticipate the sideways jump off your racket, knowing that a firm return will minimize the effect, and aim your racket to compensate. If it has any backspin, you know you have to lift some or push. If it has any topspin you know you have to drive through it or get on top of it to topspin it. You don't consciously do any of this; with practice, it becomes second nature as you react to the way the ball is spinning. A player doesn't have to know about corkscrewspin if he simply reacts to this type of spin by anticipating the sideways jump. 

Before we go further, here's a video (5:40) where someone explains corkscrew spin, though he's calling it deviation spin, as well as demonstrating other spins. And here's an article (part 1 and part 2) that graphically shows the difference between sidespin and corkscrew spin.

So what are these 27 spins? First a few notes. We're talking about spins when serving, though you can also produce these spins in a rally. Second, we're talking about the spin as it leaves the racket. As soon as it bounces on the table the spin begins to change. And third, note that for every axis of rotation, there are two spins, since the ball can spin in either direction.

The three main categories of spin can be thought of as three different axis of rotation, each perpendicular to each other. They are like the XYZ coordinates when mapping something in 3-D. (Here's a picture that shows this.) All spins can be represented by using varying amounts of each of these spins:

  • Topspin and backspin (which are just opposites of each other), where the axis of rotation (from the point of view of the server) is left to right.
  • Sidespin left and sidespin right, where the axis of rotation is top to bottom.
  • Corkscrewspin (also called Deviation Spin) left and right, where the axis of rotation is between the server and the receiver.

What this means is that every serve, in theory, can have some or none of each of these spins. In simple terms, it means every ball has each of the following:

  1. Topspin, backspin, or neither.
  2. Sidespin left, sidespin right, or neither.
  3. Corkscrewspin left, corkscrewspin right, or neither. 

For example, a topspin/sidespin left serve has topspin from the first category, sidespin left from the second, and neither from the third. A no-spin serve (yes, that's a spin!) has neither from all three categories. And you can combine all three, with, for example, a backspin/sidespin right/corkscrew left serve, taking the corresponding part from each category.

This means there are three to the third possibilities, or 27 total spins. (Remember, this includes no-spin.)

Are all of these actually possible to do? The rotation of a spin from the first two categories includes part of the ball spinning in the direction of the opponent, meaning you can serve this type of spin and make it move forward. However, if you serve a pure corkscrewspin serve, there's no way to make the ball move forward; all of your motion is sideways. So in practice, you have to combine it with one of the other spins. So two of the 27 theoretical spins isn't possible in practice - a pure corkscrewspin left or right. So only 25 are possible in practice. (What this also means is that of all the infinite variations of spin possible, there are only two rotations that are absolutely impossible, the two pure corkscrewspins.)

How can you imagine these 27 spins? Here's one way. Hold a ball up. Mark the top and bottom, i.e. the axis of rotation for a pure sidespin. Now mark off eight equidistant spots around the equator. Now look at the northern hemisphere. Draw a line from each of these eight spots on the equator to the north pole. Put a dot at the midpoint of each of these lines, so you have eight more dots. Now do the same for the southern hemisphere. You now have a total of 26 dots on the ball - the two poles, eight on the equator, eight in the northern hemisphere, and eight in the southern hemisphere. However, each axis of rotation has two dots - one on each side of the ball - so while there are 26 dots on the ball, each is directly opposite one on the other side. So there are now 13 axis of rotation. Since the ball can spin in either direction on each of these axis, that makes 26 spins. Add no-spin, and you have 27!

Wasn't that simple?

Without further ado, here are the 27 types of spin.

  1. No-Spin
  2. Topspin
  3. Backspin
  4. Sidespin left
  5. Sidespin right
  6. Corkscrewspin left
  7. Corkscrewspin right
  8. Topspin/Sidespin left
  9. Topspin/Sidespin right
  10. Topspin/Corkscrewspin left
  11. Topspin/Corkscrewspin right
  12. Backspin/Sidespin left
  13. Backspin/Sidespin right
  14. Backspin/Corkscrewspin left
  15. Backspin/Corkscrewspin right
  16. Topspin/Sidespin left/Corkscrewspin left
  17. Topspin/Sidespin left/Corkscrewspin right
  18. Topspin/Sidespin right/Corkscrewspin left
  19. Topspin/Sidespin right/Corkscrewspin right
  20. Backspin/Sidespin left/Corkscrewspin left
  21. Backspin /Sidespin left/Corkscrewspin right
  22. Backspin /Sidespin right/Corkscrewspin left
  23. Backspin /Sidespin right/Corkscrewspin right
  24. Sidespin left/Corkscrewspin left
  25. Sidespin left/Corkscrewspin right
  26. Sidespin right/Corkscrewspin left
  27. Sidespin right/Corkscrewspin right

Final Standings from the Worlds

Here's the listing. For some reason there were reports that USA Men finished tied for 49th, but they actually were tied for 53rd, according to the listing. USA Women finished tied for 21st.

How does this compare with how USA Teams in the past have finished? Alas, not very good. (Though the women's team would likely have done a lot better if they'd had Ariel Hsing, who's off to college, alas.) Here's a chart showing the USA Teams' ranking going back to 1935. The trend is rather obvious. Here are two things that jump out. First, going back to ancient history, USA began its long decline when the world went to sponge in the early 1950s. Before that, we were a world power. And second, notice how the men's team reached a modern peak in the early 1980s, with rankings in the 13-15 range? Other than the blip in 1991 when the men were #12, it's been a steady decline since then - and the decline coincides almost exactly with when USATT began getting Olympic windfall money. The women also began a major decline at that time, though they recovered in recent years (due to Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang). Considering membership has also stayed about the same, how much has this money really helped us? They money should be helpful, but it's the way it's been used that has been wasted.

However, the trend will end in the next few years. As I've blogged before, we have the strongest group of cadets (under 15) in our history. We could be top ten in the world when they are all reaching 20 years old or so, in about 5-7 years or so. Unless, of course, they all go to college at 18. Yikes.

New World Rankings

Here they are, after the Worlds. That was fast! Lily Zhang jumped from her previous 109 to #66.

Last Newsletter from the Worlds

Here's the final Worlds Newsletter, which came out yesterday.

Videos of Men's and Women's Final

In yesterday's blog I didn't have the women's matches, and I didn't have the Xu Xin- Franziska men's match (though I put that up in the afternoon). Here are videos of both finals, with time between points removed.

Men's Final:

  1. Ma Long (CHN) d. Timo Boll (GER), 6,9,9 (4:07);
  2. Dimitrij Ovtcharov (GER) d. Zhang Jike, 11,8,6 (5:01);
  3. Xu Xin (CHN) d. Patrick Franziska (GER), 5,2,8 (3:33);
  4. Ma Long (CHN) d. Dimitrij Ovtcharov (GER), 10,5,2 (4:21).

Women's Final:

  1. Ding Ning (CHN) d. Yuka Ishigaki (JPN), 5,-8,2,5 (7:41);
  2. Li Xiaoxia (CHN) d. Kasumi Ishikawa (JPN), 8,7,7 (4:19);
  3. Liu Shiwen (CHN) d. Sayaka Hirano (JPN), 4,2,5 (4:47).

More Worlds Coverage

There are lots of articles on the Worlds at TableTennista.

China Highlight Video

Here's the video (2:08) showing the Chinese players after big wins at the Worlds.

Don't Lose Track of the Basics

Here's a new coaching article by Britt Salter from the Oklahoma Table Tennis Club's webpage.

News from New York

Here's the article, covering the recent Westchester Open.

Kim Jong Un Loves Playing Table Tennis?

Here's a video of Dennis Rodman talking about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. At 1:23, he says the dictator "…loves playing table tennis…"

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Re: May 6, 2014

Alas, we will not be in top10 even if our cadets will continue to improve. For the simple reason that you mentioned yourself. They will indeed go to college at 18. Considering that USA doesn't have a professional TT league and is not likely to get it in the next 10 years, these kids would be crazy not to do that. It is an extremely rare occasion when one of them (like Tim Wang) decides to become a professional TT player, and that continues to be so, imho.

Larry Hodges's picture

Re: May 6, 2014

There are two possibilities. 1) USATT comes to its senses and focuses on things like leagues (both recreational and elite), or 2) some of them might postpone college for a few years, as some do. We'll see.