Playing Lefty – and Reading vs. Reacting
Yesterday, at the end of a 90-minute session, my 12-year-old 1700 opponent challenged me to a game where he lobbed, while I played lefty. He was overconfident, and he was serving down 6-8. (I had perfected sort of a lefty "jab-smash.") But then he "cheated," and started throwing spinny sidespin serves at me – and I was suddenly helpless, unable to read spins that I normally would read with ease. It went to deuce, but my inability to return his sidespin serves led to his fist-pumping victory. (He even did the "infamous and controversial fist-pumping walk around the table" of Jiang that I'd described to him earlier – see below.)
But it got me thinking – why was I unable to read the spin on serves that I could easily read when playing right-handed? And the answer was obvious. You don't read spin. You react to it – subconsciously.
Think about it. When an opponent puts spin on the ball, do you consciously think to yourself, "The ball's spinning at 2133 RPM, so I need to put my racket angle at 62.5 degrees"? Of course not. From lots and lots of playing time, your subconscious automatically reacts to it. It may not always get it right, but it's usually in the ball park. But what's actually happening? Your subconscious reads the spin and tells your muscles how to react, i.e. racket angle and so on. Consciously, there's no reading of spin (except as an afterthought) – you just react at a subconscious level. But the subconscious has been trained to tell your playing arm what to do, not your non-playing arm, where everything is essentially reversed. It doesn't know what to do. And so, instead of reacting instinctively to the spin, as I'm used to when I play righty, I just stood there, waiting for my subconscious to tell me what to do, and it just sat there, unable to do so. Dang you, subconscious, where were you when I needed you???
I've always thought it's a good exercise for coaches to sometimes play lefty – not just rally, but actual games – so they can see what it's like to play as a beginner. It's rather instructive.
1987 WTTC Men Final Jiang Jialiang vs Jan-Ove Waldner
Here's the video (37:05), where (Spoiler Alert!) pips-out penholder Jiang defends his title from 1985 – just barely. In the best of five to 21, he's up 2-1 but down 16-20 in the fourth. At 31:40 he serves at 19-20, wins a nice point to deuce it, and then does the infamous and controversial fist-pumping walk around the table, walking right in front of Waldner! The latter later admitted it unnerved him, and Jiang won the next two points easily to win the title again. This match sort of marked the end of the age of world-class pips-out play (with the notable exception of Liu Guoliang, who would come along a few years later), and the rise of two-winged looping, which now completely dominates.
They are coming to MDTTC today from 4-8PM to do a story, with a writer and photographer. Come on in if you want a chance to be in the background of a picture, or possibly even interviewed!
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