March 1, 2017

Breaking the Rules?
In 41 years in the sport, I think there has been only one time where I intentionally broke the rules (other than joking around) - and it wasn't as a player; it was as a tournament director. I've run over 170 USATT sanctioned tournaments, and rest assured I try to run them by the rules. But there was this one time, around 1983, when . . . okay, I confess, I broke the rules!!! So sue me. But there's actually a coaching lesson involved.

I was 23 and had only recently began running USATT tournaments (at the Northern Virginia Table Tennis Club) though I'd helped out at a few before. As the tournament director, I'm supposed to do legal draws, right? Well, the day before the tournament I was talking to players at the club, trying to get last-minute players. There was this one player, who shall remain nameless, who said he'd play, but he had a simple condition - he'd only enter if I guaranteed him he could play me in Open Singles.

Now I was perhaps 2200 at the time, and was seeded in the top four at the tournament, with Sean O'Neill and Dave Sakai likely the top two seeds. (Yes, I was playing in it even though I was also running it.) The player who wanted to play me was rated about 2000 - a very good player, but a level weaker than me. But why did he want to play me to the point that he wouldn't enter unless I guaranteed he could play me? As he laughingly (but correctly) explained, he'd beaten me 14 times in a row in practice matches.

Now for some of you, what jumped out in that sentence was "14 times in a row." For others, what jumped out was "practice matches." And there's a big difference between practice matches and tournament matches. It so happened that this player was a very good counterlooper. And so when I played him in practice matches, I liked to take him on in counterlooping battles. We had great rallies and my counterlooping improved - but he won every time. I was determined to improve my counterlooping to the point where I could beat him this way, and later that year I would finally do that - but not yet.

Legally, I can't "fix" the draw like this - players are flipped in at random (taking seeding into account). And why would I do this, fix a draw so I'd play someone I'd lost 14 times in a row to? But I confess. I DID IT!!! I gave him the guarantee, and when I did the draws, I quietly moved him to my part of the draw, and so we played I think in the second round.

Of course, when we played I had no intention of counterlooping with him - I stayed close to the table, opening with loops, then following up with close-to-the-table loops and smashes, and blocking when he attacked. I won rather easily. Afterwards, he was rather irritated, and demanded to know why I hadn't even tried to counterloop. I told him, "Because I wanted to win."

The lesson here for some players is that practice matches are just that - practice. While you should fight to win every time, that doesn't mean you should use the same tactics in practice that you'd use in a big match. Sometimes it's better to use those practice matches to develop a part of your game. I remember when Sunny Li was national junior champion and around 2500, and had these great deep breaking serves. He could serve me off the table with them - if I looped them aggressively, I'd miss too many, and if I looped them back softly, he'd rip winners. (I didn't really have an effective backhand loop, so I was forced to cover the entire table with my forehand if I wanted to loop the serve.) Instead, he was instructed to serve short against me in practice, because I'm very good against short serves, and so he got much better practice that way.

I've run about 170 tournament since the "fixing" episode above, and never did it again. If the powers that be want to remove my tournament director's card for that one, horrible infraction 34 years ago, I'll plead guilty, throw my fate on the mercy of the court, and then go play in the only court that matters, the TT court.

(Side note - I wasn't going to blog this morning. I have to see my tax accountant this afternoon at 2PM, and meant to prepare for that the last few nights - but TT stuff kept getting in the way. I was up past 4AM this morning on other work. So I decided to go to bed, and when I got up, I'd put up a note that there'd be no blog this morning, and then I'd go to work on the tax stuff. But I couldn't sleep, so I ended up returning to my desk after five minutes. I finished the tax work around 6:30AM, and thought what the heck, and so did the blog as well. Now I will go to bed, although I have a suspicion I won't get much sleep.)

2017 SuperMicro US National Table Tennis Championships - Event Listing
Here it is! Note the new Team events on Saturday. I'll blog more about the Nationals later on. 

New Articles by Samson Dubina

How to Practice Effectively ... for just about anything
Here's the video (4:44).

Naresh Brothers to Appear on Ellen Show
Here's the article - they'll be on the show this Friday! I got to work with Sid and Nandan at the USATT Supercamp last July - and I know they'll put on quite a show! (In the picture, that's Sid in front, with brother Nandad peaking over his shoulder.) 

Top National and International Players in Local Table Tennis Tournament
Here's the article on the Triangle Club in NC.

Coffee and Drinks with Jimmy Pelletier . . . and Marty Reisman?
Here's the video (60 sec)!

Putting Green Ping-Pong Table?
Here's the picture!

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