August 24, 2017

Play Hardbat or Sandpaper – Here’s Why
No, this will not be an evangelizing blog entry on why we should make sponge illegal and go back to a simpler time when everyone used hardbat, politicians were honest, and life was perfect. (No, those times never happened.) There’s a better reason why you should bring out that cheap hardbat or sandpaper paddle you have stored away at the back of your closet (or borrow one from someone), and learn to play with it.

Putting aside the fact that it is fun, as a sideline, to play with these rackets, there’s a better reason. There are table tennis tables all over the place. Unless you are some oddball who carries his $300 table tennis racket (and table tennis shoes, plastic balls, table tennis towel, net measurer, etc.) everywhere, you will someday find yourself someday at a table without your racket, watching inferior players play each other, each believing themselves to be champions, or at least competitive with the best players – of whom they have never seen. You will be forced to do one of the following:

  1. Watch and smile;
  2. Challenge one of them, but forced to use one of the local paddles – some cheap thing similar to what you have sitting in the back of your closet – you either lose and feel humiliated (and sound like an idiot when you complain that you don't have your regular racket), or at least struggle, and in no way impress anyone with your table tennis skills;
  3. Because you practiced with a hardbat or sandpaper in advance, you have no trouble using one of the cheap paddles and absolutely destroying the locals, who then ask if you are a professional player. You can then choose to explain to them about “real” table tennis, or you can just sagely nod your head.

The thing to remember is this – once you learn to play with one of these cheap paddles, you can play with just about anything – a book, a pot, even a smart phone, like Matt Hetherington here. (I’ve beaten people with an ID card and an ice cube.) But the key thing is you have to learn how to use these cheap paddles or you will face #1 or #2 above. A good basement player who has spent years using a cheap paddle can often beat a good club player who isn’t using his normal racket and isn’t used to using anything else. With his normal racket, the club player might win 11-1, but without it, all his instincts and reactions are wrong.

Last December I went on a science fiction writing workshop cruse in the Bahamas. I checked in advance and was told the ship had no ping-pong table, so I didn’t bring my table tennis stuff. The first day on the cruise (a HUGE ship!), I discovered they not only had two ping-pong tables next to the pool, but that there would be a cruise ping-pong tournament! All they had were cheap hardbat rackets. What to do? Oh wait, I’m the current U.S. Over 40 Hardbat Champion (five times, and twice in Open Hardbat Singles, though I normally use sponge), so I got to go the #3 route above, and nobody got more than two points against me. And guess what? I was asked if I was a professional player, and I got to say “yes.” But you don’t need to be a “champion” to use one of these rackets effectively, you just need to be a good club player who practices with one a bit.

How do you play with a cheap paddle? (This includes cheap sponge rackets, which basically play like hardbats.) There are basically two things you should learn to do. First, learn a basic forehand or backhand drive. With a little practice, you can do this. The key is to learn to be steady with it, not try to blast everything, and above all, don’t try to loop. Just stroke the ball consistently, and you’ll seem like a world champ at the table against most non-coached players.

Second, learn to chop a bit, or to just chop the ball back with a light backspin. Use this shot when you are in trouble, such as when reaching for the ball, or when the opponent makes an aggressive shot. You might be able to counter these, but a simple chop is very easy with a cheap paddle – they are practically designed for that. You might think you can’t chop, but that’s because you are playing with super-fast blade covered with tensored sponge, and against an opponent who is super-looping everything.

With these two basics down, you’ll become the champion at every basement, rec center, bar, or other gathering of amateur players who think they are very good but aren’t, and you’ll spend the rest of your life knowing that you can play well with just about anything with a hard hitting surface. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to report back that you too beat someone with an ID card or an ice cube.

Butterfly MDTTC August Open
Here’s the home page, and here’s the entry form. I’ll be running it this weekend, Aug. 26-27, at the Maryland Table Tennis Center in Gaithersburg, MD. Entry deadline is 7PM Friday. It’s a 3-star event, with $2700 in prize money. Top seeds in the Open (so far) include Jishan Liang (2677), Chen Bo Wen (2575), Jeffrey Zeng (2558), Wang Qingliang (2492), and the wild card from the Czech Republic, Jakub Nemecek, who we’re seeding at 2550, but I’ve been told he could be more like 2650. (We estimated the 2550 based on his world rankings from 2015, as high as #569, but ITTF rankings can vary based on participation, and so aren’t always accurate.) Hope to see you there!!!

The Art of Calling Timeout
Here’s an interesting analysis of the topic, and discussion at the forum. It gives a lot of actual stats on when top players call time-outs. Here’s my Tip of the Week, Time-out Tactics. I also blogged about this on June 11, 2013.

Good, Better, Best!
Here’s the article from Samson Dubina. “Most table tennis players have Good practice sessions on a weekly basis but it isn’t THEIR VERY BEST! Many players continue practicing the same things over and over without pushing themselves to improve their spin, placement, variation, power, and shot selection.”

Internal vs. External Factors – Making the Table Your Only Focus
Here’s the article from Epic Table Tennis. “The story of a 25 year old who foolishly decided to try to get to the Olympics at a sport he had never played before.....”

The Conundrum of Table Tennis
Here’s the article by Coach Jon.

Master Stroke Table Tennis Training Device
Here’s the video (2:41).

Olympic Experience Carries Team USA to World University Games Main Draw
Here’s the USATT article by Matt Hetherington. Here’s the table tennis page , where you can follow the action, Aug. 22-29 in Taiwan. They are finishing the Team events today, and singles start tomorrow (Friday).

2017 Hopes Team Announced
Here’s the ITTF article. USA’s Swathi Giri made the team.

Czech Open
Here’s the home page for the event, Aug. 22-27 in Olomouc, CZE.

Insane Rally
Here’s the video (56 sec) of the exhibition rally between Kristian Karlsson and Stefan Fegerl!

Behind-the-Back Bottle Bashing Serve
Here’s the video (43 sec)!

Lighting a Match with a Table Tennis Shot
Here’s the video (45 sec)!

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