January 11, 2021

Tip of the Week
Should You Experiment If You Have a Big Lead?

Mercy Points and Comebacks
There was quite a lot of discussion on Facebook from my blog last week about whether to give "mercy points." So let's revisit. 

The basic rule is that it's up to you if you want to give a mercy point at 10-0. Both Ma Long and Jan-Ove Waldner, generally considered the two main candidates for Greatest of All Time, have given away mercy points or played exhibition at the end of a lopsided match. Other top players are die-hard try to win every point, even at 10-0 against a beginner. Some players might be insulted if you "give" them a point, so it depends on the player and circumstances. As I said, in a non-competitive match, I prefer to put a ball up and let them "earn" the point.

It also depends on the event. A senior focused on winning Over 50 at the Nationals shouldn't take chances there, but might give a point (or go easy) at 10-0 match point in a rating event against a much weaker player. Some champions are cut-throat at all times; others are only cut-throat when it matters, and can turn it on or off when needed.

Comebacks do happen. Most of my playing career took place when games were to 21. During that time, I came back from 14-20 or 15-20 match point seven times. Nobody has ever done that to me. (The biggest comeback against me was Joe Cummings, when I lost from up 20-16 match point at the Southern Open in Baton Rouge in the late 1980s. Still stings, since the kids at the Resident Training Program at the Olympic Training Center, where I was at various times manager/director/one of the coaches, spent the next year saying, "Cummings back!")

=>Math Alert!!! Skip this paragraph if you suffer from Math Phobia!<=
What are the chances of a comeback from 0-10? If each point is even, then the odds are 0.5 to the tenth to reach deuce, and then it's 50-50 you win, so the odds are 0.5 to the eleventh, or about one in about two thousand (1 in 2048). But if you give a point away, it drops to about one in a thousand (1 in 1024). But let's assume the opponent gets hot and would score 60% of the points. The odds of him reaching deuce from 0-10 are one 0.6 to the tenth power, or one in 165. At deuce, the math gets tricker since you have to win two in a row (see note on this below), but the odds of him winning at deuce are about 69%. So his chances of winning from down 0-10 are about 1 in 239. If you give a mercy point, then the odds of him winning are about 1 in 144. Now let's assume you are playing a world-class player who wins 80% of the points against you, but spots you a 10-0 lead. He'll have about one chance in 9.3 of deucing it. At deuce he's about a 16-1 favorite (94%), and so his chances of winning the game from down 0-10 is about 10.1%. If you give a mercy point at 10-0, then his chances are about 1 in 7.9, or about 12.6%. (Here's a simple way of calculating the odds at deuce. If the other player wins 80% of the points, then he has a .8 squared chance of winning two in a row, or 0.64 = 64%. The opponent wins 20% of the points, so has a .2 squared chance of winning two in a row, or 0.04% = 4%. If they split points and it's deuce again, then the calculation starts over and doesn't affect the odds. So you just take the probability the stronger player wins two in a row - 64% - to the probability the weaker player wins two in a row - 4% - and that's the probability the stronger player wins, i.e. 64 to 4, or 16 to 1, or 94%.)

One question that came up is whether a player who gets a "mercy point" or has an opponent who starts playing exhibition is morally expected to lose. Not a chance. The one giving the mercy point or playing exhibition at the end is the one taking the risk. The only time it would be immoral to come back is if you join in the exhibition play.

Here are some of the biggest comebacks I know of.

  • In 1977, Curt Kronlage (age 13, rate 1677) won the first and was up 20-6 match point on chopper Sid Jacobs (senior player, rated 1858), and lost 16 points in a row, and lost the third 21-14. Yep, I remember all the numbers!
  • Sometime in the late 1970s, the Hungarians Istvan Jonyer and Tibor Klampar were up 20-8 match point in the semifinals of Men's Doubles at the Worlds against a Chinese team, and lost.
  • At the Sun TV Open in the early 1990s, I was down 0-10 in the fifth to Pat Cox in the final of I think Under 2400, and scored ten in a row to 10-all! But games were to 21 back then. I won the match, 26-24 in the fifth.
  • In different junior events at the US Nationals one year, one kid was up 10-2 match point in two different matches and lost both.
  • I was told that Brian Masters was up 10-0 in the first game against Jim Butler at the US Team Trials one year and lost the game and match. (I was there but didn't see the match.)
  • I once played in a handicap tournament at some 4-star tournament, where you played one game to 51. I was about 2250 and played this player under 1000, and had to spot him 48 points, the maximum. So I was down 0-48!!! I tied it at 48-all - yes, 48 points in a row, he was that bad. Then he got two net/edges in a row! I deuced it, 50-all. Then he net-dribbled my serve back, 50-51 - I think it was the first serve he'd returned the whole match! Then, on the very last point, he suddenly (and extremely awkwardly) smashed a winner, the only point in the match he earned, to win, 52-50!!! I still remember lunging for that smash on the last point, couldn't believe it actually hit, and when I lobbed it off, it left me scarred for life!!! About 50 people were watching this at the end.
  • Scott Gordon reports that "in one of the Gilbert Cup tournaments [early 1990s?], Kong Linghui was up something like 19-3 against someone (I think Kim Taek Soo), and almost lost. His opponent deuced the game and Kong had to win the deuce battle, if I remember right."
  • Samson Dubina reports, "At the tournament last weekend, Kenzie was down 2-0 and 10-0 and came back to win the match. At the league last Thursday, Fiona was down 10-2 in the fifth and came back to win. Personally, I feel that I have a 0.001% chance to come back from down 10-0... so I would prefer not getting a mercy point. A 10-0 comeback truly is possible."

USATT Coach of the Year Awards
Here's the USATT News item. (Update: They've added bios.) Here is the USATT Coach of the Year info page, which includes a listing of past winners. (I've won twice - but what it doesn't show is that I was runner-up for Coach of the Year three times in the 1990s!!!) This year's winners are:

  • National Coach of the Year – Tao Wenzhang – Spartans TTC, Santa Clara, CA
  • Mark Nordby Developmental Coach of the Year –  Dan Liu –  ICC, Milpitas, CA 
  • Volunteer Coach of the Year – Mike Boyd – Samson Dubina TTA, Uniontown, OH
  • Doc Counsilman – Qingliang Wang – MDTTC, Germantown, MD  
  • Para Coach of the Year – Vlad Farcas – San Antonio, TX
  • Para Development Coach of the Year – Gary Fraiman, Sunrise TTC, Clearwater, FL

Weekend Coaching
I pulled out my chopping blade and chopped to Navin Kumar for close to half an hour, getting him ready for the World Parkinson's Championships in September in Berlin (hopefully!), where we know there's a strong chopper. (I use a Butterfly Joo Saehyuk blade, with Tackiness C-II on the forehand, Feint Long II on the backhand. I'm almost the same level chopping as attacking.) The focus was on long rallies, where he attacked with his backhand long pips all over the table, with occasional forehand attacks. We also worked on his blocking (chop blocks on the backhand) and forehand attack. Here's video (50 sec) of my looping to his forehand block. (The Junior Program was off this weekend, so otherwise I had a free weekend.)

Baby Yoda Shirts
I now have two of them! (Yeah, I'm a fan of The Mandalorian and Baby Yoda (Grogu). Here are my two shirts, which you can get at Amazon.

USATT Coaches Meeting
We had our last Zoom session on Friday at noon, eastern time. They are every two weeks, on Fridays for about one hour, and hosted by USATT High Performance Director Sean O'Neill. The sessions are open to all USATT coaches. Others attending were Gao Jun, Jasna Rather, Samson Dubina, Marguerite Cheung, Mike Lauro, Britt Salter, and Larry Hodges (me). Here's a group picture and here's video (57:41). Here was the agenda:

  1. Intros
  2. 2020 COY
  3. Switcher Studio Opportunities
  4. Free STUPA (android & iOS)
  5. Insurance/Coaching License
  6. January 15 USATT Covid Update
  7. WTT Doha Bubble
  8. 2021 National Team Trials
  9. Your turn

USATT Coaches Committee Meeting
On Thursday night, the USATT Coaches Committee (Pieke Franssen, Gao Jun, Dave Fullen, and Larry Hodges) had a Zoom meeting (about 45 min) with USATT CEO Virginia Sung and High Performance Director Sean O'Neill. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss coaches' licenses and other upcoming coaching certification issues. It's something they are working on, but nothing to report on yet.

Senator Jeff Merkley and Table Tennis
Here's the video (3:03) of CNN panning over the ransacked office of Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) after the recent Capitol attack. At 1:35, for about ten seconds, you can see he has a Desktop Table Tennis set!!! They even zoom in on it for a few seconds. (They made a real mess of his office, even stole a laptop computer.

NCTTA Cancels 2020-21 Season
Here's the news item. "Due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association (NCTTA) has canceled its entire 2020-21 season. The Collegiate Table Tennis Championships at the Round Rock Sports Center will not be held this year. The safety of our student-athletes and volunteers remains the highest priority."

New from Samson Dubina

Cardiofit Ping
Here's their webpage, and here's info on a free trial session starting Jan. 17. "The first virtual club that offers a specific physical training for table tennis from home by video-conference."

Table Tennis VOD Review #7 - Where's the Bread and Butter?
Here's the video (29:40) from Louis Levene. "I make most of my comments for this one near the end of the video so watch it all the way through!"

Forehand and Backhand Looping Technique
Here's the video (60 sec).

How Strong is Xu Xin's Forehand?
Here's the video (3 min) from 247 tabletennis.

What’s the Score???
Here's the article by Coach Jon.

Timo Boll vs Kanak Jha | FINAL | German Cup 2021
Here's the video (7:24) of their match in the Team Final. You can read more about it in Steve Hopkin's "Boll Perfect as Dusseldorf takes German Cup." Here's another interesting match: Timo Boll vs Hugo Calderano | FINAL | German Cup 2021 (11:01). 

New from the Malong Fanmade Channel
Lots of new videos here!

New from Steve Hopkins


ITTF CEO Explains How Table Tennis Survived COVID-19
Here's the article from Australia's Ministry of Sport. "International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) CEO, and World Table Tennis (WTT) director, Steve Dainton, spoke with Ministry of Sport on how COVID-19 affected the world of table tennis and the battle between traditional broadcast and Over-The-Top digital streaming broadcast (OTT)."


Ping Pong Review
Here's the review of Taiyō Matsumoto's manga Ping Pong, which was released as two-volumes in English last year. They are a bit expensive, about $20 each, but are both 520 pages, so that's a lot of pages!

"So, Do You Play?" Asks Girlfriend's Little Brother, Gesturing Grandly To Ping-Pong Table
Here's the article from The Onion!

Dominic Thiem Plays Table Tennis
Here's the video (28 sec) - note all the two-handed backhands! Dominic Thiem (on the right) is the world #3 tennis player. Not sure who is on the left. (Email me if you know.)

Double-Ball No-Table Table Tennis
Here's the video (2:04)!

Game Over: Table Tennis Gone Wrong
Here's the video (5:12) - with a "fake" Mr. Bean!

Eight-Two, Brute
Here's the cartoon!

Coronavirus Table Tennis Cartoons
I searched the Internet and could only find four - and three of them were by me. So here they are! (I didn't do the first one.)

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