Cary Cup

March 13, 2013

No More Blogs Until Monday - Cary Cup

I'll be leaving with Tim Boggan to drive down to the Cary Cup Championships around 4AM or so on Thursday morning, so no more blogs until next Monday. I'm helping with a clinic they are running on Thursday afternoon, then I play the hardbat event Friday morning, then I coach the rest of the way.

Fake Motions on Serves

One of the most under-utilized techniques is fake motions on serves. Most players have their racket move in a straight line from Point A to Point B, and since it doesn't take Ph.D. level geometry to read the spin if the racket goes in a straight line, the serve loses much of its effectiveness. It's like putting a big sign on your head before each serve that tells your opponent what the spin is going to be.

Instead, try two things. First, move your racket through a semi-circular motion so that the spin varies, depending on where the contact point is. At the highest levels players do this motion so fast and in such a short motion that few can even see the changing direction. There's a reason why, for example, a forehand pendulum serve is called a "pendulum" serve - the racket goes through a curving pendulum motion, and you get different spins depending on where on the curving path you contact the ball. Contact it early on the downswing, it's backspin; a split second later, it's side-backspin; a split second later, sidespin; a split second later, side-topspin; a split second later, it's topspin.

You can and should also vary the contact point on your racket to vary the spin, since not all parts of the racket are moving in the same direction at the same time. More importantly, the tip is the fastest moving part, so contact the ball toward the tip for maximum spin, then contact the ball near the handle to get a no-spin serve that looks like spin. If an opponent thinks there's a lot of spin on the serve and there isn't, that's more effective than a spinny serve where the opponent sees the spin.

Second, vary your motion after contact. If you are serving backspin, have a big exaggerated upwards follow-through. If you are serving sidespin or topspin, have a big exaggerated downwards follow-through. This is very easy to learn to do, and so effective, and yet many never bother to do this.

Here's a real example. One of our top local players has a very nice backhand loop, and any serve to his backhand is probably going to get looped - even short ones, since he can go over the table. If I give him a forehand pendulum serve that breaks away from him on his backhand side, he has no problem, and I usually end up picking the ball up at the barriers. But if I instead fake a reverse forehand pendulum serve (so my racket is going in the opposite direction), and then at the last second change directions and instead do a regular pendulum serve that breaks away from him with sidespin, and then pull the racket down the split second after contact to fake backspin - well, he misses over and over (as long as I don't overuse it). It takes practice to fake out a top player, but the practice pays off.


Here's a video (1:23) I found after about 30 seconds of searching that demonstrates these motions in slow motion. (Ignore the irritating background sounds.) See how the player's racket goes through a semi-circular motion, and quickly changes directions right after contact?

Preparing for Cary Cup Championships

  • Printed out notes from videotapes and past matches of possible opponents - CHECK.
  • Put together list of reminders for students - CHECK.
  • Packed hardbat racket for the hardbat event on Friday - CHECK.
  • Printed out various manuscripts to edit or proof on the drive to Cary - CHECK.
  • Packed - LATER TODAY.
  • Got enough sleep - NOPE.

International Articles at Table Tennista

Here are four more:

Table Tennis, the Beautiful Game

Here's a new highlights video from ITTF (4:40).

Swedish Song about Stellan Bengtsson and Kjell Johansson?

Here's the video (2:44) - can anyone give us the gist of what's being sung? An online translator translated the description as, "Finally there is the on YouTube! A classic of immense formats! Världsmästarna Kjell Johansson and Stellan Bengtsson shows that they do not only have mastered the racket and pingisbollen."

Wally Green

Here's a video (3:00) on Wally Green at Spin New York.


Board Meetings

This is where all companies should meet.

Thief Attempts Armed Robbery with Ping-Pong Paddle

Here's the story! "A WOULD-BE thief brandishing a ping pong paddle found a new opponent when he threatened a service station attendant in an apparent hold-up."


Send us your own coaching news!

March 12, 2013

Tennis and Table Tennis

I used to play tennis regularly, going to the Quince Orchard Swim and Tennis Club for group training sessions. But it took up a lot of time and money, and I finally stopped about three years ago. Last night I had an urge to play, and so signed up for the 7-8 group session. It's a full-time center, with five tennis courts and a huge swimming pool. Each is contained in a huge "bubble," which comes down during the summer. (I hate when the bubble comes down, and we're stuck playing outside, in the sun, heat, and wind. If tennis were meant to be played outside, there'd have been tennis courts in the Garden of Eden, right?)

While I was paying for the session in the front lobby area, a kid walked up to me and said, "Hi Coach Larry!" I didn't recognize him at first, but I finally figured out he was Kevin, one of the kids in my Sunday junior session. Outside of a table tennis environment I hadn't recognized him at first. Then a man came up to me and asked if I also taught tennis. Again, I didn't recognize him outside the table tennis club, but he was the father of another player in one of my group sessions; his son or daughter was presumably out playing tennis or swimming. We chatted for a few minutes, where I explained I was just a player at the tennis center. When I went out on the tennis courts at 7PM, guess who was sitting next to the next court, watching his son take a tennis lesson? Stephen Yen, a local 2300 player! That's three separate table tennis people I ran into there in the course of a few minutes.

The session went great. I was a bit rusty, but my forehand was pretty much as good as before. All the coaches there agree I have the most lopsided tennis game they've ever seen, with a really good forehand, and a pretty good backhand slice, lob, and drop shot, and placement and positioning well beyond my tennis level. But the rest - backhand, volleys, overhead, etc. - is pretty ordinary, other than lots of hustle.

There's an interesting neurological phenomenon I learned a while back about my tennis and table tennis. From table tennis I instinctively place shots to the right spot without thinking about it - after years of play, it's completely subconscious, as reflexive as, say, getting the angle right when blocking a loop. I do the same thing with my ground strokes in tennis; if an opponent gives me an opening on one side, I don't have to think about it, I'll automatically go to that spot. But here's the interesting phenomenon: when I'm at the net volleying in tennis, I have great difficulty placing the shot. There might be an open court to volley into, and I'll unthinkingly volley right back at my opponent, like a beginner. Then I made a discovery - when I do swinging volleys, then that part of my brain that instinctively places the ball lights up, and I'm back to reflexively putting the ball to the right spot like a pro. I finally figured it out. From years of table tennis my brain has become conditioned to placing my shot during my backswing. If I take a backswing - as I do in table tennis (even when blocking), tennis ground strokes, and swinging volleys - I'm a "pro," always hitting the right spot. But when I don't backswing, such as when I'm volleying at the net, that part of the brain doesn't light up, and so I'm back to being an amateur with no ball placement skills. (Technically, I think I do backswing some when volleying, but it's a different type of backswing then I'm used to, and my brain apparently doesn't register it as a backswing.) My solution has been to do lots of swinging volleys, which are considered less consistent than normal volleys, and so all the tennis coaches always discourage me from doing them. But they are better for me, because otherwise I fell like a beginner at the net, probably with a deer-in-the-headlights look since my brain simply won't operate properly in racket sports if I don't backswing. There must be a budding neurologist out there who can use this phenomenon for their Ph.D dissertation!

I've been thinking for a while about writing an article on Tennis for Table Tennis Players, and Table Tennis for Tennis players. But I'm not sure of the demand for such an article. 

Tim Boggan and Cary Cup

Tomorrow morning at around 9:30 AM, USATT Historian and Hall of Famer Tim Boggan will arrive at my house after driving downing from New York. He'll spend the day and night here, and then on Thursday morning we drive down to the Cary Cup Championships in Cary, NC. On Friday morning I'll play in the hardbat event there - I won it in 2010 and 2011. Then I'll be coaching the rest of the way, mostly with Derek Nie, as well as Tong Tong Gong and perhaps others. Then I come back with Derek and his family, playing auto bingo the whole way.

Ma Long Continues Battles with Zhang Jike

Here's the article, entitled "Ma Long Declares to Continue Competing Against Zhang Jike"

Mikael Appelgren in a Reality Show

Here's the article! "Yes, the legendary Mikael Appelgren will participate in a Swedish TV program called "Mästarnas mästar" (the master of masters). This is a contest program that gathers Swedish athletes from different disciplines. During the competition, they have to face physical and mental challenges, where their teamwork, perseverance and strategy are tested. On this occasion, the program will take place in the Peloponnese peninsula in southwestern Greece."

Michael Bolton Plays Table Tennis in Commercial

Here's a commercial (1:02) for Optimum Insurance that features American singer and songwriter Michael Bolton.

Ping-Pong Art Table for Kids

Here's the article and pictures from Table Tennis Nation.  

Carolina Pong and Überpong Paddles

Here's a video (2:56) of Carolina Pong auditioning the new überpong paddles.

Table Tennis Clocks

I own two table tennis clocks, the first two listed below. The first one sits on my shelf behind my desk, and the second one I put up at the Maryland Table Tennis Center (in the back where I often teach junior classes). In honor of Daylight Savings Time (I'm only two days late), here are other pictures of table tennis clocks. (Here's where you can buy some of these.)


Send us your own coaching news!

March 20, 2012


Yesterday I coached a player who moved to his wide forehand to loop pretty well, but always ended up off balance. His center of gravity would go outside his outer foot as he stepped toward the ball, and so after the shot would have great difficulty getting back into position for the next shot. It's extremely important to keep your center of gravity between your feet so that you are always balanced. Sure, there are extreme situations where you have to lunge or even dive for the ball, but those rare exceptions. Notice how the top players are able to hit power shots over and over in quick succession? It's because they stay balanced, and so their recovery time from each shot is extremely fast. When going for a powerful forehand loop it helps to think of a rod going through your head, and try to rotate around that rod as much as possible. That'll help keep your balance.

Jim Butler at the Cary Cup

He's 41, and came out of retirement just a few months ago. Sure, he was U.S. National Champion three times, but the last time was in 1993, nineteen years ago, during Bill Clinton's first year in office. So what does he do? He defeats both U.S. National Men's Singles Champion Peter Li and Runner-up Han Xiao. Both are fellow Marylanders who practically grew up and still play at MDTTC. (He defeated Li in the preliminary RR, but both advanced. He defeated Xiao in the 8ths. He lost to Hongtao Chen in the quarterfinals.) Here's a picture of Butler at the Cary Cup. (Butler on right, Greg Robertshaw on left.) Here's his Hall of Fame profile.

I wish I could have coached my fellow Marylanders for that one. I watched (and coached against) Butler for many years, and I might have had some insight about his somewhat unique game, which revolves around his serves and flat backhand kill. His forehand isn't particularly good for his level, and yet he knows how to use it to maximize its effectiveness. He probably blocks better than any of the U.S. players who recently competed at the USA Olympic and World Team Trials. These days most top players topspin their backhands, and probably had difficulty against Jim's flatter shot. Jim's backhand smash, even now, is easily the best with inverted in the U.S.  (Shao Yu's pips-out backhand smash may be as good.)

I've had five articles published about Jim Butler, but alas, none are online. Perhaps later on I'll scan them. (I've also written extensively about him while doing coverage of major U.S. tournaments.) The articles are listed below. (The "Showdown" articles were tactical analysis of what these two players did when they played each other.)

  • The Showdown: Sean O'Neill vs. Jim Butler, Table Tennis Topics, Nov/Dec 1990
  • The Showdown: Jim Butler vs. John Onifade, Table Tennis Topics, Jan/Feb 1991
  • Jim Butler's Backhand, Table Tennis Topics, May/June 1992
  • Jim Butler Most Improved Player, Table Tennis Today, May/June 1993
  • Interview with Jim Butler, Table Tennis World, Mar/Apr 1996

Maryland Table Tennis Center Update

You ABSOLUTELY DO NOT WANT TO MISS the MDTTC Open House and Grand Re-Opening on Saturday, April 7. I'll be doing an exhibition and a seminar on serving, and running the various demos. If you are not there we will talk about you behind your back, and it won't be nice things.

Yesterday new red flooring was installed in the new playing area, as part of the MDTTC expansion. Unfortunately, they also took out the old red flooring for half the current club, leaving us with just four tables for a few days. Since we have four full-time coaches, and the four of us were using all four tables last night, there isn't any open play for a few days.

There have been delays to the expansion, leading to the following cancellation note about our scheduled tournament this weekend.

"Due to an unexpected delay with the renovation/expansion project, we have decided to combine the 2012 Butterfly MDTTC March Open and the May Open Tournaments, which will take place on May 5 & 6. The Total Prize Money will be increased significantly. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience caused and ask for your kind understanding."

Now the good news. In a week or so the expansion will be done, and we'll have 18 full-sized courts (possibly more for junior training), all-new red flooring, showers, and a weight room. Plus wireless web was installed yesterday.

For more info on the club, including tournament schedule, coaching, camps, etc., see the new MDTTC website.

The Pongcast - Episode 11

The latest Pongcast (21:00) features the European Champions League . . . and! The site is discussed from 3:45 to 4:50.

Commercial with table tennis

Here's a 33 second Miller 64 commercial with a few seconds of table tennis - twice.

College Republican National Committee

They have turned to ping-pong balls to promote themselves! Table Tennis Nation has the picture and the story. The note on the ping-pong ball box says, "The Best Party on Campus." I think this refers to beer pong.


Send us your own coaching news!


March 19, 2012

Tip of the Week

Fixing the Biggest Weakness in Your Game.

Cary Cup

Unfortunately I barely saw any of the big matches since I was coaching throughout the tournament. So I have little to report on that. In fact, I'm trying to find the results online, and haven't been able to find much of anything.

Here are some tidbits.

  • I got to watch the Butlers, Scott and Jim, go at it backhand to backhand, when they were warming up. They can really hit those backhands. And yet it shows how the game has changed as modern top players would be topspinning those backhands while the Butlers were cracking in mostly flat backhands.
  • There was a rather small bag sitting on a chair next to a court I was about to coach at. I nonchalantly picked up the bag with my right (playing) arm so I could put it aside so I could use the chair. I strained the arm slightly when this rather small bag turned out to weight about 50 pounds. I have no idea what was in it - gold bars?
  • There were two water fountains next to each other near the front door. One was at a regular height for adults, the other a very shortened one for little kids. A very tall man, about 6'4", came in with his son, who looked about four years old. Without hesitation they walked to the fountains and the tall man leaned over the kids fountain while the little kid stood on tiptoes and barely was able to use the tall one. I don't think either noticed the humor of the situation. (Anyone remember the similar scene in the movie "The Lion King," when the small weasel-like Timon takes the big bed, forcing the large warthog Pumbaa to squeeze into the tiny one?)
  • After visiting my water fountain I returned to the playing hall to discover my playing bag was missing. I searched the area for five minutes before realizing I was in the wrong hall. (There were two large playing halls and two smaller ones.)

I played the hardbat event on Friday morning. I'd won the event the last two years, but alas this year it was not to be. There were two groups of about eight, with the top two advancing. I went 6-1, losing to Bin Hai Chu, the 2300 player I'd beaten in the final last year. (I didn't lose a game in the other matches.) In the final RR (with the Chu match carrying over), I lost to Ty Hoff while winning against Dmitri Moundous, and so finished third. Ty led both games against Chu, but lost at 19,20, so Chu won the event and $400. (Second was $300, third $100, and all four finalists received huge trophies.) Later in the tournament, using his regular pips-out sponge penhold racket, he'd have double match point on 2647-rated and defending champion Jeffrey Zeng Xun.

I was mostly coaching Derek Nie, who is probably the best pound-for-pound player in the U.S. with a rating of 2080 at 64 pounds. (He looks about 8 or 9, but actually just turned 11.) He looped his way past opponent after opponent, and ended up beating everyone below him while losing to everyone above him in 14 matches. He did give some scares. Against Gabriel Skolnick (2259), he won the first and was up 11-10 in the second when they had a great point, with Derek smacking in a series of backhands and then looping four forehands in a row. The third, to Gabriel's wide forehand, seemed to win the game, and I actually started to jump up to cheer, but Gabriel reached out and barely brought it back. Derek ripped another forehand to the wide backhand, and again Gabriel just got it back, and Derek finally missed. Against Tao Lin (2304) Derek won the first 11-7, and led much of the second game, but Tao came on strong to win that game and the match. Against Richard Doverman (2298) he led much of the first game before losing 11-9, and was up game point in the second before losing at deuce.

This is very promising for Derek, as you'll know if you've read my Tip of the Week on "Larry's Six-month Law."

Some of Derek's most successful tactics this tournament were to focus on really wide angles and attacking the middle; last-second change of direction on his receive; and lots of varied serves. He needs to work on depth control of his serves (too many went long under pressure, and were looped), and his backhand loop often fell apart when he was rushed.

North American Olympic Trials

You can buy tickets now for the U.S. versus Canada showdown at the North American Olympic Trials, April 20-22.

New ping-pong table to the White House

Here are two stories on it, both from England's The Telegraph:

Non-Table Tennis: Two more short stories published

I had two new fantasy stories published, one on Friday, and one this morning.

This morning my short-short story "The Kitchen Debate" was published on Quantum Muse. The 600-word story is a mystical debate between science and religion. Here's the opening:

The impossible object lay on the kitchen table. My life, my work, my very existence was dedicated to the fact that it did not, could not, exist. And yet there it was, in all its implausibility.

The Hand of God.

On Friday my 99-cent ebook "Willy and the Ten Trillion Chimpanzees" (4000 words, about 18 double spaced pages) was published at Musa Publishing. You can download it for 99 cents - so BUY IT NOW!!! Here's the opening:

The demon Willy Shakespeare returned home late one night from a showing of King Lear, and approached the door to his basement where he kept a full-sized replica of North America, populated by ten trillion chimpanzees, all randomly typing away.

With a glance, he turned off the enchanted timepiece that sped time up in the basement a trillion-fold. He'd been away since lunch, about ten hours, so ten trillion hours had gone by in the basement--about a billion years. He allowed himself a small grin. If they hadn’t created at least one masterpiece for him, there'd be serious pain for a lot of chimps.

Here is my science fiction & fantasy page, and here's where you can buy "Pings and Pongs," an anthology of my 30 best published stories ($14.95). BUY IT NOW!!!


Send us your own coaching news!

March 15, 2012

No Blog on Friday - Cary Cup

No blog tomorrow (Friday) - I leave for the Cary Cup Championships this morning, right after I post this. I'll be defending my hardbat titles from the last two years, but it's a very tough draw this year. The rest of the tournament I'll be coaching junior stars George and Derek Nie. I'm going down and rooming with Tim Boggan. I've been having arm problems, but they seem to be over. I was toying with playing primarily as a chopper, but if the arm is okay I'll probably play my usual all-out forehand attack game combined with some backhand chopping. I'll write about the tournament in my blog next week.

A few notes on serve & forehand looping

When I'm at my best, I'm an all-out forehand attacker on my serve. (This is for both my normal sponge game as well as my hardbat game.) The key to this is good serves and good footwork. Regarding footwork, while fast feet are extremely helpful, good footwork technique is just as important for the first shot of a rally. I'm 52 and don't train anymore, and am by no means that fast, but I can attack nearly any deep ball at the start of a rally (deep serves or serve returns) because of good footwork technique and by quickly reading the opponent's shot. (It's the second or third shot that often takes footwork speed, alas.)

If you want to serve and follow with your forehand, here are your main serving possibilities. (They are mostly written as if both players are righties, but the same ideas apply to lefties with minor adjustments.)

  1. If they can't loop a deep serve to the backhand, then serve deep to the backhand and get ready to dominate with your forehand. Since they are returning the ball from farther back, you have more time to get into forehand position, and they can't get good angles as they could off a shorter ball. If you can serve so the ball breaks into their backhand side, away from their body, then they'll have even more difficulty making a good return, and they'll have even more trouble trying to take it down the line, so most of their returns will predictably be to your backhand. Step around and wait for it. (Don't move too early, of course, or they might just take it down the line.)
  2. If they can't forehand flip effectively down the line (to your backhand), then serve short to the forehand and prepare to attack the crosscourt return to your forehand.
  3. If they can't backhand flip effectively down the line (to your forehand), then serve short to the backhand and prepare to step around to attack with your forehand the crosscourt return to your backhand. They have no angle into your forehand, and so you should be able to react to weak returns there even if you are way around your backhand corner. The main danger here (besides a surprise down-the-line attack to your forehand) is a wide-angled return to your backhand. If that happens, then you either have to step even farther around your backhand (way out of position, very risky) or play backhand.
  4. If they can't push short or flip short backspin, serve short backspin to all parts of the table and prepare for the long push.
  5. If all else fails, serve short to the middle. That way they have no extreme angle, and can't go for a wide crosscourt corner (where they have more table to aim for). They also have to decide between forehand and backhand, and that slight hesitation is often all it takes to get a weak return. If you serve short backspin to the middle, you'll usually get a deep push that's not too angled.
  6. Serve short, very low no-spin. It is surprisingly difficult to push heavy, push short, or to flip. (The key is to keep it low.)  It is especially effective if you mix in spinny serves, and learn to fake spin but serve no-spin. (A spinny-looking serve that is no-spin is called "heavy no-spin." Really!) Here's an article I wrote on the no-spin serve.

Susan Sarandon and ping-pong on TV

Susan Sarandon stopped by the TV show GMA to discuss her new movie and ping-pong, and to challenge hosts Josh and Sam to a game (6:09). The table tennis discussion begins at 4:25.

Why a Ponger Left Goldman-Sachs

It's all over the news - Greg Smith isn't just leaving Goldman-Sachs, he wrote a feature article in the New York Times on the toxic and destructive atmosphere there.

But of course the real story is that Smith was also a very good table tennis player. As he wrote in the article, he won "a bronze medal for table tennis at the Maccabiah Games in Israel, known as the Jewish Olympics." But there's more! It looks like he has played USATT tournaments, three of them in 1997-98. Here are his rating results, with his final rating at 1983. (He even defeated Tim Boggan at the 1998 Nationals!)

Our friends at Table Tennis Nation have researched the story even more, and here's what they have to say.

Nixon, Ping-Pong Diplomacy, and the University of Oregon

Here's an article on an event at the University of Oregon that celebrates Ping-Pong Diplomacy.

Microwaving ping-pong balls

Yesterday we lit them on fire. Today we're microwaving ping-pong balls! Video is 5:09 long, but the fireworks beginning at 2:13.


Send us your own coaching news!

Syndicate content