Derek Nie

October 20, 2014

Tip of the Week

Top Ten Ways to Play Your Best in a Tournament.

Fact or Fiction: The Life & Times of a Ping Pong Hustler

Here's where you can download the video (60 min) or see the trailer (2:12) about the late Marty Reisman (Feb. 1, 1930 - Dec. 7, 2012). "A chronicle of the final three years of Marty Reisman's life. A table tennis champion turned hustler. Pursuing notoriety and motivated by his love of fame and ping pong, he has to face his biggest fear: mortality."

Here's the IMDB entry on the film. Here's the full description:

Fact or Fiction: The Life and Times of a Ping Pong Hustler is a chronicle of the final three years of Marty Reisman's life, a former international table tennis champion-turned-money player. Pursuing notoriety through his idiosyncratic lifestyle and motivated by his love of fame and Ping Pong, he inadvertently has to face his biggest fear: mortality. Shot over three years, the film follows Marty - a complex mix of childlike excitement, eccentric narcissism and constant charm - as he negotiates between pride, the denial of old age, past defeats and the decline of his fame and fortune, as well as his devoted wife Yoshiko's health, all while clinging onto the hope that his own life and career are just beginning to blossom. The film's observational style, combined with rare archive footage and interviews with key New York and London society characters such Booker Prize winner Howard Jacobson and eminent psychotherapist George Weinberg, work to tell the story of one of America's greatest.

I recently watched the video on my computer, along with Tim Boggan. I knew Marty pretty well. In fact, he's how I got into table tennis! Here's the story.

The video uses both old and recent footage of Reisman, showcasing him from his early years (growing up in the depression, discovering "a different world" in table tennis, and developing as a player in the hardbat era) to his last days, and especially the last three years of his life. Parts of it are rather dark, with much of the video taking place in a hospital after his heart surgery and shortly before Marty died. There's also footage of him running Reisman's Table Tennis Club, which ran from 1958 to the late 1970s.

Marty was perhaps the most flamboyant and stylish table tennis player who ever lived. The video features his many outfits, hats, his tailor and dry cleaner, and even the cane he used - not because he needed it, but for style purposes. Marty quotes poetry, jokes with doctors, talks and sings about mortality, teaches his forehand, shows his microscopes (a hobby of his), demonstrates the cigarette trick, talks about Satoh (the man from Japan who introduced the sponge racket and won the 1952 Worlds, the year Reisman thought he should have won), and talks about how much he was looking forward to a challenge match he had planned with 2009 U.S. Men's Champion Michael Landers. "You'll be in a film with the great Marty Reisman," he explained to Landers. (The film mistakenly credits Landers as being on the U.S. Olympic team.) There's also segments about a planned "Marty's Bar" at Spin TTC in New York.

Yes, Marty was an egomaniac, but he didn't hide this fact - in fact, he wore it on his sleeve, with an almost in-your-face ego. And yet he could be incredibly nice if you played along with it and treated him well. He was a God to many, and enjoyed playing the role. Much of his Godhood came about from the stand he took against sponge rubber, insisting on sticking with hard rubber (and later sandpaper), which he considered a far superior game, where two players had a "dialog" when they rallied.

Near the end there's about 3.5 minutes with USATT Historian Tim Boggan, who gives sort of a fact check to some of the items in the film. (Hence the "Fact or Fiction" part of the title.) He also shows a "Marty as Don Quixote" picture, symbolizing Marty fighting the windmills of sponge.

MDTTC Featured at WETA  and PBS

Here's the video (4 min), which features me, Crystal Wang, and Derek Nie.

First Ever ITTF Level Three Course in USA Staged

Here's the ITTF article on the course just completed in Colorado Springs, taught by Richard McAfee. 

Women's World Cup

In the all-Chinese final held Sunday, world #1 Ding Ning defeated world #4 Liu Xiaoxia. Here's a video of the match highlights (4:04). Here's the ITTF home page for the event with results, articles, photos, and video. Here's the ITTF Press Release on the Final. Here's the Daily Shot of the Day:

iPong Basic Series: Forehand Drive

Here's the video (1:19) of Richard McAfee teaching the stroke.

Kenta Matsudaira's Sidespin Block

Here's the new video (3:56) from PingSkills of the Japanese player (world #27, #16 in January). My students hate it when I throw sidespin or chop blocks at them!

Training at Zhou Xin TTA

Here's the list of videos.

Ask the Coach

Here are two more "Ask the Coach" episodes from PingSkills.

Episode #10 (13:26):

  • Question 1: Usually players follow one style, attack or defense. If I want to change mine to All Around to add some defensive strokes, when is it efficient to start? When the attack style is completely confident or it’s better to study all the strokes at the same time? Olena.
  • Question 2: I realize that in table tennis we use only one part of our hand (upper arm, lower arm, and wrist) so what is the time to use each part of it and can I combined them? Frendy.
  • Question 3: How to reply to a player who simply sends every shot back with push & chop shots? I feel like I am playing the ball against a wall. I start to think that I have to do something to end the rally and then I make the mistake & lose the point. Len Buffey.
  • Question 4: What advice can you give to changing the momentum in a match? I was recently up 2-0 in a match and lost all confidence after losing the 3rd set and continued to go downhill losing in 5.
  • Question 5: Is there difference between a lob and a fish? If yes, what is it? Kaustubh Kulkarni.

Episode #11 (13:05):

  • Question 1: Hi Alois! I have my first tournament of the season in a week and I want to practice my serves. One problem: I don't have any plastic balls. Is it bad to practice my serves with celluloid balls? Yoan Pelletier
  • Question 2: Do you other professionals who play with shakehand, use a specific or specialized grip to serve and then quickly shift to the shakehand for the majority of the point? Do you stay with the special grip after the serve? Cole Mooney
  • Question 3: I recently received advice to engage my thumb and apply pressure onto the rubber when backhand counterhitting. The advice improved my backhand but I don't know if should change especially if the rallies are transitioning BH to FH in a fast manner. Danny Ly
  • Question 4: Due to studies I didn’t play table tennis for 1.5 months. I played today in an interschool tournament and I lost to a player whom I used to defeat every time. What is the reason of my defeat and how can I prepare for my state tournament. Shivam Goenka
  • Question 5: As a penhold player, should I hit with the other side of my bat? I tend to find that I can't have as much control as if I simply move more and use the same side of my bat. Colin Young

Shonie Aki Scholarship Award

Here's the article and info for this annual $1250 scholarship - see last paragraph in particular. Deadline is Nov. 1, 2014. "The Shonie Aki Scholarship award, in the amount of $1250 for one year, will be offered to a young table tennis player who has aspirations to complete a college education, become a better player, and a productive individual who would reflect on Shonie's legacy. In order to be considered to receive this scholarship award, candidates must be expecting to attend college in 2015 (and have at least two years remaining to complete their degree) and have GPAs of at least B or better."

Top 5 Veteran Table Tennis Ladies You Don't Want to Mess With

Here's the article by Matt Hetherington.

Table Tennis Tournament to Benefit Homeless Portlanders

Here's the article.

The Making of Table Tennis Blades and Rubbers

Here's the video (13:08).

Nathan Hsu in China

Here's the latest episode - Hengdian World Studios! - China Day 48 Part 1 (5:49).

Jorgen Persson and Bill Clinton

Here are five pictures of the two playing golf in 2005. The other player is Brian Laudrup, a Danish soccer player.

Ma Long's Birthday Party

Here's the picture. He just turned 26.

Be So Bold

Here's the video (60 sec) - I think this is a jeans commercial, but I'm not sure. That's one cheap paddle the "star" is using.

Bruce Lee Ping Pong

Here's a new video (3:13) where two hackers flamboyantly play table tennis with various implements, from bottles and paper towel rolls to cheese graters. (Not really a lot to do with Bruce Lee, however, other than the title.)

Cooking Ping-Pong Balls for Breakfast

Here's the video (5 sec) - looks pretty tasty!

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October 15, 2013

RGIII Response Video

On Friday, Robert Griffin III (alias RGIII, the Washington Redskins quarterback) put out a video (3:22) where he talked about his Olympic dreams. At the end of it (go to 2:57) he jokes that he might make the Olympics in ping-pong.

We at MDTTC decided we were not going to take this quietly. Here is the response video (1:15), put together by Nathan Hsu (17, 2303 but recently 2397), with players Derek Nie (12, 2297), Crystal Wang (11, 2267), and Roy Ke (14, 2261).

LET'S MAKE THIS VIDEO GO VIRAL!!! Post it wherever you can - on Facebook, Twitter, in blogs, any place you can. It's already the Video of the Day at USA Table Tennis, with RGIII's video featured on Friday.

Go Girls

Did you know that girls are dominating the lower age groups in the U.S. right now? Go to the USATT ratings, click on "Customizable Member Lists," and put in the proper settings (make sure to put in a number in the first field), and here's what you get.

In Under 9, the #1 player is Tiffany Ke of Maryland at 1749. (The #2 is Ted Chensheng Li of Texas at 1559.) Among girls, the #2 is Katherine Fang, also of Texas, at 819, almost a thousand points behind Tiffany.

In Under 10, the top two are Youruo Wu and Rachel Sung of California, both girls, rated 1978 and 1906. Tiffany Ke is #4 at 1749.

In Under 11, the #1 is Amy Wang of New Jersey at 2217. Youruo Wu is #4 at 1978, Rachel Sung #6 at 1906, Kelly Zhao #9 at 1796, and Tiffany Ke #12 at 1749.

In Under 12, the #1 is Crystal Wang of Maryland at 2267. Amy Wang is #2 at 2217. Youruo Wu is #12 at 1978.

Drill Your Skills with the Chinese National Team, Part 1

Here's a video (7:41), covering the forehand serve.

Best of Penholder Players

Here's a video (5:56) that shows spectacular rallies and shots by penholders, such as Ma Lin, Xu Xin, Wang Hao, and Ryu Seungmin. Some really great rallies here.

Ping-Pong Ball Fires

Here's an article about a beer-pong ball setting an apartment alight. But that's nothing. Here's a short article about a half million ping-pong balls bursting into flame. (Go to the "Noisier Than Bubble Wrap" segment, but the entire text follows.) "During a heat wave in Hong Kong this summer, a metal container packed with more than half a million ping-pong balls burst into flames. 'The blast was probably caused by air expansion inside the ping-pong balls,' a police spokesperson said."

Alternate Piggyback Pong

Here are two attempts at this incredibly difficult and dangerous version of table tennis. Here are Yahao Zhang and his wife (15 sec), and here are Adam Hugh and Michael Landers (20sec). Do not try this yourself - these are trained professionals!

Non-Table Tennis - Cover of My Novel

My novel "The Giant Face in the Sky" comes out Nov. 15 from Class Act Books. It's a humorous fantasy that parodies the U.S.-Soviet space race of the 1960s, but with sorcerers instead of astronauts. It's Hitchhiker's Guide meets the Space Race. Here's the cover. And here's the blurb on the back cover:

It is 1969, at the height of tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Neil, 13, badly wants to be someone. Instead he's stuck as a sorcerer's apprentice for Gus, the "meanest sorcerer in the world.” Gus creates a magical talisman to spy on the Soviets, but instead it spies on them and sends text into space. A Giant Face in the Sky shows up, reading the text.

Since whoever gets to the Face will have the world at their mercy, the Race to the Face begins. The Soviets invade the U.S. in their attempts to kill Neil, who is prophesied to defeat them. A floating, talking meteor assassin named Buzz becomes Neil's companion--but in one week, Buzz must kill Neil.

President Kennedy puts together a motley crew that includes Neil, Gus, Buzz, a dragon, a 2-D sorcerer, and the sorceress Jackie Kennedy. Can they make it to the Face before the Soviets, and before Buzz kills Neil?

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August 27, 2013

Tip of the Week

A Step-by-Step Sequence to Learning Pendulum Serves.

MDTTC Camps

"It's Monday . . . and there's no camp??? No lectures on grip, stance, forehand, and serves?" (Okay, it's really Tuesday, but this is what I was thinking yesterday.) Our ten weeks of camps at MDTTC ended Friday. I've now run about 180 five-day camps, six hours per day, or 900 days and 5400 hours of camp. That's nearly 2.5 years of camps. I've given each of my standard lectures 180 times, or about 1800 lectures in all. I've led in stretching (twice a day) 1800 times. (Well, actually less since I've sometimes missed the afternoon sessions.) And we're not done for the year - we have another camp, our Christmas Camp, Dec. 26-31. (Our camps are primarily for kids, but adults are welcome - we usually get 2-3 each week, sometimes none, sometimes more.)

MDTTC August Open

Here are the results (which I also gave out yesterday) of the August Open this past weekend, run by Charlene Liu. Congrats to Chen Bo Wen ("Bowen"), who finally broke through and won against Wang Qing Liang ("Leon") after a series of second-place finishes to Wang. It was a dominant performance - he didn't lose a game. Anther having a nice tournament was Nathan Hsu, who's been in a slump recently - but this time he won Under 2400.

I mostly coached Derek Nie and Sameer Shaikh in the tournament. (I also coached Tony Li one match, against a Seemiller-style player with antispin, something he'd never seen before. A new experience, and next time he'll be ready.) Derek (12, rated 2291) started well, with wins over a pair of 2150 players - including a mind-numbing win over Lixin Lang (2187) at 16-14, 19-17, 11-8! - but his elbow began to hurt during his match with Lixin. He kept clutching at it, and I almost had him default there. He finished the match, but decided he had to drop out to rest it. Hopefully he'll be okay in a few days.

Derek's other decent win was against Nam Nguyen (2137). They had one of the most incredible three-shot sequences I've ever seen. Nam lobbed a ball short. Derek absolutely crushed it. Nam absolutely crushed a counter-kill from no more than eight feet back, and Derek absolutely crushed a counter-counter-kill off the bounce. It was the fastest three-shot sequence I've ever seen - three forehand smashes/counter-smashes in the blink of an eye. I wish it was on video - it could have gone down as the fastest three-shot sequence ever!!! 

Sameer had a strange tournament - he literally could have won or lost all eight or so of his matches. As it was, he made the final of Under 1150. Down 0-2 in games in the final, he led 5-3 in the fifth before losing 11-8.

During the tournament a player said, "I have to play [higher-rated player]." I pointed out that he had it all wrong - that this [higher-rated player] had to play him! I often quote to my players Rorschach from the movie Watchmen, where he's allowed himself to be taken prisoner and he's surrounded by other prisoners out to get him. After dispatching one in very violent fashion, he says to the group of prisoners gathered around in his gravelly voice, "You don't understand. I'm not locked in here with you. You're locked in here with me!" Here's the video of the scene (47 sec) - warning, it's pretty violent!!!

North American Championships

The North American Championships end today, Aug. 25-27 in Vancouver Canada. Here's their home page, which includes results, write-ups, photos, video, video interviews, live streaming

USATT Minutes

Here are the minutes of a USATT teleconference meeting on July 22 and the email approval vote of those minutes. Here are USATT minutes going back to 1999.

Footwork for a Short Ball

Here's a video from PingSkills (1:46) showing how to step in for a short ball and recover for the next shot.

Zhang Jike Doing Multiball

Here's a video (36 sec) of World Champion Zhang Jike doing multiball. Want to have footwork like Zhang's? Then watch his stance - wide, with left foot off to the side for stability as he rips shots from the backhand side. There needs to be a balance here. If the left foot is too far off to the side, then the follow-through goes too much sideways, and you're not in position for the next shot. If it's more parallel to the table, you lose body torque. (I had a disagreement with a coach recently - not from my club - who insists that when you step around the backhand corner to play a forehand the feet should be parallel to the side of the table. However, not many top players do that, if any.)

Top Ten Shots at the Harmony Open

Here they are (4:38)!

Table Tennis Through Google Glass

Here's an article and video (17 sec) showing table tennis through Google Glass. (Why isn't it called Google Glasses?)

Kim Gilbert After a Two-Hour Session

Here's the picture! So restful....

Mouthful of Pong

Here's another video (14 sec) from the (Tumba Ping Pong Show"! I linked to two other of their videos on my blog on Aug. 16 (at the very end).

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August 16, 2013

MDTTC Camp and a Day of Rest

After coaching 6-8 hours/day for 14 straight days, I'm finally off today. I was exhausted a week ago; there are no adverbs or adjectives in the English language that adequately describe my current state of exhaustion, so let's just say I'm tired. I went to bed last night at 11PM and slept to 9AM. That's unprecedented for me; I normally sleep about six hours/night.

However, I've got a "busy restful" day ahead. Nothing physical, but a few errands, and lots of paperwork stuff - editing, rewriting, organizing. Mostly stuff I've put off the last two weeks due to the busy workload. We have one more week of our ten weeks of camp this summer, and then I can go back to writing during the day, and coaching nights and weekends.

Yesterday's focus was the backhand loop. I had 4'7" 12-year-old Derek Nie demonstrate; as I think I mentioned in a previous blog, if he can backhand loop at a 2291 level (that's his rating!), then anyone can, right? However, the beginners aren't ready for backhand looping, and we focused on the basics.

The natives were restless yesterday - Thursdays is always the most "dragging" day, as it's four days into camp, but not the last day yet. I let the beginning kids go to games earlier than usual in both the morning and afternoon sessions. The more advanced ones are a bit more focused, and if anything, trained longer than usual before playing games.

The 5-8-year-old beginners aren't really ready for real games the first few days, but I decided they were ready yesterday. So I had twelve of them play up-down-tables for the first time - games to 11 (11-10 wins), winner moves up, loser moves down. Some picked it up right away; some had great difficulty getting the rules or the score right. Two found playing games so distressful they quit and wouldn't play, so I had those two just rally for fun while the others played. One enthusiastic 7-year-old dramatically improved this week, and won every game he played; this kid is going to be good.

During break I pulled out my Franklin Table Tennis To Go Net Set, which allows me to set up a table tennis net on any table. It weighs about 12 oz., can stretch up to 75 inches across any table, and has adjustable clamps on the side that will grab about any table. (I'm starting to take it on trips wherever I go!) We set it up on the lounge tables (about six feet long), and the kids went at it. Nathan Hsu (about 2400) had some fun taking on challenges where he put the net near the far end so he only had about one foot of table space to aim at. Near the end coaches Wang Qing Liang and John Hsu joined in, and they put on a chopping versus loop exhibition.

An interesting thing happened during a private coaching session after the camp yesterday. I'm 53 and getting stiffer every year. After a day of camp, my muscles are like neutronium. I can still execute the shots at a pretty high level, but it's not easy, and looping/counterlooping isn't as easy as before. The 13-year-old I was coaching is learning to counterloop, and has picked it up really well - he's about 1600-1700, and a very good rallier. So we went at it, counterlooping for perhaps 15 minutes. Afterwards I was about as loose as I've been in since around the time of Aristotle. Then we played a few practice games, and wow! I felt it was the 1980's again. I was all over the table looping forehands, and when he'd quick-block, I was jumping on those balls. Have to remember this next time I warm up for a match!!! (I've had similar experiences before, and already knew counterlooping loosens me up, but usually not this much.)

Discounted JOOLA Teams Entry for Sale

A local paid for an entry last year for the North American JOOLA Teams when the price was greatly discounted but can't use it now. He's willing to sell it for $600. (Current price is $799.) If interested, email me and I'll put you in contact with him. (The Teams, previously in Baltimore, will be held in Washington DC this year, Nov. 29 - Dec. 1.)

Training Tips from Waldner and Persson

Here's a video (40:03) with training tips from superstars Jan-Ove Waldner and Jorgen Persson.

International Training Camp in China

China will host an international training camp in September. Here's the article. China's Men's Coach Liu Guoliang said, "We will be organising an international training camp this September. We are inviting overseas players to participate and help them improve their overall level. It will better promote the development of table tennis. What is important is that more people will get involved into the sport and the masses will appreciate the charm of table tennis."

Play Table Tennis with a New York Mayoral Candidate

Here's the article from Table Tennis Nation. "If you've never tried to play ping pong with your favorite mayoral candidate before, now's your chance! By Donating money to Bill de Blasio for his campaign you will get the chance to face him in a ping pong game at SPiN New York this Sunday. Hitting some balls while sipping on cocktails and listening to good music seems to be the perfect way to have Bill Blasio loosen up and genuinely elaborate on his plans for the city as a Mayor. This genius plan comes from the award winning actress, ping pong ambassador and Spin co-owner Susan Sarandon who endorses Blasio."

Two-Year-Olds Playing Table Tennis?

Here's the video (19 sec) - on the table with a little multiball help.

Balls in the Face

Here's the video (17 sec) of the new Tumba Ping Pong Show! And here's another video (10 sec) from them, featuring a ping-pong ball and a cucumber in the mouth!

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July 8, 2013

Tip of the Week

Expect to Win.

U.S. Open

As usual I didn't get to see many of the big Men's and Women's matches - I was busy coaching the MDTTC juniors. I was mostly coaching Derek Nie, Sameer Shaikh, sometimes Nathan Hsu, and occasionally others such as Crystal Wang. I flew out on Monday morning, and returned on a red-eye flight that left late Saturday night - it didn't actually take off until after midnight, so it was technically Sunday morning. I landed at BWI airport around 8AM. I'd left my car at the airport so I could drive myself and three others home. I didn't get home until around 10AM.

Here's the USATT page that has links to results, articles, pictures, video, etc.

Here's a rundown of interesting happenings. (It's rather rushed as I have to finish in time to coach at the MDTTC camp this morning. More tomorrow!)

  • Derek Nie's play. He played great. His attacks were fluid and consistent, his recently-developed topspinning backhand in rallies were jumping off the table and rarely missing, his forehand was clicking, and probably best of all, his receive was excellent - backhand banana flips, forehand regular flips, and short and long pushes. Over and over he had opponents practically falling over the table trying to get to his short push, which kept setting up his attack. He came in rated 2261, and beat four players rated between 2334 and 2361. He also had a bad loss to a 2134 player (knocking him out of Under 13), when he had great difficulty with a specific serve over and over. After losing the first two, he won the third and fourth, both 11-4, and seemed on his way to winning, but it's tough coming back from down 0-2, and in the fifth he faltered and lost.
  • Funniest incident. Derek Nie, 12, who's about 4'6" and 65 pounds but has a rating of 2261, was waiting at the table to play a match. I watched as the opponent arrived and stepped into the court, carrying the clipboard. He looked over at Derek, then looked down at the clipboard, where it had Derek's name and rating. Then he looked at Derek again then back at the clipboard. His head moved back and forth at least ten times as he kept looking at the name and rating on the clipboard and the player he was about to play - he obviously was having a hard time believing this was the 2250+ player he was playing! He finally asked, "Are you Derek?" Derek nodded. The player stared at the clipboard one more time, then smiled and went out to play. (Derek won easily over the shell-shocked but much lower rated opponent.)
  • Best Learning Experience. I walked into the ITTF arena, and on the very first practice table was Eugene Wang, the defending (and soon repeating) U.S. Open Men's Singles Champion. He was practicing his serves and backhand banana flip (where you flip the ball with great topspin and sidespin). Players and coaches were walking back and forth completely oblivious to the chance to watch. I sat down and watched for twenty minutes. Wang noticed, and even nodded at me a few times after he made some nice backhand flips. I wish I could have had some of our MDTTC players there to watch.
  • Over 50 Hardbat Doubles. Jay Turberville and I won!!! In the final we defeated Jeff Johnson and Scott Gordon (-15, 10, 15), who had won Open Hardbat Doubles. However, I've decided to retire from tournament play - too many conflicts with my coaching duties (I even defaulted out of Open Hardbat because of a coaching conflict), I keep getting injured (I aggravated my back injury this tournament, though fortunately it's not too bad), plus I'm simply not as good as I used to be - I've lost much of my foot speed, which is pretty important if you're a 53-year-old all-out forehand attacker. I normally use sponge, but mostly retired from that a few years ago, and only play hardbat (and occasionally sandpaper) events.
  • Most interesting quote. "You're a liar and a fraud! Why haven't you called the authorities to make [name withheld] stop playing loud music when he plays table tennis?" A very angry and confused person yelled this and similar versions at me over and over. I was clueless about what he was talking about.
  • Two Best Shots. I played in the Sandpaper Open. In one game there were two incredible shots. First, my opponent mishit a smash that went off the side of the table to my extremely wide backhand. It hit the net post, six inches outside the table - and bounced back on the table! I was already way over to make the return, but relaxed as it went off the side - only to see it bounce back as an unreturnable winner to my wide forehand! Not to be outdone, about two points later he again smashed a ball to my wide backhand, and this one hit. I was out of position toward my forehand side, and lunged for the ball. With my back to the table and my racket tilted straight up, and made an over-the-shoulder counter-hit for a winner!
  • Strangest Let Ball Controversy. I was watching an umpired match between two top juniors. One of them served, and the other caught the ball, saying it was a let since the ball had hit the net. The umpire didn't see it, and gave the point to the server. (I'm not sure what the server thought.) Several in the crowd also said the ball had hit the net, but the umpire can't take that into account. (The spectators could be biased.) Astoundingly, I'm told this happened three different times in the match! When there is no umpire, the players call the lets. When there is an umpire, the umpire calls the lets. Often players will still call lets in an umpired match, but it's risky if the umpire disagrees.
  • Final Autograph versus Tong Tong Count. I usually coach Tong Tong Gong at big tournaments, but he's busy this summer taking college classes (at age 15!) and doing volunteer work, and so didn't make it to the open. Over and over during the Open players asked me about Tong Tong. Players also kept bringing me copies of my book Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers to sign. In the end I signed 19 copies of the book, and 14 people asked about Tong Tong, so I "won," 19-14. (Derek Nie also signed three copies under a picture of himself in it.)
  • Most Fun. On Saturday afternoon I took a group of the kids swimming, and they spent 90 minutes throwing around a beach ball and chasing each other, all in 110 degree heat. (It had been 115 when we arrived.)
  • Best Coaching Advice. I wasn't scheduled to coach Crystal Wang, but I was watching her play the first game against a strong player rated about 100 points lower. The opponent had some specific weaknesses that Crystal wasn't playing into. I pointed them out to her mom, who asked me to coach her. Crystal pulled out the first, 11-9. After I spoke with her she executed perfectly, and won the next two, 11-3, 11-1. Hopefully, I had a lot of other good coaching advice for others. When Derek began playing really well, the best thing I did coaching-wise was to keep things very simple and just let him play, often just reminding him to vary his serve and receive, and perhaps to attack first to a specific spot.
  • More tomorrow. I have to coach at the MDTTC camp that starts this morning, so have to stop now. I should have more to write about the Open tomorrow.

Returning Serves to the Middle

Here's a video on this (1:33) from PingSkills.

One Myth About Attacking Backspin That You Probably Believe

The question is whether it is easier to attack a backspin ball at the top of the bounce, or even after, when the ball is descending. Here's their answer.

Table Tennis Ethics

Here's an essay on this.

Majestic Table Tennis

Here's a new highlights video (5:15), set to music with some interesting graphics.

Three Superpowers Table Tennis Can Give You

What are they?

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June 10, 2013

Tip of the Week

Staying Low.

Eastern Open

It was a tiring weekend, but tournaments always are. I think coaching is more tiring than play. Seriously! Here are the results. We got there on Friday afternoon so our players could practice. I ended up volunteering with the NATT group running the tournament and spent some time putting together barriers. It was nostalgic - I was in charge of barriers at two U.S. Opens, two U.S. Nationals, and one North American Teams.

I mostly coached Derek Nie (12) and Sameer Shaikh (11). Sameer won Under 800 and made the final of Under 950, so it was a successful tournament for him. However, he needs serious work on staying low - hence the inspiration for this week's Tip of the Week (above). Often in practice with me he stays down, but once he gets into matches he tends to stand up straight, and his strokes and movement become awkward. We're going to focus on this for the foreseeable future.

Derek, rated 2215, had a strange tournament. On the one hand, he made it to the final of Under 2375, and had wins over players rated 2353 and 2332. He also went through stages where he was playing extremely well; his backhand play especially has improved as he can now do five types of backhand loops very well - over the table against short balls (especially serves), i.e. "banana flips"; off regular backspin; backhand rips against weak balls; in fast topspin rallies where he backhand loops the ball without backing up much, almost off the bounce; and from off table when forced to back up.

However, he had several matches where, at key stages, he seemed to tighten up and miss a few shots, especially finishing forehands. Astonishingly, he also kept missing his own serve, something he'd never done much before. Not fast and deep serves, but simple short serves that normally are almost never missed. He must have missed his own serve over 20 times this tournament - he has some work to do on this. In one five-game loss, after going up 2-1 in games, he missed his own serve four times in the last two games. (He also had a knee problem that affected him in some of his matches, especially toward the end; in his very first match he dived for a ball, and landed on it. Hopefully it's just a bone bruise. I don't think it affected him too much, but he's taking the next two days off to rest it.)

In the end, he lost five-game matches to three of his rival juniors, and another in four where he was down 1-2 but leading 10-8, with the opponent deucing it on a net-edge and winning on a net. (All four were actually rated higher, all in the 2260-2310 range.) Derek and I both agreed that while the actual results this time were somewhat disappointing, his actual play showed great promise. It'll take him time to gain the experience to incorporate his greatly improved backhand play with his already strong forehand play. And we had a lot of fun both to and from the tournament (four-hour drive) doing brain teasers and (I kid you not) discussing physics.

Here's a good place to thank fellow MDTTC players Raghu Nadmichettu and Harold Baring for their help in practicing with Derek throughout the tournament - and also to congratulate them for both making the quarterfinals of the Open. Chen Bo Wen, also from MDTTC and regular practice partner/coach for Derek, made the final of the Open.

I wish I could go into some of the tactics used in the tournament, but some give away too much for possible future opponents. Derek has a new-found "rivalry" with senior player Vladimir Shapiro (2332), who Derek beat in the Open but lost to in the U2375 final. In their first match, Vladimir was up 2-0, but with a major change in tactics Derek won the next three. In the U2375 final, Vladimir made a nice tactical adjustment to win at 7,8,9. "The future belongs to him," he told me, but the present belongs to him - with his two-winged looping game, varied serves, and smart tactical play, he swept three events - U2375, Over 40, and Over 50.

Because I was busy coaching, I didn't see many of the big matches. We left on Sunday as they were about to start the Open Quarterfinals.

We didn't stay at the tournament hotel, instead staying at a cheaper Day's Inn - and paid the price in other ways! I'm not picky about hotels, and didn't really mind it, but I did note a few things about the hotel:

  1. There was litter scattered all over - in the streets, walkways, outside rooms, and hallways.
  2. The coke machine just outside the front desk looked like it hadn't been cleaned in years. I could barely make out the flavors. It was situated so that to get at it I had to squeeze between a bush and an over-loaded trash can that smelled of old garbage. When I clicked on Lemon Ice Tea, I got a Ginger Ale. The front desk refunded my $1.50. They said that there had been complaints about this. I mentioned I'd try the lemonade, but they said that if I did, I'd probably get a coke instead. I ended up going for a water.
  3. The arm rests on the chair in our room were both broken and hanging off sideways.
  4. The light fixture between the beds was broken and hanging off the wall.
  5. The front door had some sort of paint splattered over it.
  6. There was trash scattered about the bathroom.
  7. While walking to the front desk to check out, in a walkway littered with trash, I stopped and watched a giant spider crawling about the wall. Spider webs were all over.
  8. The clock at the front desk was 12 minutes slow.
  9. The complimentary was only corn flakes or sugar frosted flakes, plain bagels, bread, sugar donuts, orange juice, and coffee. I didn't mind; I had two bagels.

In contrast to this, the playing conditions were excellent, with grippy wood floors and good lighting. It was rather humid, which gave some players problems. I'll never understand why so many players show up at tournaments without a towel to wipe their racket with. When it's humid, I bring two - one for me, one for the racket and ball.

Here was an "interesting" incident. A very loud argument was going on between a coach and the referee. Several spectators told me what had happened. In the fifth game of a close match a ball rolled into the court. One player raised his finger to signal let. As he was doing this, his opponent, a junior player, not seeing the raised finger (he was watching the ball) went for a shot and missed. The adult who had raised his finger for let claimed the point. The referee was called. Since the junior player didn't know that his opponent had called a let, the point stood, with his opponent getting the point. (I'm not sure if the adult denied calling a let or claimed that since the junior went for the shot the point counted.) The referee couldn't rely on spectators on what happened (or you might get a biased view), and you can't check the video (or everyone would have to video their matches just in case), and so he could only go by what the players said - and so probably made the right call. However, the adult, if did in fact call the let, pulled a fast one there - and he won the fifth game 11-9. Anyway, there was a LOUD interaction between the junior's coach and the referee, which led to the coach getting red-carded and kicked out.

I had another interesting experience. One of the juniors from my club was playing a match and seemed to be struggling. I wasn't coaching the match, but I asked his dad how he was doing, and discovered he was down 2-1 in games and down 5-1 in the fourth against a player rated considerably lower, whose game I knew. (Very strong backhand, very weak forehand, with specific tactics needed to adjust for this since the player was willing to play backhands from the forehand side.) So I called a time-out, explained how to play this player, and our junior went back out and won the game and match.

Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers

More reviews for the book are in. At Amazon.com, there are 17 so far - 15 five-star ones, and two four-star ones. They are selling pretty well at Amazon, both the print and Kindle versions. A few also sold at The Easterns. Hopefully we'll sell a bunch at the U.S. Open.

Butterfly App

Here's an app from Butterfly that allows you to watch the top players on your iPhone, iPod, or iPad. (Alas, my phone is circa 18th century, and it makes phone calls. Yes, just phone calls. Though I've heard rumors it takes pictures as well.)

Receive Secrets

Here's an article from Table Tennis Master: Service Receive Secrets From Japan.

Do You Know (the Ping Pong Song)

Here's a table tennis song I hadn't heard before - the music is to the beat of a bouncing ping-pong ball.

Michael Maze - Literally

Here's a cartoon from Mike Mezyan that combines Danish table tennis star Michael Maze, Michael Jackson, a maze, and a table tennis tour. (If you can't see it in Facebook, try this.)

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April 23, 2013

Tip of the Week

Proper Practice Progression Prevents Poor Play.

Hopes Trials

The Hopes Trials were held in conjunction with the North American Cup this past weekend in Westchester, NY, at the Westchester Table Tennis Club. And here's an article (lots of photos) on the players at the North American Cup.

I saw very little of the North American Cup since I was alternating coaching matches in the Hopes Boys and Girls Trials. (There was also an all-day USATT Board Meeting on Saturday, but I missed all of that as well.) I did see some spectacular play by 2406-rated 15-year-old Allen Wang - he's moved up to where he's challenging the best players in the country, despite being roughly six feet twenty inches tall. He beat Canada's Xavier Therien (rated 2517), went seven games with Peter Li (2557), and had a spectacular match with eventual North American Cup winner Andre Ho (2522), including an incredible game which Ho finally won, 25-23 (!). I saw some of the women's final - as usual, Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang put on a show, with Zhang winning.

I wrote a lot about the tournament in my blog last Thursday, so I won't repeat all of that. I coached Crystal Wang and Derek Nie in all of their matches, which roughly alternated every hour all day long. Most of the time they practiced together to prepare for their matches, but I also joined in a lot, especially with Derek, where we had a lot of nice counterlooping duels as well as lots of serve & receive and serve & loop practice.

Crystal, rated 2292, won Girls' Singles without losing a game. She beat Ivy Liao of Canada (rated 1939) in the semifinals at 7,3,7. In the finals, she faced Amy Wang of New Jersey (rated 2168, but recently over 2200, and with a winning record against Crystal). However, this time Crystal won at 8,7,8 in a battle of Crystal's two-winged looping (often off the bounce) against Amy's more traditional hitting. Amy is looping more than before, but is forced to block when Crystal starts looping, and Crystal's loops into the forehand and middle were effective.

There were two umpires - the main umpire, and the assistant umpire, who was the scorekeeper. Throughout this match, for some reason, the scorekeeper seemed to stare at me almost continuously between points. Every time I'd glance at the scoreboard he'd be staring - almost glaring. I have no idea why; I'm not even sure if I've met him before. Perhaps he thought I was signaling or something. Several others noted this as well. Neither he nor the main umpire were staring or glaring at the other coach. 

I've never used signals when coaching; they are illegal. (Here's proof: I've been coaching matches for over 30 years, and I've many hundreds of players in tournament matches. ATTENTION, all players I've ever coached - if I've ever used signaling when I coached, please step forward now and let everyone know. But nobody's going to step forward because it never has happened.) Some umpires are overzealous in guarding against signaling, but it's somewhat silly. Any coach could get away with signaling if he wants. For example, no umpire is going to tell a coach he can't clap after a point. So a dishonest coach can, for example, work out with his player that one clap means serve short to the forehand; two claps mean short to the middle; three claps short to the backhand, and so on. Elbows up for topspin, down for backspin, and perhaps clap with the tips for no-spin. (I'm making this up as I go along. Really.) Or use innocuous words of encouragement that mean something. However, all this is rather counter-productive as signaling a player over and over is a really good way to mess up their concentration as well as training them to not be able to think for themselves.

Derek (rate 2215, was 2234 before a bad Cary Cup) made it to the semifinals of Boys' Singles. There he faced Victor Liu (rated 2226). It was a seesaw battle, where one player seemed to dominate every game. Derek led 9-7 in the fifth. The last time these two had played (at the 2011 Nationals) Derek had led 9-6 in the fifth and lost five in a row. Two of the best times to call a time-out are when the player is losing focus, and when the player is serving and on the verge of winning an important game. In the latter case, you do so to make sure the player is completely focused and knows what serves to use to lock up the game. So I called a timeout - but Derek, feeling he was okay, shook it off. He lost the next four points, including an easy loop, a push, and an easy block. Sheer agony as he lost, 8,-5,7,-7,9. We'll never know if the timeout might have helped. Victor went on to win the final over Gal Alguetti at 13,7,9.

With Victor, Derek, and the Alguetti twins (Gal & Sharon, rated 2283 and 2271), I don't think we've ever had such a strong group of players at that age group, all 11 or 12. Add in Kanak Jha (2457) and Jack Wang (2329), who were one year too old for the Hopes Trials, and several others in the 2150-2200 range, and we have a powerhouse group coming up. Not to mention the twin towers on the girls' side of Crystal & Amy Wang! (No relation, though Amy is the younger sister of Allen, mentioned at the start.)

Brain Teasers at the Hopes Trials

It wasn't all table tennis, however. During the five-hour ride to and from the tournament, and also at meals, Derek and Crystal became addicted to brain teasers. I know hundreds of them, but I'd used many in past trips, and so began to make ones up. I think Derek may major in college in brain teasers.

Here are some brain teasers involving table tennis that I made up. Email me your answers, and tomorrow I'll publish whoever gets them right! (I made up many more, but can't remember them, alas.)

  1. A player liked to play table tennis with various animals. He played a lion, a giraffe, a raccoon, and an elephant. Then he played another animal, but over and over the animal served wet balls. Why?
  2. A player liked to play table tennis with various animals. He played a chimpanzee, a dog, an ostrich, and a snake. Then he played another animal, but over and over, rather than playing, the player would drop his paddle, fall to the ground, and lay still. Why?
  3. A group of miners had dug tunnels to extract diamonds from the ground. They decided to set up a ping-pong table in their tunnel. The tunnel was exactly six feet wide, so just wide enough for the table and net (which extends six inches on both sides). It was very long, so there was plenty of room on each side. It was exactly thirty inches tall, and so just enough room for the table and net. However, once it was set up, they were unable to play. Why?
  4. Here's a non-table tennis one I made up. Remember, this is being said out loud, so ignore the actual spelling. An old man with one hair went to a barber and asked him to cut the hair. The barber was outraged, and called the police. Why?

Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers Featured by Australia TTA

Here's the article. Copies of Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers are going fast!

Largest Club in the Country

The Westchester Table Tennis Club has been the largest full-time club in the country for several years, at 13,000 square feet with 18 tables. (My club, Maryland Table Tennis Center, is "only" 10,000, with 16 tables, alas. Though we sometimes jam in 18 tables for training.) However, a new club has just opened in Portland, Pure Pong, with 16,500 square feet and 20+ tables. Here's the article.

Table Tennista

Here are the headline international stories at Table Tennista.

Stiga Tisza Table Tennis Camp in Hungary

Here are three short videos from the camp.

Training in China

Here's a training video (3:38) in China from Tony Table Tennis.

The Lord of the Ping

I think he's cupping his hand - but he doesn't have to follow no rules.

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April 2, 2013

Reprint - Derek Nie Wins Coconut Cup Article

There was so much interest yesterday in 12-year-old Derek Nie's upset wins at the Coconut Cup that I thought I'd run the article again. After all, he keeps quoting sections in my Tactics book, even the section on Playing Bratty Kids! Here's the segment from yesterday (April 1):

12-Year-Old Derek Nie Defeats Three 2600+ Players to Win Coconut Cup

All you have to do is train the players really well, and they will get really good.
Perhaps that's a little simplistic, but it's what a top coach once told me, and he was
right. This past weekend 12-year-old Derek Nie, all of 70 pounds, won Open Singles
in the MDTTC Coconut Cup tournament. In the quarterfinals he upset Mang Bang
Liang, a chopper/looper rated 2600 - Derek's best win ever. "Before the match, I
found a whole chapter in Larry Hodges' book "Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers"
on playing choppers," Derek said. "I read it over in the back room. Everything worked!"
Only it was just the beginning of his banner tournament. In the semifinals he defeated
Lee Zhang Wook, a 2650 pips-out penholder visiting from China. "There's a section
about playing them in the Tactics book," Derek said, "and before the match I read it. I
played to the wide forehand, then came back to the backhand, like the book said, and it
really worked!" In the final, Derek played 2700+ Sammy Callaghan. "He's a bratty kid from
Ireland. But the Tactics book has an entire section on playing bratty kids!" Derek was able to
loop Sammy's serves, which had created havoc against other players. Most players had
found the serves almost unreturnable, but Derek had few problems. "There's a whole chapter
on returning serves in the Tactics book," Derek said, "and I read it over before going
out to play him." Derek won the match in a seven-game battle, ending the match by
loop-killing Sammy's serve at 11-10 in the last game. Congrats to Champion Derek!

Fun, Focus, Forget

I've come up with Triple F as a mantra for players who are too nervous to play their best. Even in a serious match, you'll play your best if you are enjoying yourself rather than obsessing over winning or not losing. Staying focused is always key - and one of the best ways of doing that is to think tactically between points (so you have something to think about rather worrying about winning or losing), then blank the mind out when you are about to play the next point. And forgetting the situation will allow you to play better than if you are obsessing over how important the match is. So have Fun, stay Focused, and Forget the importance of the situation. (And now I'm off to a rare weekday morning coaching session out in Virginia, scheduled at the last minute.)

Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers

I finally figured out what was causing all the formatting problems with the Kindle version of Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers. I'd thought I'd fixed the problem over a week ago, but it turns out some of the photos were still moving about, obscuring the captions and other text. The new version is now up with all 90 photos formatted properly. Amazon sent out an email to those who had downloaded it already with instructions on downloading the new version (for free, since they'd already paid for it).

There are now ten reviews on Amazon - all 5-star! I'm keeping my fingers crossed. The March/April USATT Magazine should be out soon, with a full-page ad, so there should be a bunch of sales coming up. It's already selling pretty well all over the world, with lots of sales in England, and a few in Germany and France.

MDTTC Open

It's this weekend, April 6-7, at the Maryland Table Tennis Center in Gaithersburg, MD, with about $1800 in prize money. 

Interview with USA Men's Coach Stefan Feth

Here's the video interview (2:36) at the World Team Cup in China.

Best Point at World Team Cup?

Here's a video (1:07) showing the 53-shot rally between Ding Ning (world #1 from China, the lefty) and Feng Tianwei (world #4 from Singapore) in the Women's Team Final.

The Lighter Side of Table Tennis

Here's a video (5:38) of players having fun. 

Door Table Tennis

Here it is! I featured a version of this once before, but I think that one was different.

Non-Table Tennis - Orioles Top Ten

My "Top Ten Reasons Buck Will Lead the Orioles to the World Series" is the feature article right now at Orioles Hangout.

***
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April 1, 2013

Tip of the Week

The Many Ways to Receive a Short Backspin Serve.

12-Year-Old Derek Nie Defeats Three 2600+ Players to Win Coconut Cup

All you have to do is train the players really well, and they will get really good.
Perhaps that's a little simplistic, but it's what a top coach once told me, and he was
right. This past weekend 12-year-old Derek Nie, all of 70 pounds, won Open Singles
in the MDTTC Coconut Cup tournament. In the quarterfinals he upset Mang Bang
Liang, a chopper/looper rated 2600 - Derek's best win ever. "Before the match, I
found a whole chapter in Larry Hodges' book "Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers"
on playing choppers," Derek said. "I read it over in the back room. Everything worked!"
Only it was just the beginning of his banner tournament. In the semifinals he defeated
Lee Zhang Wook, a 2650 pips-out penholder visiting from China. "There's a section
about playing them in the Tactics book," Derek said, "and before the match I read it. I
played to the wide forehand, then came back to the backhand, like the book said, and it
really worked!" In the final, Derek played 2700+ Sammy Callaghan. "He's a bratty kid from
Ireland. But the Tactics book has an entire section on playing bratty kids!" Derek was able to
loop Sammy's serves, which had created havoc against other players. Most players had
found the serves almost unreturnable, but Derek had few problems. "There's a whole chapter
on returning serves in the Tactics book," Derek said, "and I read it over before going
out to play him." Derek won the match in a seven-game battle, ending the match by
loop-killing Sammy's serve at 11-10 in the last game. Congrats to Champion Derek!

World Team Cup

China sweeps Men's and Women's Teams, though it wasn't always so easy this time. Here are articles from Table Tennista on China winning Men's Teams and Women's Teams. Here's an article from them on the huge upset of Germany by Egypt in the quarterfinals - and here's a video (1:47) of the end of the match when Egypt wins. (There are several more articles on the tournament at Table Tennista.) Here's the ITTF home page for the event, with results, articles, pictures, and video.

Spring Break Camp

Spring Break Camp ended on Friday. In the morning we had "Player's Choice," where players chose what they wanted to work on during multiball sessions. Usually we do regular multiball drills, but most of the players in my group wanted to work on serves, so we did that.

Right after lunch, when I was about to take 16 of them to 7-11, a group of about 16 kids and parents came in unexpectedly and asked if someone could run a clinic for them. So I got Coach Raghu to take the kids to 7-11, and I ran a 45-minute clinic where covered grip, stance, forehand, backhand, and basic serves. They stayed and played another hour. Hopefully some will return.

In the afternoon most of the players had a practice tournament. I worked with the beginners, doing a lot of one-on-one play (instead of multiball). And then we were done!

Over 60 players attended the camp, though not all at once. One session had 47 players, most were in the 35-40 range. We used 18 tables, with both one-on-one drills, multiball, and robot play.

Ball Bouncing

We often have ball-bouncing contests in our junior classes on weekends. This Sunday Matvey Stepanov (11) had done about 100 at the start of class. He was supposed to be on ball pickup, but I told him he could keep bouncing until he missed, and then go on ball pickup. Mistake!!! We had to work around him on ball pickup as he went on and On and ON!!! He shattered the previous record of 1360 (I believe set by Kai MaClong, also 11) with 2216 bounces before missing.

Jim Butler on Receiving Serve

Here's a great quote from Jim Butler (Olympian and 4-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion) on how he approaches serve return, from the about.com forum.

When I'm receiving serves in a tournament, I usually have a mental plan each serve.  I will look at the server, look at his racket angle and service motion, and anticipate what serve I feel he's about to do.  The serve I'm anticipating is the one I'm looking to attack, or receive with aggression.  If the server does a different serve I'm not expecting, I have a plan to react to the serve, and play it safe on the table.... not too much speed.  If a server does a serve you are not expecting, it's usually best to play that receive conservative.  

For example:  If I'm receiving I may decide to step around with my forehand and attack any long serve or half long serve that comes to my bh corner..  As I go around on the receive to attack with my forehand, I'm looking to pounce on any serve to my backhand that's long or half long.  If any other serve comes though, I will cancel on a hard attack, and react accordingly with a safe receive.  I'm in position to only aggressively attack a long or half long serve to my bh.  Any other serve that comes, I will not  be in a good position to do much but receive it back safely, and hopefully with good placement.  

Tribute to Ding Ning

Here's a video tribute (4:17) to China's Ding Ning, world #1 since November, 2011.

Oriole Pingpong

"I've stayed here until 4 o'clock playing pingpong before." -Orioles pitcher Darren O'Day, in this article in the Baltimore Sun yesterday.

Happy Easter!

Here are two Easter Bunnies playing table tennis.

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March 18, 2013

Tip of the Week

Dummy Loops.

$16,700 Cary Cup Championships

It's been a long journey. I left for the Cary Cup Championships in North Carolina, five hours drive away last Thursday morning, going down with Tim Boggan, who drove down from New York. (After the tournament he and his wife, who met him there on Sunday, go on vacation in various locations down there.) Tim had some early problems in that his credit card stopped working, most likely because he was suddenly using it in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina, when he usually uses it in New York. But he's traveled extensively, using the credit card all over, and he said this had never happened. I had to put his hotel room for the first night on my credit card.

Here's the Cary Cup Championships web page, which includes complete results.

One major thing that jumped out at me this tournament was that the Maryland players who had played in recent tournaments tended to do well, while those who hadn't played tournaments in a while didn't do so well. This is actually an ongoing thing, as all the training in the world doesn't make up for a lack of "tournament toughness." When you play lots of tournaments, you get used to tournament pressures, to adjusting to different serves and playing styles, and to figuring out what serves and rallying shots you should use against various players. Players who hadn't played tournaments since, say, the Nationals in December didn't seem to have this tournament toughness, and it showed, especially in return of serve.

Two players from Maryland played great. Roy Ke, 13, rated 2174 (but perhaps a bit under-rated) won the "B" Division, going 11-0 in the division and defeating Bin Hai Chu (2233) in the final. Here's a picture of the Final Four - that's Roy on the far right, holding the biggest trophy, with Chu on the far left. I kept running into Chu this tournament. I played him in the final of the Hardbat event (see below), coached Crystal Wang in her "upset" win against him to make the "A" Division, and told Roy how to play him in the "B" Division final.

Crystal Wang also had an excellent tournament. At age 10 she'd reached 2355 in rating going into the Nationals in December. As 10-year-olds sometimes do, she wasn't there mentally that tournament, and had an almost historic rating loss, dropping all the way to 2112. Now that rating is sort of a joke for her, as she's been competing and sometimes winning the Elite League on Sundays at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, often beating 2400 players. (She'd won the Elite League the week before, with wins over two players over 2350.) She'd also won Under 2250 at the MDTTC Open two weeks before (and was up 2-0 in the Open on Raghu Nadmichettu, rated 2363), which was just processed last night - and she was up to 2264, a bit closer to her real level. In the "A" Division, where she was seeded last in her group of nine players, she pulled off three big wins, including one player over 2400, and should be back over 2300 after the tournament is processed, which will cause many sighs of relief among rating-worried players in the 2200 range who were terrified of that 2112 rating. Not bad for someone who turned 11 just a few weeks ago!

Much of the tournament I was coaching Derek Nie (12, 2234) and Tong Tong Gong (15, 2258). Neither had played a tournament since the Nationals in December, and neither had good tournaments. Both had Houdini-like escapes in the preliminaries to make it to the "A" Division. Derek's was especially scary. Against D.J. Settle, rated 2140, Derek lost the first two games and was down 10-6 quadruple match point in the third! But he came back to win, 11-9 in the fifth. Tong Tong was down 2-1 in games to Corey VanWagner (2063) before also winning 11-9 in the fifth. We found out afterwards that Corey had studied Tong Tong on video, which explained why he played such smart tactics and could have easily pulled off the upset. Both had trouble receiving serves this tournament, and Derek's looping game was off - and he picked up this nasty habit of missing pop-ups when up game point!

For the fourth year in a row I came up early to play the Hardbat Event on Friday before switching to coaching the rest of the way. I'd won the event in 2010 and 2011, defeating Bin Hai Chu (see above) in the 2011 final. I'd lost to him in 2012. Once again I played him in the final (going 8-0 to get there). He's a pips-out penholder already, so going to hardbat is rather easy for him. He won the first game easily as he played well and I kept missing. After I fell way behind I switched to chopping to see if that would mess him up. We had some good points, but he played great and won 21-10. (Matches were best of three to 21, using 38mm balls supplied by Tournament Director Mike Babuin that were made in 1958 - I kid you not! But they played fine.) In the second game I was on a rampage, and played one of my best hardbat games ever. However, life and table tennis are not fair, and neither are nine nets and edges to my zero, including two pop-up net-edges. Match to Chu, 21-10, 21-16. Alas, but I did get a huge trophy and $200 (to Chu's $400). I also managed to pull a muscle in my left thigh halfway through game two. I ignored it and it didn't affect my play, but I was limping the rest of the tournament. Fortunately I wasn't needed as a practice partner as we had plenty of players.

My only minor gripe about the tournament was a meaningless match I had to play in hardbat. The event had 14 players, two groups of seven, with the top two advancing to a final RR of four players. The problem was there was no carry-over, and so I had to play the runner-up from my preliminary RR a second time. That wasn't a problem. The problem was that I had to play him in the last match of the preliminary RR, where we had both clinched a top two finish. Since there would be no carry-over matches, despite my protest before the event began, it meant that this match was meaningless - and what would count would not be this match, but the one we'd play shortly afterwards, in the Final Four RR. I don't mind playing an occasional meaningless match, but the problem was I didn't want the player to get used to my serves and rallying tactics. So I found myself mostly holding back on my best serves and tactics. I won the first at deuce, lost the second 21-11, before winning the third 21-14. When we played again, I no longer had to hold back, and this time won 21-7, 21-14. He probably did play better the first time around, but I was gritting my teeth as I mostly avoided using certain serves and tactics. Hopefully next year we can either have carry-over matches or go to direct single elimination after the preliminary RR's.

Because I was busy coaching I didn't get to see many of the big matches. I coached Tong Tong and Derek in matches against Eugene Wang (who'd win the tournament) and Jim Butler (with Derek almost winning a game), and hopefully they learned something there - especially about Wang's receive and Jim's serve.  

On the drive back I entertained Derek Nie with non-stop brain teasers. He solved most of them, and I had fun giving humorous hints.

A special thanks goes to Mike Babuin (recently elected the Chair of the USATT Board of Directors) and the Cary staff for putting on a great event. I look forward to going down again next year to this great tournament and continuing my rivalry with Bin Hai Chu!

Twenty Winning Tips

Here are 20 winning tips from Tahl Leibovitz, and top player and coach from New York City. I especially like the first three, which I'm always stressing to players.

Asia Defeats Europe

Here's an article on the first leg of the 2013 Asia-Euro All Star Challenge, where Asia wins, 7-3. Perhaps the most interesting match was a rare loss by Zhang Jike to a non-Chinese player - here's the video (15:25, with time between points removed, and some of the better points replayed in slow motion) of Vladimir Samsonov's win over Zhang.

The Health Benefits of Table Tennis

Here's an article on the health benefits of table tennis, from the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA). "It's like aerobic chess. It's great for hand-eye coordination and reflexes (cerebellum and parietal lobes). You have to focus (prefrontal cortex) so you can track the ball through space (parietal lobes and occipital lobes), figure out spins (parietal lobes and occipital lobes), and plan shots and strategies (prefrontal cortex and cerebellum). Then you have to follow through and execute those tactics successfully (prefrontal cortex and cerebellum). All the while, you have to stay calm so you don't get too nervous on game point (basal ganglia). And you can't dwell on the point you blew a few minutes ago (anterior cingulate gyrus) or blow your top when you make a mistake (temporal lobes)."

Han Xiao Marries

Here are the wedding pictures of the event where Han (many-time U.S. team member, 3-time Men's Doubles Champion and one-time Men's Singles Finalist) and Genna Shaw tied the knot on Saturday, March 16 (two days ago).

2013 BATTF Tour Grand Final Trailer

Here's the trailer (1:16) for the 2013 Bay Area Table Tennis Federation Grand Final.

The Making of Table Tennis Bats and Rubbers in Japan

Here's a video (13:09) on how the manufacturing process in Japan. It's a fascinating process. I once toured a Double Happiness factory in China and watched them make sponge and rackets.

Young Ping-Pong Zen

Here's a picture of kids - future monks? - playing table tennis in full monk attire. Both players seem to be standing on stones to increase their height!

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