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March 30, 2012

It's not fair! Another reason why top players dominate. 

I once complained to U.S. Olympian Todd Sweeris during a match, "It's not fair. You're not winning by playing 2600; you're winning by being 2600." I said the same thing last night to former Pan Am Team Member Scott Butler (who was in town for a couple days), who was seemingly winning "cheap" points in a practice match with local Raghu Nadmichettu. I told Raghu, "You never miss those shots against me."

The point was that it is often the very threat of high-level play that freezes opponents into immobility against shots they would have no trouble with against lower-level players.

There are two ways you can take advantage of this. First, you can become a very good player, and then your potential for high-level play will freeze many opponents into immobility. That's the hard way.

The easy way is to simply diversify your game by developing versatility and unpredictability. If you threaten opponents with lots of options on any given shot, many will also be frozen into immobility as they wait to see which of your many options you choose. For example, against a short serve, many players predictably push over and over, usually to the backhand. What if you instead moved the push around (changing directions at the last second), sometimes flipped, and perhaps even dropped the ball short sometimes? Or against a loop to the forehand most players can only block crosscourt. Learn to block your forehand down the line, and watch the havoc it causes. Or simply learn to vary the pace of your blocks and watch your opponents' timing all apart. Or vary the placement, pace, spin, and depth on your loops (or drives), with last-second changes of direction. There are so many options, and so few are developed by most players.

Another way of doing this is to simply vary your serves. This doesn't mean just varying a limited number of serves; it means developing more varied serves that you can throw at an opponent. And then, once you've established that threat, and your opponent is gibbering in fear of all the possibilities, you can then focus on using your most basic and dependable serves.

Most players spend years honing "their game," and stick to that game whenever possible, often leading to a relatively strong but one- or perhaps two-dimensional game. Why not go for a few extra dimensions?

How I spend my days

  • Coaching table tennis
  • Organizing table tennis
  • Writing about table tennis
  • Reading about table tennis
  • Actually playing table tennis
  • Catering to the whims of Sheeba, who loves bacon.
  • Writing science fiction & fantasy. (I've sold 58 short stories, and have 35 more plus 2 novels making the rounds. Keeping them in submission is practically a full-time job.)
  • Reading science fiction & fantasy, plus history, and (alas) politics and newspapers.
  • Studying calculus, since I'm regularly tutoring it and it's been a while since I last studied it. (I'm toying with starting a math & English tutoring service at my table tennis club.)
  • Watching NCIS, The Simpsons, Family Guy, South Park, The Walking Dead, and A Game of Thrones (back this Sunday!)
  • Rooting for the Baltimore Orioles (please pity me)
  • Planning how to spend my $540,000,000 when I win the Mega Millions lottery tonight
  • Planning what movie to see to console myself when I don't win the Mega Millions lottery tonight (either Wrath of the Titans or Mirror Mirror)
  • Trying to ignore the political mess our country is in.

World Team Championships
Dortmund, Germany, March 25 - April 1, 2012

Robert Floras vs. Werner Schlager at the Worlds

Here's Poland's Robert Floras 3-1 upset win over Austria's 2003 World Men's Champion Werner Schlager, with the time between points removed so the whole match takes less than four minutes. Lots of great points. However, Austria defeated Poland to reach the quarterfinals of the World Team Championships. Here's the ITTF article.

Three photos from the Worlds

Here are three interesting photos of Chinese players at the World Championships:

Futurama table tennis

There are two table tennis segments here from Futurama (1:28). (In this episode, "Put Your Head on my Shoulder," Fry's head has been surgically implanted on Amy Wong's body.)

JC Penny commercial with ping-pong

There's about two seconds of "ping-pong" in this 31-second JC Penny commercial, starting at the 11-second mark.

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March 20, 2012

Balance

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 TableTennisCoaching.com! 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.

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