Will Shortz

October 15, 2014

All About Color

I'm regularly asked the difference between red and black rubbers, and which color should be used on the forehand and backhand. The short answer - it doesn't really matter. They supposedly play the same. So what you put on each side is just a personal preference. (I have heard that black DHS rubbers are better than the red, the only exception I've heard about.)

But it wasn't always that way - in the early days of the red and black rule the red side was a bit faster. The problem was in the black dye, which apparently slowed the rubber down. And so for the first few years most top players put the red side on the forehand. I was different - I had plenty of pop on my forehand, but needed more on the backhand, and so right from the start I had black on the forehand - and I still do. I always thought more players should do it this way for the same reason, but back in those days it was more acceptable for shakehands players to have softer backhands. (After using black on the forehand for 30 years, it would seem strange to me to put red there.)

After a few years the problem with the black dye was fixed, and the two colors now apparently play the same. However, for years afterwards most top players were in the habit of red on forehand, black on backhand, and many players copied them, so during the 1980s about 2/3 of top players had red on the forehand. However, for some reason the tide has slowly changed, and these days the majority of top players have black on the forehand - I have no idea why. I just did a quick check on Youtube of the top ten players in the world and found that nine of the top ten men and nine of the top ten women use black on the forehand - see below. Of the men, only Chuang (and apparently Boll earlier in his career) use red on the forehand, and only Feng Tianwei of the women does so. (Note that some Chinese players flip when smashing lobs, such as Fan Zhendong below - I think they may have harder or faster sponge on the red backhand and prefer smashing with that.) One reason for this is that some of the Chinese apparently use black DHS rubber on the forehand (since, as noted above, some say black DHS plays better than red), and red Tenergy on the backhand.

MEN - Forehand Color

  1. XU Xin (CHN) - Black
  2. FAN Zhendong (CHN) - Black (but against a lob he flips)
  3. MA Long (CHN) - Black
  4. ZHANG Jike (CHN) - Black
  5. OVTCHAROV Dimitrij (GER) - Black
  6. WANG Hao (CHN) - Black
  7. MIZUTANI Jun (JPN) - Black
  8. CHUANG Chih-Yuan (TPE) - Red
  9. BOLL Timo (GER) - Black (but earlier in career had red)
  10. YAN An (CHN) - Black

WOMEN - Forehand Color

  1. DING Ning (CHN) - Black
  2. LIU Shiwen (CHN) - Black
  3. LI Xiaoxia (CHN) - Black
  4. FENG Tianwei (SIN) - Red
  5. ZHU Yuling (CHN) - Black
  6. WU Yang (CHN) - Black
  7. CHEN Meng (CHN) - Black
  8. HAN Ying (GER) - Black
  9. ISHIKAWA Kasumi (JPN) - Black
  10. SEO Hyowon (KOR) - Black

Why is there a color rule? Let's go back to the 1977 World Championships. Two Chinese players, Liang Geliang and Huang Liang, reached the semifinals in Men's Singles. Both were chopper/loopers, with long pips usually on the backhand. This was a rare style in those days - most choppers were more defensive, pick-hitting mostly when given an easy chance. These two Chinese players had the same color on both sides (as most players did in those days - usually red), and flipped both when serving and during rallies. Opponents couldn't tell which side they were hitting with, and it caused havoc. They devastated most opponents, but (according to numerous sources) were ordered to dump in the semifinals, where both lost. 

Players all over the world copied this. At the time of the 1977 Worlds perhaps 10% of players had combination rackets, and most of them were with short pips on the backhand, rarely if ever flipping. By 1983, when I did a survey at tournaments (I was already running monthly ones in Virginia), over 70% of players had combination rackets, nearly all of them with long pips or antispin. Rallies were getting worse and worse, and players with the same surface on both sides weren't able to compete with players they had easily beaten before - in fact, they could barely get into rallies. It was not a fun time for the sport, and players quit in droves. (Of course, some players loved the havoc this type of game created!)

The ITTF changed the rules in 1983 to require two "clearly different" colors. The first reaction to this was the use of "clearly different" colors that, when the racket was moving, were difficult to tell apart - in particular, maroon and black. The ITTF then made the rule cherry red and black. ("Cherry red" was later changed to "bright red.") It did take some of the color out of the sport. Before the color rule surfaces came in a wide variety of colors, such as green, purple, gold (some of us remember the introduction of Tornado!), and even one that was white. I sort of miss the variety.

I was one of the many that pushed for the two-color rule. But I also promised that if they passed the rule, I'd never complain about a player's legal racket surface again - and I never have. From the intermediate level on, if a player can see what surface the opponent is using he should be able to play it. 

While it was long pips users that caused the most problems before the two-color rule, there were also players using antispin. Some shakehanders used it very successfully, as did many players with the Seemiller grip. Dan Seemiller and Eric Boggan both reached about top 20 with the grip, before the color rule. Dan had a powerful forehand loop, and didn't flip nearly as much as Eric, and so many thought Eric would drop a lot after the color rule. Many assume that Eric reached top 20 only because he used the same color on both sides. However, that's not what happened. Eric jumped the gun, and when the ITTF announced a year in advance, in 1982, that they'd be requiring two colors, he made the switch a year in advance. As he explained to me once, he knew he'd have to use two colors for the rest of his career, so he might as well get used to it. 

At the time he went to two colors he had his highest ranking ever, #23 in the world. After making the switch to two colors he reached #17. (I've heard others say he only was #18, but I'm pretty sure I remember seeing #17.) What people didn't understand about Eric's game was that because he hit the ball so quick off the bounce, players had trouble reacting, different colors or not. It was often choppers who took the ball later that caused more problems before the two-color rule, and now players had time to react to them - but not so much time when playing Eric. 

Nationals Deadline This Friday

The deadline to enter the USA Nationals without a $75 late fee is this Friday, Oct. 17. Don't forget to enter!!! I'm going mostly to coach, but also entered hardbat doubles and hardbat over 40. I was toying with other events, but there are just too many conflicts with my coaching.

Fall USATT Magazine

The new issue is out. I have two articles in it: "Why Table Tennis is Chess at Light Speed" (page 45) and "A Visit from St. Timothy" (page 66 - this latter from my blog last week).

ITTF Level 3 Course

The course is taking place right now in Colorado Springs, Oct. 11-20, run by Richard McAfee. I originally planned to go, but finally concluded I was both too busy and couldn't really afford to go at this time. (That's a lot of lessons cancelled!) I will try to go to one in the future. Here are some photos from the ongoing course.

Interview with Hungarian Women's Coach on What Makes the Best Players Stand Out

Here's the interview with Peter Teglas by Dora Kurimay. I found the ball-bouncing thing interesting as I've seen the same thing. Often the little kids who early on are most competitive on who can do the most bounces become the best players.

Ask the Coach

Here are two more "Ask the Coach" episodes from PingSkills - they are creating them pretty fast!

Episode 7 (12:55).

  • Question 1: When I go to club and play with my friends and other players, I'm better than most of them and I can beat them 3-0 or 4-0. But when I play in a tournament with those players I feel scared even if the other player is a lot weaker than me. Ali.
  • Question 2: You show how to execute different strokes, and watching and trying to repeat your moves works well for players who are almost as high as you are. I wonder what adjustments should a player do if he is seemingly lower or higher? Roman.
  • Question 3: You know the backhand block executed with the wrist movement when the bat curves the ball on its side and decreases its spin and speed. I'm wondering if the same kind of stroke can be executed on the forehand side? Evgeny.
  • Question 4: How to make an effective backhand serve and what about the toss should it be lower or higher? Dario.
  • Question 5: Hi Alois and Jeff I tend to have a lot of difficulty with looping half long balls with backspin as they go too high over the net and my opponent can just block it or smash it down. How do i achieve a low arc when this happens? Shea.

Episode 8 (9:41).

  • Question 1: I mainly play in a local league. I have a robot at home. What would be the best preparation for my league match? Matches are played starting at 7.30. How do I warm up? You go straight at the table so any warming up must be done when you hit up. Filippo R
  • Question 2: Hi Alois, Just a simple question. Is the finish position for the topspin stroke always be in front your eyebrow? Or just a matter of preference? Because i find my finish position for my topspin stroke depends on the ball that i receive. Antonius Willson
  • Question 3: I've noticed you use the shakehand in your videos. I'm somewhat new to the game and find the penhold grip a bit more comfortable. Are most of the videos as shown equally relevant for penholders, or are the styles for both hands too different? Tom Adams
  • Question 4: When I play several backhand topspins I bring my thumb on the rubber which helps to close the bat more but the bat rotates in the palm of my hand. If my opponent then switches to my forehand I often don't have the time to recover my grip. Any tips? Thijs G

Kanak Jha Featured by ITTF

Here's the ITTF article on the USA junior star.

Kristian Karlsson in Training

Here's video (51 sec) of the up-and-coming Swedish player in training, who recently shot from world #69 to #50. Note how the drill is a two-shot sequence. Far too often players do continuous drills when in reality, few rallies are like that. When doing multiball at the intermediate and advanced levels much of multiball should be two- or three-shot sequences.

Incredible Rally

Here's the video (43) of this rally between Taipei's Chuang Chih-Yuan and South Korea's Joo Saehyuk. It starts as a standard attack vs. chop rally (and note how Chuang goes after Joo's middle), then the counterlooping begins.

Ping-Pong Protesters in Hong Kong

Here's the article and picture.

Will Shortz and the Quest to Play in All 50 States

Here's the article. I've been to all 50 states, and I've played table tennis in all but three (Alaska, Hawaii, and Connecticut), so Will and I are tied - but he's about to pull ahead!!!

Trigonometry

It seems like half the top cadet players at MDTTC are starting to take trig, and so I've been helping some of them. (I have a bachelor's in math.) So the sines are I've become a trig tutor, one of the tangents to my coaching. And while I'm making bad puns, has anyone else noticed that the Italy is part of the ETTU (European Table Tennis Union), and that Et Tu was supposedly Julius Caesar's last words? (My careful research also finds that Dennis Brutus was a former VP of the South African Table Tennis Board.)

The Lost Tablet of Amun Ra

Here's the latest TT artwork from Mike Mezyan, hieroglyphics and all - and yes, "tablet" is just a "t" away from table!

Backhand Cartwheel Chop

Here's the video (3:34) of this hilarious "coaching" video from PingSkills featuring cartwheels, pandas, and chopping!

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January 27, 2014

Tip of the Week

Practicing Serves the Productive Way. (This is an article I did for USATT Magazine a few years ago. I'd like to get a few of these old ones up as Tips.)

Coaching Happenings

It's been an eventful weekend of coaching, as always. Here are highlights.

  • An 11-year-old Islamic girl came to my junior table tennis class for the first time on Saturday morning. She was dressed in full Islamic garb, with nothing showing except her face and hands. I've coached Islamic kids before, including girls, so it was no big deal - I thought. Since she was new, I worked with her right at the start, and guided her through a correct forehand. Then her father came over, and politely asked if he could talk to me. We went to the sidelines, and he explained, "We are Muslim. No touching." I apologized, and from there on I only coached her by demonstrating and explaining.
  • I watched one of our junior players play matches in the Friday night league, and saw some problems to work on. One is that he doesn't cover the wide backhand well in rallies, and when he does move that way, he often rotates his body to the left (and so faces left) rather than stepping there. (He's right-handed.) I've been doing multiball random drills with him where he does cover this, but realized we hadn't been doing many live random drills. So from now on (starting with a session on Sunday) we're going to be doing a lot of that. He also has a tendency to drop his non-playing arm during rallies, which costs him balance and stability, as well as making it easier to spin the body to the left to cover his backhand rather than step there as he should. (It's like an ice skater spinning - when the skater pulls her arms in, she rotates faster; puts the arms out, she rotates slower.) He also tends to stand too much to his right in rallies, leaving the backhand open. It's generally better to crowd the backhand corner, where you generally take the ball quicker and in front of the body and so are more rushed. You have a bigger forehand hitting zone, and can generally take it later and still be effective, so you can leave the forehand side more open and still have to move to cover it.
  • In the Sunday afternoon junior session I had five girls in my group. All started in the last two months. Amazingly, all have pretty nice and consistent forehand and backhand strokes now. (Well, one has some problems with the backhand, but we're working on that.) I introduced them all to the 2-1 drill, which is a three-shot sequence: a backhand from the backhand side; a forehand from the backhand side; a forehand from the forehand side; then repeat. It's one of the best drills, as you do the three most common moves in table tennis: cover the wide backhand, step around forehand from backhand side, and cover the wide forehand. They all found this drill to be rather exciting. (Who knew?)
  • I watched one of our top juniors in a big league match, and gave him some analysis afterwards. He's playing really well, but his placement isn't so good, going to the wide corners way too often. At nearly all levels the default place to attack is the middle, which is almost always the hardest place to defend. (The middle is the roughly the playing elbow, the transition point between forehand and backhand. For backhand oriented players, it's a bit more toward the forehand side, and vice versa.) By going to the middle, you get free points, weak returns, and/or draw the opponent out of position, thereby opening up those corners.
  • Two 12-year-old students of mine made the switch to Tenergy 05 FX on the forehand this weekend, which is what I use. Both are reaching the state where they can essentially loop everything on the forehand. Both tried out regular Tenergy 05 as well as Tenergy 64, but preferred the 05 FX. (They're both pushing 1500 level.)
  • Recently I've run a number of table tennis birthday parties at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, including two this weekend, one on Saturday, one on Sunday. Each was from 2-4 PM, with 14-21 kids in the 6-10 age group. The format I've adopted is pretty simple. The first half hour they are on their own as the kids hit around. Then I call them together and do a demo, usually with a top player or junior I recruit. Then the kids line up, and I have them shadow-stroke forehands. Then I take them two at a time and teach the forehand, spending about one minute with each pair. (Nothing extensive here.) Then we do the same with the backhand. Then we do it one more time with serves. Then we go to games, usually starting with the cup game, where the kids build pyramids of paper cups on one side of the table, and then take turns trying to knock them down as I feed multiball (3 shots per turn). After that we play the bottle game, where I convince them that the bottle of Gatorade on the table is full of squeezed worm juice, and the bottle of water on the table is dog saliva. I put the next to each other, and they again line up, 3 shots per turn, and try to hit it - and if they do, I have to drink it. I mock them as they hit each shot, so when one of them does hit one of the bottles they erupt in cheers, and I do mock protests before I finally drink it.
  • We've had freezing cold weather here in Maryland for the last two weeks. On Thursday the heating at MDTTC went down, and for three days we played with temperatures in the high fifties. You got used to it once you started playing, but I there were times where I complained I was in the final stages of hypothermia.

Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 14

We should finish it today. I'm crossing my fingers. We've actually finished all the pages but one, but that page has complications. The main job today is inputting corrections, and Tim has a lot, ranging from fixing or changing captions to fixing up photos to anything else he finds. The book is 465 pages with 962 photos, a new record for him. Here's info on all of these books, which will soon be updated when Volume 14 becomes available in a couple weeks. It's been an exhausting two weeks - we started on Monday, Jan. 13, and have been putting in looooong hours. This past weekend I kept driving back and forth between home and the club as I alternated coaching and working with Tim.

USA's Ariel Hsing Featured at ITTF Page

Here's the article.

Review of "Ping-Pong Diplomacy: The Secret History Behind the Game That Changed the World" by Nicholas Griffin

Here's the review in the Washington Post on Sunday. Here's a video (51:40) of the author talking about the book.

Guo Yue Dismissed from Chinese National Team

Here's the article. Guo, 25, was the 2007 World Women's Singles Champion and was ranked #1 in the world in 2008. She's also two-time World Mixed Doubles Champion with Wang Liqin. Her current ranking is #11 in the world.

Will Shortz on Table Tennis and How the US Can Become a Power

Here's the video (2:04) from Business Insider.

Coach Willy - an ITTF Documentary

Here's the video (3:42).

Cape Fear Open XI Highlights

Here's the video (7:33).

Angle Table Tennis

Here's the video (7:42) - this is what happens when you slant one side of the table sideways! A little over two minutes in they angle the other side as well for some really crazy ping-pong.

Panda Pong

Here's a picture of little Asian kids dressed as pandas playing table tennis with a picture of a penholder panda bear. I don't know what's going on, and perhaps it's best we just don't. (While we're on the subject of pandas, here's a panda ping-pong shirt!)

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January 3, 2014

Iron Man Will Shortz

Will Shortz, the owner of the Westchester TTC (that's him and manager/coach Robert Roberts in picture) in New York as well as the famed New York Times Puzzle Editor, wrote me about completing his goal. "As you may have heard or read, I set it as my goal for last year to play TT every single day of the year ... and to film myself doing so as proof. On Tuesday, Dec. 31, I completed my goal. Never missed a day. There was a party at my club, with 40-50 people in attendance, in celebration. Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost, the writers/directors of the 'Paranormal Activity' movies, are making a video for me using bits of my clips."

He also wrote that he played at 38 clubs worldwide during the year, 27 in the U.S. in eight different states, plus Japan and China. He also visited Alaska: "In June Robert Roberts and I flew to Alaska and over the course of a week played at every TT club in the state (all six!). Our trip was written up in the Juneau Empire. Also, Gadling.com, a travel website, posted Vines of our trip every day. As for 2014, I intend to keep playing every day. But a) I'm not going to film myself anymore, and b) if I ever don't feel like playing on a particular day, I won't. I will no longer feel obligated."

I wrote back that "I have a firm rule I try to follow (but can't always), which is I have one day a week where I DON'T play table tennis, usually Mondays. Otherwise I go crazy!" I used to have more iron in me. Back in 1977 and 1978 (when I was 17 and 18) and I used to play seven days a week, and at least twice played every day for six months, though I don't think I went a whole year, thanks to holidays like Christmas. I did manage to play in 33 tournaments in 1978, including 14 consecutive weekends. These days, when I'm healthy, I coach six days/week. However, sometimes things get busy, and I sometimes coach or do other table tennis activities seven days a week. I know I did table tennis every day for two months once last year, and a couple times I did a month at a time.

With Tim Boggan moving in with me on Monday, Jan. 13 for a two-week stay to work on Volume 14 of his History of U.S. Table Tennis (I do layouts and photo work), and with a new afterschool table tennis program at MDTTC (where we combine table tennis and academics - I'll be doing a lot of tutoring as well as TT), my table tennis hours are about to jump up for a while.

I also wrote to Will about how I'd recently been doing the crossword puzzles in the Washington Post, and getting most of the answers. My brother and his wife have been doing them for years, and twice in recent years I'd gotten them signed crossword and Sudoku puzzle books from Will for Christmas. However, I also wrote him, "How the heck was I supposed to know that "Summer on the Riviera" was "ETE," that "One who tries to 'solve a problem like Maria'" is a "NUN," or that a Yale Student is an "ELI"??? He wrote back, saying "ETE is French for "summer." it appears often in crosswords. It's a good word to know. MARIA is a nun in "The Sound of Music." And a student at Yale is known as an ELI. That's also a common bit of crossword trivia. Memorize it!"

Speaking of crosswords, I think in the early 2000s, during the 12 years I was editor of USA Table Tennis Magazine, I ran a few table tennis crossword puzzles. I'd found an application that created them from questions and answers I put together.

Back to Private Coaching

After taking much of the last month off from private coaching (though I did lots of coaching at the Nationals and in our Christmas Camp), today I start with private sessions again. Hopefully the arm problems are over, as well as various leg, knee, and back problems that have made splashy appearances on and off this past year. I'm going in to the club around 5PM to get a good warm-up since I haven't played much recently, then I coach from 6-7PM. Then I have more this weekend.

Tips of the Day

Since the last time I posted about them on Dec. 27, USATT has put up another week of my Tips of the Day. Here's where you can see them all. Browse over them and read the ones that sound interesting or helpful, or just read them all! They are rather short and to the point.

$100,000 World Championships of Ping Pong

Wow! And the World Championships of Ping Pong is a sandpaper tournament! This is the third time for this annual event, to be held in London this weekend, Jan. 4-5. Some people will find that off-putting, but to me, table tennis is table tennis in all its forms. My only regrets are that I'm not there, perhaps 20 years younger, since I'm rather handy with the sand. Here's the actual prize fund. And here's a feature on the American duo (actually trio) going to the tournament (Adoni Maropis, Kit Jeerapaet, Ilija Lupulesku).

2014 U.S. Open Blog

Here's the first entry in the LOC Blog (Local Organizing Committee) for the 2014 U.S. Open in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to be held July 1-5. Written by co-chairs Connie & Dell Sweeris, it features the seven P's: "We have zeroed in on some key words to describe our goals & aspirations for this year's Open. ParticipationPrestigePresentationPrizes, PromotionPleasure and Profit are all expression for our passion." Then it goes on to detail these items. Can't wait to be there!

Samsonov Highlights

Here's a new highlights video (3:25) featuring Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus.

Iron Man Table Tennis

After blogging about Iron Man Will Shortz above, I googled for "Iron Man Table Tennis" - and found this hilarious video (2:22), of a kid getting killed in table tennis until he puts on the Iron Man mask!

Non-Table Tennis: Top Twelve New Year's Resolutions by Peter Angelos

Here's my latest article at Orioles Hangout.

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September 23, 2013

Tip of the Week

Saturation Training.

ITTF Level 2 Coaching Certification

Yesterday I completed all requirements for ITTF Level 2 Coaching Certification. I'd taken the six-day, 36-hour course at the Lily Yip TTC two weeks ago, but was also required to do 50 hours of coaching afterwards. I finished that yesterday. I sent the paperwork in last night, and shortly afterwards received notification that it had been approved. So I'm the 11th U.S. coach to achieve this, joining Roger Yuen (who took the Level 2 course with me) and Duane Gall, Mike Mui, Chong Ng, Juan Ly, Federico Bassetti, Iuliana Radu, Ray Pestridge, Jef Savage, Joel Mitchell, and Roger Dickson. Interestingly, I'm the first USATT certified National Coach (the highest U.S. level) to achieve this. There are no Level 3's in the U.S. yet; they haven't taught the course for it here yet, though I hear they are tentatively planning one next year.

Junior Class

We started a new season of our beginning junior class on Saturday morning (10:30AM-Noon) and Sunday afternoon (4:30-6:00PM). One new thing is that we now require all players to register in advance so we know (at least roughly) how many kids will show up, so we know how many coaches to have on hand. For the Sunday class, we only had six pre-registered, a disappointing number. So I arranged for one other coach (John Hsu) to assist. However, since people don't seem to listen (AAAAAHHHHH!!!!!), 16 showed up.

I quickly recruited Raghu Nadmichettu to help out. You need a higher coach to player ratio when working with beginners, especially beginning kids, since they don't yet have the racket skills to practice among themselves - and if they try to, they aren't going to have very good form so they'll be practicing bad habits. So I put them 16 in four groups, four each with me, John, and Raghu, and four on the robot, and did lots of multiball. I rotated the groups every 20 minutes or so. (Three of the four starting on the robot had had some coaching, but one was a complete beginner, so I spent some time jumping back and forth between my players and the robot table.) At the end of session I broke them up into three groups - those who wanted more practice with John (1 player), those who were more advanced and wanted to play "King of the Table" (6 players) and those who wanted to stack pyramids of paper cups and knock them down as I fed multiball (9 players).

Coconut Cup

On Saturday MDTTC had the Coconut Cup Under 1800 Tournament, which I believe they do twice a year. (Next Saturday is the Over 1800 Tournament.) It's a three-person team, non-USATT sanctioned event (no ratings), with all profits going for Chinese books for Chinese schools. I spent most of the day on a back table coaching. When I was done I watched some of the matches. The team that won included John Olsen, who's both a coach and a student of mine. (He's rated 1999, but the "Under 1800" is a team average, and John was the team's "ace.") If you are interested in playing the Over 1800 Coconut Cup next Saturday, email the organizer.  

I was watching one of our junior players in the fifth and final match of a team match. He won the first two games, but then lost the next two. He completely fell apart emotionally, and could barely play. One of his teammates asked me to coach him. So I called a timeout in the fifth game when he was down 2-6. He was breathing rapidly and could barely think straight at this point. I told him to just clear his mind, and think of it as just another match at the club. Don't even try to play; just be a spectator and watch as your subconscious takes over. It couldn't have been easy for him as once a player gets emotional they often lose the deep-down desire to win, or at least the ability to do what's necessary to do so. But he managed to take some deep breaths and cleared his mind. I told him not to play a single point until his mind was clear, which he would do. I did give him two tactical items, very generic ones as the key was mental focus, not tactics - I told him to serve long backspin and loop (opponent was pushing them all back), and to just control the serve back, don't try to attack it since the opponent was steady but passive. As he went back to the table I told him to ball up any nervousness inside him and spit it out, and leave it on the sideline. Anyway, except for an edge ball, he won the next eight points in a row and won the game 11-8. Many people don't understand that coaching between games is at least 50% sports psychology.

The Next Step

Alex Polyakov, author of "Breaking 2000," has come out with another book on table tennis, "The Next Step." Right now there's only a Kindle version, but Alex told me there's a paperback version coming in a month or so. Here's the book's description: "This book provides detailed insights on four essential parts of the game - technique, strategy, tactics, and the mental game. The aim of this book is to create a different type of an artifact and go beyond common basics. This book's goal is to describe numerous principles of table tennis and to show how to apply vast amount of table tennis knowledge to construct player’s most effective game using the skills that the player has already mastered as well as to describe many other skills that the player may choose to develop to take the next step onto higher levels."

More Tips of the Day

Here's a link to the numerous Tips of the Day of mine that USATT is putting up daily. These were all written from 1999-2004 for USATT under the pseudonym "Dr. Ping Pong." I'm a bit leery of this since I haven't seen some of these tips in over a decade, but so far my decade-old self hasn't embarrassed me. The last three tips: "Reading Spin," "Use Ball Placement and Variation Against Short Serves," and "Attack Deep Serves." The picture of me they use for the Tips is me coaching Seyed Hesam Hamrahian (2126, has been over 2250) and Derek Nie (2297 despite his size and age!) in doubles at the 2012 USA Nationals. (I coach Derek regularly at tournaments, but Seyed is normally a student of Samson Dubina.)

Two Table Tennis Obsessives Go Back and Forth

Here's an article in the NY Times where crossword editor and table tennis aficionado Will Shortz interviews photographer and fellow TT aficionado and Alec Soth about his new book, "Ping Pong," which features table tennis photographs.

How Ping Pong Saved the World

Here's info on the film, including a trailer, 1:53. "How Ping-Pong Saved the World is a feature length documentary that recounts the events of April 1971 when a US Table Tennis team became the first Americans invited into communist China in more than two decades. For eight days 15 Ping-Pong diplomats captivated the world with their visit behind the Bamboo Curtain and in the process helped reshape world history. Ping-Pong Diplomacy soon became a metaphor for the on-going difficult relations between two ideological opposites on the brink of détente. Their unlikely invitation paved the way for President Richard Nixon's landmark visit to China just eight months later in February of 1972."

Late Note - here's the entire How Ping Pong Saved the World Documentary online (74 min). I actually linked to this last Tuesday but forgot about it.

Table Tennis - Simply the Best Sport

Here's a highlights and motivational table tennis video (7:53) that came out a year ago that I somehow never saw before. It features

Pittsburgh Steelers Decide Only Vets Can Play Ping Pong in Locker Room

Here's the story from Table Tennis Nation! This is one of the great injustices of the century . . . we shall march on Pittsburgh, and we shall overcome, because I dream of a time when ping-pong players will be judged by their ratings and not by their football seniority.

Jimmy Fallon on Playing Table Tennis with Prince

Here's a video (4:58) of Fallon telling a funny story on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno about playing table tennis with Prince. "It's like spinning, it's like flames are coming out!"

The Ping Pong King Kong

Here's a video (1:51) that shows some of the fastest and best table tennis I've ever seen! (And the facial expressions are great.) Watching this video will wake you up - it's fast and hilarious.

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May 28, 2013

May 28, 2013

Tip of the Week

What to Do at the End of a Close Game.

Here Was My Weekend

SATURDAY. I was coaching pretty much all day. I gave a private lesson from 9:15-10:15AM, then a group beginning/intermediate junior session from 10:30AM-Noon. From 2-4 PM I gave private lessons, and then from 4:30-6:30 was a practice partner for a group session.

Probably the most interesting session was the 9:15-10:15AM session with Sameer, 11, rated 1181. I've been coaching him at his house where there's only about four feet going back. Today was the first time I gave him a private lesson at the club where there was room to go back - so much of the lesson was on looping against block, which he can't do at his house. He's going to start taking more lessons at the club for this reason. He has a tendency to stand up straight, and then his strokes fall apart. When he stays low and doesn't rush, he's a lot better.

In the afternoon one of my sessions was with John Olsen, 56, rated 1999. I've been working with him for a few years now, and now he's playing me dead even in our practice matches. Against juniors, I'm still pretty good, but more experienced tactical players are starting to see the holes in my game now that I've slowed down to sloth speed. It's not easy being a mostly one-winged attacker when your feet move like a sloth. Add that John's used to my serves, and that my blocking in matches has also deteriorated due to slower footwork (yes, good blocking takes footwork), and he's not easy to play anymore.

That night I saw the movie Epic, which I thought was pretty good. If you go to see it, early on there is a scene where the main character, M.K., takes a taxi to visit her father out in the wilderness. She has a short discussion with the taxi driver. The taxi driver is voiced by none other than Judah Friedlander, one of the stars from 30 Rock, stand-up comedian, and well-known table tennis player! (I've given him several private lessons. That's why he's the World Champion.)

I looked around that afternoon and realized how spoiled players at MDTTC are, along with a few other clubs around the country. Regular club players were playing side-by-side with some of the best players and juniors in the country. Here's a listing of some of the players or coaches at the club that afternoon, with their rating (and age if a junior - lots of good juniors!), with apologies to those left out.

  • Cheng Yinghua, 2614
  • Wang Qing Liang ("Leon"), 17, 2587
  • Jack Huang, 2526
  • Chen Bo Wen ("Bowen"), 14, 2498
  • Harold Baring, former #2 in Philippines, 2400+
  • Raghu Nadmichettu, 2331
  • Richard Doverman, 2310
  • Crystal Wang, 11, 2292
  • Zhang Liang Bojun ("Brian"), 16, 2251
  • Chen Jie ("James"), 16, 2249
  • Tong Tong Gong, 15, 2246
  • Stephen Yeh, 2233
  • Derek Nie, 12, 2215
  • Roy Ke, 13, 2191
  • Lixin Lang, 2187
  • Heather Wang, 2181
  • Barbara Wei, 2178
  • Larry Hodges, 2145 (I'm getting old!)
  • Greg Mascialino, 2099
  • Changli Duan, 2080
  • Changping Duan, 2065
  • Amy Lu, 12, 2022
  • Princess Ke, 12, 1953
  • Adam Yao, 11, 1908
  • Tony Li, 11, 1799
  • Wesley Duan, 12, 1761
  • Tiffany Ke, 8, 1430
  • Lisa Lin, 9, 1385
  • Missing on Saturday, but back on Sunday: Nathan Hsu (17, 2397) and John Hsu (2248)

SUNDAY. I coached a 6-year-old from 10AM-11AM. He's up to 86 forehands and 35 backhands in a row against multiball. But at his age hand-eye coordination is a problem, so we spent some time on ball bouncing. He was able to bounce the ball up and down on his racket seven times, a new record for him. It isn't easy as his reactions at this age aren't fast enough to really react to the ball in the time it takes to bounce up and down on his paddle. He could just bounce the ball higher, but then he loses control.

I was off until that afternoon. I had another private session from 3:15-4:15, then a group junior session from 4:30-6:00. While I was coaching there was an elderly woman hitting with an older teenager for about an hour, and I realized they had been there the day before as well. I'm guessing it was a grandmother and grandson. What made it interesting is both had these identical windmill-style forehands, sort of like an exaggerated Dick Miles forehand (if you've ever seen that!). They'd bring their rackets way over their heads like a windmill, then bring it down and hit the ball. They weren't much beyond the beginning stage, but it was somewhat obvious he had learned his strokes from her.

The group session was smaller than usual because of Memorial Day weekend. With three coaches (myself, Raghu Nadmichettu, and John Hsu), and a practice partner (11-year-old Tony Li, rated 1799, who helps out in these sessions), the kids got a lot of one-on-one practice.

MONDAY. I believe yesterday was the first morning since Christmas where I didn't have either a blog or coaching in the morning. I actually could sleep late! (Except my 15-year-old dog, Sheeba, can no longer last the night, and as usual got me up at 4AM to go out.) I got a lot of work done on various writing projects.

Plastic Ball Conflict of Interest?

To quote from the OOAK forum, "It comes to light that Dr. Joachim Kuhn, the ITTF Equipment Committee member in charge of ball testing and approval, the man behind the report about how great the new plastic balls are (that was recently suppressed by the ITTF without explanation) has a MAJOR conflict of interest. Turns out that Dr. Kuhn's wife, In Sook Yoo, is one of the two patent holders, so Mr. and Mrs. Kuhn stand to make money on every new ball sold." There are discussions on this on the OOAK forum and About.com.

Kanak Jha Wins Two Silver Medals at Polish Cadet Open

Here's the pictures and caption. The events were Cadet Boys' Doubles and Teams.

What Table Tennis Is All About

Here's a new tribute video (4:50) from Genius Table Tennis.

Worlds Pre-Match Light Show

Here it is (2:13)!

Meet Coach Richard McAfee

JOOLA put together this video (2:00) welcoming him as a sponsored coach. I think all sponsors should do this with all their sponsored coaches and players.

Will Shortz on TV

Here's a video (16:16) of world-renowned puzzlist and Westchester TTC owner Will Shortz last Wednesday on the Artie Lange Show, with guest host Colin Quinn. As described by Will, "The conversation started with puzzles, then segued to table tennis, and ended with me playing Colin in a TT match." The discussion turns to table tennis at 8:46 (here). For the record, Will won 11-1.

Real Table Tennis

Outside, where the buffalo roam. (Or cattle anyway.) Or perhaps indoors, on the floor, with shoes for a net.

Cartoon Fox/Kitten

I'm not sure if this Facebook picture is a baby fox or a kitten. (If you can't see it in Facebook, try this.)

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May 24, 2013

Memorial Weekend Off

It's Memorial Weekend, and like millions of Americans, I'm taking a four-day weekend. So no blog today or Monday. Instead, I'm spending today on various writing projects. (Oops, there goes my day off.) Then this afternoon I'm off for Balticon, a regional science fiction convention in Baltimore. Sat & Sun I'm coaching all day (and so will miss the rest of Balticon). Then I'm off on Monday. So my four-day weekend is really a one-day weekend. Oh well. I'll start blogging again on Tuesday, including the Tip of the Week.

Meanwhile, if you need a table tennis fix, why not read up on the international articles at Table Tennista? Or explore usatt.org and ittf.com? Or see Will Shortz (world famous puzzlist and NY Times crossword editor, and more importantly, owner of the Westchester TTC) on the Artie Lange Show on Wednesday (16:16)? As Will describes it, "I was on the 'Artie Lange Show' last night (via DirecTV's Audience Network), with guest host Colin Quinn. The conversation started with puzzles, then segued to table tennis, and ended with me playing Colin in a TT match." For the record, Will wins 11-1.

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July 11, 2011

MDTTC Training Camp

We have two back-to-back training camps at the Maryland Table Tennis Center starting today, Mon-Fri this week and next. So I'll be getting up early to write the blog, then off to coaching. Expect lots of interesting camp tidbits!

Equipment - yours and mine

I am not an EJ, i.e. equipment junkie. Here's my recommendation to new and intermediate players. Everyone needs to go through a stage where they essentially try everything out. This allows you to really learn and understand what's out there, and to find the best equipment for yourself. The cheapest way to do this is to ask to try out the rackets of players at your club. Eventually, you'll find the right combo, and then I recommend they stick with that, unless and until their game changes or there's a major equipment breakthrough. The latter happens about once a decade, though of course you'll read about "new breakthroughs" every year. 

Here's what surfaces I use. (I'll write about rackets some other time, but I'm currently using a JOOLA Fever blade ST.) 

Forehand: Butterfly Tenergy 05 FX 2.1 black. This is a soft looping sponge. It allows easy looping without a long, powerful swing. When you loop, the ball just jumps off this rubber with what some call a high throw angle. If you have a more vigorous stroke, you might want a harder sponge. I both loop and hit, but my hitting is more natural, so I go for a sponge that props up the loop since I can hit with anything. This sponge allows me to run down hard shots off the table and loop them back with good spin. The softness does mean less speed, but the consistency and spin offset that for me. Another sponge that does this (which I used before) was JOOLA's Energy X-tra.

Backhand: Roundell 2.1 red on the backhand. This is perfect for my basic hitting and countering backhand, and you can also loop with it pretty well. (I generally only loop against backspin on the backhand.)  It plays like glued-up Sriver, which is what I used on my backhand for many years. Another sponge that does this (which I used before) was JOOLA's Express One.

Hardbat: I use an old TSP blade that I bought at a tournament back in 1990. It's a one-play pure wood, and I don't think it's made anywhere, so there's no point in trying to match it. I use Butterfly Orthodox on both sides.

Backhand leverage test

Shakehand players, hold your racket in front of your stomach as if you were about to hit a backhand. Put your free hand against it in front. Now push out. Now raise the racket (or squat down), so the racket is somewhere between your chest and chin. Again put your free hand against it in front and push out. Which way gives you more leverage? If you noticed how much more leverage you had the second time, you'll realize why it's important to stay low when hitting backhands. (Remember, we're talking backhand drives, not loops, where you do start lower.)

Will Shortz and table tennis

Here's a nice article on Will Shortz (NY Times puzzlist), Robert Roberts, and their new full-time table tennis center. 

ITTF photo caption challenge

Here's a rather interesting table tennis photo. Why not come up with your own caption for it?

Thoughts on the Budget and Debt Ceiling Crisis (non-table tennis)

To the talk show hosts on both extremes who have split our country, and the idiots who listen to them and vote, and all those who forget that the Founding Fathers compromised . . . great job. The Apocalypse won't be biblical, but economic.

(I could write much more on this, but I don't want to turn this into a political blog, so I'll leave my own partisan thoughts out of this. Sufficient to say that I'm a moderate Democrat, with the emphasis on moderate.)

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June 22, 2011

Sun Ting and Jeffrey Zeng Xun practice session

Had a fascinating time watching these two train together yesterday as they prepare for the U.S. Open. Sun (rated 2730) is here for much of the summer, and is seeded fourth in Men's Singles at the Open (which starts in about a week), while Jeffrey (2612) is almost the same level - he's way out of practice, as he lamented during his first serious practice session in some time. (That's what happens to players who become coaches.) They spent most of the session taking turns feeding multiball to each other. How many of you do that, as opposed to just hitting?

Sun Ting ("Sun King"?) is a lefty with short pips on the backhand. He's basically a put-away machine on both sides. He's one of those players who absolutely rips his forehand. His backhand is like Shao Yu's, a top New York player also with a great pips-out backhand smash. Together, there's no safe place to put the ball. Add in great serves, and you see why the 2730 rating is probably way too low. The rating actually comes from playing in the North American Teams back in 1999 - when he was 15! He's now 27, and I'm told considerably better.

Jeffrey's loops aren't quite as punishing, but he's very steady, and has a nice backhand loop. He controls play with a great receive game. He won his last two tournaments, the Cary Cup and the Eastern Open, but since he's basically been coaching the last year or so without training, we haven't seen his best yet. During the training session, he was a bit disgusted with himself because he was winded several times. When he looked over at me one time after doing several minutes of an extremely fast footwork drill, I jokingly jogged in place and pointed at him, and he nodded. I think he's doing some serious physical training to get ready for the Open.

We're in the middle of a training camp here at MDTTC; during the camp, Sun took juniors John and Nathan Hsu (both about 2200 players) and put them through some serious drills. Watching this and watching Sun and Jeffrey train tired me out.

Are you missing an ingredient?

Here's something I wrote in a comment recently, and thought I'd repeat it here. It's amazing to me how many players never learn the joys of chopping. Personally, I find that if you don't use all of the major attacking shots (FH and BH looping and smashing) and all of the major defensive shots (chopping, blocking, lobbing, fishing), and a sampling of everything else, table tennis is like fine food that's missing an ingredient.

Feature on Ariel Hsing and Michael Landers

Yes, the documentary is coming! I'm proud to say that Michael came to four of our training camps in Maryland when he was about 12 or 13, and I had the opportunity to work with him with lots of multiball training. And I once proudly lost a "clipboard" challenge to Ariel, where I used a clipboard for a racket, and she showed me the advantage of sponge! (Prepare for some controversy - the documentary calls Ariel the youngest U.S. Women's Champion ever - she won in Dec. 2010 at age 15 - which many will contest since Patty Martinez was the U.S. Open Women's Singles Champion in 1965 at age 13, in the days before we had a USA Nationals, and the Open champion was considered the U.S. Champion. Ariel is, of course, the youngest to win Women's Singles at the USA Nationals since its debut in 1976.)

Will Shortz, Robert Roberts, and the Westchester Table Tennis Center

New York Times columnist and table tennis addict Will Shortz (and an 1800 player) and Caribbean champion and 2500+ player Robert Roberts have combined forces to open the full-time 13,000-foot Westchester Table Tennis Center in Pleasantville, New York. Here's an 18-minute video that chronicles their odyssey from idea to fruition. Here's an article about it.

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