November 8, 2012

End-game Surprise Tactics

Last week, due to Hurricane Sandy and Halloween, I didn't coach or play table tennis for four days, and spent the entire time at my computer or reading while eating more junk food than I had in the previous two months combined. It was a great time.

Afterwards, however, I paid the price. When I showed up at the club as a practice partner for our elite junior session, I was stiff, tight, slow, and could barely play. After getting shellacked in a couple matches that I'd normally win, and losing the first game against one of our top juniors (who'd I'd been beating over and over), I switched to chopping. I'm almost as good chopping (inverted both sides) as attacking, but it's usually as a last resort.

I won the second game. Coach Cheng Yinghua was watching and said something to the junior in Chinese. I said, "Cheng, coach him." So the rest of the match Cheng coached the kid between games. In the third, playing much smarter, the kid took the lead, but I tied it up at 9-all, with my serve coming up. I'd been serving all backspin until now, but now I went back to my attack game, served a pair of short side-top serves, ripped two winners against a surprised opponent, and won the game. In the fifth game, again at 9-all, I did it again to win the match.

A chopper attacking at the very end of a close game is a classic example of an end-game surprise tactic. It's hard to guard against it since, in this example, you never know for sure when it's coming, and so can neither prepare for it nor can you get used to it. The difficulty, of course, is that the chopper hasn't been attacking and so has to do something he might not have grooved. But it's a common way for choppers, blockers, and other players who play defensive (or any style centered around steadiness) to win at the end of a close game.

But this type of tactic isn't just for choppers. Some players have a knack for playing multiple styles, and can switch styles under pressure to mess an opponent up. Cheng Yinghua, before he became just a coach, was the best player in the U.S. for ten years. He could play three styles of play equally well - two-winged looping, all-out forehand looping, and a blocking game. Against U.S. players, rather than let them get used to his two-winged looping game, he'd often just push and block, mixing in forehand loops for winners, unless (rarely) it got close. And then he'd bring out the backhand loop, one of the steadiest and spinniest in the world (circa 1980s and 1990s), and dominate the end of any close game.

Another similar case would be someone like Jim McQueen of North Carolina, whose rating seems to bounce back and forth between 2000 and 2150, mostly because he dominates against players who aren't used to him while losing to those who play him more often. He plays a somewhat simple-seeming push and block game. His serves are somewhat simple, usually backspin so he can get into his push and block game. But when it's close, watch out! That's when he pulls out this devastatingly effective backhand sidespin serve that looks like backspin. Few can handle the serve the first few times they see it, and so Jim wins lots of close games by pulling this serve out as an end-game tactic. Others have similar go-to serves at the end of a match - I have a number of them - but the difference is most players use these serves throughout the match, not mostly just at the end of a close game.

It's important to figure out during a match what your "go-to" tactics will be when you badly need a point. Usually you'll use these tactics on and off throughout the match, and go to them when it's close. What are yours?

USATT Minutes

The minutes for the April 19, 2012 USATT board meeting finally went up. (USATT bylaws require they go up within 30 days, but alas.) Here are the USATT minutes, dating back to 1999 when a certain USATT webmaster started putting them online. (Hey, that was me! 1997-2007.)

The New Plastic Ball

Here's a web page and online petition about the proposed introduction of plastic balls in place of celluloid.

Gideon's Ping-Pong Battle in Brooklyn

Here's a video (14:19) featuring Gideon Teitel taking on table tennis challengers. (Warning - starts with some bad language.) Gideon came to one of our training camps at MDTTC this past summer. Here's an early quote: "There are many unsolved crimes in this world. Bird flu, O.J. Simpson. One of them happens to be my backhand."

Robo-Boy Versus Robo-Friend in Robo-Pong

Here's an animated video (2:39) where a trash-talking Robo-Boy challenges his Robo-Friend to a Ping-Pong Showdown. Here's another video (2:53) starring Robo-Boy where he talks more about his Robo-Pong. (There's no actual table tennis in either video, but the dialogue is funny, especially in the first one.)


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