Health Benefits

December 3, 2013

Tip of the Week

Use a Wider Stance.

North American Teams

It was a LOOOOONG weekend of playing (for 858 players and 213 teams) and coaching (for me and many others). I’m still recovering!!!

Here are the results. This should take you to the Summary page. You can use the second dropdown menu to see more detailed results of the Preliminaries on Friday and Division play on Saturday and Sunday.

I was primarily coaching Derek Nie, though I also coached seven other players at various times, including Derek’s teammates (Crystal Wang, Chen Jie, and Tony Qu). I can’t really discuss most of the coaching itself since they will likely play these players again. But there’s still a bunch of stuff I can write about. None of it is about the players in Division One (i.e. the Championships Division) since Derek’s team was in Division Two, where the average rating was a little over 2300 or so. I was so busy coaching that I never saw a single Divisions One match.

Derek had a strange tournament. He started out Friday by beating a 2300 player in five games, after being down 0-2. But then he lost five consecutive five-gamers over Fri & Sat, against players ranging from about 2280 to 2490. But on Sunday he was 2-0 in five-gamers against a pair of 2300+ players.

I called an interesting timeout in one of his matches, one which might have been a head-scratcher to observers. Derek had lost the first game badly, and was down 4-8 in the second and about to serve. (I generally like to call timeouts when my player is serving so we can discuss what serve to use while not letting the opposing coach tell the opponent what serve to use, and so didn’t call one at 4-6. Alas the opponent won both points on his serve.) Normally a timeout then is kind of a waste – he’s probably going to lose that game, so it’s better to save the timeout for later, right? The problem is I saw two ways of playing this player, and didn’t want to have Derek have to experiment at the start of the third game when he’d already be down 0-2. So I called the timeout so Derek could try out one of the new strategies. The timeout also had value in that if the new strategy worked, he might actually win the game before the opponent adjusted. If the strategy worked, then we’d not only have it ready for the next game, but it would give Derek confidence even if he lost the second game because of the 4-8 deficit. As it turned out, the strategy worked, and Derek quickly won two points. But the opponent played well and managed to win that game (I think at deuce). In the third, the new strategy almost paid off, but the opponent won 11-9.

I saw two of the strangest shots in two of his matches. There was a point where Derek got a net-edge off to the right, with the ball hitting the side edge near the net and jumping sideways. The opponent lunged for the shot, but completely mis-hit it off the edge of his racket – and the ball went around the net at table level, and just rolled unreturnably across the table. In his very next match, no more than ten minutes later, Derek mis-hit a ball that popped up, hit the top of the net, bounced up a foot, then dropped right back on the net again and rolled over for an unreturnable winner.

I also was able to watch and coach a few matches of “Larry’s Loopers,” which was named after me! Two of the players, Sameer Shaikh and Matt Stepanov (both 12), are students of mine, and they were teamed with Darwin Ma (13, who chops and loops, and only lost two matches on Sat & Sun). All three had great tournaments as they won Division 12, going 7-0 in their side of the Division, and then barely edging out TeamRacket (Ryan Dabbs, Patrick Chen, Spencer Chen, Michael Li, and Ronald Chen) 5-4 in an all-MDTTC junior final. John Hsu coached most of their matches. Here’s a picture of the three with their trophies (L-R Matt, Darwin, Sameer). Here’s another picture that includes John Hsu and me – as I indicate with my arms, what’s going on here? Here’s a picture of TeamRacket.

The final of Division 12 was one of the craziest and most entertaining I’ve ever seen. Since it was between MDTTC players, all kids ages 10-13 or so, the coaches and parents only watched while the kids coached themselves. It was great watching them as the players on both teams coached each other between games. I’ve learned that while kids sometimes aren’t tactically aware while at the table, they are surprisingly aware when watching, and can pick out what is and isn’t working. I could see their tactics change after each of these coaching consultations between games and timeouts, and almost always for the better.

In the first match, Sameer was down 0-2, then he was up 10-5 match point in the fifth – but lost six straight! The killer was at 10-9, when he absolutely ripped what should have been a winner, but somehow it came back, an unreturnable block. Down match point twice, he managed to win, I think 14-12 in the fifth! In another match, Darwin lost the first two games and was down 3-7 in the third. He’d been playing almost completely defensively. After a timeout, he went back and attacked, and won that game 11-8 (an 8-1 run), and the fourth. In the fifth he went back to pure defense, both chopping and lobbing, and was down 9-10 match point – but pulled it out, deuce in the fifth! In another match, Matt lost the first game and was down 7-10 in the next two games – but won both of them and the fourth game to win the match! In the end, Larry’s Loopers edged out TeamRacket, 5-4. Congrats to both teams!

USATT Pins Program

Here’s the new USATT Pins page. Make sure to click on “Eligibility Rules” and “USATT Merit Pins” so you can read about the program. I’ll likely blog about this sometime soon. Here’s their promo: “You’ve worked hard to get where you are. All these hours of practice, all the hard-fought matches – Let everyone know how far you’ve made it!” (I think it’s a great idea – but one thing that leaps out to me: the pins are color coded for each rating level. Wouldn’t it be better if they gave the rating number for each rating level attained, since that’s the whole point of it?)

Two Surprising Ways Your Brain Stops You from Winning

Here’s the article, which talks about lacking “skill experience,” and about how the brain sabotages you when you’re on the brink of victory. (I’m quoted in the article, including a link to “Larry’s Six-Month Law.”)

Actions of the USATT High Performance Committee

Here’s the report for Aug-Oct, from HPC Chair Carl Danner.

ITTF Training Camp at Lily Yip Center

Here’s the ITTF Article on the camp, held Nov. 23-28.

World Junior Championships

Here’s a write-up of it so far by Bruce Liu. Here’s the official website with results, articles, pictures, and videos. The event is taking place in Rabat, Morocco, Dec. 1-8. USA players are Kunal Chodri, Kanak Jha, Allen Wang, Theodore Tran, Ariel Hsing, Erica Wu, Prachi Jha, and Tina Lin.

The Health Benefits of Table Tennis

Here’s the article. Sections include: Great physical exercise yet gentle on the body; Improved reflexes, balance, and coordination; Table tennis is the world’s best brain sport; Social bonding and fun at any age or level; and Fight obesity.

Last World Junior Championships for Ariel Hsing

Here’s the ITTF article.

National Collegiate Table Tennis Newsletter

Here’s the November issue.

Interview with Ulf “Tickan” Carlsson

Here’s the ITTF video interview (13:58) with the former World Doubles and Team Champion, where he talks about his career, coaching, and talent identification.

Fan Zhendong Forehand Training

Here’s the video (1:55). Watch how he moves his feet.

Saive and the Pope

Here’s a picture of Belgium star Jean-Michel Saive shaking hands with Pope Francis in Vatican City.

Indians and Pilgrims Paddle

In honor of Thanksgiving last week, here’s a paddle that commemorates the first Thanksgiving. Hopefully this led to centuries of good will between these two peoples.

Xu Xin Between Legs Shot

Here’s the video (15 sec).

World’s Most Incredible Trick Shots

Here’s the video (4:05). It’s a compilation of all the trick shots from the ITTF Trick Shot Competition (plus a few failed attempts).

Action-Packed Blindfold Table Tennis!

This video is hilarious. It’s blindfold table tennis at its best, including under legs and behind-the-back shots, all in rapid sequence. The video repeats after about ten seconds or so. This is how table tennis should be played - and of course it’s all real!

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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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