Feng Tianwei

May 1, 2014

Pips-Out and Other Styles

John Olsen emailed me to point out that two members of the French women's team are shakehanders with short pips on the forehand - Laura Gasnier (age 21, world #144) and Audrey Zarif (age 16, world #148). Here's video of Gasnier - she's the one in the pink shirt. Here's video of Zarif, also wearing pink. I guess pips goes with pink. Is this a sign of this style emerging, perhaps in response to the upcoming plastic balls, which apparently don't spin as well?

Okay, probably not; these players were undoubtedly developing their games long before the announcement that the world was going to non-celluloid balls. And there have always been a sprinkling of shakehanders with short pips on the forehand. In the 1980s and into the 90s Teng Yi was a mainstay on the Chinese National Team (with inverted on the backhand), and Johnny Huang was in the top ten in the world around the late 1990s, with short pips on both sides. Li Jiawei of Singapore was #3 in the world in 2005. And there are a number of others. (Readers, feel free to comment on others below.) So what has happened to this style?

Like most non-looping styles, short pips on the forehand has faced the onslaught of looping reality. The two-winged looping style, and to a lesser degree the one-winged looping style (including chopper/loopers) has pretty much dominated the game for the last decade or more. The reality is this: Why would a coach teach a new player an "inferior" style? And by "inferior," I'm mean a style that might be, say, 1% worse.

Suppose 100 kids were trained at table tennis. Let's suppose 50 were trained as conventional two-winged loopers, and the other 50 at some other style - say, short pips on the forehand or pips-out penholder, or as blockers, or even Seemiller style. Years later, if you examine the results, the two-winged loopers would undoubtedly dominate the ranking list. But guess what? There would be at least a sprinkling of these other styles who would at least battle with the two-winged loopers. But what coach wants to explain years later to his student why he trained him at an "inferior" style? And so essentially everyone is trained as a two-winged looper, with the occasional one-winger, including chopper/loopers. (A number of girls are still trained as hitters, but even that is changing.)

One mystery is why they still train chopper/loopers, but not other "inferior" styles. But there does seem to be some tradition here, and perhaps some players simply like, or are more talented, at a defensive style. But what about, say, pips-out penholders, another traditional style? Very few coaches start out anyone with that style, and so the style is nearly dying out. And so more and more we are getting uniformity in styles. I liked it better when there was more diversity. Most current players under age 30 probably don't even realize how different it was before.

At my club it's the same. Most of the kids we train are shakehanders, with a few penholders, but essentially all are being developed as two-winged loopers, with the penholders all playing reverse penhold backhands. We do have one kid who is developing as a chopper/looper (long pips on backhand), about 1800 at age 12 or so and coming up fast. (Actually, he hits more than he loops, but he'll gradually loop more.) The younger boys and girls tend to hit more, especially on the backhand, but as they develop they'll loop more and more. I had one player who started out about 1.5 years ago at age 11 and did much of his practice time in a basement table with about four feet going back (I went there once or twice a week to coach him there), and so I started to develop him as a hitter - but as soon as he began to understand that most others were loopers, he too wanted to play as a looper, and so now he's a two-winged looper, who even spins his backhand.

Some hypothesize that with the new plastic balls there will be more hitters. My guess is that this won't happen. Like the change to the bigger ball, it just means more emphasis on power, creating even more spin and speed. At the world-class level we're moving down a one-way street, and at the end of the road is a "Loopers Only" sign, with an occasional minority style invited in for diversion.

World Championships

I was debating whether to do Worlds coverage here in my blog, but they are already doing an excellent job elsewhere, so I'll just link to the following two places, where you'll find results, articles, and lots of video. (I'll probably run this segment daily throughout the Worlds.)

Adham Sharara Elected to New Position of ITTF Chairman

Here's the article. He's previously announced his upcoming resignation as president. 

Shot of the Day from the Worlds

Here's video (1:09) of a great rally between Feng Tianwei (world #7 from Singapore) and Seo Hyowon (world #8 from South Korea), the latter a chopper. This is one long rally, and we're not talking pushing!

Ma Long Playing with No-Arms Player

Here's the article and video (65 sec) of Ma Long rallying at the Worlds with Ibrahim Elhoseny, who holds the racket in his mouth.

St. Louis Open

Here are three daily press releases by Barbara Wei about the upcoming $16,000 Butterfly St. Louis Open this weekend. (I linked to the first one previously.)

Slow Motion Table Tennis

Here's the video (5:20). It's not only the best way to study strokes, but it's really the only way to effectively study serves and footwork, which happen too fast in real time to really analyze.

More Giganta Pong

Here's more video (16 sec) of play on a gigantic table made up of four tables and a barrier. They call it 4er table tennis, but I like giganta pong. And here's another version - Angled Pong?

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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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