Rules Changes

November 11, 2014

Rules Changes and One Last Change

I am tired of rule changes. The game as it is played now is substantially different than the game when I started out. Some of the rules changes were good, such as the two-color rule, the six-inch toss rule, and the idea of making hidden serves illegal. Others were more ambiguous for me - the larger ball, games to 11, and various rules restricting long pips. Some I'm not happy with, in particular the switch to non-celluloid balls, though that's mostly because they jumped the gun and made the switch before the balls were standardized or training balls were available. (I blogged about this on October 21 - see second segment.)

At this point it would take a rather strong argument for me to agree with any more changes. However, there is one last rule change I'd like to see before declaring our sport "perfect" - and that is fixing the hidden serve rule.

I've blogged numerous times about the problems with the hidden serve rule, where umpires rarely call them and so many top players (and juniors) use them to win titles, while those who play fair learn that cheating often pays off in our sport. The problem is that umpires sitting off to the side cannot tell for certain whether a serve is hidden from the opponent, and for some reason I've never fully understood, do not understand the meaning of these two rules:

Rule 2.06.06: It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he or she complies with the requirements of the Laws, and either may decide that a service is incorrect. 

Rule If either the umpire or the assistant umpire is not sure about the legality of a service he or she may, on the first occasion in a match, interrupt play and warn the server; but any subsequent service by that player or his or her doubles partner which is not clearly legal shall be considered incorrect. 

The second one is pretty explicit. If the umpire isn't sure, then it's not a legal serve. How much clearer can we get?

The first one also makes it very clear that if the umpire can't tell if the serve is visible to the receiver, then the serve is illegal, and they have to either warn (the first time) or fault the serve. If they aren't sure if the serve was hidden or not, then they can't be "satisfied" that the serve complies with the requirements of the Laws. Here (for example) is the Merriam-Webster Definition of "satisfied":

  1. to cause (someone) to be happy or pleased
  2. to provide, do, or have what is required by (someone or something)
  3. to cause (someone) to believe that something is true

Definition #3 is the one that applies here, though you can use #2 as well. If an umpire can't tell if the serve is hidden or not, he cannot "believe that something is true" (definition #3). Nor can he know if the rule that is required is being followed (#2). (If you do try to use #1, well, I don't think an umpire can be "happy or pleased" that he can't tell if a serve is hidden or not! But the third definition is clearly the one used in the context.)

As I've blogged before, there's an obvious solution, one that was proposed to the ITTF at the meetings at the last World Championships, but was voted down. When serving, players should be required to serve so that "throughout the serve, the ball must be visible to both umpires, or where the umpires would sit if there were umpires." When there are no umpires, it would be assumed the umpires would be sitting about five feet out on each side, lined up with the net. The point of the rule isn't to make sure the umpires can see the ball. The point is that if a server hides the ball from an opponent but it isn't obvious he is doing so, it'll be obvious he's hiding it from at least one of the umpires, and so it would be an easy call for an umpire to declare it illegal. No more hidden serve problems!

Note that the two-color rule was also voted down the first few times it was proposed before it finally passed, and the same is true of other rule changes. I think this rule is so obvious and so easily fixes the problem that we should keep proposing it until it passes.

*Unless there's a really, Really, REALLY compelling argument for one - not likely.

TT Scene from Big Hero 6

I saw the Big Hero 6 last night (it was great!) - and there was a short table tennis scene. When the hero Hiro (pun intended!) visits the university where they are making robots there are two robots rallying in the background. (Or was it a person playing a robot? I should have taken notes!) A few minutes later they are seen again. Alas, I was unable to find any video or pictures of the scene.

Brian Pace and Orlando Muniz Training Session

Here's the video (10:27). This gives an idea of what type of drills advanced players do in their training sessions.

When Serving Short Becomes Important

Here's the article.

Ask the Coach

Here's Episode #23 (10:39)

  • Question 1 - 0:41: When I watched a video of me playing I noticed that all of my loops were going to the middle of the table, Ma Long is able to control his and I was wondering how do you do it? Luke Styles
  • Question 2 - 2:26: Sir, how do I improve my topspin against a chop player? Sahil Garg
  • Question 3 - 5:57: After serve I usually do the slow spinny loop against the backspin. Sometimes they can block my slow spinny loop but after that I don't know what to do, should I do the counter loop or should I do the slow spinny loop again. Long Regain
  • Question 4 - 8:19: Why do lots of players use the pendulum serve always or often? Maverick Abrenica

Here's Episode #24 (12:35)

  • Question 1 - 1:38: Can I play 2 sports at a same time. In my school I play table tennis and basketball. So is it ok if I play both at the same time? Or will basketball ruin my table tennis stroke because of the heavy ball? What is your opinion? Jethro
  • Question 2 - 4:14: What is the right leg position while playing a punch? Which leg should be in front while playing a forehand punch and which when playing a backhand punch? Kaustubh
  • Question 3 - 6:21: I can already do a backhand flick on a short backspin serve but not really on the forehand side. I can do it from the middle of the table but I'm not quick enough to move to the forehand side. Is there a trick to know where it is coming? Rob J
  • Question 4 - 8:33: I used to play hard bat and was able to beat some better opponents using it. Since I have moved to a sponge bat my better opponents are beating me. Can I change to my old hard bat playing a better player and change back to my sponge bat for the others? Stan

Fan Zhendong is the 2014 Chinese National Men's Singles Champion

Here's the article. The 17-year-old defeated Ma Long in the final, 4-2. Fan also won Men's Doubles, teaming with Xu Xin to defeat Zhang Jike and Ma Long in the final. Zhu Yuling won Women's Singles, 4-2 over World Champion Ding Ning.

Lindenwood College Friends Seek Redemption at 2014 Butterfly Thanksgiving Teams Tournament

Here's the article by Barbara Wei.

Daniel Rosenfeld Interview

Here's the USATT interview with this Paralympic player.

Top Ten Shots from the Russian Open

Here's the video (4:12), which was held this past weekend in Ekaterinburg, Russia. Here's the ITTF Russian Open home page, with results, articles, photos, and video.

Hand Table Tennis

Here's the cartoon!

Non-Table Tennis - World Fantasy Convention

I spent Saturday at the World Fantasy Convention in Arlington, Virginia. This is where science fiction and fantasy fans from around the world gather annually for panels, exhibits, movies, readings, etc. Outside my table tennis world I'm also a science fiction & fantasy writer (one novel and 71 short story sales). I gave a 30-minute reading Saturday at 1:30 PM where I read the first two chapters of my novel "Sorcerers in Space." (Due to table tennis commitments, I only went over on Saturday, though the convention was Thur-Sun.)

I've always admired how well-run these conventions are. For example, the annual World Science Fiction Convention generally gets 5000 or more paid attendees, and it's all volunteer run. The World Fantasy Convention is smaller, but probably had over a thousand.

When I mention science fiction or fantasy conventions, some of you probably have visions of people running around in funny costumes. That's true of some conventions, primarily fan-based conventions. But the more "serious" (like this one) are more literary. While there are always some who dress up, most dress like normal people and act almost like normal people.

I got lost on the way there (I don't have GPS, alas) - and then, by sheer chance, saw a van with the wording "Hyatt Regency Crystal City," which happened to be the hotel the convention was at. I followed it, knowing it was 50-50 it was going to (and not from) the hotel - and I won as it soon pulled into the hotel. After a huge hassle finding parking (and another hassle later trying to find my car), I arrived just in time for the Science Fiction Writers of America 90-minute meeting, which started 8:30 AM on Saturday.

At registration I received book bags with about 15 new novels and other goodies. Then I spent the day attending panels, watching some short movies, viewing the fantasy art show, and meeting and talking with other writers. Some of the writers I talked with included Joe Haldeman, James Morrow, James Maxey, and Cat Rambo. (Haldeman is the equivalent of a top-ten-in-the-world table tennis player, while the other three are the equivalent of U.S. team members.) I had a good time at my reading as well. To promote my novel I gave out about 20 copies.

We shared the hotel with a Rolling Thunder convention. They are basically a nationwide motorcycle gang with the following mission: "…to publicize the POW-MIA issue: To educate the public that many American Prisoners of War were left behind after all previous wars and to help correct the past and to protect future Veterans from being left behind should they become Prisoners of War-Missing In Action. We are also committed to helping American Veterans from all wars." Nearly all wore motorcycle garb, either leather or jean vests with "Rolling Thunder" in large lettering, most of them jammed with patches and buttons. Anti-Jane Fonda buttons seemed popular. I think they outnumbered us - all these bearded motorcycle gang-type people was pretty scary at times!

Here's a thought: there are something like 400 billion galaxies, with about 100 billion stars on average in each. That's about 40,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars. How many aliens are out there? How many of them have developed games like table tennis? Are they shakehanders, penholders, or do they manipulate the paddle telepathically? These are the burning questions that need answers.


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August 7, 2013

Rules Changes I Was Involved In
Yesterday I blogged about rules changes since I started playing in 1976. I also wrote how I was involved or responsible for three, and promised to write about them today. I'll go in reverse order.

1) Paddle Point Rule. Back in 1991 I shared a ride from Maryland to the U.S. Open in Midland, Michigan with Dave Sakai. Along the way we picked up then-USATT president Dan Seemiller in Pittsburgh. During the long drive we discussed the paddle point rule, which a lot of people thought was silly, including all three of us. The rule then was that if an opponent hit the ball off the end but it hit your racket while still in play (i.e. not hitting the floor or something else to end the point), you'd lose the point. The reason for the rule was back in the hardbat era there were many players who blocked so quick off the bounce it was difficult to tell if the ball hit the table first - but in the sponge era, this doesn't happen much.

But many matches were being decided by the paddle point rule, including the Men's Final at a recent Olympic Sports Festival (then a major USATT tournament), where Sean O'Neill was up I believe 20-19 in the fifth match point (games to 21 back then), and smacked a ball off the end for an apparent deuce, but the ball hit Jim Butler's racket, and so Sean won. So right there in the car I got out my steno notebook and wrote a draft of a rule change to rescind the paddle point rule. I gave it to Dan, who gave it to the chair of the Official's Committee (not sure who - Wendell Dillon?), who finalized the language and submitted it to the ITTF, where it was passed.

2) Ball Resting Freely in Palm. Until about ten years ago the service rule said that the ball must be in the flat palm when serving. Nobody actually has a flat palm, of course, so it's a judgment call how flat it must be. Sometime many years ago I began to demonstrate for umpires and referees a serve where I put the ball in the palm of my rather flat palm, asked if it was okay, they'd say yes - and then I'd turn my hand upside down so the ball was underneath my hand, but still in the palm! Anyone can do this by pinching the ball between the base of the thumb and the palm, but that wouldn't really be a flat palm. With some practice (I must have had too much free time) I learned to surreptitiously pinch it right in the middle of the palm, where it wasn't so obvious. I not only could hold it there, but I could shake my hand up and down, palm down, and the ball would stay there!

I demonstrated this to the referees at the Worlds about ten years ago, and challenged them to find anything illegal about it - and they agreed there wasn't anything illegal about it, if the umpire had already judged the palm to be flat. They could retroactively say the palm wasn't completely flat, but that would be unfair since I'd first have them agree my palm was "flat" before turning my hand upside down. A year or so later they changed the rule to "resting freely on the palm."

3) Two-Color Rule. Few active players these days remember what it was like from roughly 1977 to 1983, when there was no two-color rule, and more and more players started using long pips or antispin on one side. Rallies became atrocious where it became incredibly difficult to read the spin on the ball since you couldn't tell what surface was hitting it, and rallies became racket flipping battles where players would struggle to figure out what was on the ball.

The idea was popularized at the 1977 Worlds when two Chinese chopper/loopers made the semifinals using long pips - Liang Geliang and Huang Liang. They constantly flipped their racket, and opponents couldn't see which side they were hitting on, both in rallies and on the serve, and so they absolutely devastated the Europeans. (In the semifinals the story is both were ordered to dump, one to teammate Guo Yuehua, the other to eventual winner Mitsuru Kohno of Japan.) By the early 1980s surveys (including one taken by me) showed that over 80% of U.S. tournament players were using combination rackets, with the large majority of them using long pips or antispin. I was one of the activists to require players to use two colors. I even wrote a poem about it, which was published in USATT Magazine (then called Topics), and which I included in a letter to the ITTF. The ITTF finally began to require two colors in 1983.

Here is the poem:

Little Jack Ding-Dong,
Was Rotten at Ping-Pong,
And he could not figure why.
So he bought some weird rubber,
And beat a top player,
And said, "What a good player am I!"

Yesterday's focus was on the backhand. This week's group seems a bit better on the backhand than the forehand. Can't wait to see if any of them will be ready to backhand loop by Thursday, when we introduce that to the players who we think are ready for it.

I'm having an interesting time with one kid, age 8, who's very shy and won't take part in games. I'm trying to get him to join in with the various target practice games we do at the end of each session with the beginning kids, but he absolutely refuses, seems embarrassed at being a beginner who mostly misses. I'll keep working with him.

Oxford Falls in Love with Table Tennis
Here's the story from Table Tennis Nation about TT mania in Oxford, England. Here's the opening paragraph: "The Oxford City Council in England has recently installed 18 ping pong tables in public areas around the city to get more people involved in our beloved sport. This initiative was funded by Sport England (formerly known as the English Sports Council) with a $23,000 donation to city of Oxford as well as 9 other cities including London, Birmingham and Liverpool."

Six Steps to the Perfect Playlist for Table Tennis Performance (Part 1)
Here's the article, where they even take into account the average rallying pace in finding music that matches that.

Keep Calm & Play Table Tennis
They brought their mini table tennis table with them on a road trip, and here's video (1:18) of the result!

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