2014 Nationals

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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October 25, 2013

Back Foot on Forehands

I began to write a blog entry about how the back foot positioning on forehands has evolved at the higher levels from being back to mostly being parallel to the table in the modern game, where it's not just power, but speed of power that's paramount - and so there's no time to bring that foot back. Then I realized it should be a Tip of the Week for Monday.

South Shore Open

I'm off to the 4-star South Shore Open in Indiana right after lunch today, where I'll be coaching MDTTC juniors Nathan Hsu, Derek Nie, and Crystal Wang. (Also going from MDTTC: Roy Ke, along with coach/practice partner Dong "Steve" Yiming.) There are 214 players entered. I've got my coaching notes printed out, a list of things to bring (I pack right after I finish the blog), and I think the kids are ready. There's a lot of prize money in the Wasserman junior events! But as far as we're concerned, it's just another day of matches at the club. Right?

USATT Tips of the Day

USATT is still going through the 171 Tips of the Week I wrote for them from 1999-2003, putting one up each day. Here are the Tips they've put up. Below are the Tips from the past seven days.

USATT Email Vote

Here's the minutes of the USATT Oct. 23 email vote, where they voted on a number of rule changes. I believe they are just matching new ITTF rules, as the very first item changes the USATT rules to match the current (new?) ITTF rules.

I'm a bit surprised by the first rule change - I don't think they saw the implication. Below is the new rule. The four words crossed out ("as close as possible") were part of the old rule; the words in bold italics ("attached" and "from top to bottom") are new wording:

2.2.4 The bottom of the net, along its whole length, shall be as close as possible to the playing surface and the ends of the net shall be as close as possible attached to the supporting posts from top to bottom.

Here's the problem. With the new wording, there's no requirement that the net actually goes out to the net posts, which go six inches (15.25 cm) outside the table. (Rule 2.2.2: "The net shall be suspended by a cord attached at each end to an upright post 15.25cm high, the outside limits of the post being 15.25cm outside the side line.") This is to keep players from regularly making unreturnable shots around the net, as players like Istvan Jonyer did regularly in the 1970s before they made the rule that the net (or at least the posts, with the net "as close as possible," or similar wording at the time) go six inches outside the table.

So you can have a net that only goes to the edge of the table, attached to the outside posts by, say, a piece of string. And so players can easily hit shots between the net and the net post. It wouldn't be a legal shot, but do we really want to allow that huge gap there? Besides making it trickier to call some shots ("Did that go inside or outside the net post?"), it would look bad. Why not keep the "as close as possible" wording from before?

Men's World Cup

Here are some nice action shots from the Men's World Cup, which started today in Belgium.

Ma Long Multiball

Here's a video of world #1 Ma Long (40 sec) doing multiball. It's a two-shot drill: a random backspin followed by a random topspin. (Note the other player picking up balls by hand - what is this, 1980? We have nets and other ball pickup devices for that now!)

Table Tennis in Enchanted Forest on Floating Table by Woman in Wedding Dress Weighed Down by a Paddle

Okay, that's my name for Mike Mezyan's latest artwork, which he calls "Once Upon a Table," and describes: "She Had TT Dreams...She Had TT Hopes...A Table in an Enchanted Forest Understands Her...It Knows What She Wants..It Floats Gently Carrying Her Fueled By Her Aspiration And Determination...Her Table Was Her Palace...Her Racket Was Her Prince Charming...Her Story Has Just Begun..."

About Time

Here are some table tennis pictures from the upcoming feature movie About Time, which comes out Nov. 8. Apparently there are a lot of table tennis scenes in this SF movie, which looks like my kind of movie - TT & SF! Here's the description from IMBD: "At the age of 21, Tim discovers he can travel in time and change what happens and has happened in his own life. His decision to make his world a better place by getting a girlfriend turns out not to be as easy as you might think."

Basketpong

Here's the video (2:13)! And here's another (2:54)!

The 2014 Nationals Are Booked by Mark - Be Very Afraid

Here's a hilarious posting by Mark ("mjamja") at the about.com forum that refers to my Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers book. I wanted to post it in its entirety here, but wasn't able to reach the author. So here's the first paragraph (the best one!); follow the link above for the rest.

Any of you who plan to play in the 2014 US Nationals in any rating event between U1600 and U2100 should be very afraid. I have ordered Larry Hodge's "Table Tennis Tactics," Richard McAfee's "Table Tennis Steps to Success," and Alex Polyakov's "Breaking 2000."   I plan on a total table tennis immersion approach using these wells of knowledge as my guide and devoting myself to real training for the next year.

Non-Table Tennis - "Rationalized"

Here's the cover of Star Quake 1, a compilation of the best stories they published in 2012. I'm on the cover with my featured dystopian SF story, "Rationalized" (yep, it's free online), which won the 2011 Story Quest Short Story Competition. (It's the 14th time I've been on the cover of a SF magazine.) It's about a future society where everyone has an operation on their brain at age 13 to remove all emotions, and the underground society that secretly avoids this operation, but must pretend to always be unemotional - and the lengths they must go to hide their secret when a terrible accident occurs. "The writing is solid and for a story about lack of emotion, it packs an emotional punch" wrote blogger Mark Webb.

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