European Championships

October 23, 2012

Two-Winged Attackers
In this modern era of super-sponges it's a huge advantage to be able to attack effectively from both wings. There was a time (back when I was learning to play) that many players mostly attacked from one side - usually the forehand - and mostly played steady on the backhand, which is how I usually play. It's generally a mistake to develop your game that way; learn to attack from both sides.

However, a common problem for some is trying to rip winners from both wings, whether looping or smashing. This is a very difficult style to master. Even if you have the ability to rip shots both forehand and backhand, it's difficult to get both shots going at the same time. Instead, it's almost always better to focus on ripping winners from one side, and a steady attack on the other side with opportunistic rips when the shot is there. While more players rip on the forehand while playing the backhand as the steady attack side, there are many who do the reverse.

Even on the "ripping" side, you shouldn't rip everything that's potentially rippable, though of course take the shot if it's there. Unless the ball is really easy, in fact, it's almost always best to take a little off for consistency, so even your best smashes and loop kills might be at 80-90% power. But which ones should you rip?

The key is recognizing which shots are rippable and which are not. In general, there are three types of balls that should be put away:

  • High balls - but beware, sometimes a somewhat high ball can be tricky to put away if it's deep on the table with lots of spin.
  • Balls that land in the middle of the table depth-wise, i.e. not too long or too short. With practice, these balls are easy to loop or hit.
  • Balls where, with experience, you get that feel for when you've read the ball perfectly and know you can make the shot. This mostly happens when you are "in the zone."

What I Did Yesterday
This past weekend I ran the Butterfly MDTTC October Open. (See the story, photos, and results in my blog yesterday.) Here's what I did yesterday (straight from my todo list, with these items now crossed off), mostly TT related, much of it tournament related. I had only one hour of coaching scheduled, but the student was sick and cancelled. (I just realized that I never left my house yesterday, unless you count letting my dog in and out.) Yeah, this was my day off....

  • Wrote and posted the weekly Tip of the Week. ("Turn Opponents into Puppets with Long Serves.")
  • Wrote and posted my daily blog.
  • Did the USATT Tournament Report for memberships and ratings for USATT. (Will mail out this morning.)
  • Typed up results.
  • Wrote article on tournament for USATT Magazine, Butterfly, and my blog.
  • Fixed up the photos from the tournament, added captions, and put online, and sent to Butterfly.
  • Wrote press release for the tournament and sent to local media.
  • Wrote up a list of possible enhancements for the creator of the Omnipong program that I used to run the tournament.
  • Did the tournament accounting.
  • Did the accounting for the MDTTC weekend junior program.
  • Edited a new MDTTC brochure that Butterfly made for us.
  • Wrote up an application for sponsorship to a major table tennis company for a local junior star.
  • Answered 20+ emails.
  • Watched the Presidential debate.
  • Read for an hour and went to bed.

Scoring Against Ariel
Here's an article in yesterday's issue of Slate called "Smashed: My quest to win a point against one of the world's best table tennis players." The author relates his attempt to score a single point against U.S. Women's Champion and Olympian Ariel Hsing.

Forget Multi-ball - it's Chinese Multi-table-ball! Here's the video (3:43). I've done this at my club in the past, though not recently. Time to revive these types of drills?

Point of the European Championships
Here's the last point of the quarterfinal match between eventual champion for the sixth time Timo Boll of Germany (the lefty) and Andrej Gacina of Croatia. The video (2:36) replays the point in slow motion.

Photos from the European Championships
Here's a photo album (347 photos) from the European Championships that finished this past weekend in Herning, Denmark. (As noted in my blog yesterday and last week, here are ITTF articles on it, and here's the home page for the event, with complete results.)

500 MPH Ping-Pong Ball Cannon
In this video (6:49), Professor Harold Stokes uses a ping-pong cannon to demonstrate to his physics class the effects of air pressure. He puts a ping-pong ball into a sealed tube, pumps out all the air, and then punctures one side. The air rushes in, and shoots the ball out the other side at 500mph. He does it three times in the video, but the ball moves too fast to see, and ends up shattered each time. The second time he shoots it through a piece of plywood (leaving a ping-pong ball sized hole). The third time he uses a human target - himself! You get to see the welt at the end.
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October 22, 2012

Tip of the Week

Turn Opponents into Puppets with Long Serves.

MDTTC October Open

I ran the MDTTC Open this weekend, a rather exhausting ordeal since I also did four hours of coaching. Here is my write-up and results of the event, followed by the usual blog stuff. 

$2600 Butterfly MDTTC October Open
MarylandTable Tennis Center
Gaithersburg, MD • Oct. 20-21, 2012
By Larry Hodges

This month there were extra large trophies waiting for winners of most of the Sunday events, in addition to $2600 in prize money mostly given out in Saturday events at the October Open at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. The larger trophies went over very well, and hopefully will attract more players in our next tournament, sometime early in 2013.

Wang Qing Liang, rated 2621, defended his title from last month, once again defeating fellow MDTTC coach Chen Bo Wen, rated 2516, in another 4-2 battle, this time at -9,10,-9,7,8,5. There's an old adage that choppers tend to get better as the match goes on as they adjust to the opponent's attack, and that's exactly what happened. By the end of the match there seemed no way to get through Wang's chopping defense, and his forehand loop was as spectacular as ever when he'd swoop in against a push or counterloop from off the table. Chen had actually spit matches with Wang at the recent Badger Open, knocking Wang's rating down from the 2642 he'd achieved mostly from making the semifinals of Men's Singles at the U.S. Open. Wang won $1000 to Chen's $400.

Both had semifinal battles. Former MDTTC junior star Richard Lee (rated 2424 and the long-time owner of North American Table Tennis) led 10-9 and 11-10 in the first (going for the possibly the most powerful forehand rip in the history of the universe at 11-10 that just missed) and 10-8 in the second before losing at 11,10,7,8. In the other semifinals, Larry Abass (rated 2320) came from way behind to win the first against Chen, and then made it to deuce in the fifth game, but in between it was all two-winged looping penholder Chen, winning at -9,4,5,4,10. Abass, who also used to be a big two-winged looper (but shakehand style), is now using one millimeter sponge on his backhand, which he uses to backhand loop against backspin but mostly chop against topspin. He caught both Chen and many spectators by surprise with his excellent chopping game, including Raghu Nadmichettu in the quarterfinals. Between him and Wang, the chopping game is alive and well in Maryland. Lee and Abass each pocketed $200 for the semifinals.

Hung Duy Vo, who'd lost the final of Under 2350 last month (to Raghu Nadmichettu), mostly dominated Under 2300 this month for $200, defeating Nasruddin Asgarali (who won $100) in the final, -8,11,6,8, and Roy Ke (age 13, rated 2188) in the semifinals, 7,7,-7,5. Asgarali took out Lixin Lang in the semifinals, 8,-10,6,4, allowing him to return to his greatly appreciated help at the desk.

Chen Qiming won Under 2150 ($150), 7,7,-10,-9,4 over Arsha Kuds ($75), whose comeback from down 0-2 in games fell short. But Kuds then surprised everyone by making the quarterfinals of the Open with wins over Hung Duy Vo and Lixin Lang. Both finalists did Houdini comebacks in the semifinals, with Chen coming back against Lilly Lin, -5,-8,7,11,6, and Kuds against Richard Bowling, -9,-7,6,9,6.

The semifinals of Under 2000 was a battle of experienced veterans against aspiring juniors, with the veterans prevailing in five as Mahesh Balagangadhar defeated Jason Wei (14), 5,-7,5,-6,8, and Gordon Gregg defeated Amy Lu (U.S. #3 Under 12 girl at 1852), 4,-8,7,-7,9. In the final, it was Balagangadhar ($100) over Gregg ($50) with his Seemiller grip variation that seems to give junior players so much trouble.

Mohamed Kamara won $80 by defeating Princess Ke ($40 for the U.S. #4 Under 12 girl at 1821 until she turned 12 in August) in the final of Under 1850, -9,6,11,-9,6.

Timothy La, with his two-winged smashing game, seems to like to go five games. This month he changed the trend from last month (where he kept losing five-gamers), to prevailing deuce in the fifth, defeating David Goldstein in the Under 1600 final, -8,7,4,-8,11, and stopping Alexander Beaulieu's comeback in the semifinals, 8,9,-9,-12,12. In the other semifinal, Goldstein defeated Kyle Wang, 3,-8,4,9, to the great relief of the control desk, since Kyle was holding up many matches by making the semifinals here, and also...

...winning Under 1350 over Michael Zangwill, 7,7,11. Kyle, 13, had a semifinal battle with Daniel Yang (12), -9,4,9,-4,6, while Zangwill defeated an exhausted Ken Chia in the other semifinals, 4,4,2. Why was Ken Chia exhausted?

Leon Bi won Under 1100, exhausting the inexhaustible Ken Chia in the final, 5,8,6. Leon, however, could only lament how he'd been in a three-way tie to advance out of both his Under 1350 and Under 1600 round robins, only to finish in third each time by a single game as two advanced. Not bad for a 12-year-old with a rating of 637 before a full summer of training!

Special thanks goes to tournament sponsors Butterfly and Llewellyn Realtor James Wu.

(NOTE - Click on the names below for a photo of the finalists, or all four semifinalists in the Open.)

Open - Final: Wang Qing Liang d. Chen Bo Wen, -9,10,-9,7,8,5; SF: Wang d. Richard Lee, 11,10,7,8; Chen d. Larry Bass, -9,4,5,4,10; QF: Wang d. Richard Doverman, 4,10,9; Lee d. Nathan Hsu, 6,6,6; Abass d. Raghu Nadmichettu, 6,6,8; Chen d. Arsha Kuds, 8,17.
Under 2300 - Final: Hung Duy Vo d. Nasruddin Asgarali, -8,11,6,8; SF: Vo d. Roy Ke, 7,7,-7,5; Asgarali d. Lixin Lang, 8,-10,6,4.
Under 2150 - Final: Chen Qiming d. Arsha Kuds, 7,7,-10,-9,4; SF: Chen d. Lilly Lin, -5,-8,7,11,6; Kuds d. Richard Bowling, -9,-7,6,9,6.
Under 2000 - Final: Mahesh Balagangadhar d. Gordon Gregg, 10,8,-10,8; SF: Balagangadhar d. Jason Wei, 5,-7,5,-6,8; Gregg d. Amy Lu, 4,-8,7,-7,9.
Under 1850 - Final: Mohamed Kamara d. Princess Ke, -9,6,11,-9,6; SF: Kamara d. Mort Greenberg, 9,4,11; Ke d. Tony Li, 8,4,3.
Under 1600 - Final: Timothy La d. David Goldstein, -8,7,4,-8,11; SF: La d. Alexander Beaulieu, 8,9,-9,-12,12; Goldstein d. Kyle Wang, 3,-8,4,9.
Under 1350 - Final: Kyle Wang d. Michael Zangwill, 7,7,11; SF: Wang d. Daniel Yang, -9,4,9,-4,6; Zangwill d. Ken Chia, 4,4,2.
Under 1100 - Final: Leon Bi d. Ken Chia, 5,8,6; SF: Bi d. Douglas Harley, 2,7,7; Chia d. Michael Borek, -4,8,-7,7,4.

European Championships

The European Championships, though of course somewhat upstaged by the MDTTC Open, were held this weekend in Herning, Denmark. Timo Boll of Germany won Men's Singles for the sixth time, this time over surprise finalist Ruiwu Tan of Croatia, while Viktoria Pavlovich of Belarus won Women's Singles for the second time, over Yi Fang Xian of France. Here are ITTF articles on it, and here's the home page for the event, with complete results.

Simple Tactical Advice

"Tactics isn't about finding complex strategies to defeat an opponent. Tactics is about sifting through all the zillions of possible tactics and finding a few simple ones that work." This is the advice I regularly give. I've expanded on this in my upcoming book, "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide," which will be out in December.

Rajul Sheth for Silicon Valley Entrepreneurship of the Year Award

He's one of the nine nominees - go here to vote!!! The awards will be presented on Nov. 18. Here's a description of the award: "Silicon Valley Awards 2012 'Making a Difference' is all about the people who live in Silicon Valley and who make a difference in one way or another to help the Valley grow and become a better and richer place, culturally and professionally. The objective of the SVA 2012 'Making a Difference,' is to recognize these individuals in Silicon Valley who epitomize the Silicon Valley culture, its philosophy; these people work in a way which creates successful endeavors.

ITTF Coaching Seminars in India

Here's another ITTF article about the last of the three ITTF Coaching Seminars run in India by USATT Coaching Chair Richard McAfee.

Pongcast Episode 17

Here's their latest video (12:07), this time showcasing the 2012 China National Championships and the 2012-2013 Chinese Super League. (Did you know the Chinese Super League was originally put together by Xu Huazhang, the former Chinese National Team Member who lived in the U.S. for much of the 1990s, at one point achieving a rating of 2777? He lived and trained at MDTTC, and shared a house with me for two years.)

The Lord of the Ping?

I think his hand is cupped.


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October 19, 2012

Developing Your Smash

So many players have this strange idea that the best way to develop a forehand or backhand smash is to, well, smash a lot. It seems to make sense, but isn't always the best way. I've seen this in student after student - they work on smashing by smashing a lot, and the balls spray all over the place as they ingrain the habit of spraying the ball all over the place. Smashing is, first and foremost, a precision shot, and if you practice smashing by spraying the ball all over the place, you are being counterproductive.

Instead, focus on driving the ball only at the pace that you can control, and develop the precision at that speed. As you get better, increase the speed. If you find yourself spraying the ball all over the place, take it down a notch. Precision comes from good technique and timing, and these are things you should work on at a pace you can control. Spraying the ball over the place is a great way to develop bad technique and poor timing. (I may expand this into a Tip of the Week.)

MDTTC Open - Last Chance

If you live within 100 miles of Gaithersburg, Maryland, then enter the MDTTC October Open this weekend or we will go online and steal rating points from you. Yes, we can do that. I'll take entries at least until 7PM tonight. 

Here are the top seeds as of now:

  1. Wang Qing Liang (2621)
  2. Chen Bo Wen (2516)
  3. Richard Lee (2424)
  4. Raghu Nadmichettu (2328)
  5. Larry Abass (2320)
  6. Nathan Hsu (2312)

Senior and Hardbat/Sandpaper Camps

The training camps at the Maryland Table Tennis Center are open to all ages and levels, but because we have so many junior players, they tend to be dominated by junior players. Most camps have a few non-juniors, but not many. So essentially we run junior camps.

I've been thinking about doing specialized camps for other groups, such as senior camps. Back in the 1990s for a few years we had senior camps, where you had to be over age 40 (though we let some "youngsters" in if we believed they were "old at heart"). Most of the attendees were in their 60s. For some reason, after filling the camp several years in a row, one year we had a small turnout, and we stopped running them. Perhaps we should bring them back? There are some differences in running a camp for seniors, besides the obvious fact that people tend to prefer training with their own age group. With juniors, you run them to death with footwork drills, and with faster and faster rallying drills as you work to increase their speed to beyond human recognition. That's not going to work with most 60-year-olds. Instead, they'd do more steady drills, focusing on control and ball placement, as well as variation. There's also more combination rackets, with lots of long pips, so we focus more on both playing with and against such rackets. There are also more choppers and blockers, so we coach a lot on playing with those styles and against them. We don't teach too many 60-year-olds to race around the court looping everything.

Another camp I'm toying with running would be one for hardbat and sandpaper. There's been a strong hardbat movement in the U.S. since the late 1990s, and now sandpaper play is on the rise, to the great consternation of many, including the upcoming $100,000 World Championship of Ping Pong. I'm a many-time national hardbat champion and pretty handy with sandpaper as well, and more importantly, I understand how you play with these rackets from a coaching point of view, so perhaps it's time to run a camp and teach these techniques? At the very least, it'll give a chance for hardbat and sandpaper aficionados to train together.

European Championships - Michael Maze vs. Stefan Fegerl

The European Championships are in Herning, Denmark this year, Oct. 17-21. Here's the home page (in English). Here's the Men's Singles Draw and the Women's Singles draw. And here's a video (8:19, with the time between points removed) of a nice first round match (in the main draw, after the preliminaries), where Stefan Fegerl of Austria (world #131, European #53) upsets Michael Maze of Denmark (the lefty, world #15, European #4), 5,7,7,-10,-10,8.

Table Tennis Nation Uncovers the Canadian Scandal

Eugene Zhen Wang, the top-ranked player in North America, had his Canadian citizenship rushed through for the Olympics, according to this article at Table Tennis Nation. Perhaps the U.S. should invite the Chinese team over, and hold them hostage while we rush through their U.S. citizenship. 

Angry Ball

Don't mess with this 3-star ball.

Circular Table Tennis Triples

I'm not going to describe it. Just see the picture.

Non-Table Tennis - Buzzy Story

Today my story "Running with the Dead" went online at Buzzy Magazine, one of the highest paying science fiction & fantasy markets in the U.S. This is the story of a dead kid who wants to attend high school and run as a miler on the track team. He faces not only public pressure to quit - the country is mostly against letting dead people attend school - but also the captain of the track team and leader of the "Mile Mafia," the very person who murdered him one year before. Here's the first paragraph:

Ben closed his eyes as he jogged on the bike path through the forest, enjoying the cool misty early-morning breeze on his dead flesh. He could feel his dried-up heart loosely bouncing up and down inside his chest cavity in rhythm to his long strides. Toby, his pet mouse, squeaked in protest as he anchored himself deep inside his hole in Ben’s stomach, his claws dug firmly into the lining. It tickled.


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November 1, 2011

Celebrities Playing Table Tennis

I've updated the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page, with 11 new celebrities and 14 new pictures, bringing the totals up to 1285 pictures of 1285 celebrities. (Some pictures have multiple celebrities, so numbers below may appear not to add up.) New this month (and "new" means I already had pictures of that celebrity, but have put up new ones):

  • Eva Braun, Adolf Hitler's wife
  • Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys quarterback
  • Tim Tebow, Denver Broncos quarterback
  • Tiger Woods, golfer (new picture)
  • Payne Stewart, golfer
  • Sebastian Coe, English Olympic 1500 meter Olympic gold medalist
  • Andy Murray, tennis player (2 new pictures)
  • Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, tennis player (2 new pictures)
  • Boris Becker, tennis player
  • Bill Tilden, tennis player (2 new pictures)
  • Francis Hunter, tennis player (3 pictures)
  • Justin Gimelstob, tennis player
  • Wladimir Klitschko, Ukrainian heavyweight boxer (new picture)
  • Magnus Carlsen, chess player (2 pictures)
  • Boris Johnson, mayor of London (new picture)
  • Beatrice Lillie, actress
  • Junior Durkin, actor
  • Howard Jacobson, author (new picture)

Serve practice

I think the best way to do it, and way I do it (including a lot recently) is to practice one serve motion and one spin, depth, and placement variation at a time. After you've done a bunch of that one, do another variation with that motion. When you've practiced all the spin, depth, and placement variations for that motion, then practice doing them randomly. If you have trouble controlling one of them, go back and practice it until you have control of it, then go back to serving them randomly. When all this is done, move to the next service motion, and repeat. At the very end, randomly practice all the variations with all the motions.

A few important points. First, don't get in the habit of rapid-fire serving. Visualize each serve in your head before you do it, and make sure your execution matches what you visualize, including where it bounces on your side of the table, how it breaks, etc. Second, you should also practice subtle differences in the serves. For example, vary your follow-through on each serve to throw opponents off. On a forehand pendulum serve, sometimes follow through down, sometimes sideways, sometimes up. If you don't practice it, you won't be able to do it effectively in a match. Third, don't forget fast & deep serves. They take a disproportionate amount of time to develop the timing, and so put in extra practice with them.

Crazy inside-out sidespin by Wang Liqin

It's only nine seconds long, but if you want to learn how to loop inside-out with crazy inside-out sidespin, this is the video to watch. Shown at full speed and in slow motion, from two angles.

Pongcast Videos

  • 2011 European Championships (26:53), with play-by-play commentary, and time between points removed.
  • 2011 Swedish Open (30:30), starts off with "Classic Moments in Table Tennis History," then goes to the Swedish Open, with play-by-play commentary, and time between points removed.

Iran pulls out of "Ping-Pong Diplomacy"

North and South Korea, and India and Pakistan are all competing in Monaco in this modern version of Ping-Pong Diplomacy run by the Monaco-based Peace and Sport, but Iran has pulled out, with no reason given. Other teams competing are USA, China, Japan, Russia, France, and Qatar. Here's the ESPN article.

Big Ping-Pong

When I say Big Ping-Pong, I mean BIG PING-PONG. Watch this video (0:43), and see if you agree.


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October 12, 2011

The most under-used serves

Do you see a pattern?

  • The most under-used short serve: no-spin to the middle. This cuts off the wide angles, is difficult to push heavy or push short, and if served low (very important), is tricky to flip aggressively. The opponent has to make a split-second decision on whether to return it forehand or backhand, which is sometimes awkward even against a slow, short serve. It is especially effective if mixed in with backspin serves. Ideally serve so the second bounce, if given the chance, would bounce just short of the end-line.
  • The most under-used deep serve: fast no-spin to the middle (opponent's elbow). This is the receiver's transition point, and if you serve fast there, he has little time to react. By serving a dead ball - actually a light backspin so it's dead when it reaches the receiver after two bounces - the opponent has to generate his own power while rushing. Result? Mistakes galore. If used two or three times a game, this is a free point about half the time against players rated under 2000, and it can be pretty effective against stronger players as well. It's best used against someone who receives both forehand or backhand. Don't use it too often against a forehand player who is looking to loop the serve - against this player serve fast to the corners.

Doing the journey and heavy backspin

Once again while coaching yesterday "doing the journey" was one of the most interesting things for new players learning to serve with sidespin. What is "doing the journey"? For a righty, you place a box or other target on the far right corner of the table. (Where a righty opponent's backhand would be.) You have your player stand by his forehand court on the right. Then he serves a forehand pendulum serve so it bounces on his backhand court (on the left), goes over the net and bounces on the far left court, then curves to the right and hits or goes into the box. After his lesson was done, one kid spent roughly forever practicing this. (He made several, had lots of close calls.)

Another good exercise is to practice serving backspin so the ball comes back into the net. When first learning to do this, it helps to serve high. As you get better and better you can serve it lower and lower. One key thing to remember is that this is practice in learning to put backspin on the ball. In a real game, the "ideal" backspin serve would drive out a bit more, so that (if given the chance) the second bounce would be near the end-line, and that it would then bounce off. But it's great fun to serve slow, heavy backspin, and watch the ball practically slam backwards into the net!

European Championships

The European Championships (Oct. 8-16) are taking place, and you can watch it live! (Well, you can watch it live while play is actually going on.)

Lots of videos

Here's a whole bunch of videos I saw posted somewhere a while back. Take a look - lots of good stuff!

"Green" ping-pong

The new Spin Galactic paddles - translucent green! (And you thought this was going to be something about Kermit the frog, who, in case you didn't know, has eyes made from ping-pong ball halves - see second sentence.)

Marty Reisman Music Video

Yes, a Marty Reisman Music Video! Okay, it's actually the music video for “Superpowers” by Anthony Cruz featuring Julian Diaz. Marty shows up at 2:44 in this 4:45 video, and stays around for 36 seconds. (What, you don't know who Marty Reisman is? Shame on you! He's the one in the white hat.)

The first sponge - Hiroji Satoh in 1952

And while we're on the subject of Marty Reisman, here's vintage footage and narration by Marty and others on the first sponge player - Hiroji Satoh at the 1952 Worlds (4:01).


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