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Game Strategies, by Samson Dubina

 Samson DubinaAt sixteen years old, I battled in my first North American teams tournament in Baltimore, Maryland.  I was overwhelmed.  I struggled with new opponents and had absolutely no strategy.  Practicing daily, eating well, being in peak physical condition, arriving at the tournament early to practice – are all useless without proper game tactics.  Every player has weaknesses; some are more evident than others.  Through this article, I will give you insight into which strategies are appropriate for the nine most common player categories.  First, I will describe what your opponent is thinking or strategizing.  Second, I will give a game plan.  Third, I will give six key points to remember.  At the conclusion of the article, I have included a cut-out portion that you can pack in your Paddle Palace racket case to be better mentally prepared at your next tournament.
 
 
Larry the Looper
What he wants to do:
Larry wants to loop first.  He usually starts with short serve and looks for a long push so that he can start looping.  When Larry is on offense, he continues to loop until the point is finished.  When Larry is on defense, he usually blocks with his backhand and counterloops with his forehand.

What you need to do:
Force your game on him and take his weapons away.  Since he is a looper, he probably wants to loop.  Chopping, blocking, and lobbing probably aren’t his strengths.  You should serve short and attempt to attack first, thus forcing the looper into defense.  If you loop soft, don’t loop to his strong forehand (he will probably be comfortable counter looping this ball for a winner).  Usually your opening loop should be to his weakness—ordinarily middle or backhand.  After the start of the rally, surprise him to the wide forehand.  After he moves back to retrieve that ball, attack his wide backhand because he can’t consistently backhand counterloop from off the table.

1. Serve short
2. Return short
3. Attack first
4. Initially attack his middle or backhand
5. Play against his weaker side more often
6. If counter looping, change to his backhand side

Blake the Blocker
What he wants to do:

Blake plays with consistency and placement.  His goal is to counter your every move and keep the ball in play until you miss.

What you need to do:
Serve deep, push deep, loop deep!  Hitting the ball in the last four inches of the table will eliminate the sharp angles and force him onto his heels.  Don’t worry about forcing the attack first.  His opening attack and footwork probably aren’t very strong; you should be able to counterattack easily.  Look for a weak side.  He will have one preferred side, either forehand or backhand; and you should be able to identify this within the first several points.  With slow footwork, the blocker will have difficulty hiding his weak side.  Check for a combination racket; there is a high probability that the blocker is using an unconventional rubber (long pips or anti.)

1. Serve deep (to eliminate the angles)
2. Push deep (to get a long return)
3. Loop deep (in the last four inches)
4. Check for combination racket
5. Identify his weak side
6. Counterattack against his weak opening

Chelsea the Chopper
What she wants to do:
Chelsea wants to keep the ball low with lots of backspin and be consistent until you miss or get tired.  She doesn’t want to attack, but sometimes she might just to put more pressure on you.  Chelsea moves well side to side and easily reaches for the balls in deep corners.

What you need to do:
You need to be patient and choose the right ball to attack; this often requires patience.  Choppers usually have long or short pips on the backhand; be sure to check her racket before starting the match.  If you eliminate your own errors, it puts more pressure on the chopper to attack, to spin more, or to keep the ball lower.  This is when the chopper starts making mistakes.  If you attack her side-to-side, you will be confused by attacking to the pips, then the inverted, then the pips, etc…  Instead, a better strategy is attacking in-and-out on the same side.  Remember, keep it simple for yourself.  As long as the chopper isn’t attacking well, serve long then start attacking long and short to one side and the middle.

1. Be consistent and patient until the right ball comes
2. Use simple serves|
3. Attack strong when the opportunity arises
4. Keep it simple – loop one, push one
5. Placement to the playing elbow
6. Move her in and out

Ulysses the Unconventional Rubber Player (long pips/anti)
What he wants to do:
Ulysses wants YOUR OWN SPIN to confuse you.  Anti and long pips don’t create their own spin.  He wants you to juice up your heavy sidespin serves then keep looping with heavy topspin ‘til you drop.  He is just going to keep the ball in play and move you around.

What you need to do:
KISS – keep it simple, sweetheart.  Serve deep and fast, no spin or very light spin.  This way, it will be simple to attack a high dead ball that isn’t angled sharply to the side.  Seems easy… well it is.  Because anti and long pips don’t have a deep trajectory, the unconventional rubber player will have trouble playing deep and low from your long serve.  In order to clear the net, the long pips/anti serve return must be slightly higher.  His anti/pips racket make it very difficult to consistently attack.  Also, the rubber doesn’t have the grip to curve the ball to wide angles.  Once you serve no-spin or light spin deep and fast, he will give you a high ball near the middle of the table.  This is your chance; aggressively attack this ball!  If he returns it, push the next ball.  If you continue to loop consecutive balls, the backspin will accumulate and you will eventually miss.  Remember, if you push, then the next ball will have slight topspin.  If you loop, the next ball will have backspin.

1. Kiss
2. Serve deep “no-spin”
3. Push deep
4. Loop one, push one – don’t often attack two consecutive balls
5. Attack strong if the opportunity arises
6. Long pips and anti aren’t confusing, your own spin is just coming back reversed

Wanda the One-Sided Player
What she wants to do:
Wanda wants to hide her weak side and play her strength as much as possible.  Sometimes her weak side will have pips or anti as a crutch for that weakness.

What you need to do:
You need to identify the weak side.  A one-sided player is defined as someone who has a strong forehand and weak backhand or a strong backhand and a weak forehand.  This style can first be most readily identified by looking at a player’s stance.  Generally if she is standing square to the table (with both feet parallel to the table) she is a backhand player.  If she is standing with the right foot back significantly (for a righty) then she is more forehand oriented.  This can be a frustrating style to play against.  For example, you are playing against a backhand blocker and no matter what you do, she just pushes and blocks on the entire table with her backhand.   You must play long distances starting from the serve and first attack.  For example, serve short angled wide to the forehand then attack deep to the wide backhand.  OR the opposite.  Serve short angled wide to the backhand then attack deep to the wide forehand.  In the longer rallies, it will be very difficult for her to transition well from both forehand and backhand.  She may also have unorthodox rubber; watch for racket flips throughout the point.

1. Identify the weak side
2. Check the racket for an unorthodox rubber
3. Watch for racket flips
4. Play long distances – force her to use her weak side
5. Force her off the table
6. Play long rallies

Alan the All-Around Player
What he wants to do:

Alan is usually quite consistent in pushing, blocking, and attacking.  His goal is to keep long rallies in whatever manner it takes until you give him an easy ball. He often looks for your weaknesses and forms his strategies around attacking those areas.

What you need to do:
First, decipher which style is working best for him.  Although the all-around player can use any game style to win, he probably wins the majority of his points with one particular fashion.  Second, be patient and wait for the right ball to attack.  Third, aim to go for shots which will hit ninety percent of the time with good placement and variation.  If the all-around player changes his strategy and begins winning, you may need to temporarily change your strategy accordingly.

1. Decipher which style he is winning points with
2. Use good ball placement and variation
3. Be consistent and wait for the right ball to attack
4. Be prepared for him to change his strategy
5. Be flexible in your own strategy
6. Have a good understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses

Amanda the Short Pips Attacker
What she wants to do:
Amanda wants to play quick attacks over the table.  No matter if she attacks first or not, she wants to finish the point with quick, off-the-bounce attacks.  She often serves long, looking to smash your weak return.

What you need to do:
You need to serve short OR serve long if she doesn’t attack the long serve.  The KEY – don’t open with an initial soft attack.  If you attack soft, she will pips-out counterattack and put you running on your heels.  Either attack strong and deep in the last four inches of the table OR push deep.  If you attack deep, the slight spin reversal and trajectory reversal will give the pips player a difficult time keeping the ball low.  If you push heavy and deep with good placement, then she will roll the ball up, which is easy to counterattack.  This is the reason there are very few short pip attackers in the top one hundred in the men’s world rankings.  When you loop wider angles, the pips player may have to move back from the table.  The pips ball will have a very short trajectory; it is almost impossible for your opponent to attack consistently well from off the table.

1. Attack strong and deep
2. Push deep
3. Counterattack her weak opening
4. Loop deep and spinny (last four inches of the table)
5. Play wide angles
6. Try to push her back from the table

Sergio the Seemiller Grip Player
What he wants to do:
Sergio wants to attack first from near the table.  If he can’t attack first, he will push to either deep corner then use his quick backhand block to move you.  Instead of moving back and counter looping, he will stay close and use an anti block as a slow variation.

What you need to do:
The Seemiller grip player is unable to loop with his backhand.  If you push deep to the backhand, you will probably get a deep push return.  Because Sergio’s grip limits his wrist mobility, he will have difficulty flipping your serve – even short topspin.  Also, it is difficult for him to open his racket angle on the short backhand; so serve as short and wide with as much backspin as you can to his short backhand.  Once the rally has begun, he likes to control the table with his backhand block, which has exceptionally good placement.  Therefore, attacking the wide forehand will push him back and end his hopes of controlling with backhand.

1. Attack the wide forehand
2. Push to deep backhand
3. Serve short topspin
4. Serve very short backspin to the wide backhand
5. Play wide angles during the rally to move him away from the table
6. Watch for racket flips

Perry the Penholder
What he wants to do:
Perry wants to attack strong with his forehand especially from the backhand side of the table.  He also feels more comfortable blocking on the backhand and counter attacking on the forehand.

What you need to do:
You need to attack very wide to his forehand so that you can force the penholder to hit the next ball with a weak backhand from off the table.  After you serve, try to move the player to a long distance position from where the last ball was hit.  For example, serve short angled wide to the forehand then attack deep to the wide backhand.  OR the opposite.  Serve short angled wide to the backhand then attack deep to the wide forehand.  If he won’t turn and loop a deep push to the backhand, that’s also a good option.

1. Attack first
2. Play to his wide forehand
3. If he moves back, attack backhand
4. Play long distances
5. Loop powerfully to the forehand
6. Loop high and spinny to the backhand

Before beginning any match, choose two of the strategies discussed above that are appropriately matched to your opponent’s style.  Silently remind yourself of your game plan before each point.  As the match progresses, be willing to immediately change if your initial strategy isn’t working.  Many general game strategies (such as ball placement and variation) do overlap.  Below, is a cut-out portion to keep in your table tennis bag and give you ideas during tournaments.  More articles and online video analysis is available at www.samsondubina.com

Looper
1. Serve short
2. Return short
3. Attack first
4. Initially attack his middle or backhand
5. Play against his weaker side more often
6. If counter looping, change to his backhand side

Blocker
1. Serve deep (to eliminate the angles)
2. Push deep (to get a long return)
3. Loop deep (in the last four inches)
4. Check for combination racket
5. Identify his weak side
6. Counterattack against his weak opening

Chopper
1. Be consistent and patient until the right ball comes
2. Use simple serves
3. Attack strong when the opportunity arises
4. Keep it simple – loop one, push one
5. Placement to the playing elbow
6. Move her in and out

Long Pips/Anti
1. Kiss – for your own good
2. Serve deep “no-spin”
3. Push deep
4. Loop one, push one – don’t often attack two consecutive balls
5. Attack strong if the opportunity arises
6. Remember, long pips and anti aren’t confusing – your own spin is just coming back reversed

One-Sided
1. Identify the weak side
2. Check the racket for an unorthodox rubber
3. Watch for racket flips
4. Play long distances – force her to use her weak side
5. Force her off the table
6. Play long rallies

All-Around
1. Decipher which style he is winning points with
2. Use good ball placement and variation
3. Be consistent and wait for the right ball to attack
4. Be prepared for him to change his strategy
5. Be flexible in your own strategy
6. Have a good understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses

Short Pips Attacker
1. Attack strong and deep
2. Push deep
3. Counterattack her weak opening
4. Loop deep and spinny (last four inches of the table)
5. Play wide angles
6. Try to push her back from the table

Seemiller Grip
1. Attack the wide forehand
2. Push to deep backhand
3. Serve short topspin
4. Serve very short backspin to the wide backhand
5. Play wide angles during the rally to move him away from the table
6. Watch for racket flips

Penholder
1. Attack first
2. Play to his wide forehand
3. If he moves back, attack backhand
4. Play long distances
5. Loop powerfully to forehand
6. Loop high and spinny to the backhand

2 Comments

  1. Ray Johnston

    Thanks for writing this article. These strategies are simple and allowed me to categorize almost every player that I have played against.

    1. Paddle Palace

      Samson Dubina will be contributing two stories a month to our blog. One will highlight his preparation for the Olympic trials and the other will be on game development (see Perfecting Your Serve dated July 7). I know you will enjoy them.

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