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Coaching Tip: Why Table Tennis Really Is Chess at Light Speed

By Larry Hodges, USATT Hall of Famer and Certified National Coach

We often say table tennis is chess at light speed. It has all the tactics of chess except you don’t have time to think things over – there’s no time clock, just a ball coming at you, often at dizzying speeds. But table tennis is more like chess in other ways as well.

Most chess openings involve pushing pawns as players maneuver to control the center of the board and attack with their stronger pieces. Most table tennis rallies start with pushing as players maneuver to control the table and attack with their stronger shots.

Chess players try to control the board early on with their bishops and knights, which set up their more powerful pieces, the rooks and queen. Table tennis players try to take control of the rally early on with their opening loops and drives, which set up their more powerful shots, their smashes and loop kills.

Chess players often lose when they bring out their queen too early, before their other pieces are in position to support it. Table tennis players often lose when they try to smash or loop kill too early in the rally, before they’ve set up the shot.

In chess, if you lose your queen without taking the opponent’s queen, you almost always lose. In table tennis, if you can’t get your best shot into play while your opponent can, you almost always lose.

In chess you can start off by pushing your pawn one or two squares. In table tennis you can start off by pushing short or long.

Chess players all have a weakness – their king, which they must guard at all times. Table tennis players all have weaknesses, and they must guard those weaknesses at all times.

When a chess player is losing he often tries for a stalemate in desperation. When a table tennis player is losing a point he often lobs in desperation.

In chess the pawns are the weakest shot, but used properly, they can win by supporting stronger pieces, by smothering an opponent, or by getting “queened.” In table tennis the push is often the weakest shot, but you can win with it by using it to set up stronger shots, by smothering an opponent with well-placed pushes, or by turning it into a powerful weapon with quickness, placement, heavy backspin, or keeping it short.

When a chess player doesn’t know how to react to an opponent’s opening, he studies and learns the proper moves. When a table tennis player can’t return an opponent’s serve, he practices and learns the proper receives.

In chess, you have a lot of time to think and plan before each move. In table tennis you have a lot of time to think and plan before each match.

In speed chess, you have little time to think and plan before each move. In table tennis you have little time to think and plan before the next point.

In chess, you run into time trouble if you can’t quickly and instinctively see the right move in most circumstances. In table tennis you run into trouble if you can’t quickly and instinctively see the right shot in most circumstances.

So yes, table tennis is just chess at lightning speed. Which means, of course, that chess is simply table tennis at a glacial pace!

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