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Deception in Table Tennis

Deception in Table Tennis

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Summary Notes

Although there are many ways to deceive your opponent, some methods are better than others.

Types of Deception

There are 3 main types of deception in table tennis.

  1. How much pace you put on the ball (more or less pace than your opponent thinks).
  2. Spin - both the type of spin on the ball (which is very effective but hard to conceal), and the amount of spin on the ball (which is easier to be deceptive, and often still quite effective).
  3. Placement of the ball - putting it where your opponent does not expect it.

Pace

What are the advantages of deceiving your opponent about the pace on the ball?

  • You can catch your opponent out of position, and he may not reach the ball or be forced to play it off balance.
  • You can force mistakes from your opponent because he is not expecting the extra pace, or the lack of pace on the ball

Spin

What are the advantages of deceiving your opponent about the spin on the ball?

  • If you can trick your opponent about the type of spin on the ball (e.g. making him think it is topspin when it is really backspin or sidespin), then you are likely to win the point outright, or at the very least set up an easy attack. This is the most effective deception, but it is also the toughest to do since it is very hard to produce a topspin ball with a stroke that looks like a backspin shot, or vice versa. This was most effective back in the days of legal hidden services, where the receiver could not see the contact on the ball. It's pretty tough to do during a rally.
  • Tricking your opponent about the amount of spin on the ball is much easier to do, and is often almost as effective. This is because you can vary the contact of the ball using your wrist to change the amount of spin more easily, without having to change the spin completely. Also, sidespin can be added to further confuse your opponent, since although he may be able to see whether you have put a little or a lot of spin on the ball, he must also decide how much sidespin vs topspin/backspin has been used. If your opponent is attempting a stroke with a small margin for error, a small mistake in his reading of the spin may be enough to win you the point.
  • Because a small mistake in table tennis can be the difference between a good return, or a return that goes into the net, or is high or long enough for you to attack (especially in the short game), getting your opponent to misread the amount of spin on the ball (or the proportion of sidespin to backspin/topspin) is a very effective way to win points.

Placement

This is usually achieved in one of three ways:

  1. You prepare your stroke as though you will hit the ball in one direction, and when your opponent moves in that direction, you hit the ball the other way.
  2. You wait long enough for your opponent to stop moving, and once he has stopped, you hit the ball wide to either side (or perhaps to the playing elbow). Since he has lost his momentum, he will find it difficult to get to the ball in time (or in the case of the playing elbow, to get out of the way enough to make an effective stroke).
  3. It is also possible to deceive your opponent about the depth of the ball (although this is usually combined with deceptive pace, such as playing a drop shot instead of a smash).

Methods of Deception

Pace Deception

This is usually done in several ways:

  • Using a different swing speed to change the pace of the ball.
  • Using your wrist to change the amount of pace of the ball - by either changing the amount of wrist snap, or changing the angle of the bat to get a different amount of spin vs pace.
  • Using your stroke preparation to indicate you are about to play one stroke, then changing to another stroke.
  • Twiddling your combination bat to use the other rubber which is faster (or slower).

Again, sometimes a smaller change of pace that is less obvious to your opponent may work better than a larger change of pace that is easier for your opponent to notice early.

Spin Deception

Use of the wrist to change the contact with the ball is generally the best way to achieve spin deception.

  • Change the angle of contact to vary the amount of spin in one direction.
  • By varying the bat angle, you will automatically change the proportion of spin vs speed in your strokes, and this makes it harder for your opponent to read the spin on the ball correctly.
  • If you also break your wrist a little sideways, you will be changing the amount of topspin/backspin and sidespin as well, which is harder to perform successfully, but is also much harder for your opponent to read correctly.
  • This can be a good option if your basic stroke technique is sound. It is not such a good choice for those strokes you have not mastered, since you will probably make too many mistakes.

Placement Deception 1

  • Be balanced when you are playing the stroke, which gives you the widest range of options when choosing a location to play the ball. Usually this will give you at least 3 options - your opponent's wide forehand, wide backhand, and playing elbow.
  • If your opponent is trying to guess which direction you will hit the ball, he only has a 1 in 3 chance of guessing correctly.
  • If your opponent is waiting until he is sure which direction the ball is going, he will have to wait until he sees where the ball is heading from your bat, he won't be able to tell from your body language before contact is made.
  • If your basic stroke technique is good, you can change the angle of your wrist at the last moment to change the direction of the ball. This is an advanced technique which requires good touch, but is very effective if you can practice enough to master the stroke.

Placement Deception 2

  • Faking out your opponent by using your body language to pretend that you are hitting the ball in one direction, while in reality you hit the ball the other way. This is usually done with a last-moment change in the angle of the wrist. The different between this and the changing of the wrist angle mentioned in Placement Deception 1 above is that in this case the player also tends to take his eye off the ball and look in the direction he is pretending to play the ball, to make the deception more effective. This is a risky thing to do, since it is quite possible that you will mis-hit the ball, or even miss the ball entirely, since you are no longer watching the contact, and you have dramatically changed the angle of your bat.
  • This type of deception is usually done by high level players against lower level players to show off. I don't recommend it for use against opponents of a similar level.

Breaking of Patterns

  • If you have established patterns that your opponent knows about, when you break the pattern and do something else there is a good chance that you will force a mistake from your opponent.
  • The downside is that the rest of the time, your opponent guesses correctly what you are going to do and will probably take advantage of this.
  • I would recommend trying not to use obvious patterns during a match, but if you realize during a match that you are accidentally playing to a pattern, then you should break the pattern up.

Wider Range of Strokes

For any situation during a rally, if you have a wider range of strokes to choose from, your opponent has to be prepared for more possibilities, and if he guesses, he is more likely to guess wrong. This is a way to be more deceptive by taking advantage of your opponent's guesses, without trying to be tricky. The more options you have, the tougher it is for your opponent to prepare well.

When Choosing a Risky Stroke is Your Best Option

Sometimes a risky stroke that your opponent doesn't expect is better than the higher percentage shot that he is waiting for, since it may give you a better chance of winning the point (although still a low chance).

Final Thoughts

I recommended using deceptive methods that blend in well with your own natural game, such as:

  • subtle use of the wrist to change bat angles and vary the amount of spin vs speed
  • addition of sidespin to serves to make it harder to read the amount of topspin/backspin
  • being balanced to allow a wider choice of locations
  • having a wide range of stroke options to force your opponent to cover more possibilities
  • use of the wrist to chance the direction of the ball at the last minute when looping (but not 'fake' body language)
  • breaking any patterns that you have accidentally started to use in a match.

Most of these methods don't require a lot of training and practice to be used successfully in a match, and can be performed without distracting too much of your focus during a game.

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