There are not too many sports where professionals and amateurs mingle so casually. I’ve gone to plenty of major league baseball games and not once did I get a chance to field a few grounders or face the starting pitcher. In table tennis sometimes it’s quite different. I recently participated in a local tournament. As one of the lower rated players in the championship division I merely hoped for a possible upset victory and a good showing against generally younger and more talented players. Upon checking the draw sheets I see my first match is against a 2600 level player and the top seed. All I really needed to know was that he was rated over 2600. Only later did I begin to wonder, “Who is this guy?”
Azeez Jamiu had come to Atlanta and I was scheduled to play him at 11:00 am. I’ve played some very high rated players before so I knew about what to expect. Azeez has been ranked as high as 331 in the world. If there was any doubt that he was a professional the check he held in his hand at the end of the day confirmed it. I got a chance to talk briefly with him after our match. He was gracious, humble, and engaging. I told him that I had enjoyed playing him. I knew I had gotten far less than his best effort but he had managed to make me look surprisingly respectable.
Most players don’t really enjoy mismatches. Having been on both sides of this I’d say I don’t like them too often. The most exciting matches usually involve players of similar abilities. About 200 rating points usually is considered a level of playing ability. Azeez is four levels above me. For me to be in his position I would have to play a 1000 rated player. Somehow the difference between 1000 and 1800 doesn’t seem near as far as from 1800 to 2600. Numerically it may be identical but the climb up the ratings mountain always gets steeper as you ascend.
To avoid drastic mismatches it’s wise to choose your tournaments and events wisely. Although some players don’t like them there should be some minimum standards for playing in higher rated events. If you do sign up for the championship event, expect to see some big numbers at the top of the draw sheet. The players that swoop into town and leave on Monday with the prize money aren’t just any guys, they’re professionals.