Sizing Up Your Opponents and Assigning Estimated Ratings

There’s a new table tennis club in town! That’s something you don’t hear too often, but I just learned that there is a new place to play within ten miles of my home. I heard they had good tables, great flooring, and plenty of room to play. It turned out that all of this was true. I also heard that the price to play was only $10.00 for unlimited play. This turned out to not be true. It took awhile to find this new spot, but there it was, with eight quality tables, and only two of them being used. I didn’t plan on playing that day, but I definitely wanted to get more information. I walked to the front desk and inquired about the cost. Upon finding out that they were charging $15 an hour, I initially thought that was a bit steep for the Atlanta players I know. As I left I realized perhaps that was the price they tell you if you don’t look like the kind of customer they prefer. I can kind of understand this. I have been mistaken for a vagrant before. Perhaps they hadn’t noticed the Butterfly logo on my pants. Maybe they didn’t realize my table tennis blog has a worldwide following of deeply disturbed players. I fear I have been a victim of profiling.

We’d like to think that we don’t judge people by their appearances, but most of us do. Occasionally I am called upon to make some judgements on new players by assigning them estimated ratings. I actually think I have gotten quite good at this. I was recently told that I have a sixth sense for estimating cooking times for some of my favorite dishes. I just seem to be a really good estimator. I try not to look at outward appearances or even consider what the new player may say about their abilities. Instead, I have a pretty standard routine, guaranteed to assign a rating within twenty points of exactly where they should be. First, I never assign a rating under 800. If a player is breathing, that’s pretty much good enough for me to give them an 800 rating. Rating someone too low will only irritate the 900 rated players who might lose to them. Typically we’ll hit some forehands and backhands. I’ll have them do some backhand pushes and observe their strokes and consistency. Next, I’ll have them serve and return some of my serves. If they are struggling at this point, I can probably find a nice first rating for them, somewhere under 1400. If they look like they might be in the intermediate range, I’ll play one game or possibly a practice match. Depending on how that goes, they might end up with a rating anywhere from 1400 to 2000. Players who are over 2000 almost always have established ratings.

My system, being an estimate, by definition is not perfect. I am at least trying to be objective, and I usually am in the ballpark with my rating estimates. Unfortunately, we usually don’t get a chance to evaluate new opponents so thoroughly. I usually don’t have a real clear idea about my opponents abilities until about midway through our first game. In an effort to help with this evaluation process, I have compiled a list of things not to look out for to identify your opponents abilities.

  • Clothing – I’ve seen some pretty good players who looked the part lose to players wearing blue jeans.
  • Racket – The best paddle in the world won’t work if you don’t know how to use it.
  • Rating – Even if it’s accurate, it does not fully represent a players abilities.
  • Age – Don’t underestimate young players or senior citizens.
  • Body type – Good players come in all shapes and size
Appearances can be deceiving. It shouldn’t be hard to size up your opponents. You just need to know what to look for, and just as importantly, what not to look at at all.

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