The Table Tennis Gambit

Gambit – a strategic move, where a player sacrifices something up front for future gain

Some players are playing chess, and some are just playing checkers. That’s the way it seems, although I’m not very good at either game. What little I know about chess is that the best players are planning several moves ahead. It’s not so different in table tennis. Every shot can’t be a winner, but every shot can contribute toward winning the match. Every player should have their own basic strategy for how they expect to win points, but it should be flexible enough to adjust to different opponents. Regardless of whether you are a master or a novice, the outcome of your matches will frequently come down to this ability to adjust.

The term “gambit” is typically used in chess, but I’ve seen a few table tennis players who appeared to sacrifice shots, only to win those points, and eventually the match. One player in particular would purposely entice his opponents with balls that were a little high, but actually had more spin than normal. Overanxious players would “take the bait” and end up overhitting and missing their shot completely.  Defenders may appear to be sacrificing an awful lot, but if it takes ten shots to win a point, they have no problem with that. 

Fortunately, most of us don’t need to think more than a couple of shots ahead, but it’s really important that we at least do that. It’s important to serve with some idea how you would like the point to play out. It’s just as important to approach service returns the same way. If you use a combination racket, you’ll need to consider which side of your paddle you think will be most effective. Essentially, every shot you take is a calculated risk. Seemingly safe shots don’t always turn out that way if they are easily attacked. Attackers have to be willing to take high risk shots, even if it’s just to let their opponents know that they will attack. 

Sometimes an entire match, an entire tournament, or an entire year might be a gambit. You may have to sacrifice some victories in order to develop as a player. Any losses along the way will definitely be educational. Many of my worst losses were due to ill advised gambits. Sometimes sacrifices don’t pay off. But, much of what I’ve learned has been from taking some chances and trying out new approaches to competition. If you’ve been playing the exact same way for years, and having the exact same results, you might need to start playing chess, not checkers.

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