Tactics for beating weird players

If you play in local league or amateur tournaments, you will come across all kinds of weird and awkward styles.

These are players with strange looking strokes and movements. They may not look great, but somehow they have developed an unorthodox playing style which works for them and can be infuriatingly effective.

The advantage of a weird playing style is that it is unusual. It may even be unique to a particular player. You have to respond to movements and strokes which you have never played against before.

It can take a while to work these players out. If you don’t adjust quickly enough, you lose. You leave the table scratching your head, thinking ‘how did I just lose to a player, who has such bad technique?’.

But if a playing style is too unconventional – strokes too out of the ordinary – there’s usually some major weaknesses to exploit.

So what tactics can you use? As there’s potentially so many styles which may be deemed ‘weird’, ‘awkward’ and ‘unorthodox’ it’s difficult to give very specific tactics which works for every player. But here are four generalised tactical approaches you can try, which should work against most types of ‘weird’ player.

Tactics to try…

1. Identify and exploit the weak shot

When a player has unusual technique, there’s probably at least one shot he struggles do well. It could be a push, a block, a topspin, a smash or something else. It will vary from player to player, but it is your job to find out.

Ideally you should watch the player before your game. This will help you identify any major weaknesses before your game has even started. If you don’t get a chance to see the weird player before your game, try to identify any obvious weaknesses during your warm up. You may need to try out a few different things in first game to see what he can and can’t do well.

For example, you may see the weird player has a really solid backhand push, but keeps popping the ball up when doing a forehand push. Lesson learnt? Push to the forehand and attack any loose balls which pop up. If a player has very unorthodox technique, he may not be able to do much to improve the stroke during the game, so you should be able to keep targeting the weak shot again and again and again.

2. Play to the weak side

A player may have developed unusual strokes to compensate for a much weaker side. I have seen players who adopt an extreme backhand stance (right foot very forward) and try to cover most of the table playing backhand strokes. These players are strong when the ball is played to the backhand side and middle. But if you play the ball to the wide forehand, they start to struggle. They have to either (a) play an awkward backhand stroke from the forehand side (and be completely out of position) or (b) use their weaker forehand side. With this type of opponent, keep playing to his weaker side a lot, and you should enjoy success.

3. Take advantage of poor footwork

A player may have unusual strokes to compensate for poor footwork. He may reach and lean and jab and prod, rather than moving his feet. So use good ball placement and exploit the weird player’s poor footwork. Aim for the wide backhand. Aim for the wide forehand. Aim for the playing elbow (cross-over point). Keep switching the direction of play. He may be able to return balls and his shots may look odd and come off at funny angles, but it’s unlikely his shots will be very strong. You should get plenty of weak balls back, which you can attack and win easy points.

4. Turn it into a topspin game

From my experience, weird players often favour backspin games. They like to push and swipe and chop and wait for a loose ball to hit for a winner. It can be tough to take them on in pushing rallies, as they are the experts at this. Instead try to turn it into a topspin game. Serve with topspin, both long and short. Return with topspin, both flicks and loops. Just try to get into a topspin rally as soon as you can. You may find the match becomes very easy to win.

Final thoughts

Don’t underestimate a weird player. His strokes may look strange. His technique may be poor. But he still could be very effective if you let him play the game he wants to play. There are many ways to play and succeed at table tennis at the amateur level. If you underestimate the weird player, you can easily lose.

So don’t let the weird player impose his playing style on you. Don’t get baffled by the strangeness. Every player who is too unconventional will have weaknesses. Try to find where these weaknesses are and go after them. Keep applying the pressure. If you do this, you will enjoy much more success.

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