How to Beat 90% of Your Friends at Ping Pong

30% of your friends are just plain bad at ping pong. You know who I’m talking about. You will beat them.

10% of your friends have Asian Ice in their veins. You also know who I’m talking about. You will not beat them.

The other 60% of your friends are in your same universe of casual mediocrity. This is the group that you must learn to conquer.


The Nature of Ping Pong

Ping pong is an interesting game. In games like football, basketball, hockey, and soccer, you are rewarded each time you do something good (like score a goal or a touchdown). These are positive-reward games. Most of us, because of our familiarity with all of these popular positive-reward games, are programmed to attack.

In ping pong, you are rewarded each time your opponent does something bad. Your opponent hits the ball into the net: your point. Your opponent hits the ball off the table: your point. Your opponent lets the ball bounce twice: your point. Your opponent misses the ball altogether: your point. It’s a negative-reward game. You do not score. Your opponent scores for you. Therefore, you win by making your opponent score for you the most times. And you make them score for you when they do bad things.

So, how can you make your opponent do bad things?

1. Don’t EVER attack

attack-firstAccording to my estimation, when a player “attacks” (which includes spiking the ball, doing a crazy spin, hitting with incredible force, or doing that “trick” their roommate taught them in college), the “attack” succeeds only 20-40% of the time. The other 60-80% of the time? The ball goes into the net, or off of the table. (Believe me, I kept stats for about 100 games.) Therefore, mathematically, if two players are relatively equal in skill, the player who attacks less will win, usually by double the amount of the other player.

When your opponent does land one of their “attacks,” happy day! Their ego is boosted, their confidence is raised, and the spikes and spins will rack you up points til kingdom come. And with each spike they do happen to land, they will further define themselves as a “spiker” or a “spinner” or an “attacker,” not even realizing how much they are losing. To you.

Ping pong players are Greedy. Feed their greed.


2. Volley for as long as possible

Related to tactic #1, the first player to grow impatient during a long volley will be the first player to attack, and thus, lose. Just keep returning what they give you. Don’t try to score. Focus only on painfully prolonging the volley. Place the ball right in the middle of the table. Place it nice and high.

If you keep the game going, your opponent’s greedy little self will start having thoughts to the tune of “this is a long volley, I can finish it…NOW”, at which point they will attack, and hit the ball off of the table or into the net.

And you will get a point.

And you will get into their head.

Ping pong players are impatient. Be patient and you will win.


Important Note

You will be tempted to break tactics 1 and 2. It will amaze you how wired you are to disobey these rules. So when you do, and you start giving away points like tootsie rolls on Halloween, give yourself a slap in the wrist (on your non-dominant hand) and remember what we’ve talked about.


Well, off you go little grasshopper. Take it to your co-workers in the break room, dominate your older siblings next Christmas on the old table, and own your friends this weekend at Chuck E Cheese.

Your opponents’ greed and impatience will hand you the victory every time. Before long, you’ll be sitting smugly in the 90th percentile of the ping pong echelon.

2 Responses

  1. gculliss
    | Reply

    You should read page 3 of this PDF:

    It describes your general strategy of winning by not losing.

  2. Travis Hancock
    | Reply

    Awesome article. That is spot on! I’ve pulled out a few of the paragraphs about tennis for other people to read directly:

    In expert tennis, about 80 per cent of the points are won; in amateur tennis, about 80 per cent of the points are lost. In other words, professional tennis is a Winner’s Game – the final outcome is determined by the activities of the winner – and amateur tennis is a Loser’s Game – the final outcome is determined by the activities of the loser

    Amateur tennis, Ramo found, is almost entirely different. Brilliant shots, long and exciting rallies and seemingly miraculous recoveries are few and far between. On the other hand, the ball is fairly often hit into the net or out of bounds, and double faults at service are not uncommon. The amateur duffer seldom beats his opponent, but he beats himself all the time. The victor in this game of tennis gets a higher score than the opponent, but he gets that higher score because his opponent is losing even more points.

    Dr. Ramo explains that if you choose to win at tennis – as opposed to having a good time the strategy for winning is to avoid mistakes. The way to avoid mistakes is to be conservative and keep the ball in play, letting the other fellow have plenty of room in which to blunder his way to defeat, because he, being an amateur will play a losing game and not know it.

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