Defence and Offense - Exploiting a Chopper's Playing Style

In today’s era of table tennis, the prevalence of choppers at all levels of table tennis is becoming increasingly rare. Although players at the top level have several opportunities to train with these type of players, beginner or intermediate players may not have the same chances and as a result struggle to play against choppers even though they may even be below their own level.

So today we are going to examine some effective tips and tactics which you should use when playing against a chopper. But before we do that, it is worthwhile to take the time to get a better understanding of what a chopper actually is trying to achieve when playing you.

The goal of a chopper

While more advanced choppers will be able to play attacking strokes, choppers generally tend to win matches by forcing their opponent into making mistakes. In order to achieve this, a chopper will aim to consistently get the ball on the table while also varying the amount of spin on each shot. This is in an attempt to get the opponent misread the spin on the ball or mistime their stroke which usually results in the opponent missing their shot.

Tips and tactics against choppers

  • If possible, study your opponent before you play them. If you are able to watch your opponent play a separate match or even train, this can help you gain a general idea of what their strengths or weaknesses may be before you even play them. For example, you may notice that your opponent is much stronger chopping on their forehand side in comparison to their backhand. You must remember that these are general tips which can be applied to playing all choppers, and ultimately you should tailor your own tactics to exploit the weaknesses which you may realise of each different chopper you may play.
  • Ask to look at your opponent’s bat when warming up. It is important to understand what type of rubbers your opponent is using, as it is not uncommon for choppers to use short or long pimples on either side of their bat. More experienced choppers may also try and trick you in the warm up by not using the rubber which has the pimples on it in an attempt to surprise you when you start playing. Only realising what equipment they are using mid-game and accordingly adjusting your tactics may be the difference in you winning or losing that match, so make sure to always check your opponent’s bat before playing.
  • Be patient with your play. The key to playing a chopper is to ensure that you pick the right balls to play your attacking shots. For example, if the chopper is returning the balls with heavy back spin, there will be a greater chance for error if you play an attacking shot unless you have a very strong forehand or backhand loop. This is ultimately playing into the hands of your opponent who is trying to get force you to play errors by playing rash shots. Learning to read the amount of spin your opponent is putting on the ball is important to ensure that you play the correct shot. You may find this difficult at first, but will come naturally as you play against more choppers and continue to improve as a player.
  • Variate your shots. If you are continually hitting to a chopper with similar pace, spin and placement they will be able to get into a rhythm and will more than likely win the point. Therefore, it is important that you variate your shots as much as possible to try and unsettle your opponent. In doing so, you may notice that your opponent may have more difficulty when you place more spin on the ball or place the ball in a certain area, and can continue to use these tactics to win points. Do not feel as if you need to continue to play attacking shots after you have done so initially, as it is just as effective to variate the play adding in a short push during a rally. This is because choppers generally play far back from the table and will have to cover a long distance to reach the ball.
  • Do not get frustrated when you lose a point. This point stands when playing against any player, but is especially important when playing a chopper. As we discussed earlier, the main goal of a chopper is to force you to make errors. It is inevitable that you will miss some shots when playing against a chopper, but it is crucial that you remain calm and stick to the tactics which you have in place. The more you get frustrated, the more likely it is that you will make errors by playing rash or unnecessary shots. Remember if you are playing in a tournament, you or your coach can call a timeout which can help you refocus and calm down. So there are my tips to use when playing against choppers, which when applied to your game will help you feel more confident when playing a chopper. Try and utilise any opportunities you can to play with choppers as the more experience you can get against these type of players will help you in proper match scenarios.

To see these tactics being applied at the top level, watch the match below between Timo Boll and Joo Se Hyuk. From this footage, we can see that Boll is carefully selecting every shot which he plays, making sure to play a more powerful attacking shot from the weaker/higher chops from Hyuk. He is also making sure that his is frequently variating his shots, while also including the short push we discussed above when Hyuk is far back from the table.

Written by: Rayden