2014 Iowa Games Table Tennis

Saturday, July 19, 2014

This morning I woke up at 6:00 A.M. as usual and subconsciously mentally prepared myself to manage the Daily 5 0, a chess tournament I direct every weekday morning on FICS.  Then it struck me: today was Saturday and instead of playing chess I would be going to a table tennis tournament!
I ate a little cold cereal, and Papa and I started our drive for Ames.  On our way a Ford F650 passed us; it was a big pick-up truck (I don't think I've seen one quite like it before).  We also noticed road work being done.

The concrete from the road is broken up and then a large machine grinds it into the piles of gravel you see on the right.
We stopped at Casey's for croissants and McDonalds for McMuffins since we knew we'd need a lot of energy for the tournament.  This 1942 Chevrolet was in the McDonald's parking lot.  

Neither Papa nor I had ever been to a ping-pong tournament before, but we made 3 conjectures about what it would be like. 1. We would be crushed just like we were in our first chess tournament.  2. The majority of the participants would not be overweight.  3.  There would be many skillful Asian players.  

We finally found the Leid Recreation Athletic Center.  It was full of people participating in and watching various events in the Iowa Games.  We signed up and paid our $25 entry fees.  Players in each section were divided into groups of 4 or 5 players who played Round Robin.  The winner of each group advanced to a Knockout tournament.  Papa's section (40+) started at 9:00 A.M., so I watched him and other players compete.
My first section (19-39) started at 10:00 A.M.  The first player I played was last year's Iowa Games Table Tennis champion.  To start with, the players have a few practice volleys; then the game is played to 11, switching serves every two points.  The player who wins 3 games out of 5 wins the match.  Although my 3 opponents played very relaxed games against me (in contrast with how they play each other), they still crushed me convincingly; it was pretty much like an unrated player coming to a chess tournament and playing 3 games  each against 1700-1800ers (in other words, it was hopeless).  
My third, first, and second opponents are pictured above.  
It was interesting to learn that table-tennis players have ratings just like chess players.  Table-tennis players also believe that the game is extremely helpful for maintaining good health and preventing Alzheimer's.   One gentleman I talked with is in his 70s and says his goal is to keep competing in ping-pong tournaments until he is 100.  

The Women's section started next; I was hopeful that this would be a little bit easier.  My first opponent, Sally C. easily beat me all three games, though in our first game we did have a few good volleys.  My second opponent, also named Sally, won all 3 games too, but in one I was able to survive until overtime.  We had fun games.
 Lois, Sally C., and Sally
 My final game in the Women's division was against an elderly lady named Lois.  She told me about how she got her name, and that when she was a child her hair was curled to look like Shirley Temple's.  I thought it was awesome that she has kept up playing tournament ping-pong!  But I also thought it would be terrible to lose to a lady my grandmother's age!   I did manage to win these 3 games and the match.

While I waited for the Beginners' division to start I walked around and watched the other sports in the building.  There were men, women, and children participating in various martial arts.  There were also different levels of children's basketball games.

I fared very poorly in my games in the Beginner's division.  One of my opponents had a very wild spin, and even though I lost badly, it was enjoyable playing.  I watched the games of more experienced players while I waited for Papa's games in the same division to end.  It was incredible to behold!  Balls were slammed against the tables, almost bounced off the gym ceiling, and one player occasionally spun around between shots.  The skill exhibited was amazing.  Unfortunately, however, I could not catch the best plays on camera.
A couple people Papa and I talked with told us that the Walmart paddles we were using were pretty much worthless, not allowing enough control and stopping spinning abilities.  Decently good paddles are $250, and $60 paddles are ok for beginners.  The really good players order the wood for the paddles and the two different types of rubber for the sides separately and glue them together themselves. 

One competitor told Papa that the difference between good ping-pong players and excellent ones is 10,000 hours of practice!  That would take playing ping-pong 8 hours a day, 5 days a week for about 5 years!
In Nevada (on our way home) we spotted this vintage beauty of a truck(excuse my squinted eyes).  We had a great day and a great experience; all of our conjectures proved correct.  

Everyone was very friendly, and the experienced players freely offered tips on improving our play and told us about clubs at which we could play to improve our skills.  The secret to improving: "Practice!"


  1. I think it's admirable that you went to have a go at table tennis. I'm glad a fun time. I didn't know that some people made their own paddles. My little brother was once very keen on table tennis and I think he was quite good. On the other hand, I remain a hopeless player and we even had a ping pong table at home.

  2. Thanks Carlyn! Ping-pong is a tough game...it must take a lot of play to improve!