Table Tennis - How to Play With Short Pimples

It's not the size, it's what you do with them that counts ...

Table Tennis bat and ball
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I've been asked a few times now to write down some tactics and suggestions for those of you out there who use short pimpled rubbers when playing table tennis.

Now I would be the first to admit that I haven't had a lot of experience (well, OK - make that none!) playing competitively with short pimpled rubber. Normal rubber, speed glue, long and medium pips, and even antispin - been there and done that. But short pips - nope. I've never played a style that required the use of those little short and stubby protrusions.

Now I cannot hope to give suggestions for every single type of short pips out there, and I'm not going to try. So what I am going to do is talk about the average short pips rubber in use (quite fast, 1.5 to 2.0mm sponge, with a little grip, but nothing near as spinny as an ordinary inverted rubber), and you can adjust my suggestions a little depending on how different your particular sheet of short pips is from my assumptions.

So without further ado, here are my own suggestions on how to get more out of your short pips. 

Suggestion #1: Get a Grip

The first thing you had better know as a short pips user is the strengths and weaknesses of the particular type of short pips that you are using. Just like inverted rubbers, there is a whole range of different types out there, ranging from very fast to very slow, and from fairly spinny (although not as spinny as most normal inverted rubbers) to virtually spinless.

If you've got a spinless type of short pips, you can pretty much forget about trying to topspin balls from below table height over the net and into your opponent's court - it just isn't going to happen in your lifetime. And if you are using something like the old Butterfly OX no sponge short pips, you are probably not going to be able to loop and hit as fast as someone with a glued up Bryce rubber.

You need to get a handle on what your own pips are capable of doing easily (your standard shots), what they can do if your technique is almost perfect (when you have more time to get ready or are in a desperate situation), and what they simply cannot do. And here's a special tip - every now and again you will hit an amazing shot with the short pips - something extra special. Don't make the mistake of thinking it is something that you should be able to do all the time and start trying to do it in matches. Just be thankful it went on, and get back to doing what you know you can do.

Suggestion #2: Be On Time

Can you remember when your mother used to tell you to get to your appointments early just in case? Well, that is pretty good advice when using short pips as well. Most of the better short pip players that I have seen hit mainly on the rise or at the top of the bounce.

Why is this the case? It's because the nature of short pips works well with this early timing.

  • Short pips don't spin the ball as much as inverted rubbers, so you don't want to take the ball from a long distance away from the table when the ball has gone below net height. The only thing that will be bringing the ball down is gravity, so this will limit how hard you can hit the ball.
  • Because short pips are less affected by the opponent's spin, you can safely hit through balls that would be jumping and kicking off the inverted rubber user's racket.
  • Thirdly, the short pips are still pretty quick, but generally not quite as quick as inverted - so taking the ball early or at the top of the bounce gives your opponent less time to react.
  • Finally, hitting at the top of the bounce allows the short pips player to get the most advantageous return angle, where he can pretty much hit directly onto the opponent's side of the table, so the net becomes less of a factor. (Note: some pips players don't hit at the top of the bounce - they hit at the same height above the net wherever possible - usually on the way up. They don't want to wait until the ball reaches it's peak because it gives the opponent more time. This is an advanced but effective technique.)

Suggestion #3: Drive It Home

Since the short pips don't generally give as much spin as inverted, most good short pips players use a drive stroke more often than a loop motion. When combined with hitting on the rise or at the top of the bounce, this allows the short pips player to hit with a lot of power, since almost all his effort is going into propelling the ball forward, instead of putting a spin on the ball. This flatter and quicker stroke can be very disconcerting for any player who doesn't play often against short pips, and even very good players can find it a handful.

Suggestion #4: Send It Back

Not only are most short pips relatively unaffected by the spin put on the ball by an opponent, they are also quite good at sending that spin straight back at him. As part of my research for this article (yes, I do research from time to time!), I was watching a DVD of Peter Karlsson of Sweden play He Zhi Wen of Spain in the 2005 World Championships. It was quite interesting to watch Karlsson serving the ball with heavy sidespin, only to have He Zhi Wen touch the ball back without trying to spin it himself, just allowing Karlsson's spin to keep going. The ball would often bounce sideways on Karlsson's side of the table, making life difficult for the Swede. Most inverted rubber players seem to kill the spin when returning serve in contrast or put their own spin on the ball, so the ball rarely jumps sideways like that on the return of serve. A shot that looked so simple by He Zhi Wen actually became very effective.

Suggestion #5: Give It Out

When serving, remember that your short pips can still impart a meaningful amount of spin. It's the deception and placement that are more important than just the sheer spinniness of the serve. Again, going back to He Zhi Wen vs Karlsson, He Zhi Wen was giving Karlsson all sorts of trouble with his service, using a variety of long spinny serves and short angled serves to great effect.

So don't just tap the ball over the table when serving - make the most of your opening shot.

Suggestion #6: Fire Up the Footwork

In order to be able to play close to the table for maximum effect, you need to have your feet firing on all four (two?) cylinders. Getting to the ball on the rise or at the top of the bounce requires fast reactions and smooth footwork, so get up on the balls of your feet and get moving. Happy feet! Happy feet!

Suggestion #7: What's Your Angle?

As mentioned earlier, the short pips rubber is less likely to be affected by spin from the opponent. The flipside of this is that it is also less able to impart spin. This means that your racket angle when hitting needs to be more precise than the average inverted rubber player. So short pips will suit the player who can execute the same stroke over and over again.

Think of it this way - the inverted rubber user is more affected by spin, and will have to use a wider variety of racket angles to hit the ball on the table. But he also has the ability to put more spin on the ball himself to counteract the opponent's spin. If he can put enough spin on the ball, he can be slightly incorrect with his racket angle and still land the shot on the table, as his heavy spin will bring the ball down safely.

The short pips player, on the other hand, is less affected by his opponent's spin. He doesn't need as many racket angles as an inverted player. But he had better get that angle correct because he cannot spin the ball heavily to make up for any errors. He has a narrower margin of error with racket angles, but he also has fewer angles to worry about.

Suggestion #8: Keep the Change

You may want to use your short pips in tandem with an inverted rubber or long pips on the other side, to provide extra variation. Penholders may not need to bother or want the extra weight of an inverted rubber on the backside, but I would think that long pips with no sponge would not be a bad idea for the occasional surprise.

Most good shake harder short pips players seem to use inverted on the forehand and the short pimples on the backhand and don't seem to twiddle much at all, if ever. As a twiddling defender, I would think that the odd twiddle wouldn't hurt them that much, but seeing as most of the better players are attackers, perhaps they are looking to force mistakes via their power rather than their deception. One notable exception was Teng Yi of China, who would often twiddle the bat for his service - although he did use the short pips on the forehand instead!


That's about it from me on the subject of short pimples. I hope it's helpful to those of you out there who are looking to play a bit better with those short pips you bought.