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Tourney d’Hipsterville

In New York City, we play in public spaces and our play proposes a broad range of social meanings. In our first piece of the series we call “Urban Play”, Wayne Chin, an academic skills staff member at JSMI, recounts an experience at a thrilling table tennis tournament in Williamsburg, Brooklyn that is as dizzying, fast-paced and unpredictable as the NYC table tennis circuit itself.

December 8th, I needed a sub for the New Jersey Table Tennis Club’s Thursday league on short notice.

One of my FIT students emails me about a membership at a rec center in NYC but in that email she mentions that there’s this tourney at a place called Pips (pipsout.com) in Hipsterville Williamsburg with a first place cash prize of $300, and a second place prize of a $100 gift certificate at a local Apple/electronics store in Williamsburg. She thinks I can win this thing but I know nothing is ever that easy in TT. And there is almost certainly going to be another ringer showing up with a rating.

Pips is a combination art space and TT hall. It says it runs on donations but I also read signs there that say you can play all day for 5 bucks. It’s a storefront with three Butterfly brand tables and Rocky Wang and Renata give lessons there according to the website and videos. So in some way he “works” there. And I figure Rocky wouldn’t be playing in it since he’ll be running it. So I figure it might be worth a trip out from Staten Island to Brooklyn maybe for a shot at this.

After a frantic set of emails back and forth, Chris is able to sub for me so I decide to go. Team 3 Musketeers would have a substitute Athos tonight (or possibly Aramis, but not Porthos, one of us is definitely a Porthos). I have to find a Google map of the location and scribble a hand-drawn map on a note-pad sheet and rush out the door to catch the bus.

I get to Union Square and catch the L to Bedford Ave, and of course by now it’s dark, and I have not been in this area much. I pull out the paper and try to decipher it according to what street I’m on. I drop it and the wind blows it around a bit and I think, “Great! I come all the way out here and I can’t find the place!” But luckily I grab it before it goes down the street and I walk a few more blocks and find the storefront.

There is a girl at the desk and I register with her. I’m the first there and there are about 4 people playing; it’s about 7:15 pm. My first impression is that it stinks. Despite the space and high ceilings I think they need better ventilation, and I wonder how bad it will get. I run into a guy who recognizes me and I realize I played him at the Bryant Park tables before;  he says it will be packed.

———————

These were not quite the standard hacker-wackers; some of them had some form and proper shots. I guess it’s from the training classes. But it looked good for me so far: there was no one there I couldn’t see beating, and I played with some of them in the warm up. So far so good.

But, as we neared 8pm, more and more people showed up. I stopped and sat and watched other people play. I started talking to this guy who recognized me from an indie film I had a part in and he said he was rated about 1500. (A rating number indicates your relative skill to another rated player — the higher, the better). I spotted this other guy with a warmup which on the back had “Munchen” on it, and I thought it might be a Bundesliga  jacket. So I thought he might be trouble. The guy I was talking to pointed out this tall blond guy with doofy hipster glasses and says he’s 2500. I didn’t quite believe him since I didn’t know how well he knew the world of TT. Then Rocky shows up but I didn’t recognize him at first and I didn’t think he would be playing anyway. During warm-up I saw Rocky play with the 2500 guy, Suchy. The room was small, three Butterfly folding tables and when they were all out, we had only about five feet behind us — so we had to play compact. I watched this warm-up match. The last point Suchy makes is this under the table scoop loop that comes around and under the net post, hooks around and lands on Rocky’s side to win.

OK……… maybe he really is 2500.

The tourney was really weird. A random draw, or so I figured, since we had to draw a number from a bag. Usually you’d play in a round robin, but this is what they called “death match” style. It was single elimination, one game to 11,semis are 2 out of 3 and finals 3 out of 5. But as I watched them fill in the draw. I observed that it probably wasn’t really random, since Rocky and Suchy didn’t meet in the early round. And once I realized Rocky and Suchy were playing — well, at least it would make for an interesting trip.

The people were fun, and loved TT, and I met a couple of cool girls who play TT! (The girls at Pips play better than the ones at Fat Cat, in my opinion.) It cost me ten bucks, but it was something different from Thursday League at NJTTC, so I was okay paying the money —although I still wasn’t sure this was worth trading for Thursday league!

In the course of this, I watched the match of Suchy versus the “Munchen” shirt guy, and Suchy beat him easy. Just by watching the shots it was hard to tell how good Munchen was, and Suchy didn’t seem to try too hard, so it was also hard to tell how good he really was. I beat three hack-wackers, 11-0, 11-0, 11-2, so with that I was in the semis. They folded the two other tables up and set one table lengthwise so there was about as much room as one New Jersey Table Tennis Club court. There were two halves of the draw. I looked on the draw sheet and the other semi was Rocky, who is currently around 2300 versus this guy who was about 1500. And I landed Suchy.

So I thought, okay — that’s the finals! Rocky versus Suchy. Rocky easily beat him 3-0 and the match wasn’t particularly interesting. So finally, it came down to my playing Suchy.

[youtube:http://youtu.be/JpZ8UVN7Hek?list=UUFN_xLMDeC3kgXleWUkT78g]

And what happened? Well, I am now the owner of a 100 dollar gift certificate!

Suchy turned out to be Suchy Mieczyslaw, rated 2549, which makes him somewhere in the top 100 in the US, and a former German Bundesliga player.

He’s 2549, and I b-e-a-t him! Like the “Soup Nazi” on Seinfeld would say: “No 300 dollars for you! No gift certificate for you!”

He looped (a heavy topspin shot) and attacked and played the big game, running after the ball at mid-distance, and I just blockedblockedblockedblocked! Up at the table! I don’t recall most of the match. It’s all a blur by now: I was vaguely aware of the crowd, and noticed people stopping outside looking in through the windows. I remember ending one point with an inside out forehand into his backhand, and ended one of the games with a severe angle forehand into the wall. It went three games, but I don’t recall who won the first —  I think he did. In fact, after the match, at that time, talking to someone, he said he counted me out after the first game.

But I had a lead changing ends in the 3rd at 5. He called a time out at 10-8, and the crowd hooted at that. And when we resumed, it ended at 11-8, and it was mine! High fives from the crowd all around, and a certain bit of incredulity.

Me against Rocky didn’t go so well. I made the first two points so that got him nervous. But it eventually went 3-0. I could handle his medium pips backhand but could not handle his unstoppable forehand. (At the end of the match, he told me I did the hard work for him. He really didn’t want to play Suchy.)

But beating Suchy? It was better than winning 50 rating points! Better than winning cash! AND IT’S ON VIDEO!

CHO BAAAAAAABY!!!!!!!!

And that, ladies and gentlemen is my story of needing a sub for Thursday league.

Epilogue:

Pips has an edited version of the entire tournament on their website, and NJTTC has my whole match. This ain’t all meme and madeleines. You have to understand the context of this. Suppose you are a really good neighborhood B-ball player. And one day at a local park they have a 1-on-1 tourney, and an NBA player, not the top superstars, but your average NBA player comes down to pick up some quick cash. And, you send him home.

I am occasionally recognized by other players in the TT world for this feat of the Everyman. But I tell them that I was lucky, and he was a bit confused. In the video, I score the first point in the first match, the crowd cheers; I throw up my hands and say, “that’s it. I’m done!” acknowledging getting one point against such a high rated player is an accomplishment and the rest can only be downhill; little did I know.

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A film about Chinese table tennis inspired a young Wayne Chin to learn and play the sport. As a teenager, he and his teammates, members of the SUNY Stony Brook table tennis club, participated in intercollegiate tournaments held at Princeton University. Later, enrolled as an undergraduate at Rutgers University, Chin revived the Rutgers Table Tennis club, joined the New Jersey Table Tennis club and serves on its Board of Directors. He taught English in China, and continued his training at the Guangzhou School.

Back in the United States, FIT hired Chin as the founder and head coach of their college table tennis team. Chin has also served as the NYC Region Director of the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association.

He continues to teach, coach and direct table tennis teams in the tri-state area. He is an integral part of academic support at two CUNY campuses, including the Murphy Institute.

Photo by Sport Nottinghamshire via flickr (CC-BY).