Bud Light Hardbat Classic at The Venetian Hotel, Las Vegas – is this good or bad for the game?

We’re back from a fun three days in Las Vegas and I’m thinking about whether the approach taken by Budweiser (the big tournament sponsor) and Killerspin (equipment maker and I think the sponsor of the “All Star” competition)  is going to be good or bad for the wonderful game of Table Tennis.

My short take is yes, this is great for the game because it raises awareness and gets people playing more in bars and basements and therefore will bring more people into the serious side of the sport.    However I would recommend better social media  next year, tied initially to the bar tournaments and then to the big Las Vegas spectacular.  There was very little media buzz offline or online about this tournament despite hundreds of free trips to Las Vegas, celebrities, big money,  pretty athletes, and a two hour ESPN special coming in September!      Everybody loves this game in different ways and somehow this part was lost in the PR campaign leading up to and including the tournament.

In real Table Tennis the play is at a much higher level than we saw even among the best players at the Hardbat Classic because everybody was required to use one of two special  “hard bat”  paddles made just for this tournament.

$100,000 Winner Jack Baker, originally from London and now from Mobile Alabama, had won a local bar tournament.  He was an excellent player but would have been crushed by Trevor Runyan but for the point spread.  Runyan is a US Hardbat Champion who barely made it out of the All Star tournament to face Jack in the semifinals where he lost due to the point spread.  I think the spread was 17 but don’t know yet (I missed the final day’s matches).

Despite a lot of grumbling by the best players who faced the huge handicappings, I think the idea of spotting points is good because it forces everybody to play their very best.    Not so with these paddles, which basically forced many of us who know the game well to play far below our normal levels.     I had trouble even keeping the ball on the table – I think because I’d mostly practiced with the hardbat against a robot which did not give me a sense of what type of shot would be coming to me from these paddles.     Every player I saw from beginner to international class was struggling to get performance out of this blade, so if I had to make one recommendation for next year it would be to find better equipment that would showcase skills.     Old style hardbats, used in the heydey of the game as a spectator sport, shoud be reviewed by Bud and Killerspin.

The lower end paddle was much like the junkiest type of pips out paddles you’d buy for a few dollars at Wal- Mart, where the higher end paddle was a notch up in blade and rubber quality though still seemed light and hard to control.    Head was normal sized where a better hardbat head might have been larger.   The  pips rubber allowed a very modest level of spin but control was so weak that the rallies with these paddles tended to be very, very short.

This problem was significant as the whole idea is to get people excited about watching long rallies and I do not think this type of equipment is best for that.     Better would be to find a blade/rubber combination that slowed the speed and spin down but allowed longer rallies with more work and motion on the part of the players.  This is what might turn Table Tennis into a more popular spectator sport in the USA.

Another popularity strategy I’d love to see would be regular bar tournaments with money or prizes.   I think Bud’s done a lot of good in that direction with the Hardbat Classic, though  it was disappointing for me that the distributor held a small tournament locally but did not pony up the money to send the winner to Las Vegas .   Especially because the winner was … me.

Although I heard something about “4000 local tournaments” that number made no sense because there did not appear to even be a total of 1000 players at the tournament – more like about 300-400 would be my guess and that includes the “basement” players that had no rating, players like me who were rated by the US Table Tennis Assn, and the 8 all stars, mostly from Killerspin’s great team of amazing players.

The Table Tennis “All Stars” who were invited by Killerspin and Bud played against each other and this was the most exciting, high quality play even though they were handicapped with the low grade rackets.     Table Tennis Superstar and Olympic Silver Medalist  Ilya Lupulesku http://server2.usatt.org/magazine/08mar-apr/lupulesku%20.pdf was there but was having a lot of trouble with the hardbat and the fact that his ranking meant he had to give many points to his opponent.      He did not even make it out of his first round robin with other All Stars.    I understand that David Zhuang, another amazing player who has won the US national championships lost *every match* in his first round robin in the “pros” division – I assume because he had to give up to 17 points to the other players.

My initial reaction was that the handicap system was failing to be fair with points, but the idea was to make it very hard on the best players and in this they succeeded  – few “great” players made it out of the initial round.   My round robin opponent  Ashu Jain, a brilliant player with the HBC hardbat, managed to win a a lot but was finally defeated due to the large point handicaps.

…. more soon with pictures ….


11 thoughts on “Bud Light Hardbat Classic at The Venetian Hotel, Las Vegas – is this good or bad for the game?

  1. I’m not sure why the paddles had to be old school. I know that what I enjoy are long rallies and it would seem that the people adjusting too, and lacking control with, the paddles eliminated the potential for long rallies.
    I will be looking for the tournament on ESPN in september. Do you think I will get to see you play? I hope so.

    • Thanks, Joe Duke, I mean Duck, for the post as you are so right. Finding coverage on the i-net about such a big event has not been easy, even though the $100,000 first prize is the biggest “EVER” in the history of the sport. Fox 5, in LV did post a good video clip earlier last week. Also, the Las Vegas Weekly printed an article and photos on 6/29.

      Hopefully, the powers-that-be for next years event, which I’ve been told may have a $1,000,000 prize, will see your post and learn from it. Because for such a great, misunderstood sport by most, especially in the US, this can be a great opportunity for “ALL”.

    • ‘Old school’ rackets were used to try and level the playing field, somewhat, because you can impart very little spin on the ball with that type of racket.

      Now if you want to see some amazing rallies using soft rubber rackets, type in ‘China Open’ in the youtube.com browser window. China’s top players are as good as it gets.

  2. Ah authentic table tennis requires nothin’ but the old-school sandpaper paddles. The thick rubber pads slow it down, really.

  3. Jay I agree and learned from a paddle expert that real old school would be larger and would allow more “defensive” play which is often very fun to watch.

    Duke a million would be awesome, and I think they would have a LOT more participation with that and making the prize money deeper so more of the great players there would not have to walk away empty handed. The US champion lost *every match* due to the handicap and I have doubts he’ll try this again under identical circumstances, though he and other great players will certainly practice with lampshades if the money gets that big.

    Horatiox some folks are talking about reviving the sandpaper style though it is currently an illegal racket in almost all tournaments.

    • 1. The modern day rackets, pipps-out or pipps-in/inverted rubber, with a layer of sponge between it and the blade, speeds the game up because of the catapult effect, thereby imparting more spin and speed on the ball. It’s reported that a top player can impart as much spin on the ball as an Indy race car engine can turn rpm’s…10,000…with this type of racket.

      2. As for sandpaper, the problem is that the grit of it, each time it strikes the ball, wears down the surface and eventually makes it out of round. And out-of-round ball would be like playing with one that’s egg-shaped.

      3. As for next years event, hopefully the organizers will spread the prize money around a little more. For example, they could have a handicap division for USATT, OR ITTF, rated players…then one for non-rated and another for celebrities.

      Thanks to Budwiser, Killerspin and all it’s other partners for what they’ve done thus far. And if they play their cards right, it could be a tremendious event for them as well as the sport in years to come.

      Also, thanks to you, JoeDuck, for your web site. It’s so cool.

  4. Nice job with the review, I was there for the finals.
    Trevor would have to give 17 points to whoever he had to play in the semi finals and finals if he had made it to the finals.

    I think pro players like Seemiller and David Zhuang and others should have had the option to play up a division in the all star bracket.
    They should work on the handi-cap system and limit the total amount of points to 14 or 15.

    Overall as a life long player it was a great tournament to be a part of and was nice to see Bud Light and KillerSpin do something for the sport of table tennis.
    I had a great time and have no complaints thank you
    Bud light and KillerSpin, ESPN, Venician, KSwiss.

  5. Thanks Duke for the review. I goggled every day to find the results and so far your comments are the only news that comes up. I agree that the required rackets were not great for showing off the potential that hard bats have for skilled playing and for long rallies both of which are reason why hard bat players like me love the game. I hope Killer Spin comes up with an APPROVED USTTA hard bat racket and rubber for another tournament next year.

  6. hey my boyfriend was in that tournament and wants to do it again and is wondering if it is still going on ? and wen the try outs in reno nevada were or the qualifiers?

    if u could get back to me thanks


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