View Full Version : Tactics to beat a much stronger player

10-02-2017, 02:18 PM
Hi all

I just posted my new blog post - "Tactics to beat a much stronger player"

You can read it here: http://www.tabletenniscoach.me.uk/tactics-beat-much-stronger-player/

So what I would like to ask you is: have you ever caused a major upset in a league match or tournament, by beating a much stronger player? If so, how did you do it? What tactics did you use?


10-02-2017, 03:13 PM
I went 1-2 in matches last night vs a player who is rated higher than me.

He's a balanced player who is simply more consistent and what I'd call a controlled player. If the point goes longer, chances are I'm making an error more than him.

I play aggressive anyways but if I'm playing an opponent much better than me, I generally look to keep rallies short play aggressive. It falls in line with a tip from a book I'm reading Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers.

Think of it this way. if you were playing someone better than you, would you like your chances more if you played a game to 2? Or to 21? 2 right? Because you might hit a couple of good shots, they might miss and then it's over. But if you play to 21, then that's more time for them to exert their overall skill dominance & experience over you. So in a sense that's what I go for in shortening points and shortening the game.

Conversely, if I'm playing someone lower than me, I can play a little more relaxed and conservative knowing they'll probably make a mistake before me. You just have that confidence that the point will go in your favor.

10-02-2017, 03:45 PM
Believe you can win. Even when there is a low chance, you have to believe first.

10-02-2017, 04:04 PM
Play risky, extremely aggressive and be on fire!

10-02-2017, 07:22 PM
Go beyond your limits. 110% in every single movement. Don't think of anything, empty your mind, be right in the moment, play point after point, score does not matter.
feel, and let the Force be with you.

10-02-2017, 08:24 PM
Sometimes doing "stupid" stuff can just be unexpected enough to grant you a few points. I myself have lost too many points unnecessarily just because I just didn't expect player X to do Y, which usually will get punished at higher level of play, hence one can get caught off guard.

10-02-2017, 08:33 PM
I twice played a guy 200 points above me in tounaments, a short pimple penholder with heavy push and good forehand smash. I could never beat him in club. I actually didn't play risky like people here recommend. By contrary I played a control game with pushing if he pushed too hard then control loop the lighter push. I'd try to push as low to top of the net as much as possible so if he smashed it was possible to counter loop by BH and FH. I was pretty calm during the matches and he got nervous and started to make more mistake.

There are coaches who are very good at telling what weakness the higher rating player has so that you can exploit it. Bring them to tournament if you could.

10-02-2017, 08:39 PM
My tactics: first of all its a good idea to know your oponent's style, advanteges and weakneses, mentality, mood and behaviour beforehand. Its always a plus for you, provided that if you oponent is much better than you, he would hardly be familiar with what you are.
Know well what you can do and you can not.
Know well what your set up can do and what it can not.
Knowing that above, if you can play something the best with some of your setups, and you know that exactly this may help you against exactly this oponent, just use the proper setup and try to move the game towerds what you need.
I'm not a best player, but have used that tactics against many much better than me with good success. I don't win too often against much better, but I've always had the fun of being competitive enough.
I have 3 setups. My main is not excelling much in lot of things, but it excells in that it can do everything, at least every thing I can do. I use it against better much agressive middle and longer distance players and the majority of unknown ones. Usually I try to respond in an unexpected way. For example the first ball I should attack hard /and I feel they are ready for that/ I chop sharp-straight-and-low with the ball brushing the table sometimes knockink twice.
My second setup is best for heavy topspin, drives and blocks and is very fast and reliable at mid distance. I use it against close OFFs and ALLs, trying to push them back and aside of the table.
My third setup I use when I don't know what else to do. It's an arrogant brutal blood-spitted direct dead smasher, intended to show you have the spark in the eyes and enough material in the balls to use it. Not much helpfull, but with pleasure.

10-02-2017, 11:14 PM
Catch that person on a bad day?

Ok. Practical advice.

Resist the temptation to overplay shots. Don't give up easy points, try to make that person beat you, don't beat yourself. If you can hang in there maybe they will get nervous and choke. So try to keep it close.

There will be some players enough bettsr that you have no chance. So just try to enjoy the experience.

10-03-2017, 12:46 AM
I agree, Baal. That is a concept of playing the game that I am just now adhering to. If they serve and return in the style that suits my playing where I have an easier time being aggressive, then I'll rock it almost everytime, however, there are players who's lack of speed throw my timing off and I just have to take a deep breath and work at playing consistently and sometimes very defensively.

10-03-2017, 07:43 AM
Catch that person on a bad day?

Ok. Practical advice.

Resist the temptation to overplay shots. Don't give up easy points, try to make that person beat you, don't beat yourself. If you can hang in there maybe they will get nervous and choke. So try to keep it close.

There will be some players enough bettsr that you have no chance. So just try to enjoy the experience.

Well, it depends on what level and what style your opponent is. I've only played stronger attackers, can't say much about choppers. But second league level and above playing safe shots isn't really an option, they will kill the ball. (I'm speaking about when you're weaker than that level. If you are good enough, you can play safe shots, but it's not 'much stronger' then). Plus a player is stronger when he is more consistent. If you really want to play safe and you can't keep short and low enough your pushes, try doing heavy opening loops. In my experience, strong players like to RIP those and they miss it more often than backspin balls. If they just block/drive it, you can go full offensive.

10-03-2017, 09:26 AM
But second league level and above playing safe shots isn't really an option, they will kill the ball. (I'm speaking about when you're weaker than that level. If you are good enough, you can play safe shots, but it's not 'much stronger' then). Plus a player is stronger when he is more consistent.

Yes, that's my experience too. Playing safe against a much stronger opponent has never worked for me. I just give them the chance to attack first and then the game slips by very quickly. As others have said in this thread, and I say in the blog post, I think a better approach is to take a few risks and try to give them something to worry about.

10-03-2017, 04:02 PM
I kind of feel like Baal’s first piece, (catch the player on a bad day and on a good day for you) is really the most accurate thing I can think of.

Against a better player you can try to be more aggressive and they could just pick you apart as a result. Trying to be too conservative can have the same result.

But sometimes you just walk out there and your head is in the right place and theirs is not and you are able to see a little more of the chinks in their armor and take advantage of them.

One time I was training with Michael Landers. He was teaching me stuff. And this guy from Brazil walked up and wanted to play with us. We explained Michael was giving me a lesson. But we let the guy play a best of three match with each of us.

This guy was a LP chop blocker who was about 2300 (USATT rating). That is a good 500 rating points higher than me.

I took the first game. Almost took the second game. He got it to deuce. And then he had a handle on what I was doing to him. Also, perhaps he started being more warmed up. [emoji2] So in the third game he won a little more comfortably.

I am pretty decent against LP. But I really can’t beat someone that much higher level than me without a few things going my way.

When we were done and Mike and played him (Mike didn’t really have to put his game face on to control the guy and do whatever he wanted), Mike told me that my biggest problem was that I was too impatient and too aggressive when I didn’t need to be. That controlling the points with spin, placement and more well thought out game tactics could get me to be 200-400 points higher level very easily.

So, I think what Baal said about tactics for against a higher level player actually makes sense.

But still, the most important thing is, the first thing Baal said. [emoji2]

Sent from The Subterranean Workshop by Telepathy

10-03-2017, 04:44 PM
Thanks to everyone who has contributed to the discussion so far. I appreciate the thoughtful responses and different perspectives. It's a good reminder that there are different ways to play (and succeed) at table tennis. And that's what makes it so compelling to play.

I have added a link to this discussion at the bottom of my blog post: http://www.tabletenniscoach.me.uk/tactics-beat-much-stronger-player/

10-04-2017, 06:49 AM
The problem is they are much stronger for a reason, so you kind of have to pick your poison. But if the difference in level is within a range where there is a low chance that I could win, say 1 in 20, then I will make them beat me as I said above and I prefer to not beat myself. Most of the time that won't work. After all, the opponent is better. So how is the bext way to put yourself in a position where that very rare miracle hapoens?

The very small number of times I have overcome those odds it was because I served and returned serve unusually well (!!) and kept pressure on by playing a consistent third ball, and then the opponent got a bit nervous and choked. I didn't make it easy by overplaying and making dumb mistakes, especially early in the point. Every time, I won the first game, which helps generate nervousness. I think that is important. They have to be playing badly too, and maybe that contributes to nerves.

But of course if my chance of winning is 1 in a 1000 or 0, then nothing I do will matter, so might as well blast away -- or not. How you choose to lose then becomes a matter of taste.

10-04-2017, 06:52 AM
Play positive that's the only way. If your passive it has no chance

10-04-2017, 07:08 AM
Yes you cant be passive but you have to try to extend every point to the fifth ball on their serve, and your third ball on your serve has to be consistent and meaningful.

10-04-2017, 09:25 AM
Look at his/her foot position, if they can move. If they have a good FH, go to wide FH and block to BH. If they step around, block cross court and be ready to block back to BH corner. If they are ready for every short serve, then serve fast/deep. Take a few risks, go for spin. Hit if high. Use soft hands and firm hands. try to take ball off bounce. Take initiative where possible, go for heavy spin. Flip a serve and bump one short... if you can read it.

If you cannot read the serves, bend over, you got it coming to you, still you can try to attack a particular serve that troubles you, you might land it and discourage them from using it again.

10-04-2017, 09:27 AM
Find their MIDDLE. Eat right, sleep 7-8 hrs a day, read the news, kiss your bicep. Think that point number 11 is one tough motor scooter for an opponent to get, it can be the most difficult point. FIGHT.

10-04-2017, 09:31 AM
Change tempo, change impact. Change spins. Make ball NOT kick out so much when they step back. Change hand pressure on receive and let them miss a shot or two or three and get pissed off. Feed that troll. Wash your laundry. Pay your taxes. Discover how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop.

10-04-2017, 11:12 AM
Play agressively and take risks...

Thomas Jeffcott
10-04-2017, 05:36 PM
Try and build pressure by making them make mistakes not giving cheap easy points.

10-04-2017, 06:07 PM
To beat a player much better than You, in my experience, they need to have something fundamentally wrong with their game at the level they play at. Wrong means imbalanced. Like a Xu Xin type game with dominant forehand play or long pips chopper where the ball slows down making you comfortable. Or they can't return one of your serves well enough because it is their first time seeing it and they can't psychologically get a handle on what to do.

This stuff gets harder to find when you get past 2200 USATT.

10-05-2017, 12:20 AM
Each match is different. First one can face a stronger player that you've played several times and beaten you already many times or a stronger player but you've never ever played together.

Against a player who's beaten you so many times, the first thing is to show him you are not afraid AND really be not afraid. Because normally he would have a psychological advantage so you must fight against that. Then remember this opponent weaknesses what worked last time and what didn't and construct the plan, try to play differently than when losing last times...

Against a player who doesn't know you, its a good idea that he DOESN'T get immediately he's much better than you. So show him you are not impressed. If you make a really good winner, don't over-celebrate or be surprised by your own shot but make it understand you can do it all the time, (and the best way is to try the same shot again)... If he's not immediately in the match you can get an early lead, and with a bit of luck hopefully get that 1st set which would put pressure on him...

Recently i beat a player, who had beaten me for 10 years 3-0... and he was leading 2-0. But I was pumped up on that day and came back. I found out a serve that he really didn't like and kept doing it till the end...and i played 3rd ball attack all the time behind it. But maybe he wasn't so much better than me, it was more me failing all that time.

In another recent tournament, i encountered some players which were really more than 200-300 points above. I didn't win, but I really gave a good fight. Be able to serve/receive correctly and move well all the time is the more important. because these are the basics and without it, we give away too many cheap points. then I decide from time to time to go for strong shots. I remember going for 2-3 big pivot countertopspins at the table against the guy which really surprised him (and me !). I can't do it on every point... i'd go for the agressive BH block normally but i had to take this kind of risk to win. When scoring 2-3 good points in a set and not making easy mistakes the pressure can change and the opponent can start to make mistakes. If this kind of player has a 3 point lead usually its over. I think when facing better players , of course we face that extra spin, extra speed, extra bit of everything, but the MOST important thing to adapt is not our shots but our mind. Be mentally ready to see the ball come back a bit quicker and go back in position fast to play actively the next ball is the most difficult. Because the ball is not heavy and anyone can hit the ball hard.

10-05-2017, 04:40 AM
I would play with my coach. He is rated 2500 US. I had NO CHANCE but I found relative weakness in his game. His big advantage was speed and consistency. My advantage was reach, some wicked serves, and the ability to play close to the net because of my reach and his lack of reach. Hitting balls long was inviting trouble since he could loop kill just about any long ball that went long so I concentrated on keeping the ball short with occasional deep shots when he leaned over the table. You have to think in terms of keeping the ball away from the middle of the table. My coach would always win a normal match but he would screw around. Sometime he let me get 9 points or deuce before winning. To keep him from screwing around I made him play handicap games so he had to be serious. I won every game when I got a 6 ball handicap but he would win most with a 5 ball handicap. A lot of this was due to my serves and 3rd ball attack if he did get the ball back. It seemed I was always guaranteed to get a certain number of points due to my serves. If the rally went beyond my planned sequence I was generally doomed because there would be a ball he could loop kill if not out right slam.

OK, I know I had NO CHANCE but I had my bread and butter strategy and relative strengths that I tried to maximize. What else can someone do?

Everyone must have what they consider their best shots. You have to try to maximize the opportunity to use your best shot.
Having a number of good serves and follow up shots is vital.

BTW, I have a pretty good FH counter hit but it was useless against the coach. If the ball got moving that fast I was doomed.
I always got the chance to do a good serve and the coach had no say. I could only screw it up.

BTW, I agree with those above that say you must play aggressively to try to make the same quality shots that others make at his level. Anything else is just giving up.

10-05-2017, 04:26 PM
I think the OP is about how you play a higher rating player in a TOURNAMENT. Playing your coach or friendly match doesn't count.

As said by many people, luck is important. Rating has its true meaning, it means lower rating has a hard chance to beat a higher rating. So you are asking how to win in an uphill battle. Without calmness, determination, consistent shots, solid skill, and knowing how to exploit the higher rating plater's weakness the chance is very slim. Isn't table tennis all about chances?

11-15-2017, 02:49 PM
I generally look to keep rallies short play aggressive. It falls in line with a tip from a book I'm reading Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers.

11-15-2017, 11:34 PM

I lost this game, but it could have gone either way (I've actually made a post before about how I could have one that last point).

If you want to beat a player that is better than you, then you first must have something that you can threaten the opponent with, something you can rely on to win points from the opponent.

If you do not have a skill of some kind that can give them trouble, there is no way for you to win ( unless you have godly luck, which if you do, go play the lottery).

There are many ways you can threaten your opponent. However, if your opponent is better than you, then chances are, the quality of the shots you have right now might be subpar. Your usual shots that win points, might not win points against them. So one of the first obstacles you face when you play against someone better than you is SHOT QUALITY


Consider this scenario:

You play in an event suitable for your rating, but then you see that you have to play really good, super-underrated player and you know you will lose if you play normally. What do you do?

A lot of the time, if all of your shots aren't good enough, you are going to have to take risks to do so. Take risks to hit harder. Take risks in service and service return. etc. Hopefully you will make enough points to turn the game around. Otherwise, your opponent will simply stomp their way past your game.

However, if you do have strengths that can threaten your opponent: first you must know your own strengths. second, you have to force your opponent to play into them, and then you can use them.

Even better, if you can find and consistently capitalize on a weakness that your opponent has, you have a very good chance at winning.

If not, then just accept the loss. There is no shame in losing to someone that is a lot better than you as long as you try.


Consider a different scenario:
There's two days left before the tournament and you signed up for higher rated events. What do you do?

The best thing to do (in my opinion) is to first practice and specialize in certain shots you can use on better opponents. Don't practice routines that rely on your opponent messing up. Specialize in it and practice it until the quality of those shots is higher than your own level. There are many ways you can improve the quality of your shot, mainly speed, spin, depth, and placement. Other ways can be deception, height, and timing.

I see a lot of the time that players like to specialize in a single shot, because they like to do that one shot. This isn't enough against better players, since a rally usually doesn't consist of that one shot. Not only that, your opponent will catch on really quickly and find a way around it. Ideally, you specialize in a routine, a set of shots.

For example, a simple routine can be:

1. wide side-topspin barely half-long serve, and hopefully bait your opponent to loop cross court
2. counter-loop down the line (hopefully win the point)

It's even better if you have multiple routines.

Another important thing: your service quality has to be good. If not, you will lose the initiative right away. Make sure you have a safe short underspin serve to discourage better players from attacking right away.

Long story short: what you just read is actually "Get good" :)

Oh yeah, and use the tips in the first part as well.


Another obstacle that you will face is consistency.
Since your opponent is better than you, always assume that they will get the ball back. Never get overconfident. However, don't play too shyly either. Play confidently. Play smart. Don't give up, because upsets do happen from time to time.

Your opponent will probably have better shot quality than you do, so ideally, you prevent that from happening while minimizing your own mistakes. This can be tough to do, but if you can pull it off, that's great.

By the way, the easiest way to prevent your opponent from making good quality shots and break down their consistency is to improve the quality of your own shots.


Dirty tactics:

This is situational, but another thing you can do is hide your own weakness. If you aren't good at a shot and you miss it: you can pretend you got unlucky. This is temporary though, and if your opponent catches on, you're screwed.

HOWEVER: you can handle this in a different way. When you are forced to do the shot that you are bad at: pretend you are the world champion and hit it like the world champ. IF YOU GET LUCKY AND MAKE IT, you can pretend that you were always a master at that and your opponent might not ever make you do that again.

I did this at the start of the match pictured above. I am not too great at attacking fast topspin serves, but Ahmed served that at the start. I looped it as hard as I could right away, and won the point. He never served that again. He stuck to other serves, which suited my game better. He simply assumed that lefty-penhold me had a good enough forehand to handle serves like that.


I always have certain shots that can threaten better opponents. One of the first things that I do in a match against somebody that is good is serve fast heavy sideunderspin as far as I can to the backhand. It doesn't even matter if they return it or not (I get the point most of the time actually). The whole point of that serve is to let my opponent know that this threat exists, making my opponent think twice about moving over to backhand flip my short serves. I like to remind my opponent of this from time to time throughout the match.

Another thing that I can threaten my opponents with it my loop against underspin. I know that this is my strength and I know it give even very good players trouble. I set up my short underspin serves and I play from there. A lot of my routines revolved around this safe serve that I had, and so I am able to use my routines against players of all levels.

11-16-2017, 01:35 AM
One time when I used to play with Xiom Omega V Tour rubber, I used to serve super short and super-cut and super low. One very very high ranked offensive player lost in best of 5 team match simply becos he was known to be Super impatient :-D

I trounced him on service points and short push returns. Like one game 11-3 !

Comedy was my team didnt tell me he was ranked guy and they just let me play my normal game [emoji38]

Surprise result and real upset.

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