(By Larry Hodges)
There are basically two ways to play tactically early in a match. You can either feel your opponent out to see what he can do and then adjust your tactics based on this (“The Explorer”); or you can force your game on the opponent right from the start, making tactical adjustments as you go on (“The Dominator”).
The Explorer uses a variety of tactics early on as he tests his opponent. He uses all his shots – pushes, blocks, loops hard and soft, counterdrives, etc. – and puts the ball all over the table at various speeds. He uses all of his serves and receives as he judges the best tactics to use in the match. Some players in this category fall into the trap of over-adjusting to an opponent, and let the opponent dictate play. Being an Explorer doesn’t mean you simply adjust to the opponent’s shots; it means you are willing to risk falling behind early on as you feel out his game and search for the best tactics. (Often, however, the Explorer doesn’t fall behind as his opponent struggles early on to adjust to the myriad of shots thrown at him.) Ideally, the explorer will find a way to use his strengths against the opponent’s weaknesses.
The Dominator comes in with his best shots right from the start, trying to force the opponent to adjust to his shots. This is what most high-level attacking players do, though they generally are a little of both categories. The problem with this method is sometimes you miss out in discovering a major weakness in the opponent’s game. Also, some players in this category fall into the trap of not adjusting when their opponent adjusts his tactics, and often lose due to this lack of flexibility. Being a Dominator does not mean you simply throw your best shots at the opponent and hope for the best; it means you start off with your best game, and then make tactical adjustments.
Are you an Explorer or a Dominator? Whichever you are, perhaps you should experiment with a little of the other. To be at your best, you need some of both.
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