Monday 18 February 2019

The Pyramid Rule: Advantages of Staying Close to the Table as an Offensive Player

Some years ago I coined a rule called the pyramid rule, whilst writing a coaching article for Table Tennis University I have used that rule whilst teaching players of many different levels and trying to emphasize the benefits of holding the table and not drifting back unnecessarily. I have revisited the original concept and will try and add some more detail to the rule including some new points I have added. Find more useful tips and advice on my Coaching Blog.

The Pyramid Rule in Table Tennis
by Matt Hetherington
The Basic Concept: It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the basis of the rule - the further back you go from the table, the larger the angle between two wide placed balls.

In order to demonstrate this to students, you have them placed at distances A, B and C with C being the farthest from the table. You feed a ball to each corner of the table starting with distance A, where most players are able to cover the movement between the two shots (one backhand and one forehand), you then move the player back around a metre to B and then another metre or so to C.

When a player reaches point C, the distance required to move between the two balls is often too great to catch both, or the strokes produced are very low quality. Hence you have demonstrated visibly why it is of benefit to the player to stay closer to the table when possible.

Extra Points to the Rule: I have added some new parts to the diagram for points B and C which indicate that also aside from the distance required to reach the second ball, there are extra degrees of rotation required for the ball to be returned to the table. To achieve the extra degrees of rotation in the stroke, a player must be well grounded and balanced, another very difficult task to achieve so far back between two wide balls. As you can see from point A a straight shot down the line doesn't require too much degree of rotation from the position of the shot.

What Are the Benefits of Playing Closer: With the plastic ball now a standard part of the game, it seems that more players are opting to remain closer to the table and are accelerating with shorter and more explosive strokes. Timo Boll is a prime example of this and also Tomokazu Harimoto.

Staying closer is more efficient for footwork, reduces your opponents reaction time to each shot and keeps pressure on your opponent.

A close table game allows you to produce rapid strokes with a lot of spin and acceleration, without assuming the risks of playing with a lot of power further back from the table.

Being closer to the table also helps keep your balance and reduces the effects of wide angles.

While it may reduce your reaction time in a point, it is well worth the effort for offensive players to remain reasonably close to the table. Remember it only takes one shot to throw you off balance once you are further back, and that usually spells game over.

What to Do to Recover your Table Position: If you do find yourself being forced back or pushed out of position, there are a few things you can do:

- Put as much topspin on the ball as possible, this buys you more time and hopefully forces a slower defensive shot from your opponent. Make sure when you come forward back into the table, you control the transfer of body weight before making your next shot.

- Push forward with your next shot. When we get pushed back from the table we often end up holding our body weight higher and more vertically. In order to try and regain your ground and get back to a close-table position you may need to take a little more risk, hold your body weight forward and be a bit more aggressive in your next shot - this allows you to put some of the balance of pressure back on your opponent.

- Make a defensive play, a chop is a perfect example. Playing a chop when back from the table buys a significant amount of time in a rally and may result in your opponent pushing back (then you have the chance to initiate and take control), or they may play a slow loop (you can counter or block with pressure to take the advantage).

Certainly it is best practice to remain balanced and relatively close to the table. Offensive players struggle a lot when pushed back from the table - to get in position on-time, to be balanced and have weight transfer in their shots, and to create enough trajectory to get the ball over. Note that further back you also have to produce more safety in your shots which requires more upward transfer and less forward.

I hope these tips are useful for some of you, whether it be as a player or as a coach. For any questions or blog topics, please email me at


  1. My long arms enable me to play a hair back from close to the table. My long arms close to the table make it more difficult to move to a ball compared to somebody with smaller arm reach. Plus it gives me a hair more time to get to the ball. I am only talking about no more than a foot and a half back.

    1. That's ok, it's all relative. Tall players can afford to move back a touch further because they are better at covering wider angles. In truth, as a tall player you don't want to stand too close because it makes it harder to play the weaker shot into your body. :) thanks for the comment!

  2. I play a couple of people who play very close to the table. I call it "crowding" the table. I find these intermediate players (of which I consider myself one) very beatable by hitting long, fast returns. My strategy is to stay about an arm's length from the table, so I can return their deep shots fairly quickly before they reach their peak, and put on additional speed to put pressure on them. They may be good at playing close, but eventually they make an error because they are too close to the table to react to my long, fast shots. This is even truer if I target their crossover point, as they don't have time to react well in this zone. They are also very vulnerable to long, fast topspin serves. Even one player who plays with an illegal bat with no rubber has a very hard time returning my fast, long topspin and topspin/sidespin serves.

    So my point is simply that you don't want to get TOO close to the table, especially when an opponent is familiar with your tactics. And I find that it is much easier to step in to get a short shot than it is to step back to get a long one.


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