Feb

15

Here are some strategies and tactics I used or should have used in hardball squash, paddleball, and racketball — sports that I played a combined total of more than 10000 referred matches in, often at number 1 — that appear to have market applications:

1. The first blow is half the battle. Always get off to an early lead.

2. After forcing your opponent deep, hit a short shot. After a run of big length, play for a reversal.

3. Hit a hard serve from the very beginning. Never give your opponent a chance to get his bearings.

4. Never use your hands, eyes, legs before a match. Don't watch your opponent play before a match. It takes up too much energy.

5. When forced to run to the right short where your opponent is expecting a crosscourt return, hit it down the line.

6. Always move and prepare while the opponent is hitting his shots. Get your orders in place beforehand.

7. Always hit your short shots hard. It doesn't give your opponent a chance to move up even though the ball bounces deep.

8. Never argue with the referees. You must realize that most games are rigged to be much more in benefit of the officials than the players, like the Olympics and certain markets, and if you try to upset that ecology, you are a threat.

9. Never hit the same shot twice in a row. Bacon. Third intentions.

10. Hit the ball on the short hop as it prevents your opponent from setting up. The second big move after a reversal is deadly.

11. Hit shots where you can make the point outright with a reasonable probability but where your error rate is low. In hardball squash the shot I used the most was the three wall nick that cleared the front wall by a foot and where the trajectory of the ball to the first side wall was short enough that it was easy to hit.

12. Save some special shots for the end. Expect something new from the adversary at the end. Beware of closes before ends of periods and holidays.

13. Never stop to admire your own shots. One reason the Knicks lose so much is that they have showboats like Robinson who like to hang on the net or smile at the fans after they happen to score a non-percentage shot.

14. Play a percentage game, never hitting shots with too high a risk/reward ratio as a good opponent will keep digging out your medium difficult shots until you miss.

15. Pay particular attention to the aftermath of every shot you hit, and think of your shots as series rather than single isolated events. Marty Riesman always used to say that the second shot you hit on a point in ping pong was key to winning the rally.

Regrettably my game was pretty stable in squash and paddleball, and I didn't have to vary it much to win, except against Sharif Khan, over a 12 year period. I had some weaknesses, which I realized only afterwards. And in racketball, my slice backhand took so much pace off the ball that I was forever handicapped and never was able to make it up the final rungs of the ladder. However, most of these tactics seem basic and resilient in retrospect. What strategies do you find from your own sports that are helpful in preparing for markets or life?

By the way, many of these thoughts were inspired by watching the most boring sport in the world, luge at the Olympics, the amazing response by the officials that it was the competitor's fault that he died because he was leaning the wrong way at the turn — is death a proper remedy for a lapse bound to occur? — and the Knicks' ability to lose with Robinson in the game as they are never prepared to get a rebound when he plays, and his showboating and control of the game is opposite all proper strategies.

Pitt T. Maner III writes:

My sports activities in the past have mainly revolved around basketball pickup games from age 12 to 40 (about the time the ankles started to make the game riskier to play) at the local playground and social tennis. There are so many things you learn and continue to learn when you play games.

With tennis I was interested in some of the findings of Vic Braden. He was one of the earlier coaches to look at slow motion films to determine the physics of the game and what was actually going on. Braden was about learning to hit the same old boring shot and playing the percentages–using topspin. For the average player I believe it was Braden that said if you can stay in a rally in which you get the ball over the net 5 times you have a better chance of winning the point. Most amateurs (myself included) become impatient and want to end the point quickly with ill-advised smash or drop shots. So patience can be a virtue. Bolletterri camp also emphasized hitting balls higher over the net when you are pinned behind the baseline—give yourself a margin for error when you are in a disadvantageous situation—stay in the point.

Average players usually have a weakness—that is normally the backhand. For some reason most people would rather avoid learning and spending the time to hit a good backhand— they would rather concede having a bad backhand and run around shots to hit a forehand. So you can exploit this observation year after year. Braden discussed the backhand as a shot where you are getting out of a chair and tranferring your weight—simple mental models and cues can be very helpful to refer back to.

With basketball one quickly learns the advantage of good, aggressive postioning. Most rebounds, even in the pro game, are collected below the 10- foot high rim. Small players that learn to follow the trajectory of the basketball and learn to box out can leverage their abilities to collect rebounds or "over the back" fouls.

Who can forget some of the games that used to be played in college ball when there was no shot clock and teams went into a 4 corners defense? Princeton was a team that played a similar patient style that exhausted oppenents having to play defense and run through screen after screen and watch for backdoor cuts. Again an example of employing a patient strategy , playing percentages, and using fundamentals to level the playing field.

I was watching the NBA HORSE competition the other night and thought back to the early-70's TV NBA games when they had HORSE competitions at halftime. As good as Kevin Durant is at shooting (he won his second championship in HORSE against Rondo of the Celtics with tremendous 3-point range shots), there is not doubt in my mind that Pete Maravich would have taken him with no problem. And he would have used very simple close-in trick shots requiring a high level of coordination. Maravich was an example of a player who reaped the results of a lifetime of practice (his dad was a coach). Although he was very fancy with his shots and passes—he was pretty fundamentally sound. Larry Bird was similar in some respects. Fundamental skills seem to be lacking with a lot of modern age players. Everyone now is a specialist. Forget about free throw shooting. There are not too many Rick Barry's or Calvin Murphy's around. Even though the "granny shot" (two-hand, underhand free throw) that Barry used would probably improve Shaquille O'Neal's free throw percentage, he and most others would not be caught dead using it, it would hurt their "cool" image —and for some its better to be "cool" than it is to win ball games. So "old school" is not always a bad thing.

Jack Tierney writes:

My interest in handball began and ended early. My grandfather, an excellent athlete, played at least three times a week at the Chicago Athletic Club. When I was about 7 or 8 he came home early one day and announced he was through with the game - his regular playing partner had experienced a fatal heart attack during that day's match. Both he and my grandfather were 61.

Fast forward 30 years when I began handling advertising for Bob Kendler, owner of Community Builders and bunches of real estate (including the former Edith Rockefeller McCormick Estate). Although Bob loved his businesses his real passion was handball and he never missed an opportunity to play.

Nor did he let pass an opportunity to knock racket sports in general, and racquet ball in particular. So I was really surprised when he showed up one day for a photo shoot with a stack of racquet ball promotional brochures. When I inquired about the reason for this apparent apostasy, he replied that, unlike handball, there was money to made in racket sports.

"Handball players show up to play the game, in whatever apparel is immediately available," he explained. "Racquet ballers like to look fashionable and will pay a premium to do so. They also spend princely sums for rackets and balls. And the margins are a lot better than either remodeling or real estate."

I asked him if there were any downsides. "Other than the competition which is sure to come, there's only one: Paul Haber." The only negative comments he ever made about handball always involved Paul Haber who drank, smoked, and represented, in Bob's opinion, a rather unheroic lifestyle. So, I wondered, what threat could Haber pose to the growth of this other sport.

"Because Haber, in his typical arrogant fashion, accepted a challenge from Bud Muelheisen, the national masters racquetball champion. Handball versus racquetball."

"Of course," I presumed, "he got thumped."

"Of course, he didn't! He lost the first game and then won the next two. If word gets around it could easily ruin a booming business. Serious guys play handball; the rest play racquet ball."

I don't know if word got around, but if so it didn't harm racquet ball (or Bob's business). So, there may be no money in handball but, as we've come to learn, there's some nice loot in athletic apparel and equipment.


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7 Comments so far

  1. Craig Bowles on February 15, 2010 1:15 pm

    Maybe our hockey team wins but it’s just not the same when most of our players couldn’t even make the opening ceremony due to obligations elsewhere. Chile’s stock market are holding up better than the rest of the world recently, so it interesting to see their amateurs having trouble competing against the paid athletes of other countries in the Olympics. In 1980 when we sent amateurs to compete against the paid athletes of certain countries, we won 12 metals and 5 of those were all Eric Heiden. It bothered us that Soviet Union, Germany and China cheated but winning with pros wasn’t something that particularly interested us. It’s refreshing to see that a country like Chile really has their priorities in place and it all began back in the 1970s when they were calling Hayek and Friedman to come help design an economic system that focused on the individual and bottom-up rather than a socialist top-down system. The more medals the US wins, the more we differ from a country like Chile and even ourselves 30 years ago.

  2. korareddy on February 15, 2010 2:02 pm

    MDP,

    tonight is going to be the birth day of the older day’s counting boy’s birth day , can we have an observation on that please

    wannabe from India

  3. manuel bravochico on February 15, 2010 10:47 pm

    Perhaps, but tennis doesn't fit the formula above.

  4. Paul Marino on February 15, 2010 11:15 pm

    Eurostat as a ref:

    8. Never argue with the referees. You must realize that most games are rigged to be much more in benefit of the officials than the players, like the Olympics and certain markets, and if you try to upset that ecology, you are a threat.

    Will be interesting to see the growing influence of the boys from Luxembourg as a key referee over the coming weeks. They have a vested interest in influencing the outcome for themselves.

  5. vic niederhoffer on February 16, 2010 9:06 am

    One would be interested to know why certain posters believe that the strategies above don't apply to tennis, and often greet my racket insights with "yes, but he doesn't know anything about tennis" etc. One has played a fair number of matches in this sport and has read every book written on the game before the 1990s, and tried to keep the tactics suggested to a fundamental level that would have crossovers to most things. And can't upon reflection think of any suggestions above that would not apply to tennis.We have a tennis editor and perhaps he will arbitrate. vic

  6. Gary Carr on February 16, 2010 12:27 pm

    Vic, I played against you several times in college (severe beating) and watched you play in amazement many times but point #8 has me aghast… It's not the Vic I remember!

  7. vic niederhoffer on February 16, 2010 4:30 pm

    With regard to point 8, there are a million reasons not to argue with the referee. It will turn him against you. It will use up energy. It will make you play worse by losing your concentration. It gives your opponent a chance to rest and plan strategy. It puts the crowd against you. It gives the opponent the satisfaction of knowing that not only did you get cheated, but that it made you angry. Yes, one learns things after college, and after my first year out, in about 15 years of matches, over 8000 in that period, never once did I argue even when one of them stole the N. American Open from me in 1966 by calling a ball down on me he knew was up at 14 up in the fifth game against Sam Howe. He wanted the Philadelphia boy to win so badly he threw it against me. vic

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