So while I was in Hay on Wye last month, I also picked up a copy of Jack Carrington’s Modern Table Tennis. It was originally published in 1938; I got a fourth edition from 1960.
In a chapter on championship play, Carrington briefly mentioned “special U.S.A. rules” about outlawing stonewalling and attritional, defensive play. In the 1920s, it was a big problem in table tennis. Matches took forever, and in 1936 a new rule, the expedite system, was instituted.
With modest changes, it’s still in force today for top-flight ping-pong: if after ten minutes in a game and eighteen points hasn’t been scored (games are to eleven), then the system comes into effect. The expedite rule is that the receiver automatically wins a point if they hit thirteen correct returns, thus putting the onus on the server to play offensively. (The serve switches after each point.) The expedite doesn’t come into effect often but has at some crucial moments, including the final of the 2015 women’s world championship.
Before getting the book, I had never heard of the expedite system. Carrington deliciously adds that in America officials could institute the system not just if not enough points had been scored in a game but “if they consider the style of play uninteresting to spectators or threatens to upset the schedule of other matches.” Holy can of worms, Batman.
The century-old expedite system reminds me of Ramy Ashour’s new RAM scoring system. Ashour has been dreaming up a new system for years, and last spring in a little tournament in New York the recently retired Egyptian launched it. The system, best of five games, consists of timed, three-minute games. Crucially, the clock stops in between points, for hand-wiping, ball-flipping, etc, and the time for points that end in a let are put back on the clock. After three minutes, the player who is ahead needs to win one more point to clinch the game, while the player who is behind needs to tie up the score and then win one final point. If the game is tied when the three-minutes is up, then the winner of the next point takes the game.
Much like with ping-pong’s expedite system, Ashour’s scoring system promises aggressive, offensive play, as well as some fascinating tactical decisions.