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Monday, June 13, 2016

Six Rules of the Fast Game - Part 1

I love Joe Baker's pickleball strategy videos, mostly because he goes into such depth and explains things so clearly. His most recent video - Pickleball Strategy 301 - Six Rules of the Fast Game - is no different. As usual with his videos, the depth requires spreading the summary over several posts so we will begin here with the first 2 rules he discusses. But prior to that, it might be helpful to review our discussion on the fast play section of his earlier video in the post the Basic Overall Strategy of Doubles - Phase 4.

That post was one of a series that described the 4 phases of a rally played by advanced players. The 4 phases are:
  1. The formality phase, consisting of the serve, the return of serve, and the capture of the net by service return team.
  2. The serving team's struggle to move to the net to gain parity with the service return team.
  3. The soft game of dinking.
  4. The fast game that starts with an errant high shot.
In advanced play, about 1/2 of all rallies progress to the fast game, Therefore, it is imperative that fast game strategies are developed and used. Joe has done that and presented 6 strategies to assist players in this video.

Rule # 1 - Don't provide an opening
  • Don't provide your opponent with a good opportunity to start the fast game by hitting a high ball. 
  • Dinks should be kept low and in or near the kitchen. 
  • When pulled wide, your return should be crosscourt and into the kitchen.
  • Don't dink to your opponent's forehand as it sets up an easy body shot or lob.

Rule # 2 - Wait for the ball you want and the setup you want

  • The right time to aggressively move from the dinking game to the fast game is dependent on skill level. A player with better dinking skills should wait for a high probability of success smash. A player with a stronger fast game may make the transition with a lower probability of success shot.


Rule # 1 generally aligns with the strategies I discussed in Dink Game Strategies where I stated:

After the dinking game has begun, you can be passive if you are patient and skilled. Playing this game means finding your opponent’s weak spot and exploiting it. This typically means hitting to the backhand, particularly if you are also forced to hit your backhand. However, rather than being passive, I have found that I am more successful with a more aggressive dink game where I move my opponent around to create openings or even go for outright winners.

One aggressive strategy is contrary to the easiest and most common shot of crosscourt dinking. Crosscourt shots are easier because the net is lower in the middle and the angle gives the returner more room for error. A more aggressive strategy is to dink into the middle, especially to a player's backhand. As with any middle shot, this can create confusion between your opponents about who should make the return. Openings are created when both opponents move toward the ball.

Rule # 2 is a specific strategy I discussed in The 80% Rule where I stated:

Many games have extended periods of dinking during which I have questioned why opportunities to make an aggressive play passed without avail. After reading the statistical analysis about Conversions, I wondered even more. The author wrote "that a team strong in offensively executed conversions would see a forced error in their opponent or score a point within two hits of their executed conversions". There is no more offensive conversion than turning a dink into an aggressive smash. So why wasn't it done?

Several weeks ago, I had my question answered in a conversation with Jerry Peterson, a multi-gold medal winner in national tournaments in 2015. Jerry told me that the best players do not jump on the first opportunity just because it may create a win. These players wait for an opportunity that presents an 80% chance for a winning shot.  They will not take the shot if it is 50/50 or even 75/25. They wait for a near certain winning shot.

My first thought was that is a great strategy for 5.0 players who can dink all day without hitting the net, or hitting out-of-bounds, or hitting it up so the opponents can smash it back. But, as a 3.5 player trying to get to 4.0, my dinking skills aren't at that level yet. Waiting for an 80% shot will likely mean that I mess up first. But then I remember the conversions statistics. These say that even if I mess up sometimes, being aggressive will be in my favor. The key for me is to learn while constantly raising my personal threshold toward the 80% level.

We'll continue with the next 2 rules in tomorrow's post.

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