Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Randomization Strategy

How do you decide where to serve? How do you decide whether to poach in doubles? I suggest a coin or dice.

This could even work for deciding how many times you bounce the ball before you serve. Yesterday I experimented with randomizing how long I took between being ready to serve and tossing the ball. That is, I finished my routine of stepping to the line and bouncing the ball. Most players, myself included, serve with the same rhythm every time. That's generally a good thing. But it allows the returner to return in rhythm, too. By varying my pause just before I tossed to serve, I was able to keep my opponent from getting into a rhythm.

That's where a coin or dice come in. An opponent can only catch on to your routine if there's a reason behind your routine. If you allow a coin or some other randomizing device to determine where you serve, for instance, then by definition there is no pattern to catch on to.

The most convenient randomization device I use is my wristwatch. I play with a watch, so it's reasonable to expect that the seconds digit on my watch will come up randomly odd or even as I glance at my watch. Even means serve wide and odd means serve down the middle. Simple. Unpredictable.

If your opponent is stronger on one side, you can bias the "coin" in favor of that side. I can switch to a stopwatch running on my watch and then I can use the hundredths place for randomizing. If I want to serve 2/3rds of the time to my opponent's backhand, then I'll serve there when the hundredths place shows 1-6 and serve to the forehand when it shows 7-9. If it comes up 0 I can serve to the body or just click start and stop again. None of this takes more than a couple of seconds to do, so it does not delay play.

Give it a try. It seems odd, but if you don't want an opponent to pick up your patterns, don't have any patterns. That's the definition of randomness.

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