When I think of rare shots in table tennis, the chop block is the first shot that comes to mind. How many of you can say that you use it even just once per training session? Very few I imagine.
The chop block is a slick, potent shot that is very difficult to perform consistently. It’s the epitome of ‘high risk, high reward’. But remember, fortune favours the bold. Chop blocks can wreak havoc on your opponent’s timing and given how rare they are, they work effectively against most players.
What is the Purpose of the Chop Block?
The chop block is used to upset the timing of your opponents. Many new players are rather one-dimensional these days. Often, you will find yourself faced against a hungry attacker who is keen to drift away from the table.
Whilst blocking and counter-looping are the natural responses to this style of play, the chop block creates a whole new dynamic for your opponent to deal with.
The shot is best performed against incoming loops. It causes the ball to propel off the bat in an irregular fashion. The ball will kick upward off the bat leading to a relatively high return, but this will usually be quite short, sometimes even bouncing twice on the opponent’s side!
Upon seeing this high return, the attacker’s instincts will kick in. High ball = attack. But if your chop block has heavy backspin, the ball will fall earlier than predicted. Having already committed, most players will follow through regardless, resulting in a loop or smash that ends up in the net.
The introduction of sidespin makes a chop block even more difficult to return. There is often a fair amount of “swerve” on the ball, which adds complexity to the returning shot.
How to Perform the Chop Block
As most of you reading this will be playing with inverted rubbers, I am only going to discuss how to perform the shot with inverted rubbers in this post. It is far harder to perform it with these kinds of rubbers compared to the likes of long pips anyway as they are far faster.
Despite its name, the chop block almost always has sidespin to accompany the backspin. This is because it is far easier to perform and makes it that little bit more difficult to return.
The chop block can be performed on both backhand and forehand. But as most players are far stronger attacking on their forehand, they will rarely choose to forehand chop block over forehand looping. The backhand side also has better control – certainly when it comes to blocking. As a consequence, the chop block is far more commonly performed on the backhand side.
Here is a great breakdown on Tom Lodziak’s YouTube channel:
Three Chop Block Techniques
There are three main ways you can perform the stroke – one on the forehand side, and two on the backhand:
- The forehand chop block is largely performed the same way as the tomahawk serve.
- The first backhand chop block is performed the exact opposite to the forehand version. Much like a backhand tomahawk serve.
- The second backhand chop block is performed by moving the bat in the opposite direction. A bit like a backhand fade but going under the ball.
The setup for the shot is pretty much the same as for a standard block – except your bat might be a little bit higher and more upright. You should be standing relatively close to the table in the ready position.
When the opportunity presents itself, read the incoming spin on the ball and close your bat angle accordingly to counter the incoming topspin. Then brush diagonally downwards on the ball imparting both sidespin and backspin. Ensure you have a loose grip when executing as this shot is all about your feeling over the ball.
The ball will naturally want to kick upwards from the bat; your job is to battle this effect. It doesn’t matter too much if the ball is a little high when returning. If it is relatively short and interrupts the rhythm of play, your opponent will not have time to execute an effective attacking stroke.
The motion of the chop block will probably feel very unnatural at first but, with time, you’ll start to feel comfortable performing it and reap the rewards.
I wouldn’t recommend performing it competitively until you can consistently perform it in training. The stroke is very advanced and requires superb touch.
Chop Blocks at the Professional Level
Chop blocks are such a rarity that they are seldom seen even at the professional level. One of the main occasions I see it used is as somewhat of a “hail mary” shot when a player is faced with insurmountable odds. Yet there are a select few players who have cemented themselves as chop block masters.
1. Ma Lin
Ma Lin (a now-retired member of the Chinese national team) was well known for his chop blocking. He was one of the most offensive players in table tennis who had a killer forehand. He used the shot to offset his very offensive style – which must have been very jarring for his opponents.
What made Ma Lin’s use of the shot unique was that he performed it with the traditional penhold grip, which means he used his forehand rubber on his backhand side to perform the shot. This made the already difficult shot even more challenging to perform!
2. Koki Niwa
How could we ignore Koki Niwa? Undoubtedly the most prominent chop blocker. He performs every variation of the shot with unparalleled wizardry. He regularly uses it multiple times per match and he has a very high success rate.
Even though players are aware of his fondness for the shot, they still fall victim to his impressive chop blocks. His spin can be very challenging to read!
When is the Chop-Block Best Performed?
The chop-block is best performed against loops, any time you want to interrupt your opponent’s rhythm. It is the perfect shot to learn in table tennis today as attacking styles have never been so prevalent.
For players who like to stay close to the table, it is a lethal tool you should absolutely learn. As a blocker/pusher it is hard to be unpredictable and the chop block does just that for your game: it offers unpredictability.
One of the most effective times to use a chop block is in response to a slow rollover loop off of backspin. As this stroke will have very heavy topspin, it will be harder to counter the spin. But if you are able to, the resulting shot will have killer backspin and pose some serious trouble for your opponent.
Finally, here are a few further tips I recommend for this stroke:
- It can help a lot if you are out of position.
- Try and use it when your opponent starts to drift away from the table.
- Always follow up with an attacking shot.
- Don’t use it multiple times per rally.
- Don’t use it more than a few times per match.