November 2, 2023 | SPORTS | By Nolan Diffley
Ping pong, usually an activity reserved for occasional entertainment at a summer barbecue, evolves into a clash of philosophical ideas when you’re as dedicated as the players in this year’s Colorado College intramural tournament.
These philosophies begin when someone first picks up a paddle, as this moment ultimately shapes their individual playing styles. Whether a player leverages their power or spin or angles, even how close they stand to the table and what body parts they swing with, all matter. This variance leads to an interesting phenomenon when players have a style that happens to benefit them against certain other types of play.
“I don’t think ping pong skill level necessarily exists on a binary,” said Anya Potsiadlo ’27, a competitor in this year’s tournament. “One person’s strategy and playing style might do really well against a certain type of player, and then they could be really bad against a different type, so it’s not like if you’re good at ping pong you’re going to win every game.”
A few players seem to have developed a certain code of conduct that they see as proper in order to pay due respect to their craft.
“I think people should treat ping pong as an art and cherish the complexities that make the game so unique,” says Adam Vengosh ’27, a standout player in this year’s tournament and, as he proclaims, one of the “best players in Colorado.”
“I think people who claim to love the game but don’t strive to improve their skills are naive. They are so close to achieving a ping pong spiritual awakening, but their pride and lack of dedication hinder these players’ potential drastically,” said Vengosh.
Vengosh’s playing style can be characterized by leveraging the use of intense spin, staying far back from the table, and at times allowing the ball to drop almost to the floor before flicking it up at the last minute with course altering spin that breaks any rhythm his opponent may have previously established.
Not everyone approaches the game from such an artistic angle. Last year’s winner, Saarang Chari ’26, views it as an athletic endeavor. Chari credits much of their success with their experience in the professional ping pong circuit in India, where the activity is both more widely played, and is regarded more as an official sport than anything else.
Chari is known for their wicked serves, along with their incredible understanding of spin and ability to counter its different types; not to be limited to this aspect of the game, however, they have a hard-to-fathom slam, and the ease with which they execute their play leaves no doubt about the pro career of their youth, nor their success in last spring’s tournament.
Some in the tournament who emerged from the sister sport of tennis depend on their prowess within the related discipline to transfer to ping pong. This leads to fascinating variation within their abilities. One player, Hudson Chris ’27, for example, has an incredibly strong mental game, which he credits to his tennis experience.
“I’ve got the fire you know; I want to win. It’s the same thing in tennis, if you have the mentality it helps you a lot… a strong mental game and being patient and just waiting for your chance,” Chris said.
Chris’s impressive skills come from his ability to see through differences of the sports, and work to minimize any disadvantage that someone so used to playing on such a larger scale might have, such as a tendency to over hit, taking with him only what is to his benefit.
Each playing style cannot be separated from the personalities, the histories, and the innermost philosophies of the players. Vengosh ensures he is present in every moment of the point and so he can adapt and manipulate the game. Chari was trained as an athlete in the sport from youth, and their comfort at the tables along with their well roundedness are evident. Chris’s ability to distill the skills he needs from such a related activity leads to his championing over far more experienced players.
These differing styles are interesting on the surface, but when one begins to dig into the backstory of each player, along with the angle from which they view such an ambiguous activity, a fuller picture begins to form about how we might all be at the same tables, but might not all be playing the same game.