2006 US Open Team Championships
Reno, Nevada
March 3 - 5, 2005

We had two teams competing in the tournament. The first team consists of Michael Sung, Wilson Tsao, Jim Chai and Bruce Liu. The second team consists of Mark Johnson, Barry Or, Michael Liu, and Gary Fang. Here are their stories:

 


To Dream the Impossible Dream

by Mark Johnson

PROLOGUE

I am excited once more at the opportunity to play a US championship table tennis event in the great state of Nevada --- just a few months after the US National Championships in Las Vegas. With Barry Or, Michael Liu, and Gary Fang on my team --- each of us around 1800 or so and each with his own unique style --- I think we have a chance to do very well against teams with a similar rating.   Originally I had decided upon the name The Three Musketeers for our team --- partly in homage to the famed Alexander Dumas novel about three French swashbucklers (swordsman) and partly in homage to MSCTT (MSCTT'ers --- get it?  If you don't, don't worrry.  You aren't alone... :-)).  But Gary Fang joined our team late in the game so that nixed that idea.  So I changed it to The Four Musketeers --- in homage to the 70's era Hollywood movie of the same name starring Raquel Welch and Michael York about those same swordsmen.  Now that I have impressed you with my trivia knowledge, let's get on with it.  
 

DAY 1 --- Friday, March 3rd

 
Since this was the first time any of our team had ever played in a team event, we were anxious to check the draw sheets when we arrived at the Reno Sparks Convention Center on Friday morning.  We found that we were in Preliminary Group 8 and would play a 4-way RR.  The other teams in our RR group were the A seed, the USATT Junior Boys (Misha Kazantsev, Trevor Runyon, and John Leach) with a rating of 6991, the B seed the Butterfly Girls (Whitney Ping, Sara Fu, and Heather Wang) with a rating of 6808, and the C seed the Killer Pods from Washington state with a rating of 5682.  Our team (The Four Musketeers --- aka The Four MSCTT'ers) was the D seed with a rating of 5476.  A team rating is determined by adding the individual rating of the top three rated players on the team.  For our team this was 1891 + 1802 + 1783 = 5476. 
 
The fact that we were a D seed in a 4-way RR on day 1 was a disappointment to us since the description of the format indicated that on day 1 we would be playing two teams rated higher than us and two teams rated lower than us. However, only 48 teams showed up for the tournament.  The top four teams were automatically seeded into Division 1 and thus would have byes today.  That left 44 teams to fill ten preliminary group RR's using a "snake" seeding system.  Thus groups 1 to 4 would have five teams and groups 4 to 10 would have four teams.  Since our 5476 team rating happened to put us in preliminary group 8, we were stuck with being the lowest seed in a 4 team group. 
 
Our first tie was against the B seed --- the Butterfly Girls --- at noon.  This wasn't a very competitive tie as one could guess from the rating difference between the two groups (exceeding 300 points per player!).  The only game that we could muster was in the doubles where Barry and I were able to squeek out a game from Whitney and Heather.  The four singles matches were all 3-0 in their favor.  A drubbing, but no worse than what could be expected.
 
We had to wait some four hours for our next tie --- against the A seed the USATT Junior Boys.  Another mismatch with the USATT Junior Boys taking all five matches.  We did manage to pick up numerous games along the way this time, but this was probably due more to the lackadaisical attitude of  Misha and Trevor than our fine play.  It didn't help that they were a bit down since they had just been upset 3-2 by the Butterfly Girls in their previous tie at three o'clock. 
 
Our final tie of the day was against the Killer Pods.  This is the one we had targetted as the one where we had a real legitimate shot of winning.  It was my turn to sit out a tie but Barry, Gary, and Michael came through and won it --- just barely --- at 3-2.  One player on their team won both his single matches --- I believe his rating is 1900+
--- but we won the other two singles matches and the critical doubles match (a theme which we would repeat often during the tournament) to clinch the win.  We had to wait until 9am the next morning to see into which division we would be placed and who we would play.  

DAY 2 --- Saturday, March 4th

 
When we arrived we discovered we were placed in Division 2A.  The 48 teams present were divided into eight divisions ---  1A, 1B, 1C, 1D, 2A, 2B, 2C, and 2D --- with six teams in each division.  Each division would play a 6-way RR.  The top two finishers in each of the four division 1 groups would be seeded into the quarter-finals for the US Open Teams championship and the $7000 first prize.  The top finisher in each of the four division 2 groups would compete in a 4-way RR tomorrow (Sunday) with the winner crowned the Division 2 champion and awarded a trophy.  So we had no chance at the prize money (shucks), but we could still go for a trophy.
 
Our team rating of 5476 placed us as the C seed in Division 2A.  The A seed with a rating of 6056 was HPC Claude Robillard --- a group of three French-Canadian girls from Quebec with ratings ranging from a low of 1952 to a high of 2069.  Very balanced --- which generally is best for both doubles and team play. 
 
Our first tie that morning though was against UC Davis --- the D seed for Division 2A with a rating of 4851.  We took care of business and swept them 5:0.  This gave us confidence as we prepared for our next opponent -- Palmer 1 --- the B seed with a rating of 5523.  However, this team had one player with a rating of 2050 while its other two members had ratings in the 1700's.  Our strategy was clear.  We had to win all matches in this tie in which the 2050 player was not playing.  If we did this, we would be assured of winning the tie since a player can only play in two matches of any one tie in the new Olympic team format adopted for this competition. 
 
Barry matched up against the 2050 player in one of the first two singles matches and made a valiant effort in coming back from an 0-2 deficit to take it to a fifth game but fell 3 games to 2. However, Gary took care of business in the other singles match by beating one of the 1700+ rated players so were tied 1-1 going to the critical doubles match.  They decided to play the 2050 player in two singles matches so Barry and I squared off against the two 1700 players.  We destroyed them, so we were now up 2:1.  All we needed to do now was win one of the last pair of singles matches to win the tie.  Now it was my turn to face the 2050 player in singles while Gary's faced the other 1700+ rated player. I was defeated handily 3 games to 0, but I was confident that Gary would win against what appeared to me to be the weaker of the two 1700's players --- and indeed he did so we won the tie 3:2. 
 
Our next opponent was the Sierra Vipers --- the E seed with a rating of 4443.  There really was little suspense in this tie as we rolled 5:0.  But our next tie was against the A seeds of Division 2A --- HPC Claude Robillard.  We knew we had our hands full since this team had taken a much more talented than us Milpitas Sports Center team of Michael Sung, Wilson Tsao, James Chai, and Bruce Liu to the limit 3:2 in the preliminary group matches yesterday (Friday) --- actually leading 2-1 after winning the doubles before MSC pulled it out by winning the final two singles matches (the final match going to a fifth game). 
 
I decided to lead off with our players with the two most -- is awkward the right word?  
--- no different is better --- playing styles:  Barry and Gary.  Barry's heavy chopping and superior blocking and hitting combined with his tricky serves gives many 2000+ players fits.  Gary, of course, has the long pips on his reverse penholder backhand combined with excellent serves and smashing. After HPC Claude Robillard completed their half of the tie draw sheet, I thought the key singles match would be Barry's.  He would be facing the player that was undefeated in the match against the Milpitas Sports Center team --- with a win in both singles and doubles. 
 
Barry was able to take the first game so there was hope for us.  But his opponent came right back and won the second.  Had she adjusted to his game already?  Would she go on to trounce him now?  No way!  Barry pulls out an absolutely huge match for us.  Not without a bit of controversy though, as she flails away at the last point in frustration.  She insists that Barry's exhortations during the rally are illegal.  And not long after that, Gary's match ends after five tough games with Gary the victor as well.
Next it was my turn to produce as I would team with Barry to take on the same HPC pairing that had beaten the Milpitas Sports Center doubles team.  This was sure to be much tougher than the doubles match against Palmer 1 --- and it was --- but we still prevailed 3 games to 1 to clinch the tie.  Gary and I then played in the final pair of singles and both of us lost --- but no matter since the tie was already ours.  Now all we had to do was to win the final tie of the day against the F seed to remain eligible to compete for the Division 2 championship. 
 
The team rating for the F seed was just 3639, so I was confident that winning it was just a mere formality --- even though I would not be a part of it since it was my turn to sit out a tie.  My teammates came through for me once again in what was an entertaining if not that close 5:0 sweep. 
 
Again we would have to wait until 9am the next morning to find out who our opponents for that day would be.  We had a very good idea who at least one of them would be, though --- the USATT Junior Girls.  Their team rating of 6528 was some 500 points higher than all the other teams in Division 2.  The only reason they were playing in Division 2 instead of Division 1 is that their best player --- Judy Hugh (rated at 2372) --- was late arriving to the tournament due to the weather conditions and had missed the day 1 competition completely.  That allowed them to be upset that day by the Reno 1 team (rated at 5962). 
 
Their team coach, Lily Yip --- Judy Hugh's mother --- was the guest of the Milpitas Sports Center and Four Musketeer teams at the Harrah's buffet this very night.  She had no idea that we would be meeting the next day on the floor of the Reno Sparks Convention Center.  Perhaps we could call in our markers for this favor then.  Hmmm....  

DAY 3 --- Sunday, March 5th

 
When we looked at our schedule for the final day when we arrived that morning, we found that the worst possible scenario had come true --- we were again the D seed in a 4-way RR group.  So to even get a Division finalist trophy, it would require two upsets.  It would take three upsets to finish first in Division 2. 
 
As the D seed, we got the honor and privilege of playing the A seed first thing at 9am
--- none other than those USATT Junior Girls coached by Lily Yip.  As we were warming up, Barry reminded Lily of the free meal she had at our expense last night.  In respect to that, Lily fearlessly said she would not play Judy Hugh in this tie.  True to her word, when I examined the tie sheet after both team captains had completed their half, Judy was not on it.  But only two players were on it for USATT Junior Girls
--- the players assigned for the first two singles matches.  That was Atha Fong and Stephanie Shih.  I asked Lily who the third player would be and she said that would be decided once the singles matches had completed. 
 
Immediately I thought if USATT Junior Girls won the first two singles matches, Judy would sit out the tie.  But if we won the first two singles matches, Judy would be put in to try and save the day for their team.  It was a strategy we hadn't employed with our 4-person team, but one that was sanctioned as perfectly legal by the tournament officials.  A very crafty maneuver by that USATT Junior Girls team coach.
 
It was Gary's turn to sit out a tie so I decided to send out Barry and Michael to play the first two singles and insert myself into the tie during the doubles.  This would allow us to play what was probably our team's strongest doubles pairing of Barry and I in the critical (or so we hoped) doubles match.  Barry wanted to play Atha (since he had just defeated her in the Western Open at Berkeley) but the luck of the draw that is associated with filling out these team tie sheets was that Barry would be playing Stephanie and instead Michael would play Atha. 
 
This looked unfortunate for us after the first pair of singles since we ended up losing both of them to fall behind in the tie 2:0.  Now we had to win the doubles just to stay alive. It would be Barbara Wei and Stephanie against Barry and I as Lily put in Barbara Wei as her third and final team member for this tie --- probably rightfully confident that she could save Judy for what she anticipated would be tougher matches against the group B and C seeds.  But after a relatively slow start, Barry and I did prevail in the doubles 3 games to 1.  It felt good to win a match against such a higher rated team, but still it would go all for naught unless we could sweep the final two singles matches.
 
In those final two singles matches, I would be playing Atha and Michael would be playing Barbara --- still a very difficult mountain for us to climb.  However after trailing early in my first game, I got on a roll and took it 11-5.  And when I went over to talk to Barry before the next game, he told me that Michael was also playing well in the match against Barbara.  In fact Michael took that game, and their match was now tied at 1:1.  I wondered now if Lily was getting just a little bit concerned about having left Judy out of this tie.   
 
But unfortunately, this was the highest point of the tie for our team.  Atha recovered from her opening game disappointment and moved her game to a higher level to sweep the final three games of my match.  Likewise Barbara swept the final two games of her match with Michael and so we lost the tie 4:1.  So their would be no Division 2 championship in our future.  However we still had a chance to win a trophy as a Division 2 finalist, so that was now our team's focus.
 
But we would have to win both of our remaining ties to accomplish this.  The first test was the B seeds, the BumperNets.com, with a team rating of 6051 --- with one of their players rated 2100+ and another rated 2000+.  It looked like another tough road for us, but I was pleasantly surprised to find in examining the tie sheet that they had chosen to hold out their top rated player from the first two singles matches.  It was Barry's turn to sit out a tie, so I decided to play Gary and myself in the first two singles matches --- planning on playing Michael and myself in the doubles match and then Michael and Gary in the final two singles matches.
 
The first two singles matches turned out to be the 2000+ player against me and an 1800+ player against Gary.  I had yet to produce a victory over a person rated higher than me in this tournament (although I hadn't lost to anybody rated lower than me either) so my team needed me to produce.  Thankfully, I did so this time --- winning my match 3 games to 0.  And when Gary's opponent ran into the usual difficulty with Gary's long pips, The Four Musketeers were up 2:0 in the tie. 
 
But now we had to contend with the 2100+ rated player.  However, his doubles partner would be the 1800+ player and not the 2000+ player.  This means that the 2100+ player and the 2000+ player would play their final two singles matches.  So probably our best chance of winning the clinching match for this tie would be in the doubles.  
 
Even though I don't feel I played the doubles I am capable of, Michael played steadily throughout and we took the match 3:1 and thus the tie.  It was a good thing for us since The BumperNets.com team recovered to win the final pair of singles quite handily at 3 games to 0 and 3 games to 1.  No matter.  We now knew that we would be playing our final tie for one of the few trophies available at this tournament. 
 
That tie would be against the C seeds, Cinnamon Toast Cocoa Puffs, with a team rating of 5946.  So it still looked like an uphill climb for us.  But that would change when we checked in for that tie.  It turns out that only one member of that team was still able to play --- the others either had to study for finals (no concern for our team where every member was 30+) or had been injured.  Since only one member of their team could play, they had to default the other three matches in the tie.  So --- although we would have preferred to win it at the table --- The Four Musketeers were now assured of getting the Division 2 finalist trophy. 
 
Still there would be some suspense of another kind in this tie.  The remaining player for their team was the lowest rated one in their group and was actually rated lower than all of our team members.  None of of our team had lost to anybody lower than his own rating throughout this tournament.  I sent out first Barry and then Gary to keep this string alive.  They did not let me down.

EPILOGUE

 
I am most proud of three accomplishments of team The Four Musketeers during this tournament: 
 
     1.  Not losing to any team rated lower than 6525 (the USATT Junior Girls).  Our
          other losses were to the Butterfly Girls (rated 6808) and the USATT Junior
          Boys (rated 6991).  Not bad for a team with a rating of just 5476. To give this
          some perspective, this is equivalent to an 1825 player playing against a
          2175 player. Not too many people would give the 1825 player much of a
          chance in such a matchup.  So we can't feel too bad about our losses.
 
     2.  Not one of our team members losing to a player rated below his own rating.
          This proves that this accomplishment was a total team effort --- and isn't that
          what you'd want in a team competition?
 
     3.  Effectively finishing 26th out of the 48 teams --- i.e. second in Division 2 ---
          although our team rating was only the 36th highest entering the tournament.
          So we effectively "hopped" over ten teams with higher team ratings to finish
          where we did.  And we got a trophy to boot!     
 
Am I bitter that we lost the Division 2 championship to a team that didn't really belong there?  After all, the USATT Junior Girls were expected to be in Division 1.  Not at all.  The Reno 1 team that defeated the USATT Junior Girls team on Friday played the exact same USATT Junior Girls team that we did --- i.e. sans Judy Hugh --- and beat them 4:1.  So the team we lost to 4:1, they beat 4:1.  But understand Reno 1 did have a team rating of 5962, so it wasn't that large an upset for them to defeat a Judy Hugh-less USATT Junior Girls team.  Still I would have liked to play a tie against Reno 1.  You know, we were undefeated against teams with ratings below 6000...

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To Buffet Or Not To Buffet

by Bruce H. Liu

I remember someone exclaimed in disbelief on MSCTT'ers great performance at the Berkeley Tournament a couple of weekend ago and questioned how we could ever top that.

The Four Musketeers (MSCTT'ers) did it! Mark Johnson, Barry Or, Michael Liu, and Gary Fang made the final in Division 2 in the US Open Team Championships only after the USATT Junior Girls! (Atha Fong(2051), Judy Hugh(2373), Barbara Wei(2104), Stephanie Shih(2025)) The combined ratings of the top 3 players in each team were 5476 and 6528, respectively! I think they deserve a parade.

I was busy cheering for my team. I am sure Mark Johnson will have more info for his team to share with us. Mark, we are all ears!

The second team (Michael Sung, Wei-Sung Tsao, Jim Chai, and Bruce Liu) did not win any trophy in Division 1. However, they can proudly boast that they played 3 teams who made the quarter-final. They were defeated but with their heads up. Here are the top 3 teams they played:

  • Canada 2006: Pradeeban Peter-Paul(2640), Qiang Shen(2589), and Pierre-Luc Hinse(2539). They lost to Canada 2008 in the final.
  • California J Leaguers: Takayuki Abe(2500), Sario Mihara(2444), Tatsuya Honda(2295), and Sugura M. Araki(2127). They lost to the eventual winner Canada 2008 in the quarter-final.
  • Jennifer Durst: Yu Shao(2507), De Tran(2463), and Paul David(2459). They beat current world number 7 Gao Jun's team in the 2nd RR to advance to the quarter-final and was stopped by ChengDu team. Guo Xi who played in MSC a few weeks ago was in the ChengDu team.
     

Sara Fu who played MSC's 2/14 RR did very well in the tournament, too. I think she might have been undefeated throughout the tournament. I believe she may have a chance to break 2450 after the tournament

Guo Xi, who won the 2/24 RR, beat former Indian National member Chetan Baboor(2626) in the 2nd RR. Chetan Baboor was number 70 in the world. He also got a game from current world number 138 Wilson Zhang(2705) whose team won the tournament eventually.

Ariel Hsing, Winston Chen, and Patrick Wu were also in the tournament. I was too occupied to see their matches. Will update once I have the results.

We ate moderately - three buffets only. Oops! Should have been four, Atlantis, Silver Legacy, Harrah's, and Eldorado.

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