Physical chess: progressing through multiple offensive attacks

Tim Weissman famously described high-level air hockey as “physical chess”. This post covers some of the fast-paced strategy that brings Tim’s comparison to life. In this article I will:

  • Breakdown a hypothetical three-drift attack
  • Relate the drifts and shots to each other
  • Discuss how the drifts and shots fit into the overall offense

In the 10 drifts and shots below, I will assume that each is blocked correctly and evaluate this sequence as if the opponent is unknown. If you have history with your opponent, tailor your approach based on previous experience.

Drifts referenced:

Drifts

Drift and shot sequence:

1) Right-to-left diagonal drift: Right-wall-under

I like to start off with unders because I want the defense to become accustom to moving back to the goal. This will help me score easier points with straights later in the match when it is more meaningful.

2) Right-to-left diagonal drift: Cut

This is pretty straightforward. Early on, if a bank is correctly blocked, I will generally follow up with its complimentary straight, using the same drift, release, and shot location.

3) Open-V left rail drift: Cut

Prior to this shot I have used two right-to-left drifts. I like to use Cuts and Right-walls because they are easier for me to execute, so I am not going to give up on them yet. My next move would be to try a new drift. I would use an open-V left rail drift for four reasons: 1) the open-V left rail drift can be started in the same manner as the right-to-left diagonal drift – which will add to the element of surprise, 2) I want to see how the defense responds to a new attack which incorporates an almost opposite directional drift, 3) the extreme left-to-right nature of this drift should help pull the defense to the right, especially after hitting a Right-wall-under and Cut out of a right-to-left diagonal drift, and 4) hitting another cut establishes that I am capable of hitting the same shot back-to-back, even if it is blocked.

4) Right-to-left diagonal drift: Left-wall-under

I am now deliberately switching back into another established attack. I do this because: 1) the preceding open-V drift has created a break of pattern and should result in minor confusion for the opponent, 2) I want the defense to feel comfortable by seeing me reestablish the right-to-left diagonal drift that has previously resulted in only Right-wall-unders and Cuts, and 3) once the opponent sees the right-to-left diagonal drift reestablished, a Left-wall-under should be an unexpected shot selection based on the pattern of shots executed from previous right-to-left diagonal drifts.

5) Right-to-left diagonal drift: Cross

The same logic for shot #2 applies to this one: I am following a blocked under with its complimentary straight.

6) Open-V left rail drift: Right-wall-under

The last time that I used the open-V left rail drift I executed a Cut. This time, when I will switch back to the open-V left rail drift, I will execute the complimentary Right-wall-under to the preceding Cut that came out of this drift. This also works on a second level because the Right-wall-under also compliments the Cross in the prior shot, by following a straight with an under-bank.

7) Open-V left rail: Forehand Left-wall-under

I am following an open-V left rail drift with another identical open-V drift for the first time in this sequence. Prior to this, I only executed Right-wall-unders and Cuts from this drift. In this instance I like going for a forehand Left-wall-under for three reasons: 1) it is the first use of a forehand and I do not know how my opponent will respond, 2) I expect the defense to freeze in an outward position or move to my right because of the severe left-to-right direction of the drift, and 3) this shot attacks the opposite side of the goal as the preceding Right-wall-under.

8) Right-to-left diagonal drift: Right-wall-over

So far I have executed two Right-wall-unders and one Left-wall-under in this sequence of seven shots. I would expect the defense to overreact to the goal based on the frequency of striking 50% unders and no overs from the four previous right-to-left diagonal drifts.

9) Right-to-left diagonal drift, transition to Open-V *right* rail drift: Cut

At this point, I would begin to work in a third attack. I like a Cut in this instance for three reasons: 1) it balances my attack – I have been right-wall and bank heavy to this point; three of eight shots have been right-walls and five of eight have been banks, 2) the Cut out of the extreme right-to-left drift from an open-V right rail drift is very deceptive shot in its own right because the puck is in the strike position of a right-wall and then moves into the cut position as it drifts only a couple of inches, and 3) transitioning from a right-to-left diagonal drift into an open-V right rail drift will be confusing for the defense which will generally freeze in confusing situations, but this will be a very long setup and will give the defense enough time to un-freeze and most likely flinch.

10) Open-V left rail: Forehand Cut

Picking back up on the Open-V left rail drift, my last shot was a forehand Left-wall-under, I would follow it with its complimentary straight because: 1) it attacks the opposite side of the goal as the preceding backhand Cut, 2) this drift sequence works well with the preceding mirror-opposite open-V right rail drift, and 3) from a purely sequencing perspective, up to this point I have attacked my opponent’s left side of the goal in six of the nine shots. To balance my attack, a shot to the right side of the goal makes sense. This results in a 3:2 shot ratio to the left and right side of the goal, which is accurate assuming that you are playing a normal right-handed defense. Furthermore it balances my attack at six straights and overs to four under banks; which is about the correct distribution.

So what is the takeaway? 

Some of my reasoning for which shots to hit and drifts to use might be debatable or some might even say wrong, however the idea that logic should be a part of every drift and shot selection is essential to achieving championship-level air hockey.

As you work on mixing drifts you will become more proficient at keeping up with different shot progressions at the same time. In matches, I am normally eight shots deep in my progressions. On call, I can name my six previous shots and I have an idea of what my next two plays will be based on how the defense reacts. Proficiency in mental agility and recall will improve with practice. When this ability develops, Weissman’s comparison of air hockey to physical chess becomes apparent.

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Top-10 most common mistakes in air hockey

Here is my list of the worst errors that I see crop up all of the time, and I am guilty of some of them just like the rest of us. If you are a left-handed player, flip the info in this blog – it is written from a right-handers’ perspective. In my next blog, I will start referring to left and right-wall banks as “strong-walls” and “weak-walls” in a way that will make sense equally to left and right-handed players.

#1: Defensive stance

Leaning your shoulders forward and your torso over the table on defense is by far the most common error in air hockey. I would estimate that 80% of players, across all skill levels, have incorrect stances on defense. Tim Weissman, 10-time world champion, expertly covers the correct defensive stance in his instructional video:

(From 2:30-4:28)

Why is leaning over the table such a bad mistake? If you are leaning over the table you won’t be able to stop under banks effectively because the forward lean makes moving backward more difficult. Leaning out over the table also puts you in more of a charge-and-snag mentality. On defense blocking the shot must be the first priority, and even though snagging missed shots is important, it is secondary to blocking shots. Blocks are most easily achieved when you have proper defensive mechanics:

  • Right leg forward and bent at the knee
  • Right knee resting on or just off the table
  • Left leg back
  • Weight balanced on the balls of feat
  • Torso positioned approximately 90 degrees to the floor over the center of body
  • Left hand rests on the railing’s edge

In the history of air hockey, there have been 12 national champions. 10 of the 12 players used the defense that I am describing above. Bob Dubuisson and Jose Mora did not. They account for 7 of the 63 titles and they won their championships with great offense. They have the worst 2 defenses out of all of the national champions.

#2: Overly complicated shots and drifts

A forehand cross at 6-6? A fast reverse circle drift followed by a right-wall-over from left-of-center with an exaggerated time delay? Chase crosses? Offense has such an advantage that there is no need for such shots. Doing overly complicated shots and drifts is a tell-tale sign of a player that does not correctly understand offense.

In practice, you should work on the 6 major shots: The cut, cross, and under and overs to both banks. You should also be able to execute these shots from left and right-of-center, with multiple releases. However when you are within a match, you should primarily be scoring with 2-4 shots and only a handful of basic drifts and releases. Too much variety and complication is normally an indication that the offense does not have a plan of attack.

#3: Slow adjustments on defense

On average, there are about 30-35 goals scored against you in a losing set. You have to adjust rapidly! Adjusting to a cut shot after it has sunk on you 10 times is a surefire way to lose a match.

Players typically never adjust in a match or when they do it is too late. You need to be able to effectively adjust on defense in 1-6 shots.

To timely adapt your defense look for the following tells from offense:

  • Can you simply react in time to the speed of the puck?
  • Is the offense tipping their shots by shooting from different locations? Do they hit their cut from left-of-center at the line and their right-wall-under from right-of-center a foot back from the line?
  • Are you able to eliminate certain shots based on drifts? Do they ever shoot left-walls and crosses out of a diamond drift?
  • Patterns. Are they capable of hitting the same shot back-to-back even when you have correctly blocked it? Do they always shoot straights at 6-6? Are they more likely to follow a right-wall-under with a right-wall-over? How do they respond to being incorrectly charged?
  • Release
  • Hand positioning
  • Relation of mallet to puck
  • Body positioning

#4: Not aware of what tactics are least and most effective

If you are playing an unknown top-level pro and you scored a cut to make it 6-6, what shot should you shoot at 6-6?

Most players hit shots that lack purpose. What has worked in the past is most likely to work in the future. Players of all skill levels are too reluctant to hit exact copies of a shot that is scoring. Exploit what is working by using it until it no longer works.

What shots are being scored on you, at what percentage, and in what order? You do not need to know the exact answers to these questions, but you should at least be able to give an approximation, even during matches. If you are unaware of what is scoring on you and your opponent, how can you effectively adjust?

And to answer the question at the beginning of this section, if you have no other information, you must shoot a cut. Do not give someone credit for adjusting until they do so.

#5: Tipping shots by location

Offenses typically hit their shots from where they are most comfortable: Left-walls from left-of-center, crosses and cuts from center, and right-walls from right-of-center. It is like reading a cheap novel when a player does this.

On offense you must be able to strike the under and complimentary straight from the exact same location. When I enter a match, this is the first thing that I try to make the defense aware of. I want the defense to realize that I have the ability to hit the under and its complimentary straight from the exact same location, while using the same drift and release. Once I feel that I have “explained” this to the defense, I then may or may not start hitting the shots from different locations depending on how my opponent is reacting.

#6: Unders lack correct velocity

Unders should travel at the max speed that the table will allow the puck to move without flying off. In practice you should work on increasing the speed of your unders until you have the ability to strike the puck and cause it to leave the table. From there you can scale back the speed of your unders depending on table conditions. Think of it like this: If you are never hitting the puck off the table on unders, you are not striking the puck with enough power.

Unders must be fast, really fast. They are the foundation of offense, especially vs. a pyramid defense. The defense must always be kept in check with unders. If you have a fast and accurate under, the defense cannot wander; in other words it makes it very risky for the defense to attempt to snag pucks. A fast under commands respect and opens up straights, overs, and it also keeps the defense on its heels. Without an under there is nothing that can score; all straights and both over-the-mallets can be blocked by a single out position on defense.

#7: Mallet selection

There is no need for hard mallets or low-tops. Offense is the easier part of air hockey. Your mallet selection should be geared around defense. A soft or original high-top mallet is the only thing that makes sense. With a high-top more hand contacts the mallet, and that means more control.

By and large, generating enough power on offense to reach critical mass is not difficult. Defense and puck control are the more difficult facets of air hockey skill, and mallet selection should cater to these areas.

A soft or original high-top mallet is the more effective material on defense. It is softer so the mallet deadens the puck upon impact of an oncoming shot and also makes catching your own missed shots easier.

Of the 64 national championships, 59 were won with high-tops and 5 with low-tops – Davis Lee won 2, Robert Hernandez won 2, and Owen Geraldo won 1. Davis modifies and extends his low-top’s nub so much that it is almost like a half-top. Owen Geraldo had an outstanding defense but his offense was the worst of any champion in air hockey’s history. If anyone needed a low-top to assist with a sub-par offense, Owen did.

#8: Recentering

Not recentering on defense is the most egregious error that can be made. Most players of all skill levels, pros included, seem not to even be aware of the concept of recentering.

#9: Puck control

Puck control has a wide definition, from the ability to maneuver the puck to catching it after executing a shot and resetting. The mistake that I see players make, largely amateur to pro skill level, is simply hitting the puck when it crosses the centerline or catching the puck and then willy-nilly hitting a shot based on where the puck just happens to be. Normally, you should catch the puck, and then establish control by taking it to a fixed location before executing a drift and shot. Think of it like a pitcher in baseball catching the ball after he has made a pitch, then returning to the mound and using a controlled windup prior to throwing an assortment of different pitches.

After you execute a shot your ideal next move is to:

1) Have the shot score. (Very acceptable.)

2) Catch the puck in front of you. (Acceptable.)

3) Catch the puck from behind after it bounces of your own back rail. (Risk involved. Less room for error.)

4) Chase the puck with an intentional off-goal shot. (More risk involved. The defense has the chance to interfere with a semi-controlled shot.)

5) Chase the puck with an intentional on-goal shot. (Even more risk involved. The defense has the chance to block and interfere with a semi-controlled shot.)

6) Volley the puck. (Most risk involved. Volleys/1-2s are the most uncontrolled shots. An aware defense should look to interfere when these shots are attempted.)

#10: Skipping offensive steps

On offense, players typically try to advance too fast. I think that there is a progression of learning in air hockey offense, and that you should master each step before moving on to the next. If you do not you will have holes in your game and you will not be able to effectively exploit defensive errors when they present themselves.

First players should concentrate on the backhand right-wall-under and cut. The order of progression for the right-wall-under and cut should be as follows:

  • Centerline from the middle of the table strike location
  • Still puck
  • Pump fakes
  • Time delays
  • Intentional off-goals
  • 1-2s
  • Right-of-center strike location
  • Left-of-center strike location
  • Horizontal drift at the line off the left rail, then the right rail
  • Open-V drift off the left rail (1/2 diamond drift), then the right rail
  • Left-to-right diagonal drift
  • Vertical drift
  • Right-to-left-diagonal drift
  • L-drift
  • Diamond drift
  • Back-of-table strike location (pot shots)

Once the above has been mastered, add in the right-wall over-the-mallet bank. Next repeat the process for left-wall-under and cross. Then add in the left-wall over-the-mallet, forehands, off-speeds, chases, and double banks.

If you only have limited time to practice, once a week or less, you should almost exclusively work on right-wall-unders and cuts with time delays, pump fakes and 2 simple drifts (the drifts higher on the list above). If you are working on more than this and not practicing at least 2 days a week, you are probably skipping ahead in your development, spreading yourself too thin, and have holes in your offense.

***

My next blog is titled “Physical Chess”. I will discuss how to progress through multiple offensive attacks at the same time.

*Originally published July 5, 2013

Long live the pot shot

I love pot shots. Scoring a no-drift forehand cut at 6-6 is about as sweet as it gets! In this article I cover the pros and cons of pot shots, the appropriate frequency of use and discuss specific examples. First a definition of what a pot shot is and is not:

What is a pot shot?

A pot shot is an unexpected shot that is taken earlier in the offensive cadence than normal and is usually executed away from the centerline. Pot shots can be planned or used opportunistically if the defense is out of position. A pot shot does not simply have a shortened release nor is it a desperation chase.

A basic pot shot is illustrated in the following sequence:

Normal shot

1) Still puck in back-right quadrant

2) Two second pause

3) Drift to centerline

4) Time delay

5) Right-wall-under

Pot shot

6) Still puck in back-right quadrant

7) Right-wall-under immediately executed with no pause, no drift and no time-delay

The pros and cons of using pot shots

Pros

  • They surprise and catch the defense unprepared
  • Taking shots at various times strains the defensive player by forcing him to constantly focus
  • Straights executed from further back sometimes have better angles
  • Over banks executed from further back have more obtuse angles, which means a wider margin of error for over-the-mallets

Cons

  • Higher degree of difficulty
  • Taking shots from further back on the table gives the defense more time to react
  • Under banks executed from further back have less acute angles, which means the defense does need to move as far to block them

Use in small doses

In my previous instructional articles I have advocated taking around 80-90% of shots from the centerline while using a controlled attack. Controlled shots executed at the centerline are normally more effective than pot shots because of a few reasons:

  • Improved accuracy and consistency
  • More acute angles on under banks
  • Less reaction time for defense
  • The defense is more likely to flinch

For players who primarily use a controlled attack at the centerline, pot shots can add another layer of deception, but only a handful per game should be used. Offense should consist of around 10-20% pot shots, which is a significant enough frequency of use that pot shots deserve a legitimate strategy, and some love.

Why pot shots work and upper limit frequency

Surprising the defense by breaking an established cadence is the most compelling reason to take a pot shot. Because of this, their use should not exceed 50%. When pots shots exceed 50% almost all of the unexpectedness is lost, which is equal to attempting more difficult shots with little to no benefit.

Pot shot opposites: Ehab Shoukry and Wil Upchurch

Master elite players normally shoot between 10-20% pot shots. Wil Upchurch and Ehab Shoukry are both top-5 rated players with great offenses; they are also on different ends of the pot shot spectrum. Wil has one of the quickest paced offenses of all time and routinely uses pot shots as part of his deranged attacks. On the other hand, Ehab has one of the most controlled offenses. He relies on precision, power and gains deception from his releases while he executes almost all of his shots from a planned and controlled drift.

At the 2012 Houston World Championships, these two players met in a clash of styles during the winners’ bracket round of 8:

http://vimeo.com/album/2028316/video/47166540

Here is a breakdown of the frequency of pot shots in this match:

Wil – 99 total shots/34 pots shots: 34% pot shots

Ehab – 95 total shots/12 pots shots: 12% pot shots

Wil has the best pot shots in the history of air hockey, yet he only executed them 34% of the time, well below 50%. Wil understands that surprise is crucial to their effectiveness.

What can be learned from Ehab’s meager 12% usage? It is clear that even the most controlled attacks benefit from using pot shots. Ehab’s pot shots were actually more effective than Wil’s based on the success rate of pot shots attempted – this was largely due to Ehab’s infrequent use of them.

A deeper look at Wil and Ehab

Below are four short clips of standout pot shots from Ehab and Wil’s match along with my analysis:

Ehab executes a normal left-wall-over, then a chase cut and pot shot right-wall-under. The pot shot in this instance can be more specifically defined as a one-two. This sequence works because Ehab generally catches the puck and resets before drifting. It is especially effective because the chase cut produces momentary chaos; Ehab capitalizes on this with an immediate pot shot.

After Ehab attempts a normal off-speed cut, he has multiple options:

  • Grab the puck, establish control, drift the puck, then execute a shot
  • Drift the puck without establishing control, then execute a shot
  • Execute a pot shot

Ehab elects to hit a pot shot after circling around the puck. The circling movement causes Wil to think that Ehab is going to grab the puck and reset. Ehab capitalizes on Wil’s lapse of focus by sinking a textbook pot shot left-wall-under.

After a successful charge, Wil grabs the puck at the centerline, which leaves the puck in a still position for a fraction of a second. He then quickly transitions into a right-wall-over. I use the term “stop-and-go” to define this sequence. The stop-and-go pot shot causes Ehab to overreact to the bank. This happens because Wil normally drifts after grabbing the puck.

This sequence is sick! Only Wil can pot shot a forehand left-wall-over and follow it with a one-two left-wall-under smash at the rail.

Additional frequencies

Pot shot percentages by other Masters:

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Danny Hynes vs. Billy Stubbs: 2013 Houston City Open: finals, second set

http://vimeo.com/album/2307972/video/58463906

Danny – 192 total shots/35 pots shots: 18% pot shots

Billy – 173 total shots/21 pots shots: 12% pot shots

***

Danny Hynes vs. Billy Stubbs: 2012 Houston Worlds: losers’ bracket, loser to 5/6

http://vimeo.com/album/2028316/video/47142248

Danny – 75 total shots/8 pots shots: 11% pot shots

Billy – 63 total shots/5 pots shots: 8% pot shots

***

Davis Lee vs. Tim Weissman: 2012 Houston Worlds: winners’ bracket round of 4

http://vimeo.com/album/2028316/video/47859582

Davis – 174 total shots/14 pots shots: 8% pot shots

Tim – 183 total shots/19 pots shots: 10% pot shots

***

Brian Accrocco vs. Keith Fletcher: 2012 Houston Worlds: 9/12 spin-off finals

http://vimeo.com/album/2028316/video/47142246

Brian – 124 total shots/15 pots shots: 12% pot shots

Keith – 110 total shots/11 pots shots: 10% pot shots

***

How to develop pot shots

Player of all skill levels should execute between 10-20% pot shots. Straying from this range is usually symptom of an overly conservative or reckless offense. Mimicking and studying top players’ pot shots, like the ones in the above videos, is a good starting point for amateurs. Pros and above should be spontaneous and develop novel pot shots through experimentation. The exact frequency of use does not need to be known during a match while in the heat of battle. Once a player is aware of the appropriate frequency, a feel for what is correct will develop over time.

*Originally published February 19, 2013

Practice with purpose

The goal of practice is not to win; the goal is to improve. Winning is secondary. To improve, practice with purpose.

A little bit of history

When I started playing Air Hockey in 1993, I spent twice as many hours on the table as I do now, yet my game was not as sharp. I was playing to win and have fun. I still do this, but these are no longer my primary reasons. Now I practice to improve, which leads to my ultimate goal of winning.

Yes, I have logged a lot of hours of play over the last two decades, but most of my recent improvement is because I have learned how to make better use of my time spent on the table. Clear objectives and a framework for each session, laid out weeks to months in advance, is how I get the most of my practice.

19 years ago my typical schedule looked something like this:

Monday: 10 games
Tuesday: 25 games – do not let anyone win!
Wednesday: 10 games
Thursday: 25 games – try not to let anyone get to six points!
Friday: OFF
Saturday: Play a weekly tournament
Sunday: OFF
Repeat next week

As you can see, not only was I just playing games, which does have its benefits, I had no specifics to work on. Nothing was planned. A much better way to practice, if your goal is to improve, is to have a long-term structure to your sessions. Since we do not have tournaments year-round, the best way to construct a schedule is to make sure that you peak for major tournaments and important matches.

Schedules really do matter

I divide my practice calendar into three phases: 1) New tactics 2) Improve weaknesses 3) Solidify strengths.

New tactics
In this phase I work on new aspects of my game that might be potentially valuable: Reactionary defense, off-speed LWUs, etc. After developing these new tactics I identify which ones are successful and can be used as part of my game. I discard the new tactics that do not work. At the end of this phase I hope to have one or two new weapons (offensive or defensive) that I can add to my arsenal.

Improve weaknesses
It helps to have a good partner who can identify your weaknesses and work on improving them with you. Also, candidly asking a better player “What are my three weakest areas?” is a good way to evaluate your game.

Solidify strengths
Tuning up your strengths should not be overlooked. It is your strengths that will ultimately win matches. I do not spend quite as much time in this phase, but I make sure that my strengths are always the last things that I work on before heading into a major tournament or match.

Drill baby, drill

To work on new tactics, improve weaknesses, and solidify strengths, I approach each practice session with clear-cut goals. To meet these goals I use specifically designed drills. For example, if my goal were to defend straight shots from left-of-center more effectively, an appropriate drill would be to play a game vs. my opponent in which we both only execute shots from the left-of-center. For this drill I would weight straight shots as 5 points, since I want to work on my defense against straights from left-of-center, and weight RWUs as 1 point. I do this because keeping an element of game play and decision-making involved is important even during drills so that they do not become mindless. (At the end of this article, I have examples of more drills).

Practice works, if done right

Warm ups
Before each practice session and tournament match, I do the exact same 20-minute warm up. This is beneficial for a few reasons: 1) It helps prevent injuries 2) Using the same routine gets me in a consistent mindset 3) I use part of my warm ups to improve on areas of my game that need constant attention.

Stretching – 5 minutes
Puck control – 5 minutes of various drifts and maneuvers
Defensive mechanics – 2 minutes of defensive movements
Chase drills – 3 minutes of chasing the puck along both rails
Puck snagging – 5 minutes of snagging missed straights and overs with a partner. I added this to my warm ups because it has been a problem area for me and it is an excellent way to wake up my reflexes.

Practice breakdown
I divide practice into 50% drills and 50% sets. Since mechanics are very important in Air Hockey, and most of the drills are mechanics based, 50% of practice allotted to drills is appropriate. The first part of each session is drills. After drills I end with sets, which keep decision-making sharp and are a great incentive to play intense towards the end of practice.

Final preparation
One week before a major tournament or match I only play sets and take 15 minutes breaks between the sets and a full minute between games in order to simulate tournament play.

How it looks in practice

The below schedule is word for word from my calendar and was created 3 months before the 2012 Las Vegas World Championships. It was designed specifically for my strengths and weaknesses and is not applicable for other players. The takeaway should be the amount of granularity.

New tactics phase
March 28 – 1.6 hrs, forehand line attack
March 29 – 1.7 hrs, hard RWO
March 30 – 1.8 hrs, forehand from left-of-center
March 31 – 1.9 hrs, still puck attack
April 1 – OFF
April 2 – 1.7 hrs, left-to-right drift
April 3 – 1.8 hrs, move defense out 3 inches
April 4 – 1.9 hrs, reactionary defense
April 5 – 2.0 hrs, hard LWO
April 6 – 2.1 hrs, bizarro CUTS and CROSSES
April 7 – 2.2 hrs, shorten release
April 8 – OFF
April 9 – 1.8 hrs, up tempo offense
April 10 – 1.9 hrs, reactionary defense
April 11 – 2.0 hrs, off-speed LWU
April 12 – OFF (vacation)
April 13 – OFF
April 14 – OFF
April 15 – OFF
April 16 – 1.9 hrs, hard LWO

Improve weaknesses phase
April 17 – 2.0 hrs, strike RWU and CUT with conviction
April 18 – 2.1 hrs, offensive patterns
April 19 – 2.2 hrs, defense reaction time
April 20 – 2.3 hrs, off-speeds
April 21 – 2.4 hrs, reverse circle drift, Mitic sets
April 22 – OFF
April 23 – 2.0 hrs, RWU from left-of-center
April 24 – 2.1 hrs, defense reaction time
April 25 – 2.2 hrs, RWO from left-of-center
April 26 – 2.3 hrs, OVERS
April 27 – 2.4 hrs, offensive variety, combine multiple drifts
April 28 – 2.5 hrs, offensive patterns
April 29 – OFF

Solidify strengths phase
April 30 – 2.1 hrs, right-to-left drift
May 1 – 2.2 hrs, CROSS
May 2 – 2.3 hrs, RWs from multiple areas of the table
May 3 – 2.4 hrs, quick drift LWU
May 4 – 2.5 hrs, CUT from right-of-center
May 5 – OFF
May 6 – 2.2 hrs, puck control
May 7 – 2.3 hrs, LWO
May 8 – 2.4 hrs, RWU defensive mechanics
May 9 – 2.5 hrs, LWU/LWO/CROSS combos + sets
May 10 – 2.6 hrs, problem areas + sets
May 11 – OFF
May 12 – IL STATE
May 13 – CHALLENGE MATCH
May 14 – OFF

Revisit new tactics
May 15 – 2.7 hrs, short release, 3 quarter diamond, LWU defensive movement

Revisit improve weaknesses
May 16 – 2.8 hrs, puck movement, hard overs, snagging

Revisit solidify strengths
May 17 – 2.9 hrs, LWU, CROSS, CUT from right-of-center, quick drift RWU

Tournament preparation
May 18 – 3.0 hrs, sets
May 19 – 3.2 hrs, sets
May 20 – 3.4 hrs, sets
May 21 – 3.6 hrs, sets
May 22 – OFF
May 23 – 3.8 hrs, sets + problem areas, tactics for specific opponents
May 24 – 4.0 hrs, sets
May 25 – OFF
May 26 – WORLDS
May 27 – WORLDS

A few more drills to talk about

Straights only drill – Play games in which you and your opponent only execute straight shots. You cannot play your defense out any further than normal and you cannot charge. This helps build defensive discipline around re-centering and not flinching. It also forces the offense to use creative drifts to score.

Snag drill – Have your partner intentionally miss overs and try to snag them. Whoever snags the most out of 25 is the winner. This drill helps with transition play, puck control, and reflex development.

Off-speed unders drill – Play normal games except off-speed unders are worth three points instead of one. The offense should attempt tons of off-speed unders, which will help the defenses improve their mechanics for pulling for banks and not sweeping or coming all the way back to the goal. This drill has the added benefit of helping to develop off-speed unders.

Stop reading and…

Get out there and make the most of your practices by having well defined goals and structure for each session. Develop a schedule and find a partner that will help you practice with intent and not just smack the puck around – no matter how fun that may be.

I hope this helps even one person :)

*Originally published July 23, 2012

I have something to say, to dozens of people ;)

Billy Stubbs practicing.

I’ve been practicing air hockey for five days a week, two-and-half hours each practice session, plus additional cross-training and film study for the past two years – with essentially no time off. No breaks during the holidays or in sickness, just playing and studying air hockey a lot. I’ve done this in a very serious manner, trying to rival the practice regimen of professional table tennis and baseball players. And you know what? It worked. I am now a 3-time world champion. I have won the last two world championships, stacked up a pretty impressive match record and won the last six consecutive major tournaments. Even at the age of 38, I am actually better now than I was six months ago and the same can be said of any preceding six months during this two-year period. So, I thought that I would start sharing some of the key learnings that I have had over the last two years. In this blog, I will breakdown everything that I know about air hockey, from high-level strategy to detailed-level execution.

My first few posts will cover:

  • The top 10 most common mistakes in air hockey
  • Physical chess (running multiple attacks at the same time)
  • Defensive nuances (charge frequency and the floating triangle)
  • Left wing vs. right wing offense
  • Right-wall-under/over and cut release mechanics
  • Shot sequencing and selection
  • Structuring an offense vs. unfamiliar opponents
  • The stop-n-go
  • Acceptable levels of unforced and forced errors