Table Scotch

Table squash is the name that has been given to a derivative of table tennis in which half of the board acts as a table and the other half as a wall with the net bisecting the table at right angles to the wall. It is an exciting game, differing in many ways from table tennis, but bearing very little resemblance to squash. Nevertheless this name has been given to it independently on more than one occasion; certainly after its introduction in Glasgow University in the late 1970’s and again in Leeds in the 2000’s. In practise the name seems to upset both table tennis players and squash players, although the reasons for this are far from clear. There are other possible names, but most are unconvincingly contrived. Here the merits of the name ‘Table Scotch’ are considered. Among the few documented meanings of ‘scotch’ is:-

‘decisively put an end to’

eg. "a spokesman has scotched the rumours"

Synonyms: put an end to, put a stop to, bring to an end, nip in the bud, put the lid on;

describing, rather succinctly, the aim of each player to the other’s game.

But the most quoted use of the word is this context is from Shakespeare,

‘We have scotch’d the snake, not killed it . Here, to scotch (possibly derived from scorch, rather than scratch)

means to deliver a winning blow, but one from which the victim may recover . To modify the words of e e cummings,

‘Nobody wins all of the time’ now  becomes ‘Nobody loses all of the time’!

The word is also used for things deemed to have originated, or been most closely associated with Scottish culture,

examples being:-

Scotch, the beverage.

The Scotch Snap, a musical term describing a rhythmic phrase, exemplified in Wikipedia by


Two of these definitions provide the case for replacing ‘Squash’ by  its near enough homophone ‘Scotch’. The rhythm of the ball in each rally is very reminiscent of the Scotch snap, and the pattern of notes in the example reflects possible high and low impacts of the wall board.  Shakespeare’s ‘scotch’d’ brings in a different aspect, describing an apparently terminal and winning blow.      

To discuss aspects of the game in detail, it is necessary to establish the meaning of the terms used in this context. Two players, two courts, the wall board and the net. In each part of the game the player plays the ball from the home court to strike the wall board and enter the away territory, at some stage having crossed the net. The returner must intercept the ball before it falls to the ground outside his court and the return  must strike the wall board and then away court.    

Where table tennis and the wall-board games differ is in the potential for using the space above the table. High shots in table tennis are more easily returned than low shots, so it became necessary to modify the rules to nullify this as far as possible and three modifications are described below. The serve line, the rally-tally and the scotch

1) The serve line. In many similar sports the power serve  has developed into a potentially winning shot, possibly to the determent of the entertaining power of the game. By marking a serve line for the minimum height of a legal serve, the serve loses some of its advantage, but more importantly, the technique required for a high serve feeds into, and changes the character of, the continued game.

2 The rally tally.  As the rally should be the most enjoyable part of any such game both to play and to watch, this could be recognised by awarding the winner of the rally a score equivalent to the number of returns played.

Desirable as these objectives may be, they put a considerable burden on the ability of players to observe the play and agree on the events. The difficulty of keeping count during an exciting rally prompted the quest for a independent counting method, now realised in the Rally-Tally-Ometer (the RTO).

All shots in a rally make a single impact on the wall board and counting these impacts counts the rally. It has proved a simple matter to conceal a sensor in the board and produce an automated rally count.

The use of sensors also provides a means to detect illegal serves by determining the relative proximity of the impact to a pair of sensors situated above and below the serve line.

Finally similar techniques can to validate a distinctive feature of the game, the scotch, a shot that made in any game, wins the match.

Three scotch shots have been identified: two make aggressive use of spin and the third is a defensive counter move. The attacking shots both cause the ball to progress back towards the striker’s court (here defined as a retro shot). In one case (type 1) the retro bounce takes place at the wall board and in the second (type 2) it occurs after the impact with the away court. If the ball returns to the opponent’s home court, the scotch (of either type) has been achieved, winning the game and the match. However in keeping with the rules of sportsmanship, the scotch must  present an opportunity for counter attack where the receiver can direct the ball back to the wall board and from there to the opponent’s home court. This is the third type of scotch which also wins the game and the match.

As in table tennis, volleying is not allowed in normal rallies, but the defence against this type of retro wall shot is, of necessity, an allowable volley.

For a retro wall bounce to present an opportunity for counter attack, it must take place well beyond the centre of the wall board and to this end two vertical retro lines have been defined at 20 cm either side of the notional centre line. For a successful scotch, the wall impact must take place on the outside of the relevant retro line and, as in the case of the serve line, this can be validated automatically by sensors monitoring the retro lines. In the type 2 scotch shot, the ball has to rise to clear the net and any such successful trajectory must necessarily  be open to interception.

Solo play.  During solo practise it becomes very clear that for each player, one court is the forehand court and one the backhand court and that alternative forehand and backhand is the norm. This encourages a less rigid grip on the bat and disadvantages any grip in which part of the hand extends beyond the handle shaft. As a side-effect the freedom of motion gained also transfers to up and down shots. The high serve required by the serve line is most easily achieved by directing the ball down to the home court and once the habit is acquired it leads on to other high shots during continued play and it is such play the the creative use of spin is best learned.

As in table tennis, table scotch can be played at very high speed, but for most players the challenge will be to master low speed moves and these are particularly associated with the high ball, because the higher and faster the ball, the less chance it has of falling onto a legal space. A high ball that falls steeply will compromise the receiver who stands back from the board.