• Image about Marty Reisman
Marty, who grew up on New York’s Lower East Side, picked up a pingpong paddle for the first time around 1942.
Nathaniel Welch

Reisman was — and still is — one of the most charismatic players to ever wield a paddle. If he doesn’t dazzle you with on-court showmanship and panache, he wows you with sartorial splendor, like his trademark Panama hat, shades and canvas sneakers, perhaps accompanied by something subtle, like leopard-print pants. “They border on garish, but I can carry it off because I have good sartorial sense,” he notes. 

Table Tennis for Dummies

Want to bring it like Marty Reisman?  Here are some strategic nuggets from the maestro himself:

ROCK STEADY: “The essence of the game is steadiness — keeping the ball in play. Don’t get too fancy. Take the chaos out of the game.”

ATTACK, JACK: “Keep the ball in play with your backhand and use one attacking stroke: the forehand slam. You’re only as good as your attacking stroke.”

COVER THE ANGLES: “Play close to the table. If you’re right-handed, stay more to the left side of the table, and vice versa; this opens up more of the table for your forehand drive.”

SIMPLE SERVICE: “The serve is only a means of putting the ball into play. Don’t worry about hitting something that’s unreturnable.”

Currently a resident of Manhattan, he’s played in tournaments, money games and exhibitions in 65 countries, and in his youth, he adventured for years throughout Asia. While it’s sometimes hard to tell where fact ends and fiction starts, there’s no doubt he’s famous in his own right (a Google search of his name garners thousands of hits). And after a few hours of talking, it’s easy to imagine that wherever he goes, Reisman is the
straw that stirs the drink. And if you don’t believe that, he’ll tell you himself.

“I create action and drama whenever I’m on the scene in a table tennis environment,” he asserts. “What sometimes sounds like braggadocio is just stating the facts. I certainly don’t keep my skills and virtues a secret. If I didn’t have certain virtues or outstanding character, people wouldn’t be writing about me. I’m known as a money player; I’ve never backed down from a bet,” he adds, noting he’s played for up to $10,000. “I’ve hustled all over the world in big-money matches and international matches — lost to some of the best players in the world and beat some too.”

To observe Reisman in his prime (search YouTube for “Marty Reisman vs Victor Barna”) is to watch a world-class maestro in action. He was a man in motion, punctuating the long volleys characteristic of the hardbat-paddle era with graceful ?pirouettes and slashing forehand kill shots.

As a kid, Reisman aspired to be a scientist or a doctor. But he dumped those aspirations in a New York minute when, at age 12, while living a Damon Runyon-esque childhood amid gamblers and gangsters on New York’s Lower East Side, he picked up a pingpong paddle for the first time around 1942. The place? Lawrence’s table tennis parlor, a form?er speakeasy that became a mecca for the best players in America.