THE ZB SYSTEM
Zbigniew Brzezinski may be known to the world as the man who was President Carter's national security adviser, but to friends and acquaintances he's also known as something of a tennis nut, or at least as a man who's fascinated by the game and who thinks about it a great deal. While traveling recently, Brzezinski ran into Billy Talbert, the old doubles star and ex-Davis Cup captain, and outlined a tennis handicap system he had devised. Talbert was impressed by it and said people ought to be told about it. Here's Brzezinski telling us (and you) how his idea works:
"My handicap system adjusts itself to your play and to that of your opponent. It moves up and down with the flow of play, compensating for the inferior player's initial hesitation, putting the better player under increasing pressure as the handicap changes. It helps the poorer player gain confidence, and at crucial times it demands the very best from the better player.
"The ZB Handicap System is very simple. Assume you are playing an opponent you haven't faced before, but you know she—let's say it's a she—is better than you. But by how much? The first game is scored normally, and you lose. She leads 1-0.
"In the next game, all you must do to win is reach 40. Even if it's at deuce, if you reach 40 the game is yours. But let's assume your opponent is so much better than you that you have reached only 30 or less by the time she has won the game. The score is now 2-0 in her favor.
"In the next game, all you need to win is 30. Even if she's leading 40-15, the game is yours if you get the next point. Let's assume you pull it off, and the score is now 2-1. Because you won the last game at 30, to win the next one you'll have to reach 40 again. Your handicap has been toughened by a step. Assume she wins again—and leads 3-1. Your handicap shifts a notch in your favor: Again, all you need to win the game is 30. But let's say you're rattled, and she wins again. Her lead mounts to 4-1.
"Now your handicap becomes more one-sided. All you need is 15—just one winning shot on your part or one error on hers. Now she's under pressure because she has to win at love. This gives you every incentive to go for winners, because you need only one. Assume you get it—the score is now 4-2.
"You move up to 30 again, one notch higher, but your confidence is up, too. You need only two good shots this time, and let's assume you get them. It's 4-3, and you're still in contention for the set.
"In brief, the handicap system moves up and down, one step at a time. Moreover, if you lose a set, the next set begins with your handicap determined by the last game of the previous set. This means that in the new set your opponent begins under greater pressure.
"Once you've played a stronger opponent and know how much better she (or he) is, you can start the match with the handicap at a mutually agreed upon level. For example, the first game can be yours if you reach 30, or even 15; after that you move up and down the scale, depending on how the match unfolds.