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    Marty Reisman, champion; founded Table Tennis Nation

    Marty Reisman at Spin, a Manhattan ping pong parlor.
    Richard Perry/New York Times/file 2012
    Marty Reisman at Spin, a Manhattan ping pong parlor.

    NEW YORK — Marty Reisman, a wizard at table tennis, the sport in which he captured national championships, won and lost fortunes on wagers, and moved crowds to laughter — sometimes using a frying pan as a paddle — as an opening act for the Harlem Globetrotters, died Friday in Manhattan at 82.

    The death was announced by Table Tennis Nation, which he founded two years ago to make his sport even more fun. The cause was complications of heart and lung ailments.

    Known as ‘‘the Needle’’ for his slimness and quick wit, Mr. Reisman traveled the world to hustle celebrities, winning enough to become a three-time millionaire — and losing enough to be a three-time former millionaire. Once, when an 11-year-old asked for a lesson, he suggested a side bet.


    “I took on people in the gladiatorial spirit,’’ he said in an interview in March.

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    He won 22 major titles from 1946 to 2002, including two US Opens and a British Open. Many consider him one of the 10 best to play the game. In 1997, at 67, he became the oldest player to win a national championship in a racket sport by winning the US National Hardbat Championship.

    In an interview with Forbes magazine in 2005, Sir Harold Evans, the writer and editor, who is a table tennis aficionado, credited Mr. Reisman with ‘‘the greatest drop shot ever seen on the face of the earth.’’

    Mr. Reisman favored Borsalino fedoras and Panama hats and fashionable, bright clothing. Before beginning, he habitually removed a $100 bill from his roll to measure the net.

    His signature trick was breaking a cigarette in half from across the table. If the bet was large, he would play sitting down. If it was very large, he would play blindfolded.


    He had a cause bigger than himself, however. After Japanese player Hiroji Satoh showed up with a new kind of paddle to beat Mr. Reisman at the world championship in 1952 in Mumbai, India, then known as Bombay, Mr. Reisman crusaded against it.

    The old kind of paddle, called a hardbat — the one Mr. Reisman liked — was covered with a thin layer of pimpled rubber. The new one had smooth, thicker rubber and no pimples, and propelled the ball at greater speeds. He lost the argument; the new model became the game’s standard.

    One objection was that the paddle was relatively soundless; he liked to react to the whack of paddle hitting ball.

    ‘‘Before, there was a dialogue between the two players, wherein a 6-year-old child could understand the difference between offense and defense,’’ Mr. Reisman told The New York Times in 1998.