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How to play

Ping pong tournaments begin at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays (weather permitting) at Palooza Gastropub & Wine Bar, 8910 Highway 12, Kenwood. Participation is free.

For more information, call 707-833-4000 or visit paloozafresh.com.

There are no blue ribbons or shiny trophies celebrating the weekly Ping-Pong Tournament champions at Palooza Gastropub & Wine Bar in Kenwood. Winners are treated to something a bit more fun — the coveted Cup of Truth.

Those with top-notch table tennis skills — or some mighty good luck — gain not only bragging rights but the opportunity to drink beer all week for half price. With 16 craft beers on tap, the Cup of Truth can easily runneth over.

“Not many last the week. They come and drink cheap beers and get dethroned,” said Jeff Tyler, who owns the neighborhood pub with his wife, Suzette.

Champions can chug high-alcohol volume IPAs like a Dr. Jekyll’s Biohazard or a Dust Bowl Dump Truck of the Gods, but tournaments are more about fun than brewski privileges.

Three tables are set up for play Tuesday evenings in the courtyard behind Palooza, where enthusiasts of all ages can participate for free. When an underage player takes the title, the prize shifts to a baseball cap or half-off on a week’s worth of french fries.

The friendly-yet-competitive tournaments can last more than two hours, weather permitting, with sun or wind sometimes adding to the challenge of the fast-paced games.

On a recent Tuesday, a group of players from the Oakmont Table Tennis Club gathered at Palooza to test their skills and challenge the public. During a warm-up game to determine divisions, a gentle breeze made a few moves suspect as Jeff Tyler challenged Jim Ouimette of Oakmont.

“Maybe it’s the wind. It must be the wind,” Ouimette said, laughing, as his serve went wild. “It’s got to be the wind.”

Ouimette, 68, a retired research engineer and the 2017 Oakmont Volunteer of the Year, managed to win the game despite momentary interruptions from Mother Nature.

He complimented Tyler, who offers his age as “40-ish,” telling him, “You have the most phenomenal set of serves.” The narrowly defeated Tyler’s response? “Worked out really well for me, Jim.”

It’s the type of banter the Tylers encourage. The pingpong tournaments and daily open tables give people something active and enjoyable to do.

“You can go anywhere and drink beer, but this is engaging,” said Suzette Tyler, 52.

She grew up playing games like table tennis — the term preferred over Ping-Pong, thanks to trademark restrictions and conflicting histories — and recalls the fun of using a paddle to send a lightweight ball back and forth between players on opposing sides of a 9-foot-long table.

“People can come and hang out and be like they were when we were kids,” she said.

The Tylers, who opened Palooza on Valentine’s Day in 2014, say there’s an old-fashioned sense of camaraderie awaiting those willing to pick up a paddle and give the game a try. With three divisions and round robin-style play, the tournaments typically match players of similar skill levels.

Players can switch sides “to eliminate excuses” over wind or sun, said Jeff Tyler, who keeps things friendly, while also acknowledging players can be competitive.

“A lot of guys come in carrying their own ping pong paddles,” he said. “They’re serious players. They bring their paddles and hide them under their coats.”

He readily admits to practicing at home with a specialized robot that tosses balls, and is among the players who bring customized paddles to tournaments.

Although table tennis is an Olympic sport almost anyone can play, the key to success is “practice, practice, practice,” Tyler said.

Oakmont resident George Hasa said there are benefits that outweigh winning a match.

“They claim it improves your mental capacity,” he said.

A retired printing business owner, Hasa, 72, has played table tennis off and on since his boyhood. The Palooza tournaments are fun and friendly, he said, and ideal for Oakmont residents who live just a few miles away.

“It’s a good place to hang out; the ‘Cheers’ of Kenwood and Oakmont,” he said, referring to the popular TV sitcom bar of the 1980s and ’90s. “We old people need to leave the reservation sometimes.”

Retired chemist Bob Vogenthaler, 71, plays table tennis five times a week, 90 minutes per session, and is one of two presidents of the Oakmont Table Tennis Club.

“What’s good for you is the coordination and the reaction time,” he said. “It’s good for the mind and the eyes and it’s good for seniors. For the most part, you don’t fall down.”

Santa Rosan Kristi Lee, 52, is a manager at the neighboring Kenwood Market and Manzanita Creek Winery. She’s been coming regularly to the Palooza tournaments since discovering the games four months ago.

“I really like it,” she said. “It’s fascinating. And I’m getting pretty good.”

For the Tylers, playing games and engaging people is something that starts at home. The Santa Rosa couple has kids ages 14, 22 and 24 — and no cable TV. Board games and table tennis keep things fun at home, and at Palooza.

There are games like a giant Jenga and Trivial Pursuit to engage patrons after a meal, while sipping wine or drinking beer and munching wood-fired pizza. And there’s always a paddle and ball ready for table tennis — novices and champions welcome alike.

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