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Cover Story - All-star bar pongers

Atlanta's unofficial bar pong circuit is filled with colorful and diverse personalities who've got some serious ping-pong game. We're not saying it's impossible to beat these dudes. But you're probably gonna have a hard time beating these dudes, OK?

CHARLES BULGER
Order manager for AT&T VOIP Services

If you want to play the best on the bar pong circuit, go the Albert on a Tuesday night. Bulger's the reigning champ and has won the tournament more than anyone. He's been playing for years on the table tennis circuit, even working with a coach. Surly in demeanor and relentlessly competitive, between matches you'll find him sitting at a table with arms folded. During games, he's known to punctuate crazy forehand and backhand winners with a simple, dark stare.


STEVEN CARSE
Founder of the King of Pops

Carse first played ping-pong when he was barely able to see over the table. In college, he brought a pong table with him and played for hours every day with his roommates. His dedication shows in a game that features an underhanded forehand, lots of crazy spin and a love for smashing home winners. Carse is the organizer of Church's Monday night tournament, and every once in a while he wins the thing. That would make him - at least temporarily - the King of Pong.


MATT HEISMAN
Construction business owner

Heisman first started playing when he was 12, but hip surgery for a growth plate condition put him in a wheelchair for some of his teenage years and he stopped playing. A year ago, he picked up a paddle again, and he's a regular at the Chinese Culture Center. He's also one of the few at the Albert who can take down Bulger and Bradley.


GRANT HENRY
Artist/Owner of Sister Louisa's Church of the Living Room and Ping-Pong Emporium

Henry happily accepts all ping-pong challenges through his Facebook page. Playing with an illegal sandpaper paddle and relying on speedy returns, difficult angles, sporadic paddle-slapping and random shouting, Henry pretends to be having a good time. His in-rally grimace gives away the truth: He really just wants to kick your ass.


GREG KODESH
Commercial real estate agent

Kodesh grew up playing USTA tennis in Atlanta. At one point, he was ranked one of the top 30 junior players in the state. Now, with a tennis-like, well-rounded game, he's one of the top bar pongers, having won the Albert tournament a half-dozen times in the pre-Bradley and Bulger era.


CLIFF LOSEE
Waiter at the Albert, recent GSU grad

You do not want to face Losee's backhand. Dude just stands there with his 6-foot-5-inch frame like he's thinking about vacation, all while you're launching your best forehand to his left side. And then - like a rattlesnake strike - Losee unleashes. Trust us, you're better off hitting it to his forehand. Losee spent some time playing ping-pong in China, and he deserves credit for starting and promoting the bar pong scene at the Albert and beyond.

BRYAN MIDGETTE
Real estate investor

If a team was assembled representing the Atlanta bar pong circuit, Midgette would get our vote to be the captain. Perennially upbeat, a fan of competition, and a dedicated student to pong, Midgette is a former North Carolina state champ in ping-pong. His game is fun to watch, in part because it's so theatrical in movement and power. Watch him strut from side to side after smashing a winner. But listen for tips: He's constantly talking about the game and how one can improve.


VASANTH MOHAN
Engineer

On the bar pong circuit, he has earned single-name status: Mohan. There are few players who are more talented or polite. Raised in the small town of Velur, India, he first played the game at a boarding school when he was 13. Apparently the school teaches them well, because he's so good that Church owner Grant Henry once banned him from the bar's weekly tournament for winning too much. Other Mohan accomplishments: He has an MBA from UC Berkeley and a Ph.D. in engineering from Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago.


JAKE NAISH
Copywriter

You can probably guess his nickname, but Naish is pretty far from the snake-type. A lefty with spin, control and outstanding reflex, Naish is one of only two known players in the entire world that have won both tournaments at the Albert and Church, beating Bulger, Bradley and Mohan in the process.


PHIL BRADLEY

One of the friendliest and fiercest competitors on the bar pong scene, Bradley at one point in his life considered himself the best ping-pong player in Atlanta. Then he went to Decatur Table Tennis and was dismantled by a 95-year-old competitor. Since then, with guidance and competition from Bulger, as well as regular practice at local table tennis clubs, he's become one of the best in Atlanta bar pong.



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