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How Does a Pinball Tournament Work?

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One of the most classic games in all of machine game history is pinball. For some, winning the game may seem like luck, but there are many strategies for playing the game, especially when competitive players are playing in tournaments. With pinball competitions gaining momentum in recent years, many people wonder how they work.

How does a pinball tournament work? Pinball tournaments involve a group of people competing on different pinball games to advance through rounds and emerge as the winner. There are different styles of play, and the organizer chooses the kind of game that is played. The rules are slightly different if the games follow the International Flipper Pinball Association (IFPA) or Professional & Amateur Pinball Association (PAPA) rules.

Knowing how pinball tournaments are run is integral to succeeding in them. Different tournament styles come with various rules. This article will explain how pinball tournaments work, rules regarding official IFPA and PAPA competitions, and how you can run a pinball tournament.

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Official Pinball Tournaments

IFPA and PAPA are the two official pinball organizations. IFPA is the governing body for pinball, meaning they help set the rules when it comes to playing pinball as a competitive sport. IFPA believes that pinball can rise in popularity after waning over the years.

The organization has partnered with the Stern Pinball brand to bring in new pinball players and introduce events and tournaments to new areas. Players can compete in the Stern Pro Circuit, hosted by IFPA and the Replay Foundation, that holds 20 pro-pinball tournaments each season and ends with the top 20 finalists battling it out in Chicago.

IFPA created the World Pinball Player Rankings (WPPR) to allow people who play the sport competitively to be recognized for their efforts. The IFPA also arranges championships, which enables players to increase their worldwide ranking.

PAPA supports pinball as both a recreational and competitive sport. Like IFPA, PAPA hosts championships that allow people to compete to win the title. This organization is the host of Pinburgh – a three-day-long battle between more than 800 pinball players that features over 300 pinball machines. This tournament is hailed as the “largest pinball tournament in history.”

PAPA has divisions that allow kids, seniors, and inexperienced players to compete with other people of the same age or experience level. This lets everyone join in on the pinball fun and compete for a prize!

IFPA Tournaments

IFPA tournaments are very popular because the company governs the rules for pinball as a competitive sport. IFPA hosts a World Pinball Championship yearly.

Details about the IFPA World Pinball Championship include:

  • The world championship tournament lasts three days.
  • 64 of the world’s greatest players from over 20 countries compete.
  • The top 2 players from each country that qualify for the competition are picked to play in the tournament.
  • For players that cannot attend, spots will be filled by going down the rankings list.
  • Qualifying for IFPA’s world tournament takes all year, meaning that your WPPR score is the deciding factor on whether you will garner one of the spots in the competition.
  • The first round is made up of 8 sessions. Only 32 of the 64 will advance to the second and final round.
  • Players are divided into groups of 4 for the first session. Scores are recalculated at the end of every session, and players are rotated between groups.

After the initial eight sessions are completed, 32 players advance to Match Play Madness and are put into a bracket. They are ranked based on their scores from the first round and compete once again. However, this new bracket is played in small single-elimination tournaments, with the best 4 out of 7 advancing. If there is a tie, the game moves to sudden death, and the remaining players duke it out in a best of 3.

If you are new to pinball or are not on the WPPR list, then The Open may be of interest. This is another championship from the IFPA that allows people across the world to join, and it is open to everyone. This tournament features bounties that can give extra prize money when won.

Some bounties featured at The Open are:

  • Spell DIAL on Dialed In for $50.
  • Sink 4 ships on the Black Rose for $50
  • Get the checkered flag on the Indianapolis 500 for $50.
  • Defeat 6 Monsters on Alice Cooper Nightmare Castle for $50.
  • Score 60,000,000 or higher on the Class of 1812 for $50.

PAPA Pinball Tournaments

PAPA has different divisions that help to make sure that people of all age groups and skill sets can compete. The divisions of PAPA tournaments include:

  • Division A – the main division that decides who the PAPA World Pinball Champion is; any player can compete
  • Division B – often called the intermediate division; mostly higher-skilled players compete
  • Division C – reserved for pinball players of below-average skill or not much tournament experience
  • Division D – a division designed for beginner players
  • Classics – three self-contained tournaments that only feature pinball machines made before 1990
  • Juniors – for players up to 15 years old; all players are allowed into the final rounds
  • Seniors – only for players over 50 years old
  • Spit Flipper – a division designed for playing with a partner

The following chart outlines the prizes awarded to the winner of the different PAPA divisions:

Division The Prize for 1st Place
Division A $7000 + Trophy
Division B $2000 + Trophy Cup
Division C $1000 + Trophy Cup
Division D $150 + Trophy Cup
Classics I $1000 + Trophy Cup
Classics II $1000 + Trophy Cup
Classics III $1000 + Trophy Cup
All Other Divisions Medals or Plaques

What You Need to Know to Run a Pinball Tournament

Running a tournament may sound like a great idea, but there are various things you have to take into consideration. Below, you’ll find a list that will help when it comes to planning a pinball tournament

  1. You need multiple players so that you will be able to hold an actual tournament. 10 to 20 players is a great starting point.
  2. A $5 entrance fee would be appropriate because it is not an official tournament.
  3. The players should be randomly selected.
  4. Players should also pay for their games.
  5. Many pinball machines are required to run a competition efficiently. You don’t want too many players waiting around for the next leg of the tournament.
  6. Declaring the rules to everyone before the tournament begins is a must. This will help to ensure there are no arguments about regulations down the line. It is recommended to pull rules from the IFPA and PAPA guidelines, so it feels like a real tournament.
  7. Creating a bracket to track the tournament winners is the best way to make sure everything is recorded and stays fair. is excellent for this if you want to have a digital copy
  8. If you are not aware of everyone’s skill level, it is best to pair players randomly.
  9. Be sure that people are aware of the game style being chosen before accepting their entrance fee.
  10. Clearly state what the prizes are for winning.

Real Tournaments

If you want to see some real tournament play and how it’s set up you can see a real recorded pinball tournament that was put on by PAPA in the video below. Be warned it is quite a long video so feel free to skip around a bit to see some different machines and players as the tournament continues. 

In Conclusion

Pinball tournaments can vary in several ways, but they also share some similarities. Many events use a minimum of 16 players and use a bracket set up for the competition. In most cases, you must score the most points against your opponent to move to the next round, and the game mode will decide how many times you’re allowed to lose or if you place after your score.

Before you enter into any pinball tournament, it is essential to read that specific tournament’s rules before you register.