Best way to Practice Comp pinball?

My daughter is 13 and is really getting into the competitive side of pinball. I enjoy our nightly battles, but like to hear from some “top” competitors how they practice for comp games? We have 14 games at homes, mainly modern but 1 EM and one SS for practice. Should we/she just be playing games, or should time be spent just practicing certain shots/flipper skills, tactics? I’d like to know if there is a “best ratio” for full games vs practicing just certain skills/shots.


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I don’t consider myself a top competitor… but “top” competitor, maybe… only in the sense that I’m a bit top heavy.

I think the general answer depends on what kind of tournament you’re preparing for. If you’re about to participate in a traditional PAPA format (RIP) tournament, it’s important to be able to achieve a moderate benchmark score… doesn’t have to be the greatest score ever, but has to be good enough for midrange points on your ticket. For a best-score format, you need to throw caution to the wind and set up huge scoring opportunities… that might be a big multiball stack, or a quick path to a wizard mode, etc. On the other end of the spectrum is match-play, which is much more dynamic… depending on what other players do and what player number you are, you might need to plan on small safe points, or huge go-for-broke setups.

When I’m getting myself geared up for tournaments, I’ll generally practice by setting score goals for myself on different machines, both for a game and for a ball. For example: Addams Family: 150M on a game… go. 50M on a single ball… go. Vary the goals until you feel you have a sense of how to achieve them with a high probability of success. Sometimes (often) the required approach is rather boring, because it’s safe… in competition, safe is good.

Match play is especially interesting because you have to respond to changing situations on the fly. Say you’re the last player of a 4 player group on ball 3 and need 20M to clinch one point, what do you do? Once you make that threshold, now you might need 50M to clinch the next point, what do you do? etc etc etc…

Practicing general techniques is always valuable. Knowing how to drop-catch, live-catch, post-pass, etc can only help you… those skills translate well to many games, especially of the solid-state and later eras. I wouldn’t worry as much about practicing specific shots on specific games… being able to shoot the Lock shot on your home AFM with nearly 100% reliability is nice for pumping up the score against your family, but isn’t really that helpful for playing at tournaments, because the AFM at the tournament is pretty much guaranteed to have different leveling, different flipper strength, possibly other weird conditions (different flipper rubbers? fatter post rubbers on the target shot? etc) … in fact, in tournament situations where I have choice of game, I’ll often intentionally avoid games that I own, because the tourney game is pretty likely to “behave” differently from my home game, and it takes me extra effort to un-learn the geometry of my home game that I’m very accustomed to.

None of this is easy, but that’s a big part of the fun! :slight_smile:


Play with EB’s off, ball save off and tournament mode on & 3 ball.
Some people might recommend playing one handed as practice.
Lunatics might recommend playing 2 ball games.

But really, just play, have fun. :slight_smile:


Not a top player myself, only 948 in the world, but lately I have been trying to play machines until I find a strategy on them. So when I get that machine in a tournament I know what to do, and I can worry about othe stuff than the rules and such. Of course you have to be able to switch strategy sometimes, for example if you cant hit doc ock 10 times in a row, maybe go for something else. shit happens.

But at least have a clear strategy for what you want to do on each game :slight_smile:

The best way to practice for competition is to compete. Flipper skills, shot making, nudging, etc., are part of a regular pinball game, so playing pinball will help you work on those things. And, they are important to becoming a good competitive player, but the best way to become a better competitive player is to compete in a league, or in a local tourney. Get used to the atmosphere and any changes that competing will cause within you. From experience I can tell you that competing is as much about conquering nerves as it is about making shots.


Don’t forget the dancing.


Find a local league, and get her playing in that.

The best way to grow as a player is to play people better than you.


Lunatic!! :wink:

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Practice basic flipper skills until you get them down. But don’t forget to discuss/learn WHEN to use them.
Same goes with nudging.

Echoing prior comment… Turning off EB’s is critical: your approach and mindset to pins changes DRAMATICALLY when you can’t rely on getting a 4th, 5th ball.

Pretty much any tourney finals or league involves waiting between balls. So if you can’t join a league, you need to practice taking a few minutes between each ball. Playing a game of all 3 balls continuously improves your timing of your flips, and you need to develop how to recall where each shot was, and how to re-adapt. Plus, you’ll be missing more more shots when you take breaks between balls, which increases the # of opportunities to practice your recovery and nudging skills.


Playing multiplayer, even if it’s not in a competition, can be very helpful. It gets you used to waiting as @Snailman mentioned, as well as strategies to beat other players based on their score, which is often completely different than playing for a high score. Even no one else is available to play, you can even practice strategies by playing a multiplayer game by yourself. Depending on the game, you might try different strategies for each player from the start of the game, then adjust for each player as the game develops in an effort to “win” for that player.


Lots of great suggestions above. I would only add a suggestion to play on location, if possible. We’re all rock stars when we’re playing our own games in our homes. Gets a little harder when the playfield is dirty, the left flipper sticks occasionally and there’s bad lighting. Gets a player out of his or her comfort zone, which is great practice for competition.


Watch other people play when it’s their turn. Each person approaches situations differently, and getting perspective on them can help to develop her own strategy. It can also serve as a way to see techniques used during play and in which situations.


I’ll second what is mentioned above, playing lots and lots of tournaments/competitive play, helps with the nerves. I am horrible when it comes to controlling my nerves when you are on that last ball and need to play very good to beat the other player.

As Cayle mentioned above, I felt that playing one handed helps. It’s what basically forced me to learn dead bounces, live catches and when you look for ways to get the ball under control vs flipping it away.

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For me a big part of playing competitively is dealing with stress. I practice deep breathing, mentally visualizing my shots and strategies and getting into the practice of realizing that either I am in trouble (anticipation) with the ball on the PF, and dealing with it without raising any anxiety to the moment. If anxiety or stress is taking over I do my best to recognize my headspace and get to a trap or a safe place in the game and take a quick break.

Sometimes only 5 seconds is needed. Othertimes I’ll take 30 second break and a sip of water. A quick break that takes me away from the world under the glass and coming back with a “reset” makes all the difference sometimes.

Another thing that has really helped me is to change my visual perspective. If I am having trouble with a shot, I will take a lower “Lyman-like” stance. This helps me look up the PF and shoot “through” my shots as compared to just making a shot, missing, the raising of stress after multiple misses and… the rust takes over.

Hope this helps and as always, play more pinball!


One approach I take is to put myself under pressure by playing old style papa tickets against myself. I use denasi’s software to do this. At home it is so easy to have a bad game and just press start again. This way if you have a lousy game you ruin your ticket - it makes every game count. And competing against your best tickets is fun.

I can’t take credit for the idea, Cayle suggested something like this when I interviewed him on Pinheadz.


No real way other than spending money/time on tournies and competing. You will quickly find however your greatest learning experiences are if you get to playoffs final though.

Check out sections 11 thru 13 in this handout we gave to players of the first Pittsburgh pinball league 20+ years ago:


Some of the best things I learned over the past year and a half (650-ish in rankings, PAPA 19 C 1st):

  • Pinball is equal parts physical (shots, nudges, control), mental (strategy, awareness), and emotional (staying calm vs. “Never Am I Ever expletive Lucky In This Hobbit League Game”). Master all 3 to become amazing.

  • Learn to play around others. You’ll have to wait a good amount, which can affect your play for better or worse.

  • Know the formats and adapt to them all. Best Game encourages risky but lucrative strategy, Old PAPA format encourages consistently good play, and the match play formats require you to adapt and change based on the situation.

  • If you don’t know a game, think if you’ve seen something similar you can work with. Stick with a strategy and see if you can pick up tips from your opponents as they play.

  • Play the emotional game well. Know when you’re feeling negative and know how to set the ship back on the right course. For some it might be waiting; take some time to breathe. For others it might be getting into another game to set the record straight.

  • Embrace your quirks! Whether you sweet talk games, play in a split, dance in a happy jig, or do anything else to get yourself pumped up, do it! We’re all allowed to be human.

There’s so many things to say, but like others here the biggest one is getting experience. Get out and play!


Thanks everyone for the input. She has read through and we have printed that document to study-it is really well done! We play in 2 leagues-one every 2 weeks and have our regular battles pretty much every day. We are at the stage where I can out score her most games, so at the moment we are playing a mini pingolf style challenge. 3 games, set one objective on each eg number of left ramps hit or bell hits or orbits etc and keep count of these. I think it helps with concentrating on accuracy rather than just going for highest scores-we leave that to league nights. Big comp night this Saturday with a junior division so we will see how it all goes!