Definitive “how to run your first tourney” post?

Hiya! Nyc dork here. I feel a little dumb cause I’m certain there has to be a great post on here with tips for running your first tourney but I’ve been searching and can’t seem to find one. If anyone knows of one and wouldn’t mind pointing me towards it I would super appreacite it! I’ve searched but can’t seem to find it, but I’m still getting my bearings on the forum so I’m hoping I’m just being a dumb dumb. I’m trying to put a chill beginner friendly lgbt pin event together next month to coincide with pride month and raise a little cash for a homeless queer youth shelter. Secondarily I’d like to help bring more of the queer pinball community together in the city because we don’t have a gay night like Logan arcade does, so I want to try to make it as enjoyable and smooth as possible so I can get some more lgbt peeps into the scene here. If anyone wouldn’t mind pointing me in the right direction or, advice on beginner friendly formats (knockout vs. match etc) I would be so appreciative!


Haha the second I posted this I came across a post with the papa tournament director guide. I knew there would be something! I will start there :rofl:


Be receptive to what your players want, and don’t let experienced players push you around or dictate rules decisions. If they want to tell you why they think something should be a certain way, that’s fine, but the final decision is always up to the TD. You’ll make mistakes, it’ll happen.

Decide if you want to register your events with the IFPA and make them worth World Pinball Ranking Points, or just run whatever you want. Even if you’re not running IFPA events, reading the IFPA rules ( in full a couple times is a good idea even if you’re not running IFPA events. Advertising and getting the word out can be tough, keep at it and if the players are there, they’ll hear about it sooner or later!

As for friendly formats - I’ve found that people typically like playing for a bounded period of time, and they like playing until the end without getting knocked out after a round or two. The simpler the format the better for new players. I recommend using, but run a couple practice tournaments with pretend players on your own before starting the first one with a bunch of stuff going on. Tilt is a great resource so you’re already ahead.


It always takes longer to get started than you think it will.
If you’re filling out paper scoresheets close registration fifteen minutes before it starts to give you time to fill them out. If you’re using it’s a couple mouseclicks and you’re ready to start.

Kevin’s quick reference guide is very helpful for figuring out what to do about malfunctions and player errors:
It’s in the resources area, malfunctions and rulings.

Be aware that players play in events for different reasons. A top player competing for a spot in your state finals may have thousands of dollars on the line and very different motivations than someone playing for the fun and spirit of competition.

Be consistent with your rulings. If your event is focused on learning and new players and you’re going to encourage coaching and be lenient about playing out of turn make that plain to all players.

Be fair. If you encounter someone arguing a ruling after you have made your decision sometimes it’s best to say, “That’s my ruling,” and walk away.

Solicit feedback. Ask your players what they liked and didn’t like.

Ask for help if you need it. Many people will be happy to help for a few minutes if you ask them.


Wow, law and yeold thank you both so much! These are really helpful tips and resources!! I’ve also gotten some PMs … what a great community here, thank you all for the quick help, this has been such a boon already! Letting people know up front about beginner friendly rulings is a great idea, I would hate for a 1st timer to walk out of this frustrated because they got confused and decide to not play again, esp since there’s just trophies and no cash prizes. I just got a thumbs up on a host bar and am feeling pumped!! Thank you!!


I’ll chime in as I’m fairly new to directing tournaments. I ran my first tournament on 9/23/17 which ended up having 39 people show up and the feedback from the participants was well received and everyone had a great time and gave me many compliments. This was the first ever tournament in Delaware, so I was starting from scratch. I have since directed 3 additional tournaments and I made very little changes since the first one because everyone really seems to be enjoying the format and the tournament atmosphere. One more side note, I just got into competitive pinball about 18 months ago, so I’m not claiming to have a wealth of knowledge or event the best knowledge, just offering my insight. Some bullet points below with my feedback and recommendations:

NOTE - I run my tournaments and also play in them so I have little to no down time to do things once the tournament starts, thus all the pre-preparation I take.

  • I over prepare, which is how I do things in my daily life to begin with. I researched formats and spoke to several other tournament directors asking for feedback and advice. They provided me with almost everything I needed from format type, to finals format, to payouts, etc.

  • After playing in a few knockout tournaments, I decided to run and host a group match play event. I particular don’t care for the knockout format because if you have 3 horrible games right off the bat, you are out and headed home. Whereas the group match play format with a minimum of 7 qualifying rounds allows you to have 3 bad games at the start and then get hot and win 4 games in a row that could potentially vault you into the finals.

  • Additionally, I break out finals into 3 divisions. This gives people the opportunity to still win money and trophies regardless of how bad they played during qualifying. For example, after qualifying ends, the person in last place gets dumped into the C division. This person can then play well enough to win C division and take home a trophy plus some small cash, but leave with a very positive experience.

  • For finals, I send the top 8 to “A” division for PAPA style finals, then send places 9 through 16 to “B” division for PAPA style finals, and finally all remaining players go to “C” division and they play a 2 strike knockout format for finals

  • Delaware doesn’t have the luxury of hosting a tournament on site at a bar or arcade so our tournaments are forced to be held in the basements of a few local players. With that said, we have limited space and therefore I require all participants to reserve their tournament spot with a $10 deposit sent via PAYPAL. This allows me to control the number of people attending. It also helps with my organizing everything because I know for a fact who is going to show up minus a last second cancellation

  • After playing in a few tournaments in surrounding states prior to me running tournaments, I found it difficult to remember the names of the people I was playing against. So for my tournaments I hand out name tags to everyone and it really helps recognize people and remember their name long term. It also avoids awkward situations where you should know this persons name but you forget, so the name tag instantly helps

  • I create an excel spreadsheet prior to the tournament with everyone’s name, IFPA number, and deposit amount they paid (some people elect to pay the full amount in advance). This really helps me out when people walk through the door the day of the event as it allows me to quickly mark them off the list as they show up.

  • I use Matchplay Events software to run my tournaments. The night before the tournament I already have all the machines (arenas) and all the players added to the tournament. Again this cuts down on time and when the tournament is ready to begin I simply deactivate any last second cancellations and start the tournament

  • I have a list of all my announcements printed out that I go over before the tournament starts. This list includes things like finals format, prizes and payouts, and general rules that are the most important to cover

  • All 4 of the tournaments I have ran have had more than 38 people in attendance. Another thing that I felt was a distraction at other tournaments was hearing the tournament director make announcements from afar and I couldn’t hear or understand what they were saying. I combated this by setting up a speaker with a wireless mic, this allowed everyone in the room to clearly hear my announcements, especially announcing each new round.

  • For the PAPA finals, which uses “banks of games”, I already had those banks pre-selected the night before. I also had all paperwork for the PAPA finals printed out and ready to go.

  • With my tournaments being in a basement and not on location, food has to be provided. I take $5 from each entry fee to cover essentials like snacks, bottled water and some sodas. I then use the leftover money after all snacks and sodas have been purchased to order pizza from Dominos using the 2 topping pizza for $5.99 special. Pizza is delivered right when qualifying ends, and prior to finals starting

  • I have envelopes pre-made with “A” 1st place, “A” 2nd place, etc and I note on each envelope how much the payout will be. Again this just helps streamline things later in the day

  • As for being the judge on rules. A couple of tips. Never ask the player for input. For example, if the ball is stuck, do not ask the player if they want it in the shooter lane or on the flipper. Just be consistent where you place stuck balls and leave it at that. Don’t let the players persuade you. If you have to make a decision and you aren’t sure, walk away from the machine and discuss it in private with other people. Also, there is a #slack community setup for instant access to tournament rulings/questions

  • Start on time. This is a pet peeve of mine. I’ve been to tournaments where the start time was delayed anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. All of my tournaments have a practice start time of 11am. Practice then goes until 12:45pm and no later. From 12:45pm to 1pm I make all my announcements. A couple of minutes after 1pm I start the tournament in the Matchplay software and we are underway. The latest any tournament has started was 1:08pm.

  • One other thing I do to help streamline things for the finals is I have a formulas created for prize payouts based of X number of entries. For example, I have it listed out if 36 people attend then 1st will get X, 2nd will get X, etc. I think have another formula for 37 people, one for 38 people, etc. That way once the final number is known at the start of the tournament I can quickly glance at my sheet and know what my payouts are.

  • To promote the tournament, since I was in Delaware with a super small number of people in Delaware to pull from I had to market this heavily online as well as reach out to people who play in local Baltimore/Philly/Jersey leagues and asked them to post up flyers for the events. Locally in the state I went around and posted flyers in pool halls, restaurants, etc to try and pull local people.

  • Registering the tournament with the IFPA will help draw more people. Have as many details in the IFPA tournament submission so players clearly know what to expect

I think that’s all I have to offer at the moment. If you need any additional help don’t hesitate to ask or contact me via email at


Dude!!! I mean … dude! Wow thank you for taking the time to write all that out. I will dive into this and reach out if I have any specific questions but thank you so much for this run down and sharing your experience!!

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I just wanted to chime in and say it’s great to hear a tournament being run for that cause. It’s always great to diversify and get more people into pinball.

Although running a tournament can be a bit stressful, don’t forget that it is pinball and to have fun :slight_smile:


Rock on, thanks for the feedback and good vibes!

Thanks! I will definitely use this smart envelope tip. I’m always afraid of getting the prizes wrong!

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I think pinball can learn a few things fron the Big Buck World championships, as far as presentation goes.

I just wanted to report back on this tournament at jackbar, thank you again to everyone who offered advice it was all really helpful! In the end we had 40 players.

Leading up to the event I used to capture registration info and Ifpa numbers. There were two tourneys, the main matchplay event and a high score side tourney on bride of pinbot. The side tourney was just for lgbt players.

I did not play in the tournament, I just wanted to TD, sell raffle tickets etc and keep the event running smooth.

We had 10 machines plus bride on backup in case of a major malfunction:

Dialed in
Iron Maiden
Star Wars stern
Fish tales
No fear

(Bride on side)

The side tourney was best of 3 tries on bride for high score. Winner got a bar tab.

The main tourney was 5 rounds of matchplay followed by single elimination finals head to head.

Going into the qualifying rounds, players were seeded by adjancet Ifpa rank, which I think was really helpful for this beginner friendly tourney. We have a lot of top players in New York so it was cool for the newer players to have a chance to start qualifying rounds with some points and led to some interesting results and a more level playing field. If you don’t have a lot of top players in your area this is probably less relevant. After round one it was Swiss pairing, arena selection set to minimize player repeats on a table but some happened due to size of tourney and standings.

We had a 4 way all female playoff on fishtales for 8th going into finals which was really exciting.

Finals format was top 8 players, head to head elimination, slaughter seeded. high seed chose table lower seed chose order, no same table picks twice. 1st played 8th, etc.

Our 8th place seed (Miriam Nadler) going into finals ultimately won.

Overall it was a hugely successful event and we raised $4,000 for our charity (the Ali Forney center in nyc). All the tips here were incredibly helpful and special shout out to @haugstrup and … that thing is the fucking bees knees. Thank you again to everyone who weighed in.

I learned a bunch about running a tourney and here are some things that happened to our benefit the day of, that helped make the event work:

One of or players, steve Penza, pulled himself out of the tourney to tech the machines. This was a life saver, we had a few minor malfunctions and stuck balls that called for glass off, which we would not have been able to deal wth without him.

The magnets on twilight zone went out twice. The first time I awarded an extra ball and then it got worse so we moved bride into play while Steve addressed TZ.

We had some minor rulings come up, a player played out of turn, someone accidentally dangered through to the next player, etc. lucked out and no rulings came up that couldn’t be handled with a compensation ball.

Luckily there were a couple people, namely Benjamin from nyc pin pod, who weren’t playing and just hanging out but who we arranged in advance to be available to discuss rulings with. I wanted to handle as much as possible ourselves for learning purposes but it was awesome to have someone more experienced on hand to run our calls by.

One of our players, Katie Martin is a bartender and she jumped behind the bar to help sling drinks between games, which helped keep the event running smooth and was hugely helpful for the broader flow of the event and the fundraising we were doing alongside the games.

A couple things went “wrong” -

I underbudgeted on time, but I also panicked morning of and added a round of matchplay. 4 rounds felt like too little to get a quality finals together, especially with the Ifpa seeding. So I changed it to 5. If it’s not already a cardinal rule of TDing to not add a round 4 hours before your event… it should be lolol. It was fine in the end but we would have been over time already so the event ran later into the evening by a couple hours. Everyone was very chill about it though and happy to be playing pinball.

I also struggled to field questions about format for finals midst tournament. Someone suggested having a print out of the format I could point people too, which would have been really helpful. It was too much to juggle selling raffle tickets , score keeping etc, by the time someone would ask about finals my brain was a little scrambled lol.

In terms of promotion / fundraising, I have a bit of a background there professionally, so I won’t get into that stuff too much here but if anyone is doing future events to raise funds and wants advice, please feel free to hit me up with any questions.

Most importantly to me, I think everyone had a lot of fun. People loved our disco ball trophies, jade ang made a killer disco playlist, and our drag queen MC kept everyone in good spirits. The straight players who played were all incredibly gracious and brought an awesome vibe. There were a number of players there who TD themselves, but everyone was very respectful and recognized this was my first time TDing, none of the players tried to steam roll me and I didn’t get any “when I TD I do this” kind of stuff, everyone was very respectful and chill and just focused on having fun, which I super appreciated. We had zero temper tantrums, everyone kept the competition supportive and friendly, and I feel really lucky to have had so many genuinely cool and kind people turn out for the event.

If you’re on the fence about running a tourney, I really recommend it! If you do the work to prep it out it can be so much fun and you get to meet a ton of cool people… so do it!! :heart:


I am so stoked this tournament went well! Thanks for reporting back, and congrats on a huge fundraising contribution. The pictures I saw going around on Facebook made it look like an awesome event.

Super duper agree with this. In addition, definitely don’t add rounds after the event is already underway. Adding rounds day-of and during is a bad look even if it’s with the best of intentions (because it can appear that it benefits certain participants), and people decide whether they want to participate in an event based on the format that’s advertised ahead of time.