Lets talk practice

Practice. I think I’m doing it wrong.

I feel like I’m an ok player half the time and a complete dog the other half. The thought usually comes around to maybe I need to practice more, but that’s where I get stuck. What do you guys do for practice? I have home games to play on so anything goes.

I’d like to be a ball control type player and not play all fast and loose. If I had to rate, I’d say I’m decent at flipper skills but can be careless, I have a good knowledge of rules for most games, my nudging continues to improve, and my accuracy sucks. I’m tired of getting control of the ball and then missing a single shot and draining.

I’d like something that was measurable and focused so I can track progress and not lose hope and just play.
I find my current practice sessions are no more than trying to complete game goals and bashing away.

Any ideas?


What I like to do is pick one of the flipper techniques and then just do that over and over and over. There’s videos for a bunch here: http://papa.org/learning-center/video-resources/techniques/ I just say “the next 10 minutes is post pass” and I just try to transfer and trap the ball from flipper to flipper. Only works when you don’t have to pay for each game of course. :smile:

Or I’ll pick a goal that not a usual game goal and go for that. E.g. hit a side ramp over and over. The repetition really helps me improve. If you want to improve accuracy I think that’s the way to go. Just pick a single shot and try to repeat it again and again. You’ll miss, try to recover, try again. It’ll improve both your accuracy and your recovery skills. :slight_smile:

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Here is what I have been doing:
Pick a specific shot to go for from each flipper, say a left ramp and a right orbit. Then whenever you have a ball cradled on a flipper only shoot for those two shots. Don’t worry about score, only that you make the shot, or practice recovery when you miss. You can also simply pick one shot and if you have the ball on the “wrong” flipper it gives you an opportunity to practice different types of passing. On games that do have flow, you can set up a series of shots in a similar way; I will sometimes only go for three and four way combos on TAF.

Play one handed. It seriously has helped me get better at ‘reading’ the ball and knowing when it is okay to dead bounce. I personally don’t do enough one handed practice. It is also good to start and end a one handed session by simply playing a regular game with both hands, this sets up a base line and then an end result for that practice session, usually you can see improvement between the two games.

It is also good to decide when it is ‘practice’ vs ‘playing’, and when you have had enough practice for a while give yourself just playtime.

One more thing is to play with people who are better then you and watch what they do. This is the beauty of the tutorials and live streaming. We don’t have to have someone local to us to teach us how to play better anymore! We have coaches from all over! But it is also fun to actually play with people who are better and learn on the spot.

I would love to hear what others are doing as well. I too would love to practice/play better!


+1 to the play one-handed suggestion. People at bars think I’m showing off, but it really does help gauge accuracy and where the ball needs to be on the flipper in order to make specific shots. I tend to do this if I have leftover credits on a machine and am sick of playing it, but maybe I should do the reverse and play my first game one-handed…


This. After I lose I almost always ask why my opponent made the choices they made. I’ve gotten many great strategy tips that way.


Thirded to this. I play the entire PAPA finals warmup one-handed for these reasons. Plus, if anything goes well, it’ll be even easier with two hands … and if it goes badly, surely it’ll go better with more reaction time. One-handed play also juices you up with adrenaline, or at least wakes you up in the early morning.


So bkerins,

Other than one-handed play, got any ideas for accuracy practice?
We need a common-core for pinball here! :wink:

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Sorry that I don’t have any specific or guided practice for accuracy. One piece of advice that seems to help for difficult shots is to picture them as shots from other games, especially ones more familiar to that player. For example, the shot to the Scarecrow in Batman feels a lot like the Doc Ock shot in Spiderman, so if you’re good with one of them, try playing the other one the same way. This does not always work very well :wink:

For accuracy, I visually divide the flipper into 1/8s for cross-playfield shots. Doesn’t really work with backhands, I judge those by timing. Most of the time a shot will have two ways of looking at it. The left ramp on acdc could be 3/4 of the way down the right flipper, but maybe on the fly it’s 1/2 way down the flipper.

This may or may not help, but one of the things I do is never look at playing pinball as “practice”, I am always playing for fun first and foremost. I don’t turn on a machine because “I need to practice”, I turn on a machine because “I want to play some pinball”. The second you start stressing over it is the second it starts feeling like work, and I don’t think that is going to do you any favors.

Your play style and level of control will always factor in to how well you do. “Level of control” isn’t always about grabbing the ball and holding onto it though, it’s about controlling yourself and actually shooting for the shots you need versus ones you do not. From what I can tell, and contrary to what you want to be as a player, the best competitors out there seem to have a healthy balance of controlled/cradling and on-the-fly playing. One of the differences may be that they are always shooting for what they need.

Like some others suggested, after you have had a good play session, it helps to try to goof around a little bit. Pick an orbit and shoot for it endlessly. Try to live catch it if possible, then hit it again. How consistently can you do this? Pick a ramp and pound it as many times as you can. How does it handle from a backhand? Or, pick some risky standup targets and specifically go for those. If there’s anything in pinball that will force you to react, it’s a ball firing back at you from a standup.

If you are stuck playing mainly home games, it will definitely help you to toughen them up a little bit. Make the tilt tighter and see what types of saves you can get away with. Put fatter posts on your ramps and see how consistently you can make the shots, or how consistently you can save the ball when you brick. Take the rubbers off the outlane posts, or if you want to make a game really mean (and force you to make better playing decisions), take the outlane posts out all together.

Something to consider when it comes to practice is, what kinds of games are you practicing? Fan layouts for me are the best because they give me the opportunity to employ just about every skill in the book (including loop passing). Some games just aren’t going to have you performing as many slap saves as others and that’s something to take into consideration too. If you have home games that aren’t requiring you to be on your “A” game and use every trick in the book, maybe it’s time to swap one or two out.

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To answer some questions:

My home game setup is this:
Outlanes wide open.
Tilt quite sensitive
Back legs jacked up real high.
Rubber feet on legs, no slide saves here.
EB disabled
Special disabled

Games available to play:
Stern Magic (1979 SS)

I’d like to say they’re set up pretty tough but I could make them worse. I tend to keep the outlane rubbers on because I still like to practice nudging and outlane saves. I usually don’t have the right outlane post installed on SM. I keep the games clean and fast by don’t obsess over it. I do have the rules set to factory but I don’t really think that changes my accuracy problems :slight_smile:

So it’s been a few days and here’s my findings:

One-handed play is a pretty good learning experience. Missed shots are punished quite harshly and games are quite short. One-handed multiball play forces you to learn how to park balls, skillfully drain, and maximize opportunities that are presented. I’ve also notice that I overflip during two-handed play which may be detrimental to my overall play. This is a good exercise.

I also tried the ‘choose a shot’ method for practice. This wasn’t nearly as successful in my mind but it could be the frustration factor. Missing the same shot over and over is tough and quite frustrating. I did learn some things about where to miss and where not to miss. Missing into a standup target is usually a bad idea.

I didn’t practice too many flipper skills other than some Shatzing, I’m still not good at that.

I’m still quite surprised that the upper level players don’t have practice routines. This suggests to me that many of the upper level players just had the skills already or needed very little coercing to learn the skills. This might tie in with that other thread on learned vs innate skills…


Not sure where you’re located or what kind of location pinball you have access to, but I actually find that playing my own personal games is not nearly as good of “practice” as getting out on location or going to a buddy’s house and trying to put up a score can be.

I know exactly how all of the shots on all of my games feed to the flippers, which risky bounce passes I can rely on, which I can’t, tilt sensitivities, feel of tap passes, etc. I can fall into cruise control pretty quickly because I’ve played those exact games with those exact setups so many times over. But when I’m playing a game on location, even if it’s a title I own or know extremely well, I’m watching and reading the ball way more because I don’t have those past experiences to lean on. In order to be successful your brain has to process much more on the spot, taking notes of what’s working, what’s not, what shot is a little lower on the flipper than you thought it should be, and for me this mental sharpness is something that’s as important in tournament play as physical dexterity is.

I’m still pretty solidly a B-div player though, so maybe I haven’t done enough sharpening…


Unless I have something specific in mind, I’ll just play and be super mindful of what I have done wrong and try and improve on it.

I’ve found that being aware and asking yourself why you lost the ball, is a good way to find areas to improve upon. For instance, one recent example is that I noticed I had a habit of slap saving but leaving the second flipper up a little too long, and sometimes the ball would bounce between flippers and then under the one I still had up. After noticing this, I consciously made an effort to drop the flipper faster, and I have seen improvement as a result.

Another one that I’ve been working on is being mindful of when I’m playing poorly, and what is occurring that is making me play poorly. This has been a long road and I’ve tried many things; play slower, breathing techniques to relax, hold the ball and refocus, try and concentrate. Eventually I’ve realised now that when I’m playing badly I actually need to speed my play up! It not only seems to help me to concentrate because I’m just playing and getting on with it, but I’m reacting quicker because my adrenaline is consistent and, the funny part is, at least my game will be over faster if it goes wrong!

So for me, practice means being aware of what’s going on, what just occurred and how to mitigate against it in future.

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I have a question on the whole practice thing…

I am looking to pick up either a LOTR or a SM. However, I also have the option to pick up 2 titles instead of one of these more expensive games. Is it better to have multiple games to practice on, or can you hone your skills and accuracy as effectively on a single game collection?

Of course you’ll gain a broader range of skills if you can practice on multiple machines. Every machine has different kinds of shots (long vs short, shots that are better/safer forehand vs shots that should be done backhand, etc), flow vs stop-and-go, etc etc, and the more experience you have with all of these, the better.

That said, IMHO, if this would be your only machine(s), unless you’re trying to embark on some Rocky-style training program… get the game you LOVE. You’ll be playing it a LOT, so you want something that will make you happy. Simply playing a lot will greatly increase your skills (especially if you have friends that are better than you who can come over and play with you).

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I personally think that different machines help a lot. In Pinburgh, I played with a player that had never played anything other than a modern Stern. As you can imagine, hit first game on a small flipper/pop bumper in the middle game was an eye-opening experience for him. Differences between EM/SS/DMD and Williams/Bally/Gottlieb geometries, flipper sizes, flipper mechanisms, rubber, etc., (PLUS specific skills/applicability on different era of machines) are all things you’d rather not encounter in competition where every learning experience costs $3-5.

Between the specific machines you list, LOTR will reward accuracy, ball control and improve your endurance (games can run looong). I seem to get relatively few outlane drains on LOTR even without rubbers on the outlane posts, so it may not be the best machine to develop your nudging. SM has an upper flipper with important shots, and a lot of “stacking” helping you work tactics and strategy at the same time. Both have a lot to teach, and both are friendly to your non-pinball friends.

You may be able to pick titles with less of a collector premium and get more bang for the buck. I got a Shadow last year for the upper flipper, and it’s a great game for skills development (patience, control, accuracy, recovery skills) and has several credible strategies if you happen to not be as accurate as Bowen.

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I used to believe I was “cursed” with poor tournament performance on machines I owned. Last year I started regularly messing with the setup of my home machines - flipper rubbers, steeper/shallower, tight/loose tilt, scoop returns, sling sensitivity - just to ensure my learning wasn’t too specific to my setup, and I believe that made a difference. It also helps you learn to adjust to a machine more rapidly which is a key skill higher level players have.

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I’d say figure out what’s natural for you and work on honing your skills in the context of that playstyle. There are obviously lots of very good control players but there are also world-class players who play fast and loose. You have to be comfortable with your play.

As for me, I’d like to figure out the magic formula that translates good practice play into good tournament play.

When I first started playing there were already papa videos. I concentrated heavily on learning control moves because my accuracy was and still is garbage. I would also never shoot a shot unless the ball was cradled first. That worked out really well on some games and terribly on others. There are games where trying to control a ball will get you in more trouble than making shots on the fly or playing flow. Now I try to incorporate both styles of play depending on the game. I used a practice style I call no holds to help develop my flow play. Basically you can not cradle the ball but, you can use any technique to slow the ball down. This way I was practicing the control moves and more flow and on the fly shots.