Pinball Calcutta

Besides the pinball hobby I also partake in pool and golf. Anytime I attend a pool or golf tournament it almost always has a Calcutta before the event starts. Well today I started thinking about applying this to pinball tournaments. Has anyone out there ever run a Calcutta at a pinball tournament? If so, please share any details.

If this is uncharted territory, I think I will give it a try at my August Annihilation event on 8/4.

What is a Calcutta?


I’m confused to how this would work. Are you bidding on individual players? The link mentions bidding on foursomes, and golf has consistent foursomes from start to finish. How do you apply this concept to pinball, where the foursomes change for every round? If you mean you bid on individual players, that seems like the calcutta’s success is highly subject to the field. In my local tournaments, there’s only a couple players who win almost everything. Seems like that kind of spoils the fun of betting.

One idea that pops to mind is blending said auction for individual players and drafting your theoretical foursome. I’m sure it would complicate things and add a lot of time to the process, but it could eliminate a lot of the mad rush to bid on only the highest players. It might implement a ‘salary cap’, so to speak. Or maybe that’s what you meant from the get-go, and I need to pay more attention.

The golf Calcutta runs a little differently, however the pool Calcutta format would work perfect for pinball IMHO.

Here is the gist. If you have a 32 player field you basically auction off all 32 players. Starting bid is $5. Payouts are 1 for every 8 spots, so for 32 people you would pay 4 places. Anybody can bid on any player and you are allowed to win as many auctions as you want. Our tournaments have been averaging 40 people and the top continue to be a mixture of players so I think it would work great. For example using the 32 player field as an example, let’s say the auction brings in $400. Payouts would be this:

  1. $200
  2. $100
  3. $60
  4. $40

If the player you won at auction comes in 1st through 4th you win money for doing nothing. If you bid on yourself and win the auction on yourself and you place 1st through 4th you just double cashed. The only other caveat to the auction process is that when an auction is over on a specific player and let’s say the player sold for $80 and that the winning bidder was NOT the player himself. That player then has the option to go to the winner bidder and buy half back, so in this example he would give the winning bidder $40. Now let’s assume that player wins first, the Calcutta 1st place prize fund would be split between the player and the winning bidder.

This format would not work in a super large field like the NYC Championships. Format doesn’t really matter as you are bidding on who you think is going to win the tournament.

@Kholdstaer - If the same 2 people keep winning the majority of your tournaments, then yes it might not be idea for your group.

Here is my personal experience when I go shoot in pool tournaments, I’ve never won a pool tournament, but I’m confident it’s going to happen one day with a bit of luck too. So during the Calcutta I generally bid on myself up to about $25 or $30. It’s not an absolute long shot of me placing 1-4, so the bid is worth. And yes generally at these local pool tournaments there are 3-4 players who are the “top dogs”. So they usually auction off for $100 to $150 per player because you have a good chance of them placing and for you to cash in.

Along with live commentary and player introductions, pinball still needs more to make it a fun event and I’m one who always likes to be different and unique (this the crazy pants I wear).

Now Pinball has really become golf lol

I strongly recommend against doing this. Players learn they are favored, or unfavored, or that someone specific has backed them, or that no one has backed them. To me, all of that sucks, besides the legal issue. This has come up as an issue in some communities, and maybe others can weigh in with more detail.

I think in pool and golf, it’s more accepted because there is a lot more gambling already attached to the game itself.

Do what you like, but make sure you ask your players first whether they would enjoy being part of a betting pool.


I would also say it’s better in communities that tend to be more competitive and where players are more serious or have been around a long time. If your players are newer or more casual it can definitely result in hurt feelings.


I think I would enjoy this kind of thing in a certain way, but it would kind of increase the weird factor for someone that was new to competition. Like, you have to know players’ reputations for starters. I can see doing this with a handful of friends to make a little more out of the dollar game portion of the evening.

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So how does this work if a long-shot player that no one has “bought” finishes in the top 4 or whatever? Or are the Calcutta payouts just the top 4 amongst players who were “bought”?

Regardless, I’m with Bowen in thinking this is a bad idea… pinball has spent a large part of its existence arguing that it’s not a gambling activity… let’s keep it that way. Friendly dollar games are one thing; buying and selling shares of players is a whole ‘nother thing.


The beginning of the end of the beginning of the end . . .

I’ve always thought a calcutta would be rad.

At IFPA 2017, there was a Danish betting site that, while not a calcutta, let you bet on players and the IFPA WC.

I thought that was super.

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I saw that! I didn’t make any bets but it was still fun to look at

I’m just here to see how many of the people that were upset by the idea of pot splitting come in here and think this is a good idea :innocent:

This has far more implications on fixing games/standings than pot splitting has.

@85vett - I’m not sure I follow you in regards to the pot splitting. The Calcutta prize fund is separate from the tournament prize fund. As for game fixing? Of course anything can happen, but I have never really witnessed in the pool tournament scene.

On a side note its interesting to see that people are split on this idea.

@bkerins - I have only been in the pinball scene for about 2 years and every event I go to I witness side bets, single games bets, etc. I would say gambling in Pinball is on par with pool and golf

@joe - to answer “How does it work for the long shots”, at every pool event there are people they don’t sell at the auction, they are then put in a pool of people called “the field”. So for example if 8 people don’t sell at auction all 8 go into one slot and then the entire field is auctioned off for one bet. If anyone in “the field” places you win, so its a bargain bet.

As for newer people being scared off or whatever, it really has no effect on them. They don’t have to participate in any fashion. Just come play pinball like they normally do. On the flip side, I go to pool events and see plenty of newer shooters playing that still buy themselves at the auction even though the odds of them placing are slim to none.

I’m glad to hear that it hasn’t had an impact on your newer players. These kind of schemes definitely have had a negative impact on the pinball scenes I’ve been a part of. It can take an event someone has been looking forward to all year (Pinburgh for example, or State Champs) and cast a negative cloud over it. Especially if your pinball scene has a wide array of players who play pinball for a multitude of reasons (i.e. not everyone is just in it for the competition), I don’t think it’s appropriate to offer the entire field up for betting. Allow people to opt out at the very least. But also know that having an insular gambling circle within your larger scene came come off as cliquey or mean-spirited or overly competitive. (Pleeeeease note that I’m not saying that people who do this are any of these things, I’m just pointing out that, as with any subgroup, it may outwardly read that way.)

I’ll also say, this is not just something that impacts newer players. I freaking HATE finding out that people are betting on me, and I’m someone they’re picking to win! It runs totally counter to the reasons I play competitive pinball.


If anybody wants to bet on me I’ll find it thrilling and exciting, and you’ll get no apologies if I Beef but I will come sniffing around to get my beak wet if I boom.

Bring it on Delaware Fats!


You either go big, or go bigger.