Rules preventing ball holding

There’s a local league and monthly tournaments here in SE Pennsylvania where there’s a “no holding the ball for more than (a loose) 3 seconds, at which point you must advance gameplay (by cradle separation, etc.)” rule in place (lovingly referred to as the Steve Bowden rule, when he played there back in the day :smile:). The main argument for the rule by the league director / TD is to speed up play, but many of the higher-level players think that’s a bogus argument - we know it will extend play, but not so much as to go from, say 1.25 hours for 5 games to 2 hours for league nights, even for the top flight players. (The location has everything from modern Sterns to EM games.)

Can anyone chime in on impressions of how much time it would add to remove the rule? I’m looking for ammo to get the rule killed (because, other than that rule, the LD / TD runs awesome tournaments and league).

Do you happend to have match time data? Our single game, head to head, one-flip-EB matches take on average around 14 minutes from the time they are called on the computer to the time they are reported.

Is the rule to prevent getting control of the ball or to prevent people timing out modes?

Personally, I’d be hesitent to add a rule that restricts a players natural playing style. Especially if the only way to police it is watch every moment of play and the only way to inforce it is to interupt the player to remind them to stop doing it.

I’ve never heard of a rule like this and it seems unfortunately designed to punish methodical play.

That is not, per se, a bad thing. There’s a shot clock in basketball, a timer on batters and pitchers in baseball, a play timer in football, etc. Chess has a clock. Magic: the Gathering has a clock in tournaments.

Yes, playing casually by yourself or with mates you can play however you want. However, competitions can set rules to make the games go faster and be more exciting to watch or participate in.

If this rule is a good one is another question. But it’s not a God-given right to cradle up and get lunch between shots.

@nighthawk: Have you talked to Steve Bowden about the Steve Bowden rule?

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I might get it if it were 30 seconds, or maybe even 15 seconds (though I think that’s a bit much) but 3 seconds is odd. That’s barely enough time to trap up, survey the playfield and decide what the next shot to go after might be and is definitely not enough time to cycle through game info. I’m curious as to what Steve Bowden might have been doing to cause such a rule to be implemented as it simply makes no sense to me.

Sounds lame.

Just support the event by not showing up.


It sounds like a passive aggressive way to keep very good/competitive players away. They don’t want a certain type of player, so they make rules to make sure that they stay away. Then make a BS time of play excuse.

While I understand that many games have timed aspects, the timing is typically turn based or game based. For example, in chess or GO, time to compete X moves or the whole game. In sports, a team often has X seconds to act once touching the ball, with the entire match confined within T minutes.

In pinball, the length of play time can vary player to player and game to game and inside of those turns there are timed modes intertwined with open play. We know as pinball players that we often time out modes that are undesirable or not as lucrative as another goal. That is the nature of the way some specific games are deigned. Nobody cradles the ball for 30 seconds on Joker Poker or Fast Draw waiting for a bank to reset or deciding what to shoot next.

If TDs want a game or match to be over in a specific timeframe, then the only sure fire way to do that is to tell a player they have X amount of time to play the game. We do that sometimes in our casual club tourneys where every round/ball is 1 minute max or 5 minutes games etc, depending on the situation. It is a totally different tournament though, but it guarantees we are done by a certain time.

In general I do not agree with any rule in pinball saying the player must shoot or perform some other action within x seconds unless someone is trying to use the timer to hurt someone else. For example there are a few minutes of qualifying left and a player cradles the ball doing absolutely nothing with the sole intent to prevent someone behind them from getting one more play. If a player post passes or tap passes all day long to satisfy the flipper action requirement is that ok? Sounds like a loophole.

And I too am wondering what Bowden did to prompt this rule…

One idea is to create a baseline by having the length of time it takes to complete a league night and tournament documented, then remove the rule and compare the times. If the difference is negligible then you know the rule doesn’t really save much time and the motive for having it might be different then one expects, like to make it unattractive for better players to want to attend.

Regardless, as mentioned above, unless you have an official watching every player and counting each second when a player cradles the ball, its impossible to enforce and a honor system must be used which are more apt for failure.

I assume Steve Bowden might of cradled and timed out modes. An example would be our local venue where we have tournaments and they have a Roller Coaster Tycoon and more skilled players will time-out the modes. Even my ST Pro with latest code it seems you can cradle and count down 5 seconds between switch hits.

The rule sounds bogus to me and I wouldn’t play in an event with that kind of policy. Even if I tried to comply, I’m sure I’d accidentally trap too long and get DQ’d on the first game.

Just curious, does this league / tournament submit to IFPA? Knowing a rule such as this is in place, would IFPA sanction these events for WPPRs? Seems like it’s going against “normal pinball play” in a similar way as timed games. @pinwizj

It’s pretty high on the bullshit scale IMO, and ultimately realllllllllllllly unenforceable.

If someone brought this officially to IFPA’s attention, we would certainly start a dialogue with the organizer and steer things towards us not endorsing the event.

The IFPA/PAPA rules are what I personally follow when running events (Section III, Paragraph 5), and even that rule is a loose one. There’s times where after a massive double danger save, taking more than 30 seconds is ‘reasonable’.

My take on the delay rule is for situations like Jeff mentioned earlier. You have the top score on a game in qualifying and go up and intentionally sit there for the last 7 minutes of qualifying not doing anything to try and run out the clock.

If an organizer doesn’t like their tournaments taking too long they are welcome to:

  • Set their games up harder
  • Make smarter game selection choices that have shorter game times
  • Run a smarter format that more easily accommodates the time frame available (pingolf for example)

Telling a player they only have 5 minutes, or they can’t cradle, or disconnecting the hold wires, or telling them they can only use one hand all fall over the line of something we would endorse for WPPR’s.


I am joking but we could call this the “josh get a sip of water rule” . Technology could happen in newer games where over 5 seconds the flipper goes down in a 1 ball setting but in multi ball can cradle. Correct me if I am wrong but doesn’t WOZ have a mode where you can’t cradle?
Some tournaments I have seen where participants are taking too long to start their ball even without a tilt on the previous ball. Demo man has a automatic ball plunger after a certain time period . Maybe newer games could have this as a part of their gameplay in tournament mode. Have a shot clock to start a ball maybe 30 seconds.

The only scenario I can see where it would work is have a timed tournament where each player has x amount of time to get as many points as possible in a game this would make cradling tougher cause you are wanting to get as many points as possible losing precious time cradling.

I am not a cradler but playing in a match play with one who cradles every single shot makes for a long game. like josh says it is really unenforceable but in a qualifying trying to run out the clock by cradling should not happen .

Oh please no… that’s something I want the tournament director to be enforcing, not the game software. There are plenty of legitimate reasons that a player may not promptly start their next ball… waiting for the tilt bob to settle, bathroom break, delay while some announcement is made at the event location, fire alarm went off, etc etc etc. IMHO it’d be terrible if the game just started launching balls after a timeout.

(And yes, WOZ has a “No Hold” multiball as one of the Crystal Ball awards.)

Can you trap a ball during MB or do you have to get it off the flipper in 3 seconds. This rule sucks…

So this got interesting quickly, huh? Let me try and answer some questions.

First off, the rule has no official name. Steve’s name seemed fitting to attach to the rule given that his play style could be described as the opposite of this rule.

There are tables there where high-level play would dictate timing out modes as the best course of action, but even without the rule I’d be hard-pressed to stand there and do it because it’s boring. At PAPA or Worlds or a circuit event? Sure.

Re: enforcement, it’s left to players’ discretion to enforce.

And yes, players are allowed to cradle up to review status screens, but that’s going to get a little fishy after a while.

@iscrz - The spirit of the rule is to try and level the playing field for less-skilled players, to make the competitive environment as enjoyable for them as possible. I also think it’s about trying to speed games up by disallowing cradling during multiball. Players are free to cradle, and perform cradle separatations, but once accomplished all balls must be played (flipped away). There’s no game time data I can provide beyond anecdotal.

@cayle - Sadly, we’re not Seattle or Portland or Denver or Pittsburgh. While the places to play that we have locally are great, there are very few of them.

@pinballcorpse - I think everyone can agree that holding a ball at the end of qualifying to prevent play by others is a total jerk move. Post or tap passing - both are allowed, but then, instead of thinking about what to do next you’re doing those moves instead. :slight_smile: And no, you can’t do them indefinitely (why would you want to?) (Pretty sure that the IFPA/PAPA rules say something about “advancing the game in a timely manner.”)

@GarrettHays - Have to get it off the flipper. Again, we’re talking a boxing three-count here, not actual seconds.

@pinwizj - As I mentioned to you separately my goal here was to come up with (additional) compelling arguments to make the case for dropping the rule. Like most things on the interwebs it took on a life of its own beyond what I intended. It’s good to have an official ruling on it, though, as now the community knows where the line is.

I’m really not trying to jump on you about this, but you started this thread saying you wanted to get the rule killed, and now it seems like you’re making a lot of justifications FOR the rule.

At the end of the day, pinball is a game of skill and decisions must be made. Some people need (or want) to take a little more time to make those decisions for a myriad of reasons. As has been said by numerous top ranked players in this thread - it seems like the intention of this rule is not really based in speeding up play, but in potentially other, less altruistic, motives.

Also, as has been stated, there already exist rules to govern intentional, deliberately slow play. If you allow the tournament director the discretion to have final say in these matters - there really shouldn’t be an issue. If someone is cradling the ball for 29 seconds after every shot, that’s something a player can be warned about, and then an enforcement if it continues after the warning.

The best suggestion, I think, would be to have someone take game times with the rule in place, and without the rule. Play the exact same set of games. Compare the game times of both individual games, and the tournament as a whole. I would be willing to bet that even in such a small sample size (two tournaments) the margin of time difference would be nearly moot. Granted - lots of variables based on who is playing which machine, but I still think you’d get a fairly good idea of what the impact is.

I don’t think you are going to find anyone with hard data on this subject, as most look down on this rule as an abomination of what many of us hold dear about this game - skillful, thoughtful play.

[quote=“Austin, post:16”]
I’m really not trying to jump on you about this, but you started this thread saying you wanted to get the rule killed, and now it seems like you’re making a lot of justifications FOR the rule. [/quote]

If that’s the case I can assure you that’s not my intent. A couple of posters asked for the justification / reason for the rule’s existence, and I’ve provided that to the best of my ability and knowledge.

I certainly think the rule has no merit. High-skill players continue to rank above low-skill players. The last league group to finish is done well before the location’s closing time. Tournaments still run long (on a weekday), but could be lessened with fewer strikes or removal of long-playing games (read: modern Sterns) from tournament play. I’m also conerned that, since many of the players there only play at that location that… they’re learning to play pinball the “wrong” way? Not exactly the wording I’m looking for, but the idea that they never see this whole other side of how pinball can be played, and that getting the chance to play that way could improve their skills and enjoy competition more.

I understand and appreciate the suggestions for timing games with and without the rule, but I’m not a league official. I’d have to convince them that trying to play without the rule was a better proposition just to perform the testing you’re suggesting - hence this thread seeking ideas (beyond the arguments I’ve made in the previous paragraph). :smile: