Tournament Director Ethics

So @kdeangelo winning INDISC got me thinking about the implications of Tournament Directors playing in their own tournaments. I really want to preface this by saying that this is in no way intended as a shot at Karl. Him winning INDISC simply brought this idea up in my head and I am in no way implying any of the following applies to him.

With that necessary disclaimer out of the way, what are the rules regarding insider knowledge of and access to games? Are there any? Should there be? Would they be enforceable?

The fact that someone involved in the choosing of tournament games could know what machines were going to be played far in advance, and possibly have privleged physical access to the exact machines in question and potentially get extended practice on said machines seems… worthy of discussion at least.

The biggest culprit to me would be leagues, tournaments, even state championships happening in someone’s home on their private machines. The added familiarity of all the feeds, rubbers, pitch, tilt, etc. seems like a huge advantage. Sure you still have to show up and play well on the day under pressure, but if two players of equal skill play each other and one has significant practice time on the machines while another doesn’t, who would you expect to win?

Just curious what some opinions might be about this topic.


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Is one of them KME and one of them me? Haha.

I see what you’re saying and definitely think if you are hosting say a state championship (very important to me), at your private residence and participating, I would hope you would provide plenty of access to the games well in advance so that the competitors could get as comfortable as possible. If not, don’t be surprised if people are salty about it.

But I also think that even if it’s at a public location, the local players that might be participating have an advantage too. So unless you do some sort of tournament where there are games from a bunch of random people, this kind of situation is unavoidable unless the person who has the advantage of knowing the games inside and out just doesn’t play.

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An interesting topic (that’s been discussed before), but in this particular case, if I’m not mistaken, Karl did not have nearly as much input on which pins were chosen and how they were set up compared to Jim Belsito. And Jim had the misfortune of not even qualifying for finals. So in this particular case, I think it renders the example a poor one to support your point.

Jim announced pins in advance over the course of a few weeks, also making it fun through trivia on what pins would be in the banks. Further, all players had the chance to play the pins in qualifying,

We’re not a big enough hobby/sport to be able to have 100% directors who don’t also participate, or league/tourney hosts graciously contributing their personal machines that don’t also want to join in the fun of playing in the event.


Point taken. Again I’m not saying either Karl or Jim specifically had an advantage in this situation. More so that there is the potential for an unfair advantage.

I also hear the logistics side of the equation where if someone is gonna spend the time and effort to haul a lot of pins and/or help run a tourney, damn right they’re gonna want to play in it.


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On the subject of home turf advantage, I think that there are psychological factors at play as well. You will play in a more relaxed and confident state in a place you are familiar with on machines that you are familiar with.

Also want to throw in that I too in no way am talking shit about people who won at INDISC, that didn’t even cross my mind 1%. You could even argue that at that level (A Division), that nerves or familiarity with the machines would even be a factor.

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Yet another case of “back in the day” having the advantage, when all events were either on location at big arcades, or at shows where the machine owners either did not participate [distributors], had their own division [old Expo]. When you can host a tournament at an open-all-year arcade with its existing game lineup, home court is minimized since visitors can always show up ahead of time to practice if they choose to. We just need more places like Cactus Jacks, Pocketeer, Free Gold Watch, The Sanctum, Flippers Arcade, etc. Hey, at least more events have this now than did a few years ago. Maybe we can get back to that being the norm.

And sometimes a TD wins even if the games aren’t theirs … like Dave Stewart in Vancouver a couple years back. No problem there.

I’m curious … I know Derek has won or finished high at Expo Classics several times, and that he brings games some years. Anyone know if his best finishes correspond to the years he brought games?

I’d say that home court advantage means the most when it comes to the low-“A” and the “B” players … the high A’s often overcome it, but it’s harder for the 150 to 500 crowd to offset the game knowledge edge of their fellows at that same level.

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I have absolutely zero problem with anyone that’s running a tournament playing in said tournament, regardless of game access. If you stop allowing, or start discouraging TDs from playing you could watch events disappear overnight.


Any advantages are generally offset by the stress of running the tournament and playing at the same time.


Exactly, when running a tournament you are very tired all the time, this only makes you play worse.

I’ve experienced the opposite. You’re thinking about everything going on as a TD, that you don’t have time to overthink your playing - you just play naturally and instincts take over. Sort of how you always put up a good game when you’re in a rush to be somewhere else.


INDISC, like many other large tournaments, declares more than one TD so that there are no issues about impartial decisions. As for game setup, I don’t find this to be an issue in a tournament where there are multiple days of qualifying, for two reasons – first, there is plenty of opportunity for players to learn the game setup by observing others’ play (even without paying for their own games), and second, the game setup often changes enough during the tournament that the perceived advantage may disappear.

The only places where this actually becomes an issue is perception or PR, in my opinion, and it’s one reason that the largest events have TDs who are ineligible to play. This perception also plays out in those moments where the TD appears to make a ruling in their own favor, even when that is not what happened.

I have absolutely no question about Karl’s effort and ethics, nor Jim, nor anyone else putting forth the effort to organize and run a pinball event. Thanks to you all, and congratulations to Karl!


I looked at this, specifically with regard to hosts winning league meets in the Midlands region for the UK. Over 7 years (42 meets) it has only happened once. Despite the fact that the majority of the people who have hosted over that period have won at “away” meets.
I put it down purely to the stress of running the day and ensuring everyone is happy as well as the occasional machine fix. You simply don’t have the same kind of time to relax and play well.

I don’t think there is a TD around who will try and put things in their favour, especially on the day, as very quickly accusations start flying and people don’t attend.

It’s often brought up that people who bring machines to events have an advantage on their machines. The advantage is that they know the rules, once machines have been transported and set up in a different location, normally given an extra clean before the event as well they play so differently to actually be a disadvantage in my experience. I never choose to play one of my machines I’ve taken to an event for this very reason (if given the choice).

Even if they do gain a small advantage - so be it - they are the ones prepared to let every Tom, Dick and Harry play their machine over the course of the weekend. Without them the vast majority of comps, especially in the UK, just wouldn’t happen.


Looking forward to the PR hurdle when Keith Elwin clinches a Major Championship win on a game he designed :slight_smile:

Makes he wonder if Lyman ever clinched a Major win on a game he programmed?

This ethical issue with people that worked on games being able to compete in tournaments on those games were a real issue back in the 90’s. I know that people like Lyman, Keith Johnson, and coming up KME wouldn’t have been eligible to compete in those old IFPA World Championships back then. Pinball Expo Flip Out as well, they were all delegated to the “Manufacturer’s Division”.


I miss Expo manufacturers division, which is responsible for most of my hardware. 6-8 players competing for 4 spots all of which got trophies. I remember playing in 98 or 99 and Larry had a great quote about it. “Originally manufacturers division was to protect the open players from the insiders, now its the other way around.”


I hosted a tournament last year - each participant played 8 games (with a joker) and their qualifying score was made up of 8 games. The scores were hidden until qualifying was over, so people couldn’t know what they needed in advance and they couldn’t hunt the easy games. Also, there was no advantage to playing at the end of qualifying or the beginning.

Seeing as there was a very large advantage to me if I played with knowledge that nobody else had, I didn’t play. I guess I could have qualified first, but there were people that showed up to play right away, so I didn’t play.

If all we are talking about is specific game knowledge (how game X plays) somebody will always have that advantage, no matter where you play. But if you are talking about a person having information that nobody else has I think it has to be out of bounds.

EPC 2007 in Stockholm. The 4-player final was a 5 ball game on Medieval Madness. His 121M ball one was enough to win the title.


I’ve done a bit of everything, so this is my take including what I do at my large vs. home tourneys to make it more fair.

Large events - example MAGfest PAPA circuit event - I don’t play in order to focus on ensuring everything runs correctly. No way I would have had any fun either if I tried to qualify - considering I worked 16 hour days 3 days in a row, I’d rather have been sleeping than qualifying. But if a manager does play, then it requires additional managers on duty, and a rules official to make any ruling the player/manager is in involved in. The player/manager cannot make rulings on a game he/she is involved in. Also, ensure any scorekeeping s/w doesn’t allow the player/manager from editing or entering scores for themselves (neverdrains does a good job with this).

Smaller events/house events - In most cases, if a player is going to go through the effort to host a tourney at his/her own house, then they should be expected to play. Otherwise, why would they put it on? In some cases, the same goes for putting on a very large tournament - if they go through all that effort, then they should be rewarded by being allowed to compete.

Some things that can be done to minimize home field advantage or playing in larger tournaments:

  1. Ensure the game list is available so players can learn the games ahead of time.
  2. Consider bowing out of any cash winnings. I don’t pay to play anymore and I don’t receive any winnings from my house tourneys. The comp is only $20 and most players consider $2 / hour to get everything ready a fair trade off.
  3. Wax, re-level, tweak the machines the days leading up to your tourney, test the games but then don’t practice. This always negatively affects me as the games all play very differently than how I expect. Especially a good Novus 1/2 on the playfield, it becomes faster, enough that I don’t know where to expect the bounces, extra speed, and even shots are off a little when the ball is on the fly. Definitely evens the playing field enough to make a difference. And allow players to practice for at least an hour, maybe two before the tournament. Now they have the shots dialed in and the host doesn’t.

As for running IFPA states at a house, it’s preferred by most players in my area because the collection and quality of the games is generally better than location games. Malfunctions are also easier to deal with where on public locations if you don’t have the operator there, even a simple stuck ball can have a negative impact to the players. We rotated to another player’s house last year and even that worked out great as the collection played hard but fair and was far better than most routed games. Having said that, some of the locations’ quality of machines are way better now and we’ll likely consider that for 2017-18.


Since WOZ and LOTR were not in the tourney bank it would be hard to suggest Karl stacked the deck lol. Anyone who thinks that can do a quick Google search to see that Karl placed 2nd in the worlds biggest tournament last year which featured NONE of his games and quickly shut up :wink:

The whole “home field advantage” thing goes right out the door when the games used for finals were also the games used for qualifying. Now had Karl rolled out his Arena as a mystery game final then…