Tournament TD Ruling Question on Fish Tales

This past weekend we held our 2nd Annual 3-Strikes Bonanza (Seven 3-Strikes tourneys in two days) at The Pinball Asylum. I was questioned as TD for making the following on-the-fly ruling, and I just wanted to get perspective from more seasoned TD’s on whether I was totally off-base.

I was called over to Fish Tales after a player unsuccessfully attempted to trap up after what was reported as a malfunction. It was reported that the machine rapidly spit out three balls as if a multiball had been achieved, though no multi ball was earned, or multiball mode was started. The player said he had attempted to trap one of the three balls, but lost all three in the effort. I was not called over until the player had lost all three balls. I made the ruling that this was a minor malfunction, as it had not occurred previously, and appeared to be an anomaly, and play should continue normally. The malfunction did not reoccur either on that game, or on subsequent games played on Fish Tales after the tournament.

The player position was that he had been honest, and was being penalized for it. He said he had not attempted to play the false multiball, but instead tried to stop and trap one ball, and let the other two go, but had instead lost all three. It was his position that I should have therefore allowed him to play an additional ball after the game was finished to reward his honesty.

My position was that while I applauded the player’s honesty, it was the player first responsibility to preserve the ball(s) in play. His second responsibility was to report the malfunction (false multiball). Losing all the balls was his fault, and not the fault of the malfunction.

I did not doubt that the machine malfunctioned, as I know the player well. What I questioned was when the decision to let two balls go was made, and how that decision should have been made after he trapped the balls. I believe the player should have, if possible, trapped all the balls and then called over the TD. If he lost all the balls in the attempt, then that was a risk he took, and his this should not be rewarded with an extra ball.

Has anyone else encountered a similar situation?

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Done. And done.


“If a ball becomes stuck during a multiball mode, the player should attempt to trap the other ball(s) in play and request assistance.”

Keyword here is “attempt.” There is no guarantee that you get to a trap up situation to free a stucky - what if a ball was careening towards an eventual drain when a ball was stuck? Should a player be re-credited for that?

General rule in live ruling situations is that player assumes all risk involved in getting the game into a stable, controlled state and will not be compensated for lost time, modes, multiballs, or balls in general. Even though it’s meh, the alternative of “DQ for getting caught violating the rule” is much worse.


Here’s a similar situation from PPO a couple years ago when I hit my second lock on Getaway, then it released 3 balls into play and I failed to get anything under control.

@PAPA_Doug very politely told me “tough shit” and we moved on.


You made the correct ruling. It’s a bummer when things like this happen, but you handled it the right way.


Honesty is important and should be encouraged, but if I honestly tell you that I played out of turn there’s still nothing to be done for it besides a DQ.

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Let me guess: One of you had played Secret Mania prior to this? :wink:


Unearned multiballs are a tough situation to deal with, as it’s the only time a TD is actually telling a player they need to play the game in a certain way, and that way is counter to how they would normally play.

If I’m playing and a TD says I have to trap up, my first objective is still going to be keeping all the balls in play, flipping as needed until a reasonable opportunity comes to trap one or more balls. Once I have at least one cradled, I’ll let the others go, but I’ll never let a ball drain first with hope/intent of trapping the remaining one(s). Always get one ball controlled before letting others go.

Has anyone ever been DQd for taking too long to trap up when ordered?

I’ve never seen that case happen - newer players may take a while but they’re genuinely trying to trap up. This can really be the case on Multiball games with sensitive slings and odd configurations like Elektra.

“The upper playfield on The Shadow didn’t work and I lost my ball, I want compensation!”


Last year at FPF, I had a multiball qualified on World Cup Soccer, then the Striker hole switch triggered by mistake which started the multiball. Is that an unearned multiball? It’s not multiple balls with single ball play rules; it’s a legitimate multiball that started by mistake.

It caught me by surprise and I wasn’t sure to do; moreover I was upset that I got cheated the higher jackpot values, and I blew it anyway.

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Play on imo

“Any beneficial malfunction which provides one or more players with a significant scoring or strategic advantage in a way that is not part of normal gameplay will void the score of the affected player(s), unless all immediately-affected players and tournament officials can agree on a suitable adjustment of the score or other elimination of the advantage. If the beneficial malfunction has been specifically avoided by the player, it is unlikely that a penalty is necessary.”

IMO having a multiball start that you didn’t earn constitutes a beneficial malfunction with a “significant scoring advantage”.

My ruling would be dependent on what you did after they kicked out. If you trapped up and asked a TD, I would have you dump out of the multiball back into single ball play. If you played it out, taking advantage of the multiball you didn’t earn, I would void the game.

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Interesting. So you deem that a significant scoring advantage but tough crap on having to work back towards another multiball?

I would think it’s much more of a disadvantage to the player with that ruling than letting them play out an advantage given to them buy skipping one shot in the multiball start process.

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I agree. A one off beneficial malfunction should just be a “that’s pinball” moment, I feel like this happens a lot (such as LOTR triggering Two towers from a phantom sword lock switch).


I absolutely deem getting a multiball you didn’t earn a significant advantage. The rule doesn’t say you’re allowed one significant advantage situation per game.

In Brian’s case, yeah he gets screwed by having to re-qualify his locks for multiball. But allowing him to play on screws his opponent who maybe was relying on Brian not starting multiball to win the match. There is no ruling that doesn’t screw SOMEONE, period.

So either “free mutliballs” are always not significant, or they always are significant with respect to the advantage given. The rule as it’s written deals with what to do in “significant” situations.


You made the correct ruling. The player should try and control one ball, then allow other balls to drain or end up with multiple balls cradled, then get the TD ruling. If the player let two balls go then tried to trap one, that was a bad decision and once those other two balls were gone, the last ball was ‘live’ and anything after that is valid anyway.


This is an interesting case to me, because it’s not insignificant work to get yourself to multiball ready. Considering Striker did the following things to him:

  • Cheated out of 3rd ball in play
  • Screwed out of 4 city advances
  • Consumed multiball progress

I’d be hard-pressed to necessarily call that an “advantage,” especially since he’s back to square 1 for multiball (and qualifying is now at a higher difficulty).


It seems the premise is: during the course of a game on FT, multiple balls are suddenly and inadvertently introduced on the playfield.

Now I think we can all agree

  1. this is not a “multiball” as we know it.
  2. the player has to try and get the game back to a normal state, even though the abnormal state was not his fault.

Meaning: that the player has to try and trap up at least one ball, notify the TD and then try to let the excess balls drain.

I am not clear on the “that’s pinball” and no compensation attitude that seems to be listed in responses above.

Why does the player assume all risk in this particular scenario? Is it because he didn’t notify the TD while the chaos was happening and was “playing” the game trying to trap?

This does NOT seem to be the same application of trapping up in the stuck ball during “earned multiball” rules. There were no balls stuck, based on the story, but rather multiple balls that suddenly appeared out of nowhere. It also seems the player was not trying to gain any advantage.

I don’t read the description as the player letting the other balls go and failing to get the last one under control. I read it as all of a sudden the game state unexpectedly changed with multiple balls in play and the player couldn’t gain control of any of them.

Now if his actions were to purposely let other balls drain and then failed to get control of the third, sure, that is 100% all on him. But it seems we don’t know what really transpired and the TD had to make a choice based on info he had.

If the TD were called over immediately while the chaos was happening, would this possibly change things?

I guess the bottom line is : why is the above scenario a malfunction with no compensation-instead of allowing another single ball, (with no attempt to recreate state)?

Just trying to learn more.

Unfortunately/Fortunately the rule regarding beneficial malfunctions don’t take into account the work needed to get to any point in time where a beneficial malfunction may happen.

For WCS in particular, if I were to list the biggest game breaking modes in the game, I would say multiball is near the top of the list, as it is for most games. Being awarded that mode when it wasn’t earned is “significant”.

Now the rule is open to interpretation because of the determination of “significant” in any case. In your case if you’re making that ruling, are you now taking into account “net benefits of the beneficial malfunction offset by the progress made towards the player achieving that mode on their own”?

Should there be a separate paragraph written specifically related to unearned multiballs how that beneficial malfunction is treated?

For me as the verbiage sits now, I consider all multiballs “significant” for pretty much every pinball machine that exists. At worst case you’re offering the player a chance where if they drain a ball, there’s another ball on the playfield not ending a ball that may have ended (call this “extra ball ‘light’”). At best case the multiball mode offers the biggest scoring potential on the given table.

Also . . .cheated out of 3rd ball in play . . . come on Keith, WCS multiball might as well be 2-balls all day :wink: