Tournament Unwritten Rules or Etiquette

I’ve been watching the Pinburgh 2017 Finals and one of the announcers says that one player is out of contention and is simply playing for pride and that normally experienced tournament players will play first if they are out of contention (Source).

Since I’ll be playing in Pinburgh this year (woo) and having only played in one other tournament prior to this, what other types of “unwritten” rules are there for etiquette and sportsmanship that I should be sure to follow? Will my league nights be a good primer for what’s to come, competition wise?

Thanks for reading…

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Generally, wish your opponents a good game at the beginning, and shake hands and congratulate them when done regardless of outcome.


Talking with your opponents about game rules and how a machine is playing is generally acceptable between turns.


Some etiquette rules that should be followed, imo:

  1. Please don’t cough or sneeze into your hand during the tournament. Use the crook of your elbow, people. (This is always good etiquette.)
  2. Please don’t wipe down the machine with the inside of your shirt, you’ve been sweating into it all day. Please have a dedicated towel for this purpose, if you insist on doing it.
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I haven’t been in the finals of a major, but I doubt that anyone would think twice if a player out of contention were to go last. If this is your first trip, and the money/points are meaningful to you…then give yourself the best chance for 2nd, 3rd, whatever.

I imagine this is most common amongst the top players in the world, who have already been to many finals, and won lots of events. Probably no expectation for someone new to the situation to follow this custom.


If you’re unsure of anything you can always ask someone in your group. You’ll find that some players are friendlier than others but most of the time people are willing to help out.

You probably don’t want to ask about rules during that particular game though- not to anyone in your group at least.

If you see someone walking away from a ball save, resist the urge to notify them. I know it can be a reflex that’s hard to resist, but consider that you’re in a match with other players who are affected by the situation. It may feel like good sportsmanship to the player walking away, but it’s actually poor sportsmanship toward the others in the group.


This is a good one that I’ve never thought of. I guess it can be seen as coaching too which could get you DQed. I do this all the time in league so I have the habit built up so will have to be careful in tournament play.

For the OP - Play in the position that makes you feel the most comfortable. If I’m last and stand no chance of realistically moving up to 1st or 2nd I will generally go first to “get out of the way” but nobody will look down at you if you still chose to go 3rd or 4th.

One extra good etiquette thing I’ll add. If you are in a match, stay close and be prepared to play. Nothing is more frustrating to have to wait for someone to come play their ball. I know after a tilt a min or 2 is customary but when no such event has occurred having to chase down a player is beyond frustrating.


Oh, forgot to add. Rage tilting or shaking a game at home is one thing but PLEASE don’t do this in a tournament setting. It’s hard not to sometimes and I’d be lying if I said I haven’t done it a time or two. I’ve never done it in a tournament but in league I have and then felt like pooh when the next player walks up to the game.

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If you are the last player, last ball and already have a lead, it’s general practice to plunge it out during the qualifying rounds since other groups are waiting and it’s unlikely that you will end up playing the game again. If it’s the playoffs and you don’t feel comfortable on a game, then it’s alright to play it out in this scenario since there is a decent chance you will end up playing the game again.



I know a few tournament veterans who are always MIA when it’s their turn, to the point that I think they’re doing it as some kind of psychological game to gain an edge. It’s just obnoxious though. Don’t do it.


Don’t “hover” when someone else is playing: Don’t stand at the open pin next to your group’s pin to watch. Don’t stand right over the active player’s shoulder – stay out of their peripheral vision.

If the pin next to yours is being worked on by a tech, it’s perfectly acceptable and normal to wait to resume play until the tech/TD has the glass back on it and that group is ready to resume play.

While notifying someone about a ball-save in high level group match play is deemed as poor form because of the impact on the other players in your group, don’t get too bent out of shape when someone else does it (including spectators) because it’s a natural reaction.

DO be a good sport about notifying/warning someone else in your group if they’re about to play out of turn.


I find the distinction that stopping a player from playing out of turn and to get back to the machine to play their ball save have seemingly different acceptabilities. Why is that, do you think?

One has a live ball in play, the other doesn’t.


If you bring one of those mats to stand on while you play, make sure you move it out of the next player’s way at the end of your ball. I remember seeing a thread about this last year.

Also, the points gained by the player whose turn would be played incorrectly would effectively count against me, so I should be motivated to keep it from happening.


You’ll find that there will (probably) be two other groups besides yours on a given bank of four machines. When your group is finished on a given game, it is likely that a game will be actively going on next to you. Therefore, PLEASE do not crowd your finished game to record scores, or walk in between the games to point things out on the playfield, or (gah!) lean way over to take pictures of the scores with your flash on. All of these things are highly distracting to the other groups competing.

If you must take pictures of the scores, I hear that phone cameras these days have pretty good resolution, and this wonderful technology called “zoom” exists.


Really be conscious to “read the room” when interacting with other players. You might have some nervous energy that you feel like talking away, but some people are in a good position to be approached while others may not be. If you see someone who is very intently watching a match and they’re not talking to anybody, let them spectate and talk to them when they break away from watching. If someone is talking and casually chatting between balls, you’re good to approach.

Really be careful not to make contact with other players while playing. If you need to walk behind someone who is at a game, really be careful not to brush by them as you pass. I don’t have a long stance, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been bumped into while playing. It’s super distracting. It can get crowded, but it’s MUCH better to wait 5-10 seconds for the area to clear up before you try to slide through.

Don’t narrate someone’s game if they can hear you. It’s EXTREMELY distracting to have someone behind you saying, “oh, if he/she just hits that ramp they’re moving into the lead.” Sometimes your narration runs counter to their chosen strategy or it might align with it, but either way, it’s a distraction. Keep commentary to a low enough volume that active players won’t notice.

Be friendly! You’ll play better and feel better about your day if you’re having positive interactions with your opponents. Seriously, just be chill. If I had to write the pinball 10 commandments, #1 would be, “Be cool.”


Be mindful of personal hygiene.


The thread has kind of danced around this, but:

Make sure and double damn sure that it is in fact your turn to play when you walk up to the machine. The Pinburgh scoresheets have a field where the group (is supposed to) record player order for each game. If you’re not quite sure, don’t be afraid to double-check this info on the sheet before playing.