Why do people not like unlimited qualifying?

Otherwise known as a “Pump N Dump”, this previous universal format has lately been getting replaced by limited qualifying and various match play formats instead. Why all the hate? The unlimited qualifying format is in my opinion the best, most fair format there is, and ensures that if players are good enough, they will qualify. This assurance is nice when deciding to travel across the country to compete in an event. If I flew all the way to PAPA and was told I only get three chances on each machine, I would never go. Yet people flock to Fraser Valley and similar tournaments and praise this format like crazy. (I’m not trying to hate on Fraser Valley, I think they do a great job, just bringing it up as an example).

The complains I’ve heard have all been along the lines of “It just makes people with deeper pockets qualify, I have no chance because I don’t want to spend that much money” and “It’s terrible because if I put up a score early on, people with more money than me will just come along and beat it!”. Both of these are absolute nonsense. While one would think that the more you play a game, the higher the chance of getting a good score is, this is only true up until a point. You can only reach the higher scores if you have the higher amount of skill (well, theoretically anyway). That’s why this format is so great, it accurately shows the true skill of all the competitors, while also having a byproduct of a large prize pool.

The people that it “hurts” are people who aren’t quite good enough yet, but want to try over and over again, putting money in but not getting anything back. I understand how frustrating that is (I dropped a grand at my first PAPA without qualifying, I was actually just in tears at the end of it), but it’s also a necessary evil for getting people to start thinking more seriously about their play and what they can do to improve so that they can someday qualify. When you are forced to pay over $3 for a single game, it forces you to become a better player.

Anyway, those are my thoughts. Hopefully it can start a discussion and hopefully I didn’t come across too much like an a-hole :slightly_smiling:


I don’t think people hate it, I think limited versus unlimited is based on factors of the tournament and what will work best.


  1. MAGfest - 34 hours of unlimited FREE entries. We had around 100 players over course of three days, and everyone enjoyed not blowing a lot of money, and people played a lot. Factors: 34 hours and no cost, so unlimited made sense.
  2. TPF - 22 hours of qualifying, flat fee and 20 attempts on 12 machines. There was originally a cap of 200 players and 30 attempts, but the initial math didn’t look good for only 22 hours, so it was dropped to 160 players and 20 attempts. Ended up around 155 players and there were open machines near the end. Factors: Large number of participants and smallish bank, thus limited time per person to play. Likely will increase player numbers next year but retain the current cap.

What I felt regarding TPF was that it was a mixed bag for best players qualifying. On one hand, it definitely made me think long and hard about what to play once versus more than once. AND it made you play more conservatively since every ball had more significance. In the end, I really enjoyed it. On the other hand, the large number of casual players that got up to the EMs or solid states and happened to crush a game had a big effect on better players’ middle of the road scores. But in the end I also liked that because it really highlighted good games versus okay games. Some scores held up nicely, others didn’t and I had to use those entries I held back to beef them up. Great format, but stressful.

In the past I’ve played many unlimited pump and dumps and have gotten frustrated with how deep in my pockets I had to go just to miss out on qualifying, but also realize now after TPF that I never took each game quite as seriously as I did every one at TPF, because I always had it in the back of my head that “I can always buy another entry.” TPF with the limited entry taught me some good things that I look forward to applying to the next unlimited entry tournament I enter. Still like those as well, just have to be better at budgeting entry fees and attempts.


I agree with you and I generally prefer the unlimited qualifying format. The biggest reason is I have control of my time and how much of it I want to spend playing. I also prefer not having to worry about wether I will be able to play all of my entries if I decide to leave for a bit and take a break. As for the money issue, people spend 100s, or maybe even 1000s to travel and then complain about spending $s on entries? I don’t get that. If you can’t afford to come play as many entires as it takes (for you) then you probably couldn’t afford to come to the tournament in the first place. And for the most part, I don’t think I’ve really seen too many players buying their way into tournaments anyway. Even the ones that seem like they’re spending a fortune are usually pretty good at pinball, if not a bit more inconsistent than the top tier folks. For myself, I just set a budget that I’m comfortable with, stick to it, and hope for the best. Usually, that’s somewhere around $100 give or take a bit depending on how annoyed or confident I am at a given time. I’ve seen people spend a helluva lot more and not get into anything. One could easily do that in A at PAPA at $20 a ticket. I’ve never played A though, just C and B. I think I spent close to $200 the last time I went to PAPA and qualified in B. I finished in a tie for 5th IIRC—would have made the final 4 but not for a terrible bricked shot to start a MB on Godzilla and then losing on bonus to player 3 to be eliminated from a playoff to advance. :cry:

Limited qualifying seems fine, where necessary, which I guess means for time constraints mostly. I’ve never participated in one but it seemed to me that TPF had too many machines on which to attempt 20 games. I would think around 3 plays per machine used to qualify on would be much more reasonable than 2, and give everyone a chance to have a few house balls or some rough games here and there without feeling like they’ve thrown away their time or entry fee.

As for other formats, I actually prefer PAPA where you have to get 5 scores on one ticket. I think it’s much more difficult to buy in (which rarely seems to work for folks anyway) and really separates the men/women from the boys/girls—with the exception of Escher of course. Regarding match play, I think too much emphasis is being placed on that format lately, thanks to the (rightful) success of Pinburgh. I’d usually rather play pingolf, some other goofy setup, or low player knockout before a straight match play event. My least favorite is basic bracketing. Bracketing seems to be run mostly because it’s easy to do online without a lot of extra work on the part of a TD—a perfectly acceptable reason—just don’t enjoy it much.

I can’t tell if that is referring to me or not :slight_smile: I was going to avoid chiming in on the 20 entries discussion, but since we are talking about it.

I both liked it and disliked it. I liked the pressure it put on people. Several people qualified for the finals on their last entry. JD did this last minute, but others did it much earlier in the day, but on their last attempt. It was exciting. However, I sat on 5 entries for a long time in case I needed them and in the end used most of them for practice (and a halfassed failed attempt at making a run at SS). I would have loved to be playing tournament games instead of floor games. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the seminars I went to and playing pinball, but it is more fun to compete ™.

I should really just volunteer to scorekeep at events like, and normal pump and dump. It would let me continue to be immerced in the tournament, without the need to be playing.

I am not sure I would have qualified on unlimited, but I would have spent more time playing, which I would have enjoyed. Maybe I just need to make more friends to dollar throw down with. Anyway I enjoyed playing you in the finals, and I will probably come back next year if timing works out.


I have heard more and more people say that they don’t like pump and dumps. I’m not one of them. It’s a tried and true format and I still like it quite a bit.

Going back to the Magfest idea. Has anyone tried a combination of unlimited qualifying attempts, but one initial up front fee, like $50-100? I was thinking of running a tourney with this concept this Fall, and if anyone has any feedback positive or negative I would love to hear it. Thanks!

My main beef with pump and dump is its BORING. I think it is absolutely ZERO fun trying to qualify for something using he pump and dump format. Waiting for my chance to play the games sucks too, even if there is a queue system. Give me the pinburgh format or the format used for the four square Indy tournament format all day everyday. The most fun part about competitive Pinball for me is playing with/against other people. The pump and dump format guarantees that you will be playing most if not all of your time spent in the tournament alone. That is no fun.


In my opinion, you’re doing it wrong if this is actually true. A grand?!?!? And you had so little fun it actually brought you to tears? This should be why you hate this format, not why you like it. Unless you’re just a gluten for punishment.

He lost so he didn’t even come home with any dough


His complaint was certified gluten free. (And non-gmo from what I could tell)

The word you want is “glutton”

(All in fun)

Edit: I see Bowen beat me to the joke :slight_smile:

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My two issues with pump 'n dumps is cost and waiting in lines. I haven’t played in a limited entry version of the format, but I don’t think I’d care either way.

yeah when pump n dump has huge lines then it sucks. Especially if there isn’t a working queue system. More machines can help but inevitably there’s a few popular games that back everything up. I do like the format though and have no beef with it. I do also enjoy match play like Pinburgh but have yet to be in one of the limited or unlimited ones to see how they play out…

I don’t like it because I’m bad at it. I think I’m less-variable than most players, so I rarely blow a game up but also rarely get a total 0.

I also don’t like standing-in-line, the game, nor competing against a list of numbers. I’ll take match play over just about any other format, because I get to talk to people.


Fixed!! Now your guys’ jokes make no sense. Haha

So I am fairly new to competitive pinball, but I think I sway more towards the limited qualifying method. If you are really “that good” at pinball then it means that you are consistent too. So, making it through the qualification round should not be an issue. If someone is travelling to an event (like I will be for pinburgh this year which I am really looking forward to) by car, adding another $200, theoretically, for qualifying adds a good 25% to the cost of the trip. That is significant. I’m interested to see how it goes at Pinburgh but it seems like they have a good method figured out with the whole qualifying day method of match play.
Just my 2 of course…

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Personally I just think unlimited qualifying creates an unequal playing field. Some players are willing to outspend others, and this gives players with big bank accounts a better chance at a higher position. Such a thing would be unheard of in any sport, but we do this because it makes a big prize pool.

With more players competing now, I feel it’s reasonable to give players a more equal chance. Pinburgh gives every player the exact same opportunity to win the event, and so did Texas Pinball Fest, in a different way. I’m very happy that there are fair formats that are generating interest and prize pools.


I’d really like to see this backed up with examples Bowen.

Every piece of data I have seen has indicated this is completely false - that is, you see the same people qualifying at tournaments across varied formats.

I hear this sentiment parroted a lot, but I can’t say I’ve ever seen it play out that way to any degree of significance.

I guess what I’d look at, for example at PAPA: what would happen if people could only have entered 5 tickets? Who would be in, or out?

I know at INDISC and CAX and Expo I’ve seen people play hundreds of dollars in tickets who would not have otherwise qualified. What would happen at INDISC or CAX if players were limited to 20 games, or 30?

I agree that my evidence is anecdotal. What’s your data?

Either way this looks like a job for Karl :slight_smile:

Please show this data. Of course you get some similarities especially at the top of the rankings. But, “the data” definitely does not show the exact same qualifiers across the different formats. The consistent players will qualify consistently across various formats. For the less qualified (maybe up and comers) I have to agree that limited qualifying is more fair (if you are going for fair). To be a good competitive pinball player you need consistency. So, the less consistent players with deeper pockets definitely have an advantage (among their division) over those not willing to pay more. Additionally, these players are likely not in it for the money so there is little incentive to pump and dump too deep.

I’m kind of perplexed how there’s a perceived difference between the amount of time spent waiting to play a game (P&D) vs. the amount of time spent waiting between balls during a game (match play).

I’ll see what I can do. I should have plenty of time while watching everyone compete in IFPAPA :sob: