Why do people not like unlimited qualifying?

If you look at the players who qualify at unlimited events, those same players are qualifying well at events that are limited.

If people could buy their way into unlimited events, you would see people qualifying in those tournaments, and then see the same people qualifying much much lower in events with a flat fee.

I have not seen that.

I’d be happy to be proven wrong - lets look through the qualifiers at unlimited events, and find the significant group of players that otherwise do terrible.

If people truly can buy their way into unlimited events, then we should see those same people failing anywhere else.

Somewhat related, I’d like to add, that we should think about the cost of events - Many flat fee large tournaments are in the $50-$200 range. People coming to an unlimited event should expect to spend the same. That is, I don’t think its productive to the discussion to consider the player who comes to an unlimited event with $10.


Who bought their way in here? - do we expect these qualifiers to normally not do so well, but because it was unlimited qualifying they qualified above their pay grade?






Here’s what I come up with for the top qualifiers in modern and classics. I’m not sure if Karl would be able to parse the data beyond this, to see how results would vary if the entries were limited to the first x number of plays, but if I were guessing, the qualifying order would definitely be different and a few players at the bottom of the qualifiers would shuffle in/out.

Buy-ins were 7/$20 IIRC but a lot of people volunteer and get free entries as well. It looks to me like an average of $200 spent per player, minus freebies.

Modern (entries first):
47 1 Keith Elwin 570 #1 on Hoops, #1 on God, #2 on Twst, #2 on TA
90 2 Zach Sharpe 550 #2 on GL, #2 on God, #2 on DW, #4 on TWD
35 3 Karl DeAngelo 546 #1 on TA, #3 on H2OWrld, #4 on DM, #4 on GL (played modern only)
82 4 Dave Stewart 544 #1 on Twst, #1 on DM, #3 on God, #6 on DW
56 4 Trent Augenstein 544 #1 on DW, #1 on GL, #6 on God, #7 on TWD
50 6 Jim Belsito 538 #2 on H2OWrld, #2 on LotR, #5 on HS2, #6 on TWD
92 7 Brian Shepherd 533 #1 on HS2, #1 on H2OWrld, #3 on DM, #11 on God
105 8 Bob Matthews 531 #1 on TWD, #2 on LW, #5 on GL, #9 on TA
66 8 Raymond Davidson 531 #4 on God, #4 on DW, #5 on Twst, #6 on H2OWrld
81 10 Jason Werdrick 530 #3 on TA, #3 on TWD, #5 on H2OWrld, #6 on Twst
87 11 Todd Rafacz 523 #3 on Twst, #6 on GL, #7 on TA, #7 on H2OWrld (played 1 game in classics)
70 12 Johnny Modica 513 #3 on LotR, #5 on TWD, #5 on God, #10 on DM
70 13 Kevin Birrell 501 #6 on HS2, #7 on Hoops, #9 on DW, #12 on H2OWrld
112 14 Steven Bowden 500 #5 on DW, #8 on H2OWrld, #10 on GL, #12 on DM
96 15 Germain Mariolle 498 #4 on LW, #7 on Twst, #9 on HS2, #14 on DW
56 16 Eric Wagensonner 497 #1 on LW, #10 on TWD, #11 on Hoops, #14 on God (played modern only)
56 17 Mark Pearson 495 #1 on LotR, #2 on TWD, #4 on HS2, #19 on DM (played modern only)
63 18 Phil Birnbaum 494 #8 on LW, #10 on TA, #12 on GL, #12 on Hoops
103 18 Damien Charléty 494 #2 on DM, #9 on GL, #13 on H2OWrld, #13 on DW
92 20 Per Schwarzenberger 493 #3 on LW, #7 on LotR, #10 on Hoops, #15 on Twst
103 21 Sanjay Shah 488 #2 on Hoops, #3 on GL, #15 on LotR, #18 on TWD
35 21 Brian O’Neill 488 #4 on Twst, #5 on LotR, #11 on DM, #16 on GL
99 23 Maka Honig 485 #10 on LW, #11 on DW, #13 on God, #14 on Hoops
53 24 Tim Tournay 484 #9 on Twst, #10 on H2OWrld, #10 on DW, #16 on God (played 2 games in classics)

70 1 Kevin Birrell 451 #1 on Cleo, #3 on JO, #3 on Rock, #8 on HP
47 2 Keith Elwin 444 #2 on Sk8, #2 on DF, #7 on FG, #7 on Rock
63 3 Phil Birnbaum 436 #1 on JO, #2 on HP, #12 on Sk8, #12 on FG
90 4 Zach Sharpe 430 #1 on Sk8, #2 on FG, #4 on HP, #19 on JO
50 5 Jim Belsito 429 #1 on Rock, #4 on DF, #4 on JO, #14 on HP
74 6 Jay Collins 425 #3 on Sk8, #3 on HP, #5 on Rock, #7 on DF
103 7 Damien Charléty 417 #4 on Rock, #6 on Sk8, #10 on Cleo, #14 on JO
66 8 Raymond Davidson 411 #1 on FG, #3 on DF, #7 on HP, #26 on Sk8
81 9 Jason Werdrick 410 #1 on HP, #2 on Cleo, #12 on JO, #26 on DF
99 10 Maka Honig 409 #3 on FG, #4 on Sk8, #10 on DF, #22 on JO
70 11 Johnny Modica 408 #5 on Cleo, #12 on DF, #14 on Rock, #15 on JO
116 11 Zachary Parks 408 #4 on FG, #10 on Sk8, #13 on HP, #17 on DF
56 11 Trent Augenstein 408 #6 on Rock, #9 on Sk8, #9 on JO, #13 on FG
105 14 Bob Matthews 407 #2 on JO, #11 on Cleo, #13 on Rock, #19 on HP
159 15 Zac Wollons 405 #5 on FG, #11 on DF, #12 on Rock, #18 on JO
82 16 Dave Stewart 404 #8 on DF, #9 on FG, #10 on Rock, #18 on Sk8
64 16 Martin Robbins 404 #7 on Cleo, #13 on JO, #14 on DF, #15 on HP

You also need to factor into this data the amount of money everyone that made finals paid to get there. not sure if that info is available, but I bet you’ll see that they are certain players that time and time again are paying way more than a lot of the other qualifiers to get to the finals. For me though it’s more about the fun factor, and pump and dumps aren’t as fun. If all of the formats are decided to be fair, why not just do more formats that have group play throughout qualifying and finals? I would be more inclined to spend 150-200 bucks on a tournament like that then if you guaranteed me I would make finals in a pump and dump format where it would cost me the same amount.

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I’ve had this conversation with alot of people over the years and for those that don’t try to play, it’s always because they feel that better players will just outspend them to qualify. They are not totally incorrect on this, but what they never take into account is that with the limited time for qualifying and the amount of people playing, there is a soft cap to what a person can realistically spend.

When I use to run Karl’s software on my servers, I had a page that showed various statistics about the tournament and I know for two Louisville tournaments and a few others I was involved with, the top spenders spent roughly 250 bucks on qualifying (split across main and classics). I’ve noticed that it typically falls in line with my spending at similar events. Karl has a wealth of data still online, so he should be able to draw some good stats from it.

Honestly I believe it’s just perception. The lower the entry count, the more “lesser” players feel they have a chance. But honestly, this really isn’t the case. The better players still bubble to the top of all the tournaments even if you limit entries.


Without full access to the detailed entry information, it feels impossible to decide that. Perhaps we start from $50 or $60 – I’d like to see the standings in these same events, based only on the first $50 spent by each player. (Jay gave the information on number of entries at INDISC, but it needs to be broken down into modern and classics.)

For PAPA $50 is an unreasonably low amount, but $100 might be fine (5 entries in A).

All I have is a few anecdotes and specific instances. For example, at CAX I would expect Mike Miller (http://neverdrains.com/cax2015/playerIndex.php?disp=player&pid=114) to qualify if he had been able to play as many games as some of the people who qualified ahead of him. One particular Expo comes to mind where I think a player dumped $400+ and qualified.

Big agreement here that this effect may be more visible as players choosing not to compete at all, rather than players competing but running out of cash for attempts.

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Truthfully, I am one of these people. I’m good enough to put up games as good as you or other top players, but my consistency isn’t that great and I flame out in match play. I’ve been to so many Herb formats in my career I pretty much know I’ll qualify if I keep trying.

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The most extreme example of “deep pockets” qualifying that I can think of was at PAPA 15. I kept watching this one player constantly trying to make the cut in A. He bought 39 entries. 32 were of them were voided. He was constantly playing or waiting in the A bank. I didn’t recognize his name, so I looked him up and saw he was ranked much lower than most of the A players. I appreciated his perseverance, and he eventually made the cut, but I didn’t think that he made it because of his skill level, but because he was able to spend the money for enough attempts and the scattered good games eventually fell on the same ticket.

Meanwhile, Lyman who has 3 entries recorded (up to 9 voids including classics), finished 17th and did not make playoffs.

Edit: I realize this type of player is an outlier and not the norm, but this definitely happens in unlimited events. I know I’d be bummed if I got bumped below the cut line by one or more of these types of players when I was playing better than them while operating on a reasonable qualifying budget.


I know i’m being difficult, but, I don’t think looking at the first N number of entries in an unlimited event is a way to see what the “real” qualifiers are, or see who would have qualified if it was a limited entry event.

People absolutely play differently during qualifying in a unlimited event versus limited.

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When we’re discussing the perception that people can “buy” their way into qualifying (which in my experience isn’t typically borne out by the data), I think a point that’s often missed is that pump and dump/HERB formats create barriers to entry by discouraging players from even attending.[quote=“jay, post:3, topic:1380”]
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.

Talented local players who didn’t have to pay for travel, or people who scrimp and save to be able to attend a high quality show/tournament…those are the types of players I worry about being excluded by the unlimited qualifying format. It’s not that they would need to buy more entries than the pros, it’s that they can’t even afford to buy the same number of entries. A large part of my mission as a tournament director is to make competitive pinball as welcoming and accessible as possible, and both the perception and the reality of unlimited HERB seem to be antithetical to encouraging people to participate in larger scale events.


One thing that complicates any analysis is the existence of “byes.” Some players [myself included] will sometimes [like INDISC this year] qualify early on but then spend additional money trying to get one or more byes. This gets more interesting as the number of byes increases, e.g. 1-8 getting a bye in 24-player qualifying vs. other formats where 1-4 get a double bye, 5-8 get a single bye, etc. The most extreme example to date would probably by Expo last year where almost all the top players “got in” early but continued to play to reduce how many rounds of match play they would have to survive. So any attempt to gauge number of entries vs. result would need to adjust for this, which is difficult since not all players will continue to play to get a bye.


Expo last year is really a different beast. Didn’t something like only 2 people not make the finals.

It was the vote of those 2 people that made Expo no longer a Circuit event :stuck_out_tongue:


No, that’s reasonable to say, but I just don’t know of any other type of comparison we could do than that. To me the reality is there are qualifiers with a lot more entries than some near-qualifiers, at PAPA or otherwise.

In the older PAPA qualifying standings, it can be hard to tell, since “voided” tickets are lumped together. Roy Wils had 23 voided tickets at PAPA 15, and a dozen or so entered tickets; he tried to qualify 30+ times for A, and made it.

I’m not sure what sort of proof you’d be interested in, there are only so many ways to slice this data. I think looking at the first N tickets at PAPA, or using a big enough N for an unlimited qualifying format, would be reasonable. I think there is a very significant advantage when a player can spend 2x or 3x another in unlimited formats, just like a player sitting at a poker table with 2x or 3x an opponent’s stack has a significant advantage. It’s not an advantage that can’t be overcome, but still.


I’ve actually analyzed the data from several herb tournaments, and I can safely say that in general the most money is spent by the people who do not qualify. The concept of “buying your way” into an unlimited herb tournament is almost completely a myth. The pattern I see most often is that the most money is spent by the people in the bottom tier of qualifying / the first tier of not qualifying. So if you’re taking top 24, the most money is spent by the people in the 22-35 area.

This actually makes a lot of sense. They are the ones desperate to try and get in, they can feel it is in their grasp, and they are generally the ones whose skill level puts them in the “above average but not amazing” category. They know they can hit the scores they see, but it is harder for them. The top 16-20 players generally are in for a pretty set amount of money and don’t chase much more. There are exceptions on both sides, but that is the trend I see over and over.

I actually think unlimited herb is a fantastic test of skill, and a great tournament format that has helped fuel the growth of competitive pinball in the last few years. It has also fueled larger pots, which are going to be essential if we want to grow pinball into something that is noticed outside our little pod. Whether we actually want that is a different matter, but if we do big money has to be involved because it is part of what makes people care. If the WSOP gave away 10K to the winner it wouldn’t be on ESPN.

That said, I also understand the frustration that comes from unlimited herb and why this perception exists. People want to know what they’re getting into financially as well as time-wise, and they want to feel like everyone is on an equal footing. The word I’ve heard on the street is that in the PAPA Circuit comments, there was an enormous amount of dis-satisfaction with unlimited herb tournaments. Outside the top tier, people really hate them, and of course the other part of growing pinball tournaments is making people actually want to play in them. It doesn’t matter if it is a perfect test of skill or not if everyone hates it and stays home.

I’m pretty sure we’re going to limited herb this year at CAX, and I’ve been hearing a lot of the same from other shows.


This discussion is great. I cannot help comparing pinball to other “sports” that exist. Imagine how different the playing field would be if baseball teams could buy more games to try to win to qualify for the playoffs. Or, what if Indy racers could keep taking qualifying laps until they get their best lap time? Off the top of my head I can’t think of any other sport that uses an unlimited qualifying process. It seems to me (my opinion only here) that with unlimited qualification methods, you take some pressure out of the equation. Playing good and doing so when it counts is a part of any and all “sports.” Why not pinball?


I get what you’re saying, but baseball is probably a bad example. Without any sort of salary cap, the payroll between the top and bottom spending teams varies wildly and is causing the competitive balance of the sport to suffer. How are the Brewers ($50 million payroll) supposed to contend with the Dodgers ($250 million)? That’s an entirely different topic though…


Oh, so you are saying that the Dodgers are pumping and dumping into their roster? :smiling_imp:


You can see this pretty clearly when looking at a player’s qualification attempts and it shows many more voided games towards the tail end of the list. This says to me that players want to spend money to try and either improve, or protect their playoff position. I think most players do this to some degree.