The International Flipper Pinball Association World Championship (IFPA9) took place at Todd MacCulloch’s house on Bainbridge Island the weekend of June 8th-10th. Top-ranked pinball players from all around the world converged on MacCulloch’s pinball wonderland to fight it out through some truly grueling matches for a shot at some major cash, a new Stern pin, huge prestige, and WPPR points!

Participants were decided by the IFPA world rankings at the start of this year, and one additional spot was awarded at the NW Pinball Championships held one week prior (won by Steven Zahler.) Seattle regulars representing at the tournament included Cayle George, Maka Honig, Raymond Davidson, Julie Gray, Todd MacCulloch, and Jeff [Groper] Gagnon. In fact, the Pacific Northwest area outside of Seattle had a great showing with Robert Gagno, Eden Stamm, and John Kremmer representing BC in addition to Steve Lampros, Danny “Backglass” Belrose, and Mike “Dialed!” Mahaffey reporting in from Portland.

Although we had a strong local presence in the Pacific Northwest, it was particularly awesome to see the out of town players live in action. All the big names from America were there (such as Lyman Sheats, Bowen Kerins, Andrei Massenkoff, Keith Elwin, and many others) as well as international major players like Helena Walters, Sunao Kono, Franck Bona, and Michael Trepp, who came from Sweden, Japan, France, and Switzerland respectively. Hearing people talking in five languages in one room was certainly an unusual experience for a tournament in Seattle! It seems that the scene in some countries is much larger than in others, despite top players managing to emerge from everywhere. Sunao mentioned that there aren’t many places to play pinball in Japan, but nonetheless there are still some great players. On the other hand, the scene in Sweden is larger and players tend to prefer pinball at co-op style locations where the machines are owned by the players instead of a route operator.

The format of the tournament consisted of two distinct rounds. First, eight sessions of 4 player groups were divided based on seed positions. These groups played three games at random (one EM, one early SS, and one DMD), and players were awarded points depending on their position in each game. This part of the tournament ran from 10am until midnight on Friday, and then from 10am until lunch on Saturday. Brutal!

Based on the rankings from all 8 sessions, the top 32 players advanced into the final rounds which took the form of best 4-out-of-7 head-to-head matches.  The top 8 players from session play got two byes in a 32 player single-elimination bracket seeded from the results of the first round,  while those ranked 9th-16th got one bye. Everyone else had to fight for the chance to play against the 9th-16th seeded players, and then subsequently all those remaining had to fight their way for a chance to upset the top 8 seeds.

I threw on my reporter hat and hit the tournament on Saturday to check out the Final Four matches. After glugging down a good 3 or 4 cups’ worth of Canadian Slurpee from Todd’s machine, I headed down to the DMD room where some matches were going on at the time. First was an extremely close match between Bowen Kerins (winner of multiple previous IFPA and PAPA Championships) and Cayle George (winner of IFPA8 and frequent PAPA finalist), which dragged out into sudden death with Cayle pulling off a clutch 2 mil recovery on the last ball of Banzai Run!

Next came the finals, in which Daniele Acciari from Italy defeated Cayle in a 5 game match played on The Shadow, Medusa, Attack From Mars, Grand Prix (on which Cayle won), and Old Chicago (an SPL “favorite”). Controversy ensued when Cayle tilted out his first ball in the final game on Old Chicago, which somehow managed to tilt through Daniele’s second ball as well, resulting in Cayle automatically losing the game and by extension the whole match and championship title. The rules didn’t require Daniele to allow the game to restart or have the game state (current lights lit, points scored, bonus collected, etc) reset to match the pre-tilt situation and continue playing, but there was some sentiment amongst some spectators that it might have been the right thing to do. Either way, everyone seemed to agree that what happened was certainly not the best way for such an amazing event and battle to end.

Undoubtedly due to the situation at IFPA9, the IFPA rules regarding tilt-throughs have now been changed for future events so that “any player who tilts the ball of another player, either through interference or by tilting through his or her ball so roughly that the next player’s ball is affected before play continues, will receive a one ball penalty for the offending player. Should this happen on the last ball in play, the offending player’s score will be adjusted to 80% of the total score for a 5 ball game, or 66% of the total score for a  3 ball game.” Additionally, “tournament officials may grant an exception based on the behavior of the machine in question.”

It’s not exactly an everyday opportunity to meet up with the best players from around the world in our collective backyard, and yet during this June’s “Week of Pinball”, it happened. It was pretty surreal to hear Bowen talk about games in the same voice I’ve heard in so many tutorial videos, or to spectate a match standing right next to Lyman Sheats, Steve Epstein (founder of the original IFPA and the infamous Broadway Arcade), and Gary Stern. The machine selection for the tournament was equally awesome, featuring some of the greatest EM, SS, and DMD games ever produced. Combining these two elements with great hosting by the MacCulloch family and the lovely relaxing environment of their residence, everything came together just right to create arguably the finest and most memorable pinball event ever to grace Seattle.

After the tournament had finished and the players I met over the last pre-IFPA week started leaving, I almost found myself in tears knowing that something this global and unityng wouldn’t come back to Seattle for a long time. Still, Seattle was at least partially chosen for IFPA9 because of its incredible active community, and with the rate that we are growing I wouldn’t be too surprised if some international players come back in the future to our major events like the NW Championships. Thanks to IFPA, my belief was reaffirmed that pinball is a positive activity that brings together people from all corners of the world under the spell of the silver ball.

-Kevin Birrell