Right after last month’s tournament, I spent a little time to really think about how 2017 ended and how 2018 had begun, not just as a competitive pinball player but as someone looking to improve his situation in life. I’m not going to go into too many details, but suffice it to say after quite a few bad to mediocre years in a row, 2017 was one of the better years I’ve experienced.
I have always found it difficult, in whatever types of competitions I have been in, to rebound from a disastrous performance like the one in January. The good news is I could truthfully tell myself that it could not possibly get any worse, it was only a question of how much better it would be. Such was the mindset I kept in place as I entered Einstein’s Pub and made my way towards the pinball area in the back (towards the north end of the bar, with the main entrance being on the south end of the east wall).
The game lineup has remained mostly the same, with AC/DC Vault Edition being added since last month and no games being removed. I settled in quickly and managed to get in three games of Attack from Mars, leaving one credit for the lucky souls who would draw it their first game. Yes, the scores I put up during warmups left a bit to be desired (I won one replay out of three paid credits).
The afternoon’s tournament would begin ambitiously enough on The Champion Pub. I was grouped with Phil Grimaldi, Joe Cuellar, and Cory Westfahl. I never really got much going in this game. I was facing scores of 8.1M+ (Phil) and 14.0M+ (Joe) as the third player on ball 1. I would put up a whopping 611,180 despite making the +5X bonus on the skill shot. The bonus multiplier award is potentially more lucrative than the million or smart punch that other players often aim for, though you actually have to run up a decent bonus to make full use of it. Cory would post a score of 11.6M+. Phil and Joe would have a relatively low-scoring ball 2, but it still wasn’t enough to help me as I was only able to get to around 4.8M+. By the time it was my turn again, I was looking at needing to beat Phil’s score of 16.2M+ to have any realistic hope of not getting a strike (and ideally, much more than that), as Joe had run up his score to north of 50.1M. I did do well on the video mode and bring my score up to 13.5M+, but that was not enough. The bad news was I got a strike this round. The relatively good news was, so did Phil (which is surprisingly uncharacteristic of him).
To not only get a strike but also finish dead last in the first game, was a huge disappointment. I needed redemption, and I needed it in the worst way. Round 2 went up, and I would be going first in front of Rebecca Cook, Jeff Cook, and Raleigh Palis. Most players don’t like going first; I usually don’t mind it, but coming off the disaster on The Champion Pub, I would have felt better about playing later in the order.
I play my first ball and post a paltry 3.5M+, good enough for second place for the moment after Rebecca puts up a 16.1M+ and Jeff and Raleigh both fall well short of the 2M mark. I step up to play ball 2, managing to get Groot Multiball started. I make every jackpot there is, including a 32M super jackpot (no idea how I managed to do that). I know I’ve got a pretty high score, though I’m not looking at the scoreboard, just trying to keep it going. I manage to keep the ball in play long enough to start a second Groot Multiball and pile on even more points. I would end ball 2 with a white-hot score of 158.9M+. I would tack on a few more points with Orb Multiball in ball 3 before signing off with 167.7M+, good enough not only for first place in this game but for grand champion on this machine. In the strictest sense, I didn’t need such a decisive high score, but in a broader sense, I needed something to restore my confidence as the last round in this tournament series where I did not get a strike was round 9 of the 2017 December tournament on Star Trek.
The real shocker here, though, is Rebecca’s 29.3M+ which would put her in second place, leaving the strikes for Jeff and Raleigh. This appears to be Rebecca’s first tournament (she would be eliminated after round 6, good for thirteenth place). Looking at Jeff’s tournament history, on the other hand, I would have expected him to be taking second place in this game (he is a regular at the XXX Tuesdays tournament at The Game Preserve, having won twice and finishing near the top several other times, and also came in fourth at the Houston Arcade Expo tournament last year).
Anyway, on to round 3. I would be grouped with David Pollock, Marc Gammons, and Rob Layne on AC/DC, and this time I would be playing fourth. I was a bit worried from the beginning as David put up 20.6M+ on the first ball, a lot of points for this game. Marc and Rob put up much lower scores, though, and I only need second place to avoid a strike. I would put up 3.3M+ on ball 1, enough for a temporary second place. By the time it got back around to me, Marc had only advanced his score to just north of 4.0M, so there wasn’t as much pressure as there could have been. I’d post a 7.7M+ after ball 2, and technically I could have just plunged ball 3 and still been able to avoid a strike. Since it’s coin play, I did play out just to see how close I could come to David’s 51.8M+. I did wind up with a respectable 21.3M+.
My round 4 would be on Star Trek, and I would play second behind David Pollock and in front of Matt Quantz and Cory Westfahl. I had a real dud of a first ball, finding myself in a precarious spot by the time I stepped up to ball 2. I had 3.5M+, trailing David’s 9.6M+ and Cory’s 29.9M+. I did get to 17.8M+, which David was unable to surpass. Matt leapfrogged to 45.9M+ by the time I stepped up for ball 3, meaning I needed to beat Cory’s 33.3M+ at a bare minimum to stay alive. Amazingly, I was able to put together another clutch performance (I think it was a particularly strong Vengeance Multiball that sealed the deal). I would sign off with 59.3M+ good for first place, leaving Cory as the recipient of the other strike. I felt good enough to take a selfie, though it didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped.
Moving on to round 5, which for me would be on Attack from Mars, playing first ahead of Dora Li, Benjamin Horstman, and Matt Quantz. Ball 1 was relatively lousy for everyone, I had a nominal second place with 498M+ behind only Dora’s 759M+. My ball 2 was a dud, and I would start ball 3 looking at Ben’s 1.71B+ and Dora’s 1.12B+ ahead of my 589M+. I really laid an egg, signing off with 662M+, and giving me strike number two. Despite the fact this game went really sideways really fast, I was still feeling pretty good about how I had done so far.
The coming of round 6 would bring a unique opportunity to play Theatre of Magic. I drew a three-player group, playing behind Cory Westfahl and Joe Cuellar. It was a relatively ho-hum game until Cory blew it open on ball 2 with a very well-played multiball, scoring some 711M+. I was able to earn an extra ball early in ball 2. I started multiball once but completely bombed it. I had the Vanish lock so I actually had a four-ball multiball; however, I immediately lost two of the four balls and couldn’t keep multiball alive long enough to get even one jackpot. I would redeem myself by getting at least one jackpot when I started multiball again. I would finish ball 2 with 887M+, which would be good enough to clinch first place (I would play out and finish the game with 949M+).
Round 7 came around. I drew Game of Thrones, playing second behind Joe Cuellar and ahead of Dora Li and David Pollock. I’m not sure what went wrong, but all around this game was just a disaster. I was able to manage all of 4.7M+ which would not even come close to Joe’s third-place score of 33.0M+ let alone the scores Dora and David were able to post. Thus I get stuck with a third strike.
Round 8 would find me playing Star Trek in a three-player game, as the second player between Marc Gammons and Benjamin Horstman. It came down to needing to beat Ben’s 32.0M+. I had 9.5M+ before starting ball 3 and was only able to muster a 14.6M+ by the time it was over. So, that was the end of the line for me. I’d play Guardians of the Galaxy a few more times before a group drew it for tournament play (putting up three scores I’d consider relatively good out of five games), and then I’d head back home.
(Incidentally, Ben would go on to win the tournament over Phil in round 13.)
Ninth place out of a field of 16 is not that great, but considering what I was rebounding from in the prior month’s tournament, it’s pretty good. I’m looking forward to March, but don’t be surprised if I go out and play some more Guardians of the Galaxy on location somewhere in the meantime…