The road not taken: commentary in re the First Annual Dallas Showdown

So Saturday (April 23) was the Dallas Showdown pinball tournament. I had originally planned to attend, but decided not to. It does seem to be a bit bizarre to write about a tournament I didn’t actually go to, but given that I did plan to go to this tournament for most of the month preceding it, and some of the people who were there, I do have a few thoughts.

First, the reason I didn’t go should be at least somewhat obvious. Coming off of my absymal performance in the preceding Tuesday’s league playoffs, I had a lot to think about on my drive home. There were a variety of factors that went into my decision not to attend, but the biggest standout was that I was just not going to be in the proper psychological state to play well even if I was able to solve all the other issues.

The full standings aren’t up at the moment, but the top four places did get posted to the Facebook event. I do see that Justin Niles finished third after qualifying eighth, and that Preston Moncla (who won the A division of our last league season) finished fifth after qualifying sixth. Strong finishes from both of those players are not surprises at all. The real shockers, though, are Rusty Key finishing qualifying all the way down in sixteenth, and Phil Grimaldi finishing qualifying in seventeenth. This is out of a field of 30 players.

Looking at that, I have serious doubts I had a snowball’s chance in hell of making any kind of a decent showing, even if I had been able to resolve the issues in time. I would like to say I will try to make next year’s tournament, but my eyes are on the PAPA World Championships which would in all likelihood be only two or three weeks earlier (assuming approximately the same schedule is kept next year). Either way I’m hoping the Dallas Showdown tournament becomes a regular thing.

Space City Pinball League, Season 2 Playoffs: Three and out

There’s going to be a lot of commentary at the end about this, because this is going to be one of the defining moments of my foray into competitive pinball, and not particularly in a good way (as you might be able to guess by the post title).

We get started shortly after 7pm. The situation is kind of strange with B division: since there isn’t an evenly divisible number of players, there is a playoff between the bottom four places that decides who gets to play in the rest of the tournament.

Once that’s out of the way, the quarterfinals begin. I’m grouped with Leon Moncla, Joe Cuellar, and Bryan Buckley. I select to go first and defer the machine choice to the next player down the line.

We wind up starting out on The Walking Dead, which, lucky me, I got in a couple of quick games of during warmups. My first two balls go rather terribly, though I’m still in contention given that nobody else is doing that great either. My third ball goes a little better, and I wrap up with 8.3M+. This winds up being only second to Leon’s 45.7M+ so I get three points for second place.

Our next game is on Game of Thrones. Leon has an incredible monster of a first ball, well in excess of 400M. He would wind up with 545M+. My 38.9M+ is enough for a second place, again. I really wish I had been able to start multiball and at least make a legitimate run at Leon’s score and first place, but apparently it just wasn’t meant to be. Still, three more points for a total of six isn’t too bad.

And then came the third game on Kiss. I wasn’t able to get a whole lot going, and by the time my third ball was over, my score of 5.0M+ was looking a lot like it was not going to even hold up for second. Bryan’s 9.3M+ and Joe’s 6.4M+ push me all the way down to third. (Leon’s 4.1M+ is last but that’s not even relevant.) I wind up the first round with eight points. Leon has eleven, Bryan has nine, and only the top two players advance.

Obviously this is not the way I planned to end the season. It’s one thing to only qualify for B division, but it’s another entirely to bust out like this in the first round, in a B division playoff. Words like “unhappy” and “disappointed” don’t do justice to how I am feeling about tonight.

Going back through history, which in this case is looking at my IFPA player record (snapshot as of the time of this blog post, saved to PDF), paints a curious picture. We start with 2014 July, in the first serious pinball tournament I ever played at The Game Preserve, where I came in a rather impressive third. I managed to squeak out a third in the side tournament at the Oil City Open, after flat out laying an egg in the first round of the main tournament (finishing 14th). (The side tournament was the highest football score on Gottlieb’s Touchdown, which I believe the Monclas no longer have in their collection.) The next tournament I play is at The Game Preserve in 2014 October, where I bust out in seventh. I don’t make it out to another tournament until I put up another third place at another Game Preserve tournament in 2015 June (that’s nine months later). Then, another seventh at the next Game Preserve monthly, followed by Houston Arcade Expo where I don’t qualify for the playoffs (30th out of 40 players). Finally we come to the most recent three tournaments, a second at a Game Preserve monthly, a second at the Space City Pinball Open, and a seventh at the most recent Game Preserve monthly I was able to take part in back in 2016 February.

The rankings of this league season were finalized, and I rank in a two-way tie for 25th of a 51 player league. Any other time, I might have said that doesn’t represent my true skill level as a pinball player. It’s a chilling thought to me, but maybe it is the truth, and maybe tonight was my overdue reality check.

Space City Pinball League, Season 2 Week 8: Change of venue and pizza

Okay, so it’s been a while. Due to various personal reasons I’m not going to try to go into here, I missed week 7. And, due to the Astros playing a home game this Tuesday night, league night was at Phil and Matt’s house, on their collection. In the rotation for league play were: Tales From the Crypt, Dr. Dude, Whirlwind, Firepower, Diner, and The Simpsons Pinball Party.

I was grouped with Leon Moncla, Blake Dumensil, and David Pollock. I’m not going to go into where everybody was with regard to standings, as it was pretty much set. After looking at the way it played out, it was obvious I was stuck in B division at least after the week 7 no-show, possibly as early as week 6. I may go in and look at what could have been in a later post, or I may not. Staring at standings numbers gives me a headache at the moment, so now is definitely not the time.

I’m going to go ahead and touch on the second half of the post title here, since the majority of what I have to say on the topic is going to be in a post on Rant Roulette. Every week, everyone who wants to eat pizza chips in $5 towards pizzas. With the change of venue, we were out of the delivery area of our usual pizza place. Suffice it to say, this week the usual timely arrival of the pizza didn’t happen. Details and my thoughts in the aforelinked post (that’s why I have Rant Roulette in addition to this blog).

The night got off to a pretty good start on Firepower. I managed a score of 101,580, bested only by Leon’s 110,630. I had a great game even though I was not able to get a multiball going, and ordinarily I’d be a bit embarrassed by a score that barely cracked six-digit territory. Starting off with a second place that didn’t miss first by all that much is pretty good given some of the first game stinkers I have had from weeks past.

Our second game would be on Tales From the Crypt. I was able to get multiball lit; that’s the good news. The bad news is I couldn’t get it started, and really didn’t get much of anything going on this game. If there was any hope of me making A division, it was definitely gone when I posted a stinky 17.5M+ in this contest, last behind David’s 35.0M+, Blake’s 76.5M+, and Leon’s damn impressive 183.0M+. Two games, four points, and I’m a bit unhappy.

We would move on to Diner. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t be proud of a 2.5M+ score on this game. But, in this case, it was good for first, with none of the other three players able to even break 900K. In fact, looking at the machine stats, only Phil Grimaldi was able to put up a higher score during league play (8.4M+). Given we were playing at his house, and thus Phil gets to play that exact machine a lot more often than the rest of us (different machines of the same title often play differently), that shouldn’t be a big surprise. I have a first place, and even if I’m only playing for pride, I’m starting to feel a lot better. Three games down, nine points, two games left to go.

Our next game would be Whirlwind. I have a terrible first ball, and a rather lacking second ball. Meanwhile David is hitting everything but the kitchen sink. I’m staring down David’s 5.39M+ score when I have something like 1.5M+. At this point I am realistically just thinking about second place. I manage to start multiball, but can never hit the Million Plus shot (the left ramp was very difficult to hit for some reason on this particular machine). I do manage to hit the cellar shot to restart multiball, but still cannot cash in.

At this point I am just thinking to keep the ball in play for as long as I can, and score whatever points I do in the process. I’m looking up and see the score counter pass somewhere in the 4.7M range, closing in on David’s potential winning score. At that point I’m still thinking to myself “back to basics, ball control, low risk, keep it in play.” I do manage to make both NE and SE shots toward lighting the next lock, but then I find out I have to light SW as well, so for the moment I forget about going for another multiball. (Hopefully those are the right directions, this is strictly from memory.) I catch a glimpse of the score counter briefly enough to see the millions digit at 5, which gets me to relax a bit knowing at least I’m not going to embarrass myself with a 4.8M+ or 4.9M+ score. The ball finally drains, and my final score is 5,790,190. Not a big huge lead, and certainly a score that either Leon or Blake (or maybe both) could top. As it turns out, they did not. Four games played, fourteen points, one game left. At this point I have clinched a personal best league night of the season (going back to week three, where I put up 13 points).

We would end the night on Dr. Dude, which was being livestreamed on Twitch for the first time ever. I made sure to tweet out the stream URL, but I don’t think too many people watched it live. I do have the video saved. I get one shot away from having multiball lit (the Mix Master shot) on the first ball, and put up a first ball score of 900,300 thanks in large part to a 200K outlane bonus, good for an early lead. My second ball isn’t that great, but I am still sitting at 1,185,650 going into ball 3, with the next highest score being 831,460. Not a huge lead, but still a lead.

The third ball of this game, however, wound up being one of my bigger failures of the night. After a botched post pass, I wind up draining straight down the middle. The save after the botched post pass put the ball in the bumpers, and I got a really unlucky bounce which wound up being unrecoverable. I sign off with 1,335,280 (not quite 150K on the third ball). Leon would jump in front with better ball control skills than I was able to muster the entire game, winding up his game with 1,769,070, which easily could have been much higher if he didn’t tilt out (the tilt on this machine was set rather conservative). Blake also tilts out early, with a final score of 385,190. David gets a very unlucky down-the-middle drain and would finish with 1,032,810. So my rather lame score is still good enough for second place, and I finish the night with 17 standings points.

The final regular season standings put me in the fifth spot in B division, with 69 standings points. All other things being equal, I would have needed 19 more points at some time during the season to finish ahead of Preston Moncla who snagged the last A division slot with 87 standings points. Put another way, Preston’s 87 standings points is a consistent average of 14.5 every non-dropped week, with a couple of allowable absences or garbage performances.

I’m not particularly ashamed of it, given it’s my first time playing in a league, but I know I’m capable of better. If I had been able to put up an average of, say, 17 points for at least four weeks out of the season (68 points, leaving another 19 split between the other two weeks, which I’ve proven I can do with no problem), I would have had a decent chance at A division going into the final week. Showing up for weeks 2 and 7 probably wouldn’t have helped as much as many readers think it would; I wound up with two weeks with 10 and 9 as my potential drop scores, and realistically I don’t think a performance of higher than that was forthcoming in those weeks had I showed up to play, due to various factors. I would have needed to put up an average of 19 those two weeks to have had a decent chance at A division (due to the two lowest weeks getting dropped).

Several pictures of pre- and post-league play games are included. I will caption as time permits.

Space City Pinball League, Season 2 Week 6: The tale of the busted rubber

This week’s league night came up much sooner than I expected. I arrived pretty close to the nominal 7pm start time (which as we all know, means actual league play starts around 7:30pm).

This week the game lineup would be: The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones LE, The Hobbit, Kiss, Mustang, Wrestlemania LE, and X-Men. I would be grouped with Cory Westfahl, Michelle Costa, and Mark Hernandez. On the league standings going into this match: I am in 24th place with 33 adjusted points. Michelle and Cory are well into the middle of A division at this point in the season (9th with 54 and 10th place with 52 respectively), with Mark Hernandez in B division in 30th place, 24 points, only 9 points behind me.

Our first game was supposed to be on Wrestlemania. The game started off okay, but then this happened during the middle of Cory’s second ball:

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Yep. Your eyes are not deceiving you: that’s a busted rubber. The game was voided and replaced with Mustang in our rotation.

We would play our first completed game on The Hobbit. As well as I played this game during warmups, I’d pancake here with a score of 31K+, only good for third place topping Michelle’s 16K+. One game, two standings points. I’ve started off nights worse than this, but it’s still not reassuring.

Second game was on The Walking Dead. I had a fairly decent game, but didn’t get a multiball started or anything terribly high scoring. Given how well I did in warmups, my score during actual league play would be a disappointing 5.2M+, but Mark would only put up 2.6M+ giving me, again, in third place. Two games, four points…

We would continue on Game of Thrones. I did get a late, relatively high-scoring multiball which kept me in the game. I had a momentary second place with 80.9M+, but Michelle would come back to re-take second with a 91.0M+ before it was over. Three games, six points…

Our fourth game was on X-Men. Despite not having a clue what the ruleset was on this talble, I get an early multiball for a nice early lead. I bomb the second ball, and my third ball was not quite good enough to retake the lead, but I did put up a 9.4M+ behind Michelle’s 10.0M+. Four games, nine points, and there’s a chance I’ll be able to finish the night with a decent tally.

Before we could play our last game, which was on Mustang (replacing Wrestlemania), we had a situation where another group had an absent player. I don’t know the full story, whether he was frustrated at doing poorly in previous games or what. I didn’t even make note of exactly who it was. Either way, I only mention it here as an example of the kind of thing not to do during league play or a tournament. If you’re going to withdraw, tell your group and the director. Don’t just “ghost” or “poof”.

So we finally get to play Mustang. On top of the delay, we have a glitch where the game starts cycling through players in the middle of the first ball. At first, the ruling by Phil is that the affected players (Cory and I) would get another ball at the end of the game. We decide as a group that we would rather void the current game and start over.

As much as I really could have used a first place here, it simply didn’t happen. My best ball control is looping a nearly worthless ramp shot. Once I switch off of that and try to make anything else, I drain. I would sign off with an outright embarrassing 4.3M+. Mark put up 13.4M+, Michelle put up 19.6M+, and Cory took first with a 21.5M+. That’s how badly I did… At least I wind up with a total of ten standings points on the night, so the 9 from week 4 and the goose egg from not showing up for week 2 are still the two scores dropped for my adjusted total.

Looking at the standings, I can see that I did move ahead of both Chris Dyer (who put up a 7 this week; I’m ahead due to the tiebreaker) and Joe Cuellar (didn’t play) compared to the prior week. Unfortunately that seems to be the only real ground I have gained. As long as I do no worse than 10 points next week (third place all the way across, or something like one first place, one third place, and three fourth places), I can’t possibly do worse than 9 points toward my adjusted score the following week (as I scored 9 in week 3 that’s currently being dropped to calculate my adjusted score). Granted, a performance like that probably won’t help me make it up to A division barring a miracle in week 7.

Realistically, I’m looking at B division this time around and after that, hoping I do better next season. I don’t even know if, after taking a realistic look at the big picture, I should be disappointed. I put up quite a few scores that aren’t embarrassingly bad, but it happens that other player(s) in the same game was/were able to put up better scores in that particular game, pushing me down to second or third (thankfully I have not yet had all three players in a four-player group push me down to fourth when I’ve had what I would call a good score; every fourth place finish was usually because I put up a horrible score). It is my first time playing a league as opposed to a single-day or weekend tournament, and I missed the entire first season so I have a bit less experience than most of the other players.

A site about one man's quests for record videogame highscores, pinball tournament championships, fame, and stardom.

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