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The following was written and / or photographed by league members of the San Francisco Pinball Department.
Special thanks to OrangePhotography.com.
The seed of the San Francisco Pinball League was planted in 2012, when I was having conversations with a few local pinballers. We all agreed that San Francisco should have its own league given the fact that there were lots of pinball playing people in town. There were already leagues around the Bay Area, in San José, Concord, & Sacramento. Why not in SF?
Many of us, including myself, couldn’t or wouldn’t drive an hour one way in order to play league. So we needed a place and someone who could supply the machines. As luck would have it, in the upper Haight, across from Golden Gate Park, a t-shirt print shop called Free Gold Watch, was using some of its space to put pins in. At first, there were 4 machines, supplied and serviced by Chris Kuntz, AKA the Pinball Pirate. These were good games; T2, White Water, Whirlwind, & Jurassic Park.
During a conversation with the owner of the shop, Matt Henri, we found out just how much the other was passionate about pinball. He mentioned that one of his clients was also into pinball, and actually owned and restored them. This turned out to be a real game changer. Shon Dolcini was more than happy to move some of his vast pin collection to FGW. It started slowly with Pin Bot, World Cup Soccer, Dirty Harry, and somehow a Space Station found its way into our midst.
With 8 machines, I felt that the time was ready to launch the San Francisco Pinball Department. On January 16th 2013, we held our first league night, and lo and behold, 35 people showed up! From there on, we just kept getting bigger, and by round 8, we had 55 members.
The people who frequent the SFPD are generally from the City, but we also have people coming across the Bay Bridge from the East Bay and all the way down from San José. One of the things that I like the most about our league, is how many different kinds of people we have coming every other week. Some come mostly for the chance of getting wppr points, while some like the social aspect of it. On most nights, there will be something to eat for everybody, and FGW is great about letting the members bring in whatever they want to drink. On a typical league night, the scent of “the good herb” can be felt from afar, but that could also be from the dread lock wearing folks near us in the Haight. Who knows? Our membership is a fun mix, starting with serious pinballers like 2011 PAPA World Champion Andrei Massenkoff, to casual players.
We play 2 seasons per year, spring and fall. The fall season is in full swing, and due to our popularity, we have had to limit the membership to 79 people. It just a little too tight in there, and to ensure that we still had a great time at league, a cap was decided upon.
Shon & Chris now have a combined total of 24 machines at FGW, and they have been joined in their operator ranks by Jeremy Williams. Jeremy is a killer player, and has put the most amazing STTNG (with Invisiglass), as well as WOZ (LE) at our disposal.
Stats and How the SFPD works
At the start of every meeting, Eric Wagensonner, AKA E-Wag, draws random groups of 4. Each group plays 4 machines. The winner of each machine gets 5 points, second place gets 3, third place 2, and fourth place gets 1 point. There is also a bonus point for each high score of the night on each machine. Therefore, one can get a maximum of 24 points per night. Season 1, we used 6 machines, but now we normally use 12 machines per night
Out of 55 members our first season, 8 made it to the playoffs. On the same night as the playoffs, whoever weren’t in the top 8, had the chance to compete in a split flipper tournament run by Jonny O. The playoffs were strictly mano a mano, bracket play. E-Wag made the finals match against James Squires, and what an epic match it was. It went down to the wire, to a deciding 5th game, where James came out ahead. As recognition for his victory, he got to hoist our traveling trophy, “The Ball & Chain”. He also received the perk of choosing his 4 games for round 1 of the fall league. Something he certainly took advantage of, collection an awesome 23 points.
This season, the playoff format is totally revamped. For starters, the top 16 players will be eligible. Instead of bracket play, there will be group play, and the finals will be PAPA style scoring with 4 players in the finals on 3 machines. Let’s just say that I was inspired by the organization at California Extreme.