Director’s Guide

The goal of this guide is to help directors run successful pinball tournaments and leagues that will result in repeat attendance, positive word of mouth, and help the game of pinball prosper. Setting up games for competition requires far more thought than just making them play as difficult as possible, otherwise the PAPA World Championships would include games without flippers and force players to wear blindfolds.

When setting up your games, avoid arbitrary, sweeping decisions and focus on the specific needs of your event!

This guide is intended to be a community resource that grows and becomes more refined over time. To this end, PAPA welcomes feedback and suggestions. If you feel that you could contribute to this guide in a meaningful way, please don’t hesitate to contact us!

Basic Game Setup:

The setup for a particular game in Division A at PAPA is not appropriate for the same game in Division C or the Juniors division. The correct setup for a particular game at Pinburgh with its match-play qualifying is not necessarily the correct setup for the same game at the Louisville Arcade Expo and its best game qualifying. Directors need to first understand the challenges and requirements of their own individual event and tailor the games to best fit their needs. Setting a game so easy that players can slide it across the floor and have their way with it is never correct. By the same token, making games play as difficult as possible with little thought given to why is also rarely the correct solution.

As a tournament director, you must weigh the difficulty of your games against the number of games available and the time you have allotted. The ideal situation is the middleground where games are considered “fair” and the tournament still runs on schedule. This middleground can prove elusive at first, but the more experience you acquire running events and the more you prepare, the more likely you are to recognize when a game is set up correctly for the situation.


Every game should be level in a tournament setting with no exceptions. It is also important to remember the playfield of all games should be leveled, not the glass! Playfields do not always sit flat inside of their cabinets, and in some instances twisted cabinets will cause the bottom and top of a playfield to lean in different directions entirely. In these rare circumstances, if a decision must be made, give a higher priority to the area surrounding the flippers.

For all games without twisted cabinets (the vast majority), the best way to level a game is to remove the glass and place a leveling tool directly on the playfield. Use your judgement to determine which inserts or sections of art are perpendicular to the playfield, and use those as your reference points. Always level the machine in multiple places to double-check your decisions.

Never consider a game level based solely on one piece of art or a single line of inserts. Trusting a single reference point will lead to problems!

Once you have finished with your leveling tool, take a ball out of the trough and roll it up and down the playfield to give the game an “eyeball check”. Bouncing the ball off of both stationary flippers, as well as rolling the ball into the slingshots, are two useful methods to check consistency. When performing this type of leveling technique, you are looking for atypical variations in how fast the ball rolls or whether it curves more in one direction than the other.

If you are using a digital level or iPhone app, don’t forget to calibrate it before leveling your game!


The Pitch, or “steepness”, of a game varies between manufacturers, eras, and even between different desired setups for the same game. While all games should be level from left to right, a game’s pitch can be correct at multiple settings within a range of common-sense guidelines. The best starting point is always the manufacturer’s default recommendations as stated in their manuals.

  • Williams WPC = 6.5 degrees
  • Stern = 6.5 degrees
  • Gottlieb = 6.5 degrees

So what happens when adjusting a competitive game away from the manufacturer’s recommended setting? Many players assume steeper is always harder, but the truth is it depends on the design of the game in question. When a game with a difficult center feed is made steeper, such as Avatar, ACDC, or Terminator 2, the reduced lateral motion of the ball can cause an increased amount of center drains. For games with wide outlanes or side posts removed, a shallower game can induce more side-to-side movement which leads to more outlane drains. Combine a shallow game with tight slingshots and you often have a far more lethal combination for players than merely steepening the pitch.

The main problem with reducing a game’s pitch, or making a game feel floaty, is it can dramatically inhibit competitors’ ball control skills, and that setup decision is rarely in the best interest of an event. The key to pitch is deciding which direction each game should be set based on its design and to set the game subtly in that direction. More often than not, the manufacturer’s recommendation will work well in any competition setting.

Some game mechanisms only function correctly within a certain range. For example, the ball launch on Star Trek: Next Generation will frequently not make it to the drop target after a few hours of competition if the game’s pitch is set too steep.

Flipper Strength:

Flippers are the players’ primary interaction with a pinball machine. If there is a problem with any of them, it will be the first thing he or she notices, and if it remains unfixed, it will be the last thing he or she remembers about your event.

No one wants to play a game with weak or broken flippers!

All flippers should be fully capable of making every corresponding shot in the game. If the flippers are not crisp and strong, rebuild them prior to the event. Keep in mind that as flippers are used throughout the day, the coils will heat up and they will become weaker. If your flippers are barely making a ramp prior to tournament time, that same ramp will be impossible to make after several hours of competition. As time passes, heat will cause flippers to weaken. Be proactive when it comes to testing and fixing flipper issues prior to any event!

Several of the finer flipper skills also require fresh opto-interruptors on the cabinet switches. As the interruptors get old, they lose tension and don’t respond to subtle flicks of the flipper button. If your interruptors haven’t been replaced recently, chances are they are not responsive enough for high levels of tournament play. This type of pre-tournament maintenance is inexpensive and can make a large difference in both perception of your event, and how a game plays when it matters most to a competitor.

Flipper Hop:

When the ball transitions from the inlane guide onto the flipper, it will occasionally bounce a small amount. This tiny hop can be the difference in timing between a successful ramp shot and a horrible drain. The problem with flipper hop is that it is rarely consistent, so players can’t adjust their timing no matter the length of the event.

Flipper hop adds a randomizing element into a game where one is never desired. Tournament directors should attempt to shift the lane guides, if at all possible, to reduce flipper hop. Some directors have even gone so far as to create custom guides out of plastic to lay overtop of the metal guide to attain a smoother transition for the player.

Anything that can be done to eliminate flipper hop is a positive step for the event.

Ball Saves:

The use of ball saves can be controversial. Some directors feel there is no difference in fairness whether a ball drains two seconds after it is plunged versus ten minutes. In both cases, the player had an equal opportunity to play the game even if one of them turned out poorly. If a player with a two-second ball receives a second chance, why shouldn’t a player with the ten-minute ball receive one as well?

A second point of view is that players should receive ball saves when they are not in control of the game’s initial plunge. For instance, the plunge in Bram Stoker’s Dracula feeds the ball directly into a dangerous set of pop bumpers, a completely random situation, where Indianapolis 500 by contrast is a controlled feed to the flipper. Giving players an extra opportunity to control the random, Dracula feed, with a ball saver helps ensure the competition is decided more by the talent of the players involved rather than the randomness of the machine’s design.

The counter argument to this logic is that pinball is an inherently random game by design and better players learn to maximize the opportunities they do receive. Having the ability to recover, concentrate, and succeed after a house ball is a skill in itself.

One final opinion is that allowing ball saves in games such as Attack from Mars, with two possible plunges, can be a strategic decision by the tournament director to give players a free opportunity to learn critical information about the game. A ball saver on Attack from Mars offers players an opportunity to check the feasibility of the loop pass, a dangerous maneuver, and to lower the saucer if they choose, allowing for more strategic options later in the game. These types of benefits provided by a ball saver often translate into players reach deeper into a game, and thereby offering more potential excitement for any audience.

PAPA’s recommendation is for directors to use ball saves sparingly in larger events and to consider the talent level of any players participating in smaller events prior to making a decision. If your event consists of novice players, give them more opportunity and encouragement. If your event consists of higher level players, treat them with the respect they deserve and the situation warrants.

Please note that some games do not have the option to disable ball saves, and on other games, such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula, setting the ball saver to zero in the menu also may have the unintended consequences of eliminating any ball save during multiball, which most players agree is an appropriate award earned through skillful play.


The first step toward making a game more difficult, and the most effective way to do so without angering players, is to increase the sensitivity of the slingshots. Increasing lateral motion in this area of a pinball playfield will lead to faster drains.

The primary method for adjusting slingshots is by widening or tightening the switch gap.

The decision to remove an outlane-post is far more noticeable to players and more likely to be considered unfair, even though it may have less impact on the difficulty of a game than increasing slingshot sensitivity. The difference between the two options is removing posts is permanent, while the switch gap on a slingshot may change slightly during an event due to use. As a director, do your best to prepare slingshots prior to the tournament and leave them alone, even if they shift slightly, unless the sensitivity has dramatically changed and become a technical problem.

Game Difficulty:

Tournament directors have to make decisions that balance two opposing forces:

1. Every game should be accessible enough from a difficulty perspective that players have an opportunity to fully showcase their talents.
2. Games must be set hard enough to keep the flow of lines moving at a reasonable pace.

These decisions are extremely important as they relate to the long-term success of an event. A tournament including over sixty games is far more likely to be remembered for a handful of egregious errors made in game preparation rather than the multitude of correct decisions made alongside those few mistakes.

As a director, you have the freedom to make games more or less difficult, but every change should be made with caution and purpose. If you don’t have a definitive reason why you are changing something, trust the game’s original designer and leave it as it was shipped from the factory.


Certain posts can be pulled with little effect while removing other posts may cause massive, unintended consequences. Before you remove anything, consider its impact on the game. In the case of outlanes, players will generally be far more accepting of outlanes pushed to their widest setting rather than removed, and the difference in ball times is often negligible between the two options. Removing the rubber from a center or outlane post will also have a similar impact to removing the post entirely.

Stern Spiderman is a game that typically runs long in competitive events. The majority of the shots are safe feeds back to the flippers, and the centrally located Sandman targets can be completed safely during multiball. Removing this game’s center post can reduce game times without affecting player strategy.

The center post on Terminator 2 is placed in the game to account for ricochets off of the skull drop target. Since this drop target is the primary strategy, removing this center post causes the game to be far more randomized than intended. Tournament directors should reconsider any changes they make to a game that increases the risk of a particular shot significantly above a player’s expectation.

To clarify the point another way, if a director feels the need to increase the difficulty of a game, he or she should find a way to do so without altering the game’s primary strategies.

Software Changes:

A tournament director has the abillity to increase software difficulty in many modern games. It is typically best for a director to choose one or the other between making games play harder physically, as in wider outlanes or sensitive slingshots, or increasing software difficulty, but not both. Most tournament directors prefer to increase their game’s difficulty on the physical side so players aren’t caught off guard strategy-wise by an unexpected rule change. Physical changes are always apparent to players prior to starting the game, while software alterations require a note placed on the backglass by the tournament director.

A tournament director should avoid making extreme software changes to a game that dramatically alters a player’s expected strategy. For example, making the multiball start on Attack from Mars six shots instead of four is within reason, but making the joker lock on Stern’s Batman ten shots instead of two is ill-advised no matter how easy the game is playing from a physical standpoint.

Any settings that change how a game will act during a critical juncture should also be posted on the backglass, such as virtual locks of X-Men, or single ball Destroy the Ring on Lord of the Rings.

A tournament director should feel free to answer specific questions regarding rules or game setup, but he or she should never explain competitive strategy. In the first instance, a director is giving a competitor information so he or she can develop their own plan of attack. In the second instance, a director is giving strategy advice and upsetting the natural competitive balance of the event. Giving information regarding settings is fine. Giving advice regarding rulesets or strategy is not.

Preparing Games for Finals:

If you run a multi-day event, allowing players a bit more leeway with the tilt, outlane posts, or game settings during the finals can lead to exciting finishes. Since qualifying lines are no longer a concern and the prize pool is finalized, dialing back the difficulty in order to let the players showcase their talents can be a good thing for both players and spectators alike. The obvious downside to this thought process is the best players will compete in the final rounds, making the danger of the event taking longer than expected very real. If games are made to play easier for finals, make only minor adjustments as opposed to wholesale changes.

Design Flaws:

If a player hits a shot successfully, he or she should be rewarded appropriately. When the ball bounces out of Doc-Ock on Spiderman, the rear saucer on Batman, or the Tommy start-mode scoop, it is bad for both director and player. If the Attack from Mars or Monster Bash scoop is returning the ball down the middle as opposed to a flipper, it should be fixed, even if it means stopping the game and adjusting the trouble mechanism during the tournament. Scoops and controlled feeds should always work as intended!

Some directors use impact foam behind Dock-Ock to reduce bounce-outs. The scoop on the tournament Tommy machine at the PAPA facility has been increased in size by a quarter inch to reduce the same issue.

As a director, be proactive when it comes to correcting known design problems. Telling a player, “tough luck” after he or she loses a game with numerous rejected, successfully aimed shots will not encourage return attendance.

Tilt Mechanisms:

Players generally agree one strong nudge should receive a warning, while a second strong nudge should tilt a pinball machine. If a game is sliding on the floor, it should tilt. If a game is giving warnings from gentle shaking or the action of a moving part on the playfield, the tilt mechanism is likely set too tight.

If a game is set so the tilt mechanism is too tight, the setup favors players with better aim. If the tilt is set too loose, the setup favors players with recovery or nudging skills. In a best case scenario, every game should be set so players are required to use a variety of skills in order to succeed against the competition.

When pinball is played at its highest level, all skillsets are important. It is the tournament director’s primary function to help discover who is the best overall pinball player, not who has the best aim while delicately stroking the flipper buttons with a handful of feathers. Nudging has always been a part of pinball and should be respected as a critical skill.

Phantom tilts are one of a tournament director’s worst enemies. Players feel cheated, and the spirit of competition suffers because players were not given the appropriate opportunity to succeed. Phantom tilts can be caused by many things, including, but not limited to, improper tilt setup, wiring issues, or debris shifting inside the cabinet. The most common cause of phantom tilts is a plumb bob installed off center inside the ring, leading to an elliptical orbit that causes the plumb bob to strike the ring far later than a player would expect after a strong nudge.

Plumb bobs continue to move far longer than most players choose to wait (usually a number of minutes). This can lead to situations where a small nudge will elicit a tilt after a larger, previous nudge did not. There is nothing a tournament director can (or should) do about this situation other than be prepared to open the coin door, if the situation warrants it, to show the offending player the still-moving plumb bob. Pinball is a game of subtle nudges, and it is not uncommon for a player to continually move a machine with slaps, shakes, or gentle pressure without realizing what he or she has done.

Some directors choose to install plumb bobs above the tilt mechanism’s ring rather than below it. This type of installation causes the plumb bob to become stationary sooner than when the bob is installed below the ring, giving the tournament director even more control over how a game is playing. A second benefit to this setup is less carry-over between players with regard to the moving plumb bob.

It is important to note some games produced by Williams in the early 1990’s have software issues that make it difficult to tilt a machine with only one nudge. It has become accepted practice in competitive circles to use both tilt warnings when shaking the mist ball free in Bram Stoker’s Dracula without actually hitting it. Players also will attempt to nudge games like Avatar hard enough for the captive ball to shift and cause a multiball restart. These types of maneuvers are considered legal by most events and are only governed by the tilt mechanism itself. It is up to the tournament director to decide if these options, and similar, are desirable or not at his or her event by setting the plumb bob appropriately beforehand.

Cleaning the plumb bob and the inside of the tilt ring to make it more sensitive should always be the first maintenance option, rather than raising or lowering the plumb bob inside the ring. Be sure your tilt mechanism is clean!

Basic Tournament Information:

The Professional & Amateur Pinball Association staff run the two largest pinball tournaments in the world as well as several other events ranking in the top ten. Each year we travel to multiple cities, set up games, software, broadcast equipment, and line up chairs until our backs ache. At some events we help other tournament directors who do the brunt of the work, while at other events all of the decision making and labor falls on us. Over the years, PAPA has run enough events, ranging from one-day single-elimination brackets in bars to the largest competitions in the world, to have a good idea of what works and what does not.

Running a pinball tournament can be a rewarding experience. If done successfully, you will bring entertainment and competition to a variety of people. If your event is multiple days, you will meet new friends and have a great time, all while being forced to endure challenges and make difficult decisions. The key to balancing these two sides of the token and creating a smooth-running event is hard work and pre-planning.

Veteran and novice tournament directors alike are encouraged to read below, adapt any information they feel helpful to their own situations, and build better pinball events!

Being a Director:

The most important attributes for a successful tournament director are the desire for his or her tournament to succeed and the willingness to put in the long, difficult hours to make that happen. Do not take the decision to run an event lightly. Everyone involved in the pinball industry benefits from a competition receiving positive reviews, and similarly, the competitive scene as a whole suffers when an event is run poorly. Do whatever you can to make your event a success, and recognize that a large community of organizers remain involved and are frequently willing to help should you require assistance. And no matter what event you manage or attend as a guest, remember that as we each succeed independently, we all succeed together.

Another important attribute for a tournament director is the ability to communicate clearly to the players. As the tournament director, you make all final decisions, and neither your decisions nor the rules are up for negotiation. With that in mind, do not be afraid to consult other staff or the rulebook if necessary! It is most important to have asked others and made the correct decision in the end than anything else, even if it means players must wait a moment longer for your decision.

Also, you must make the same rulings and expect the same conduct from players whether you are speaking with your brother or a complete stranger. If you do not keep the same high standards for everyone involved, including yourself, your event will suffer, and so will competitive pinball as a whole.

As a tournament director, it is also important you make an effort to speak to players in a casual capacity who have traveled to compete. Get to know your crowd. Make new friends, and don’t forget to enjoy yourself. The more amenable you are to all players, the more it helps put them at ease. The more comfortable players feel at your event, the better they will play, and the higher the competitive bar will be raised.

If you discover a player is new to competitive pinball, make an effort to ensure he or she knows what is happening and ask whether or not he or she is having a good time. Welcome them into the fold and do so sincerely, because it is the new players that will ultimately raise the level of success competitive pinball enjoys in the long term.

Finally, it is extremely important all tournament directors recognize communication goes both ways. Listen to as much feedback as you can regarding your event, and take it seriously. Not all of it will be easy to hear, some of it will be short-sighted, and some of it will be downright bizarre, but among the chatter will also be important insights and trends into how to most effectively improve your event for future years. Don’t view feedback as insults, view it as concern for the well-being of your event. The worst thing a tournament director could hear after putting on an event is silence.


With the popularity of competitive pinball growing, it is not uncommon for competitors to travel long distances to attend events. As a tournament director, it is your responsibility to help ensure these players can find what they need. Before running the event, compile a list of restaurants, nearby attractions, bars, grocery stores, hotels, taxi services, mechanics, hospitals, post offices, and other similar businesses with appropriate phone numbers and addresses for a GPS device or old-fashioned paper directions. When players ask for something, recognize what they went through to attend your event and be prepared to help them if at all possible.

If your event is large, consider having food brought in and sold so the players are not forced to leave. Massage therapists will also frequently be willing to set up stations as a pay-per service for the players or show attendees. A massage therapist may seem like a silly idea, but if you are running a larger, multi-day event or pinball show, players who have hunched over a pinball machine for hours at a time may be more willing and thankful than you think to pay a small fee and have the knots in their shoulders tended to by a professional.

Above all else, remember that when you put on an event, in addition to running a competition, you are becoming a part of the service industry. Act appropriately and treat your customers well.

Prize Money:

All prize money for an event, minus basic tournament expenses, should be paid back to the tournament players. As a basic rule, if the tournament requires it in order to exist or run properly, it can be paid for with prize money. Appropriate examples of expenses would be trophies, a reasonable fee for game transportation, parts needed to fix games, a fee for the space rental and possibly a charge for the electric used. All expenses should be related to the pinball tournament only, and tournament directors should use their judgement as to whether an expense is so large an alternative option needs to be found.

Directors should always be willing to discuss associated fees with those who ask and how they relate to the prize pool.

If the pinball tournament is attached to a larger show, it is critical the money from the tournament does not subsidize the show portion of the event in any meaningful way. The expenses for the pinball tournament’s usage of space and electric should be apportioned relative to the actual space and number of outlets used. If the show is having trouble with its door fees, then the show portion of the event needs to make changes to reflect that. The answer is NEVER to steal money from the wallets of its competitive players, which is exactly what is happening when money is skimmed from the tournament prize pool, especially if those players have already paid an entrance fee to gain admittance into the show area solely to play in the tournament in the first place.

Nothing will give a tournament a negative stigma faster than stealing money from the players. And nothing will hurt competitive pinball, a driving force in the overall hobby, faster than new players feeling cheated by an event.

For smaller events (under 40) paying money to the top four or eight players is considered average. For larger events, a prize should be paid to anyone who qualifies for the final rounds. Allocation of the prize money depends on the style of tournament and size of the prize pool, but it is always reasonable to round away from odd percentages. Instead of paying $97.38, round the prize up and pay $100.

The most important thing to remember regarding prize money is to be as transparent as possible with your players as to where the money is coming from and where it is going.


While prize money is important to deciding whether or not players will travel a distance to attend an event, the trophy is what is seen most often afterward. Visitors to a champion’s game room don’t ask to see a brick of cash, but a trophy on the shelf or desk can be brought out at a later date and enjoyed. In the past, pinball trophies have ranged from standard stone-based, figurine-topped trophies to six foot, several hundred pound cast-iron works of modern art. When designing a trophy for an event, the main issues are cost, wow-factor, and transportability.

The cost of trophies is typically deducted from the prize pool. Tournament directors do enough for pinball and are not asked to afford the expense of trophies out of their own pockets. Since the cost is deducted from the overall prize pool, it should remain in balance with that prize pool. Expect to give a plaque or trophy to the top four winners in each division and spend 5% to 10% of the total prize money depending on the size of your event. Larger events should spend closer to the 5% threshold while smaller events can be expected to spend a slightly higher percentage.

The wow-factor of a trophy relates to its rarity. Everyone has seen a basic plaque, and while plaques can be very nice, they are rarely specific to an event other than the engraving. If possible, create a trophy that is unique or design the plaque in a way that shows it is pinball-related. On the other hand, while oversized, cast iron sculptures can be interesting, random art by itself does not serve the same purpose as an award. For example, each flag on the Commissioner’s Trophy in Major League Baseball represents a team in the league. The Lombardi Trophy is of a football, and Lord Stanley’s Cup contains engravings of all previous NHL champions, meticulously detailing the history of the league. Trophies should reflect the game or talent for which they are being awarded if at all possible.

The final consideration in awarding a trophy is transportability. The larger pinball events are world-wide affairs. Players travel long distances to compete, and when they win, the tournament should either present them with a trophy that is able to be transported or be prepared to help arrange shipping of the award. To simply tell a player, “sorry, you’re on your own” is a poor way to treat a champion who has already travelled a long way, sometimes thousands of miles, to attend your event.

Line Queues:

In all line systems, players will prefer to have the line or lines appropriately marked and to have chairs offered. Standing in line all day can be very tiresome, and it is especially frustrating for a player to discover he or she has been waiting in the wrong line because it snakes in an unusual direction. Keep in mind what may seem like a common-sense layout for you may not seem that way to someone new to the venue.

The best method for queueing players is to have one line of chairs for each game. If space is a concern, consider using a single chair behind each game to designate which competitor will be playing the machine next, or if possible, consider using software with a built in queue system should the event spacing require it.

General tips on Tournament Management:

  • Rules: Have a clearly defined set of rules available to both the players and the officials. When issues arise, always act according to those rules. During a tournament is not the correct time to decide a rule needs changed. Also, anytime something occurs that falls into a “gray area”, which can happen if the rules chosen are not clear enough, the first precedent for handling that specific situation should be carried on throughout the tournament. Make certain all officials are on the same page with all such rulings, so one official is not ruling a specific circumstance one way while another official is ruling the same circumstance another. Clarity and consistency with regard to rules are key to running a successful competitive pinball event!
  • Keys: If using games that were donated by players, choose a dedicated location to keep all of the different keys for the duration of the tournament. Be sure all pertinent officials know where these keys are and can access them quickly when a need arises. Just as importantly, make sure all officials return the keys to the appropriate location after using them.
  • Score Entry: If using software that requires continually entering scores, have a second person sitting beside whoever is entering those scores to help answer questions or sell entries. This way whoever is performing the data entry can focus solely on that task as opposed to having to stop and restart for questions or other issues. Data entry at a pinball tournament is not fun, and repeatedly stopping and starting to answer questions or perform other tasks can lead to mistakes. Don’t make it harder on this critical volunteer than it has to be!
  • Cross-Over Machines: Using cross-over machines in two separate tournament banks at the same time should be avoided if at all possible (such as using the game Taxi in both a main bank and classics bank while qualifying is occurring on both simultaneously). If a problem occurs on a cross-over machine, or if one of them is rendered unusable halfway through the tournament, it causes downtime and affects the standings on both tournament banks as opposed to only one. If space is such a concern that tournament director’s feel cross-over machines absolutely must be used, the highest priority when choosing these games should be placed on their reliability.
  • Signage: If at a public location or an Expo setting, consider adding Tournament Play Only signs to the machines to keep non-tournament players from interfering. Also, be sure to label any noteworthy changes that have been made to competition games by placing signs for players on the backglass.

Tips on Event Timing:

  • Complicated Formats: Do not over-complicate your event! While it may sound exciting to have fifteen different divisions piled on top of twenty additional side tournaments, the confusion and stress that inevitably results from this type of over-complication will overshadow the positive aspects of your event. Unless you have the necessary games, space, volunteers, software, additional time, and are mentally prepared to handle the stress of running additional divisions and / or side tournaments, you will be better off focusing on your main event and making it as successful as possible. Only when you are capable of running a successful main tournament should you consider branching out to include additional side tournaments.
  • Deadlines: Set a deadline for the end of qualifying and stick to it! There will always appear to be an endless number of reasons why you should allow people to continue attempting to qualify, especially coming from those players who are still attempting to qualify, but every time you extend the deadline, you are cheating the player who could potentially be knocked out. Do not ever give special treatment to any player for any reason. Choose a deadline, post it publicly, and stick to it! If players have tickets or attempts left over, either refund them in some fashion, or state at the beginning of the tournament that no one will be refunded and post this information publicly for the duration of the event.
  • Starting Finals on Time: Be very clear about when finals will begin. Research how much time your finals format will take and plan accordingly. No one wants to finish at 5am EVER! Players do not want to hear that you are sorry for choosing a long-playing game or choosing a format that took 12 hours to finish when you only had time allotted for 5 hours. Make good decisions, and err on the side of finishing earlier, rather than later. If you are running a double-elimination finals bracket and are worried about time, consider making the loser’s side of the bracket 1-game each instead of best 2 of 3.
  • Staggering Division Finals: If you are running multiple divisions or side events, be sure to stagger the finals correctly so the same players are not required to compete in two or more events simultaneously.

Tournament Qualifying Formats:

Multiple pinball tournament formats exist. Each format has its own benefits and weaknesses, and often the formats are tailored to suit the venue in which the tournaments are held. While other formats not included in this document exist, those presented herein are the most vetted by tournament directors.

PAPA World Championships Qualifying:

When a player is ready to play a qualifying entry, he or she approaches the bank of machines designated for the division corresponding to the entry. The player must select the appropriate subset of those machines to be played for the qualifying entry. The exact counts of machines in each bank and machines to be selected per entry may vary from division to division and from tournament to tournament. A typical example might be a bank of ten machines, from which five are selected for each entry.

No machine may be selected more than once on a single entry. These selections must be indicated on the player’s scorecard before he or she begins play. The player then provides the scorecard to the scorekeeper for the division. The scorekeeper will indicate which machine is to be played next by the player, or will indicate that the player must wait. At no time may the player begin play on any machine without being instructed to do so by the scorekeeper.

Players may select a different set of machines for each qualifying entry. Players may not change their selections once they have been accepted by the scorekeeper, except in case of malfunction, or with the express permission of tournament officials.

The player will play his or her selected machines at the time and in the order designated by the scorekeeper. At the end of each game, the player will request that the scorekeeper record his or her score before leaving the machine. It is the player’s responsibility to ensure that the scorekeeper takes down the score, and to doublecheck the recorded score for correctness.

When all games for the entry have been completed, the player must sign his or her entry for the scorekeeper, who will regularly submit completed entries for scoring. Players may not take their completed entry from the scorekeeper.

At any point during play or immediately after play has been completed, the player may elect to abandon his or her entry by notifying the scorekeeper. This will void all scores recorded so far for the entry, and the entry will not be entered into the scoring system except as a “void”, which does not affect scoring in any way. No money will be refunded, but the player has no further obligation to complete his or her entry, and is free to purchase another if he or she wishes. Once all games have been completed and the entry turned in for scoring by the scorekeeper, the void option is no longer available for that entry. A completed entry may be submitted for scoring at any time, so if a void is desired, the scorekeeper must be notified immediately upon completion of the entry.

Once the player has begun to play their entry, he or she may not take the scorecard from the scorekeeper, whether it is complete, incomplete, or void. Players who begin an entry should remain present to complete the entry, except in cases of logistical challenges or emergency conditions. Any entry left unattended for 2 hours or longer may be suspended and turned in to be held by tournament officials. These entries will automatically be voided if left uncompleted.

Each player’s score on each machine is ranked against all other scores on the same machine during the qualifying portion of the tournament. The #1 overall score on each game is awarded 100 qualifying points, making a qualifying score of 500 the highest possible qualifying score in the tournament. The second highest score on each machine is awarded 90 points. The third highest score is awarded 85 points, and then the points decrease by one with each lower score until they reach zero.

Example: At PAPA 15 in 2012, Keith Elwin was the #1 Qualifier. The games available in Division A were:

  1. 1. AC/DC
  2. 2. Tales from the Crypt
  3. 3. Congo
  4. 4. Jackbot
  5. 5. Goldeneye
  6. 6. Flash Gordon
  7. 7. Godzilla
  8. 8. Radical!
  9. 9. Scared Stiff
  10. 10. Taxi

For Keith’s qualifying entry, he chose to play:

  1. 1. Jackbot
  2. 2. Taxi
  3. 3. Godzilla
  4. 4. Congo
  5. 5. Tales from the Crypt
  • Keith’s score on Jackbot was the best of anyone during the tournament, so it scored him 100 qualifying points.
  • Keith’s score on Taxi was also first overall, scoring him an additional 100 qualifying points (200 through two games).
  • Keith’s score on Godzilla was was 22nd overall for 66 additional points (266 through three games).
  • Keith’s fourth game was Congo, 11th best, for 77 additional qualifying points (343 through 4 games).
  • Keith’s final game, Taxi, was the worst game of his five game entry, finishing as the 85th best overall Taxi score of the tournament for only 3 additional qualifying points.

Keith’s final qualifying score of 346 points through five games was good enough to qualify first overall. At PAPA 15, the top 16 qualifying scores advanced to the finals, with the qualifying cut-off that particular year at 237 points. It is important to note the total number of points needed to qualify will change from year to year depending on how players perform on the games and rank against one another.

PAPA Qualifying Points System: All scores posted on a particular machine, including multiple entries from individual players, are maintained in a ranking. Point values are assigned to each position in this ranking. The overall score of a particular entry is the total of the point values assigned to its ranked scores on the selected machines for that entry. Because the rankings will change as new scores are posted on each machine, the overall score of each entry may change as the qualifying rounds progress.

It is important to note that each entry is scored separately from other entries, based on the sum of the point values for the ranking of its scores on the selected machines. Each entry a player completes has its own score, and there is no consistent way to compile a score based on “best of” results, nor is this the intent of the tournament system. The intent is to reward consistently good play within a single entry. Players should be aware that on each entry, they are also competing with their own previous entries on the selected machines. Remember that a player may void an entry at any time during its play, but once turned in by the scorekeeper, no entry may be voided by the player for any reason.

In the event of two or more scores on a machine being exactly tied, the highest point value of the tied positions will be awarded for each such score.

There are no scoring normalizers or other adjustments. Scores cannot be compared across divisions. As the qualifying rounds progress, players may wish to adjust their choice of qualifying machines according to the scores already posted, as well as their personal skills and preferences.

The rank of the player’s result on each machine contributes the following points to the score for that entry.

Rank Score

  • 1st = 100 points
  • 2nd = 90
  • 3rd = 85
  • 4th down to 87th
  • 84 down to 1

Important issues regarding the PAPA Qualifying format:

  1. Scores are NOT interchangeable between entries, and players can have only one entry with a scorekeeper at a given time. Once a player begins a five-game entry, all scores must remain on that specific entry until it is either turned in to be recorded or voided by the player.
  2. Because scores are not interchangeable between entries, players must compete against all qualifying scores that have been previously recorded, including their own.
  3. Players are permitted to choose a different set of five games with each entry if they desire.

Benefits of the PAPA Qualifying Format: In the PAPA Qualifying system, a player is forced into stringing several high-quality games together at once, as opposed to repeating the same game again and again until the desired score is reached. By forcing players to play five different games on a single entry, the PAPA Qualifying system rewards consistently good play across multiple styles of machines, and it is virtually impossible for a less-skilled player to “buy” their way into the final rounds by playing significantly more entries than anyone else.

Drawbacks of the PAPA Qualifying Format: The benefit of this qualifying format can also be viewed as its weakness. The PAPA qualifying format is very difficult and can be discouraging to less-skilled players, often leading to a smaller prize pool than other formats where players can repeat games until they achieve the score they desire.

Also, competitors are not forced to play all of the games in a qualifying bank, potentially causing some competitors to avoid more difficult, faster playing games and create queue problems on what are perceived as easier playing games early in the tournament. As the tournament progresses, however, the “value” on the more difficult playing games tends to encourage players to return to them toward the end of the qualifying period.

Best Game Qualifying:

Best Game Qualifying, also known among some tournament directors as the “Herb” format, is one of the most common qualifying formats in competitive pinball. The tournament begins with a preselected number of games designated as the tournament bank. The players are encouraged to purchase tickets, where each ticket represents a single game that can be played on any of the tournament machines. A competitor may play each game one after the other or repeat the same game until he or she achieves the desired score.

At the end of the qualifying period, only a player’s highest score on each pinball machine is counted toward his or her qualifying ranking. For instance, if a player has played the same game twenty five times, only the highest single score of those twenty five games is recorded and the other twenty four are forgotten.

It is important to note that some tournaments may have more games available in the tournament bank than count toward a player’s qualifying ranking. In these instances, players are not forced to play all of the games if they do not wish to do so.

All scores between players are ranked in the same fashion as PAPA Qualifying: 100 points for the best overall score on a game, 90 points for the second highest score on a game, 85 points for the third highest score, and then decreasing by one point per position down to zero. Competitors are not forced to play every game in the qualifying bank, but if they realistically expect to qualify for the final rounds, they must at least play the maximum number of games counted toward their qualifying score.

Example: At the 2011 Northwest Pinball Championships, Cayle George qualified fourth overall. The games available in qualifying were:

  1. Supersonic
  2. Space Invaders
  3. World Cup Soccer
  4. The Shadow
  5. Jackbot
  6. World Poker Tour
  7. Rolling Stones

Cayle played every game at least once. Any scores lower than those listed below did not count toward Cayle’s final qualifying ranking.

  • Cayle’s highest score on Supersonic was third overall, scoring him 85 qualifying points.
  • Cayle’s highest score on Space Invaders was 18th, scoring him 70 points (155 total through two games).
  • Cayle’s highest score on World Cup Soccer was 15th, earning him 73 points (228 through three games).
  • Cayle’s highest score on The Shadow was the 1st, earning him 100 points (328 through four games).
  • Cayle’s highest score on Jackbot was 5th, earning him 83 additional qualifying points (411 through five games).
  • Cayle’s highest score on World Poker Tour was 6th, earning him 82 qualifying points (493 through six games).
  • And finally, Cayle’s highest score on Rolling Stones was 22nd, earning him 66 additional qualifying points.
  • Cayle’s total score of 559 qualifying points was fourth best among all players.

In the above example, the Northwest Pinball Championships allowed 16 players into the final round with the cutoff at 509 points. It is important to note the total number of points needed to qualify will change from year to year depending on how players perform on the games and rank against one another. In this example, the highest possible qualifying score would be first place on all seven games, or 700 points, but the actual number one qualifier was Keith Elwin with 605.

Benefits of the Best Game Qualifying Format: Competitors are permitted to play the same game repeatedly if desired, leading to a comfort level on each machine that tends to bring out high scores. Also, since each game played stands alone as a separate entry, players are less likely to be discouraged by a poor performance and frequently repeat a difficult playing games again and again until they achieve their desired score, building the prize pool higher than many other formats where consistent play is rewarded more than single high scores. Players are forced to play every game in the qualifying bank.

Drawbacks of the Best Game Qualifying Format: Because each game played stands alone as its own entry and only the highest single score counts for each player, the Best Game Qualifying Format gives players who are less-skilled, or inconsistent, an opportunity to qualify over better or more consistent players by playing a significantly higher number of entries. At popular tournaments, this drawback is reduced because the length of the lines will inherently limit the number of times any one competitor can enter.


Bracket tournaments are one of the most common methods of organizing competition. All players are either seeded randomly or by some predetermined criteria and entered into their appropriate locations on a corresponding bracket. Players compete head-to-head and either advance in the bracket or are eliminated. Bracket tournaments are also a common finals format after qualifying has finished.

When running a bracket tournament, directors are encouraged to use the iPad app Brackelope, created by Isaac Ruiz.


Pin-Golf has been adapted in a variety of ways, but the basic format is always the same. A set number of games are chosen, typically 9 or 18, where each game represents a hole on a golf course. Players advance through each game and are asked to achieve a target score representing par for the hole. The players’ scores are represented by the number of balls (turns) it took them to achieve par. Just like in golf, the player with the lowest combined score at the end of the round wins.

As an example, a typical Pin-Golf setup for Attack from Mars would be 1 billion points. If Player one scored 1 billion points on ball two, his score for the hole would be two. If player two subsequently took three turns to achieve 1 billion points, his or her score for the hole would be three. Once the target score is achieved by all players in the group, everyone advances to the next hole together. Two important things to remember regarding pin-golf:

1: Games are nearly always set to allow more than three balls per player in the event players need more than three turns to achieve the target score. On most modern games, this adjustment is available in the software settings.

2: Many tournaments set a maximum number of turns allowed for players on each hole in the event the target score is too high. Pin-golf is a great way to bring new players into pinball, and directors should set a maximum score for each hole so no novice competitors are forced to play 10+ turns while others in their group have finished in 1.


Single-Attempt tournaments are a common way to give multiple players a competitive experience in a short amount of time. In this format, each player is given one game on the selected machine(s). When each player has finished his or her game(s), the tournament either advances to the final rounds or the tournament ends.

Basic League Information:

Competitive pinball leagues exist in a variety of formats. Some require meeting every week, while others are monthly. Some require players to all meet at the same location at the same time, while other leagues provide different locations on different days to help split the crowd. No matter how a league is set up, the primary goal is always to help spread enthusiasm for pinball. It doesn’t matter whether your league is primarily competitive or social, you should always remember to have a good time.

Competitive Aspects:

Becoming better at pinball is rarely a solitary experience. All competitive players learn from one another, whether it involves openly discussing strategy or watching how some else handles certain situations while playing in multiplayer games. Make a point to answer questions from new players, and encourage them to take advantage of the growing number of resources available. If your league consists primarily of experienced players, encourage them to compete at tournaments and travel to play against the best in the world and strive to improve.

Social Aspects:

Many leagues are viewed as a reason to get out of the house for novice players, and there is nothing wrong with this viewpoint. These types of social players could always be doing something else, and pinball should be grateful for anyone who drops a quarter or cares enough to flip the flippers. Some of these players may one day develop into highly-skilled competitors, but even if they don’t, there is never a reason to discourage interest in the game. Be supportive when necessary, and always be thankful.

Web Presence:

Does your league need a website? PAPA is currently designing a series of web templates based on different pinball league formats to help you get started. All of our league websites will be customizable and free for you to operate. Stay tuned for more information.

Starting Out:

So you want to run a pinball league or tournament? The first thing you need to do is make some decisions and have a clear goal. If you’re going to run a tournament, decide where and with what games. Are you after a primarily social crowd, or are you after the hardcore players? Do you want to run a multi-day event, or is everything going to happen in a few hours? Are you going to provide food? Do the players have a place to relax? Are the restrooms capable of handling the crowd? Do you have the electricity necessary to power all of the games without an issue? Do you have a technician in case something goes wrong? Once you have the answers to these types of questions, it’s time to read up on differing tournament formats and decide which one best suits your situation and establishment.

If you’re planning on starting a league, the same types of questions apply. Are you after a primarily competitive league, a social one, or a little of both? Do you have a primary location, or will the league nights move from place to place? Will you allow private game collections? Will you allow public game locations? If the location is public, have you spoken with the owner, bartender, or operator about using their games and potentially bringing them more business? Can you use the possibility of regular league meetings to your advantage when speaking with the owner? Have you recruited other people to help you run the league?


The best advertising is word-of-mouth. Be vocal. Tell people about your league and use your own enthusiasm to attract others. Often times, all it takes to draw in new players is showing them how to play a game and exhibiting genuine excitement. The universal truth we all have working in our favor is that pinball is fun. It’s damn fun. Show this to others and tell them about your league or event.

More traditional methods of advertising can also be very successful. No one is suggesting you take out a radio ad or pay for a billboard, but a few properly placed flyers can be extremely effective. Go to local arcades, bars, bowling alleys, and any nearby locations with games and ask if they would mind if you put flyers on or near the games. Be sure to check with the operator or owner if possible, and explain to them you want to start a league that will bring them business. If no locations near you have a pinball machine, pick a likely candidate and explain that you want to start a league and see if they will ask their operator to bring them one. Many bars are familiar with dart or billiards leagues and will be excited at the prospect of regular meetings at their establishment. If you get turned down, stay positive and move on to the next location.

Once a location has been chosen, one of the best ways for advertising a pinball league is to start with a pinball tournament. Make a post on RGP, Pinside, or online newsgroups. Get in touch with the IFPA to help promote your event by including it in the World Pinball Player Rankings, and run a simple tournament. Use starter-tournament as a learning experience on how to make rulings and meet new people.

League Formats:

A large number of different pinball league formats are in use around the world. PAPA offers the following examples, as provided by the respective league organizers, for new leagues to use as templates. If you run an established, successful pinball league and would like to include a description of your format on this page for the benefit of new leagues, please contact us.

Free State Pinball Association:

This section of the Director’s Guide was created and submitted by Kevin Stone.

FSPA provides the rules, code and web-site for non-FSPA leagues that want to play FSPA style leagues. Contact for more information on how you can create your own league using this system. More information can also be found at the FSPA web-site at

Overview: The Free State Pinball Association (FSPA) is designed to allow players to compete directly against peers of similar skill level. This is accomplished through a system similar to a ladder or bubble system. As players win their groups, they move up to the next higher group, and if they lose they move down to the next lower group. Over the course of a league season, players naturally pair with players of similar skill level.

How the league works: Each league season is comprised of 10 meets, which are generally held once per week. During each meet, each group contains 3 or 4 players. Each group is assigned 4 games. Players within a group play each game together and scores are recorded on the official score sheet for that group. Points are awarded for each game based on how players score compared to other players in their group. Bonus points are also awarded based on the total points each player accumulated for all four games.

Groupings: After each meet, players change groups for the next meet based on how they performed. In 3 player groups, the winner moves up, the loser moves down, and the remaining player stays in the group. In 4 player groups, the top two players move up and the bottom two players move down. There are slight changes to this for the first and last groups, i.e. in the first group only the loser(s) moves down, and in the last group only the winner(s) move up.

Point System: Players earn 0 to 4 points per game. Players are initially assigned points based on their finish, i.e. first, second, third or fourth. Then bonus points are awarded based on the score between players. For instance, in a 2 player group, if the winner has more than tripled the loser’s score, the winner gets the bonus point, otherwise the loser gets the point. The same system is used to determine bonus points after all four games have been completed. The maximum points a player can receive during a meet is 20.

Two Player Scoring
Place Base Points Is #1 pts > 3 times #2 pts?
1st 3 Yes: +1
2nd 0 No: +1
Three Player Scoring
Place Base Points Is #1 pts > #2 pts + #3 pts?
1st 3 Yes: +1
2nd 2
3rd 0 No: +1
Four Player Scoring
Place Base Points Is #1 pts > #2 pts + #3 pts? Is #2 pts > #3 pts + #4 pts?
1st 3 Yes: +1
2nd 2 Yes: +1
3rd 1 No: +1
4th 0 No: +1

Divisions: Players are assigned divisions by week 4, which are based on average ladder position. If a player has been at the top of group 1 all season, they have an average rank of 1. These averages continue to change week to week until meet 8 is completed, at which time the divisions are locked.

Playoffs: Players in the the top half of each division qualify for the playoffs. Players competing in the playoffs compete within their own divisions. With 4 or fewer players, two games are played with all players. In addition, each player plays a head-to-head match against each other player. With 5 or more players, there is an initial round where each player plays a head-to-head match against each other player. The top 4 players move on to the finals, which is played the same as the 4 or fewer players finals. Standard point system applies to each round. The player with the most points wins, and there are tie-breakers in place.

Prizes: Prizes are bought using league dues and awarded to all players that qualified and played in the finals. At the end of the playoffs, each winner for each division plays one ball on a selected game. This determines the order of prize selection between divisions. For instance, if the order is determined to be Divison B, then A, then C the order of prizes would be: 1st B, 1st A, 1st C, 2nd B, 2nd A, 2nd C, etc. This gives every player regardless of skill the chance to compete for the best prizes.

Other Notes:

Game selection: Winning players from the previous week have the option to pick the first game for each meet. In 3 player groups, the last player in the group is the winner from the previous meet. In 4 player groups, the 3rd player is the winner from the previous meet.

Pre-Plays: Pre-plays allow players to pre-play the games in the league for a specific meet they know they will not be able to attend. Then those scores will be pre-populated in the official score sheet before the meet begins. Players may also submit undated pre-plays which will be used in the event of unplanned absence or tardiness. These are limited to 12 total pre-plays per season.

Extra Balls: Players may use one extra ball during each game. Additional extra balls must be plunged. Players can attempt a skill shot but must not flip or nudge the game after plunging the ball.


This section of the Director’s Guide was created and submitted by Kevin Stone.

Purpose of Seeding The concept of seeding is to provide an advantage to the best players, as well as to balance out tournaments to avoid the two best players from meeting head-to-head early in a tournament. Everyone prefers to see the best players duking it out at the end of a long tournament. People also love the cinderella story of the low seed making it to the finals by knocking off higher seeds. All professional sports use seeding in playoffs and finals. Great examples of this are the NCAA basketball tournament, where there are actually four number 1 seeds, and the NFL with top seeds going to division winners.

What is seeding Seeding is a format used to rate players. The top seed is 1, second seed is 2 and so on until the last player is assigned a seed. Thus if a tournament or playoffs has n number of players, the last seed will be seed n.

When to use seeding Seeding players is normally reserved for playoffs, including both tournament and league playoffs. However, there may be instances where qualifying rounds (such as Pinburgh) or leagues use seeding as well. This could just be limited to who gets to pick a game or what order players play, but it is still seeding that determines who does what.

How to determine seeding There are many ways to assign a seed to individual players. This will be affected by the tournament or league format. Common types:

  • Results of qualifying
  • World Pinball Player Rankings (WPPR)
  • Previous tournament results
  • Previous qualifying round results
  • Winner/Losers of previous game in a best of n match
  • Various league rules defining who gets to pick game or order

Why use seeding Seeding allows a tournament director to balance out the playoffs to avoid top players eliminating each other early in the tournament. It also provides a benefit to players that perform well during qualification rounds. Without a benefit provided during qualifying, what is the purpose of qualifying other than to make the playoff field.

Seeding is also used to properly assign byes when an odd number of players remain in a tournament. Byes should always be given to the highest seeds. There may be exceptions to this depending on the tournament format, but the rule of thumb remains that highest seed gets the first bye. Second highest seed gets the second bye, etc.

Seeding can also be used to determine who gets to pick a game or what order they play in.

Proper seeding vs Improper seeding Proper seeding depends on the format being used. The most common example will be single or double elimination brackets. It is imperative to properly seed the bracket or else the seeding becomes moot. For instance, an example of improper seeding in an 8 player bracket, would be to seed the bracket in order (1 to 8). This means the first matches would be seed 1 playing 2, seed 3 playing 4, seed 5 playing 6, and seed 7 playing 8. This improper seeding is effectively worse than not using seeding at all. It penalizes the top seeds, and thus the best performers in qualifying.

The proper way to seed a tournament is to always ensure that the top seed is playing the lowest seed. But it doesn’t stop there. The next round must be taken into account to ensure that if all top seeds win their first match, that the top seed is still playing the lowest seed in round 2. If a lower seed beats a higher seed, then all bets are off, but the initial setup of the bracket will stay the same.


Fortunately, there are many public web-sites that you can download single and double elimination brackets that already have the seeding set up for you. However, some are also incorrect. The easiest way to verify the bracket is correct is to use the following formula to verify the seedings are correct.

N = Number of players in the bracket

X = Known Seed (or top seed in the match)

Y = Competitor Seed (or bottom seed in the match)

Y = N + 1 – X

For example, seed 3 of an 8 player match plays seed 6:

6Y = 8N + 1 – 3X.

Can you figure out what seed 27 would play in a 128 player match? (see answer at end of this section)

Static vs Dynamic seeding Static seeding is used in brackets that are defined before playoffs begin, and do not change once they begin. An example is single or double elimination brackets. The seeding is set up initially and winners advance in the bracket. If lower seeded players win against higher seeded players, the potential exists that two lower level seeds could play each other in the semi-finals, where the other two players could be two higher seeds playing each other. This is static because the players follow the bracket. Seeding is effectively moot after the initial seeding in a static scenario.

Dynamic seeding is used in playoffs or qualifying when subsequent rounds are not predetermined at the start. For instance, if qualifying is using groups of 4 players each, and based on the results the groups are re-organized, the seeding of each player changes, either for the entire tournament or within each individual group. For instance at Pinburgh, after each round every player is reseeded. The next round’s groups are predetermined based on seed, but the players change because their seeding changes after each round is played. A better example is Pinburgh playoffs. The playoffs are not a standard single elimination bracket, but rather a dynamic bracket. Players keep their initial playoff seed the entire playoffs. What differs is that the top seed will always be playing the lowest seed, and thus the groups are dynamically determined based on player’s seeds, rather than following the flow of a pre-determined bracket.

Create your own bracket Using this simple guide, you can easily create your own bracket with proper seeding.


The trick is starting with 2 players, then expanding by a factor of 2 each step of the way. So you would start with 2, then 4, then 8, then 16, then 32, and so on. Sounds hard but it’s really not. Start with 2, so you have seed 1 playing seed 2. The next step, you just take each seed and create a new 2 player match from that one seed. So now you have seed 1 playing ?, and seed 2 playing ?.

Now fill in the seeds using these formulas ?Y = 4N + 1 – 1X and ?Y = 4N + 1 – 2X

Thus seed

1 plays seed 4, and seed 2 plays seed 3.

Repeat this again and again and the bracket will be created. So the next iteration would create 4 new matches with seed 1 playing ?, seed 2 playing ?, and so on. After using the formula we now have seed 1 playing seed 8, seed 2 playing seed 7, etc. It is important to expand the bracket equally so seed 1 and 2 will never play each other until the finals. See the diagram for a simple example. Now that is a good bracket.


So who does seed 27 play in a 128 player match? Let’s see:

Y = 128N + 1 – 27X

Y = 102

Another way to think of it is this: The total of the seeds in an initial match always equals the number of players in the bracket + 1

PAPA-Style Final Format:

All finalists will be divided into groups of four players based on standard seeding procedures. Each group will play three separate four-player games, each on a different machine from among those designated for that division. Each four-player game will be scored as follows:

Rank Score

  • 1st = 4points
  • 2nd = 2points
  • 3rd = 1point
  • 4th = 0points

Three-player games will be scored as if a nonexistent fourth player received the 4th place finish (i.e., 1st earns 4 points, 2nd earns 2, and last earns 1).

The highest-seeded player within each group may choose either the machine to be played, or the order of play. If the highest-seeded player chooses order of play, the remaining players may choose their order, in descending order of seeding, and choice of machine then goes to the next highest-seeded player in the group. Conversely, if the highest-seeded player chooses the machine to be played, then the next highest-seeded player chooses the order of play, with the remaining players choosing order of play in decreasing order of seeding.

Note that the original seeding of players when entering the final rounds from qualifying is used in every round. At no time does a player’s seeding change from round to round; therefore the advantage of qualifying in first place can be significant.

No group may select a machine which has already been selected by a group in the same round, nor may they choose a machine on which they have already played in that round (unless machine malfunctions have made this unavoidable; tournament officials may choose to provide additional or substitute machines, however). If the machine selected is currently being played by another group in a previous round of play, the group may wait for that round of play to be completed. For example, if one group is playing a given machine as their first machine, a different group may choose to wait for it as their second machine.

When all three games have been completed by a group, each player will have a point total for that rounds in their division. Two players will advance from each group to the following round.

Pinburgh-Style Final Format:

Players are broken up into groups of four based on their qualifying scores. Each group of four players compete on a predetermined set of four games, with each game ideally representing a different style of machine. On the first game in the four game set, the highest seed in the group chooses whether to play first, second, third, or fourth overall. On each subsequent game, the loser from the previous game chooses whether to play first, second, third, or fourth. The same choice is then given to other players in reverse order of finish from the previous game.

At the end of the four game set, the players’ win-loss records against one another are compared to determine which two players from each group advances to the following round.

Single & Double Elimination Final Format:

Single Elimination: Players compete head-to-head in a standard bracket. The winner of each match, typically either a single game or best two out of three, advances in the bracket while the loser is eliminated from the tournament. For any tournaments that include a separate qualifying procedure, Directors are encouraged to make all single-elimination rounds best two games out of three at a minimum. For smaller tournaments where time is critical, or those consisting solely of a small, local group of players, a true single-elimination bracket is acceptable. (insert example bracket)

Double Elimination: Player’s compete head-to-head, typically in either single-game rounds or best two-out-of-three. The winner advances in the “winner’s bracket”, while the loser falls to the “loser’s bracket”. When any player loses his or her match in the “loser’s bracket”, they are eliminated from the tournament. The final will ultimately be played against one player who is undefeated and one player who has one loss. The player with one loss must beat the “winner’s bracket” champion twice, while the “winner’s bracket” champion must only defeat the “loser’s bracket” representative once. (insert example bracket)

How Long Will It Take?

An important part to running a successful event is managing your time successfully. If your event only has a five hour window for finals, choose a finals format that fits your time slot. Here are some real-life examples of the finals formats used and the amount of time it took to crown a champion.

Game Notes:

The Game Notes section is intended as a community-sourced area for opinions, advice, and general notes regarding specific games in a competitive setting. The opinions and advice expressed below are not intended to be a one-size-fits-all guide for preparing games.

Different competitive events have different needs, and simply because a game was declared reasonable in one instance does not make it reasonable in all instances. Tournament and League directors are encouraged to use this information on a case-by-case basis and make the final decision whether it is helpful when considering the caliber of players and needs of their specific events.