So, you wanna be a professional pinball player? Frederick Richardson completes his journey on the PAPA/Stern Pro Circuit of pinball tournaments. Fred travels to OBX Flippers and INDISC. Plus a review of what it takes to be a Pinball Circuit competitor and the valuable lessons he’s learned.

By: Frederick Richardson
Chicago, IL – January, 2018
IFPA Player #49
2016 Pinball Expo Classics Champion
Minnesota State Champion



(9)  Because I didn’t make the 14 second registration window for 24 Hour Final Battle at the Sanctum (where Trent would win his 4th event), my next event was OBX Flippers Fall Tournament. Not the first tournament I’ve been to in a gas station, lol. It was my first time in the Outer Banks. What a beautiful area.

Fun location, great staff and for the most part the games played well. In the Classics, all the heavies got knocked out and Ms. Deborah put her foot down and took the thing home. It was great to see her win. In the Main, we had the “you can only pick a game once” throughout the entire Finals. Sometimes that leads to thinking too much about the future and not focusing on the present. At least that’s what happened to me. I lost to a red hot Shannon Stafford on an unbelievable comeback on Dialed In. He would go on to take 2nd to Trentaur’s 5th victory. Great trophies by the way!

I had a ticket to MAGFest but got caught up in Denver over the NYE weekend, so I didn’t make the trip. To be honest, the “no payouts” was a motivating factor. I know Kevin does a great job out there and would have liked making the trip, but cost ultimately comes into play. I’ll make it there in the future.

(10)  Finally, my first visit to INDISC (It Never Drains in Southern California, and it didn’t!). We heard the names of people making the trip. Knew this was going to be a tough one. I think even Jim and Karl were surprised how many people showed up. If I remember correctly, it was like 189 Main players, 124 in Classics, and 47 in the Women’s Division! Games played great for the most part and things seemed fine. I kept bouncing around 12th to 20th place or so.

In hindsight, maybe I spend too much time doing nothing in Classics. I had the time; I figured I would eventual put up enough scores. As it was, I had 2 good scores and a lot of crap. I got to play and learn Star Light, which was awesome! I didn’t make it in to Classics, so I went and had dinner, cleared my mind a bit and game back for 1 or 2 score improvements in the Main division. One would cement my place in Finals, 2 might get me Top 8 and a bye.

Unfortunately, I didn’t improve very much. So I was sitting at 22nd (out of 24 to qualify for Finals) with just one hour of scorekeeper’s extra hour. Typically, your scorekeepers aren’t the top players at an event. Also, after a few bad experiences volunteering this season, I didn’t sign up for any slots. Boy did that backfire in my face. FIVE people moved ahead of me in that last hour. I have NEVER seen that kind of movement. When I saw everyone who continued to play (as I was scorekeeping then 😉 ) you could see it all falling apart.

Having that last hour to qualify is a huge advantage. You know where everyone has finished, you can select the game(s) to play based of this information readily available, and you can snipe scores. Ouch… that hurt. I like how OBX does it, where the scorekeepers extra hour is Saturday morning, before the 2nd day of qualifying. Looks like previous attendee’s experience played into that one. Tough to end on that.


  • Traveling this much is exhausting and expensive! Unless this is your job (like Trent’s), I don’t really see how people make it to more than 4 or 5 events a year.
  • Trent is a beast. This was his year. Even though I wasn’t winning as often as I wanted to, it was great sharing a lot of those moments with him!
  • There are so many good players out there. I’m referring to the locals that make these events. There’s always a few that seem to make it in and do well.
  • Mind your health. I put on about 15 lbs being in the car, eating crap food, lack of exercise. I have worked most of that off over the last 8 weeks or so.
  • Enjoy the ride! The best part of every event, without a doubt, is the people. These friendships are some of the closest I have in my life right now. Also, try to get out and visit the cities you travel too. It can be tough, but enjoy the visit.
  • Moving up the IFPA rankings gets exponentially harder the higher you rise.

So here’s the recap; I played well most of the year. Maybe at times, the best in my life. Definitely more consistent. Did I reach all of my goals? Well, I placed higher in the Circuit rankings over last year. After some expected dropouts, I’ll be around 10th-12th (according to the BMU matrix). I didn’t finish top 50, but 65th at the end of the year. This was still a decent improvement after finishing 93rd last year. I did however qualify for my first IFPA World Championships in over 5 years. I’m excited to head to Canada this May. Hoping winter is over by then 😉 I got to play in so many states, and qualify for SCS in many of them (8 total).

Here’s a caution however, if you play in this many events, there’s some things you may not realize will happen. Playing in everything under the sun will kill your efficiency. While being in the Hot 100 may not be your goal, you will penalize yourself with too many crappy finishes. You think, I’ll be in everything, but you burn yourself out and skew your numbers. If you don’t have the time (or energy) for say a Classics division, DON’T DO IT. More is not always better. After a few months on the road, I spoke with Donavan about this. Look at the top players; they usually don’t go to a million events (except Trent. Again Trentaur Beastmode). Be selective in what you participate in, then focus and give it your all. You owe that to yourself.

I made so many new friendships, and strengthen others. I received my annual yellow card at Pinburgh from Bowen, check. I’m so happy I got to go to a bunch of events for the 1st time (half of them actually). Traveling with Trent and Deborah was awesome. We had so much fun and it was great to have Trent’s experience for restaurants, hotels, and things to do. It also allowed me to apprentice for Tilt Amusements, and learn how to move and set up games under a plethora of conditions!

One thing I do want to express; Being a Tournament Director is a difficult and thankless job (at times). So much gratitude to you, your staff, and all the volunteers that make these events happen!!! <3 You make all of this possible. Also, be a good director, if you choose to do this. Be fair, flexible, and understanding (approachable) at your event. Know the rules and have the IFPA and/or PAPA rules set (soon to be the same?) available at hand. I stopped going to some events because of poor leadership. If you take on this responsibility (no small task), do it to promote pinball. Do it for helping to create great experiences for all (or at least most 😉 ). I’ll leave it at that.

I’m rushing to get this out, so gonna wrap it up. To everyone I got to spend time with and hang out, thank you!!! This year was a blast. Watching so many historic pinball moments go down. There’s a change afoot. To me there’s two eras of pinball, BW and AW (before and after WPPRs). The GOB club is finally ready to pass the torch. So many kids, so many women, so many new faces in the last 5 years or so are incredibly encouraging. Here is the growth model for pinball. We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of pinball mania, in my opinion. I’m hoping to be a catalyst in this market.

Thank you, reader, for your interest. I really tried to keep this on point. I short changed some of these events and probably talked too much on others. If you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them as best as I can. There are hundreds of players that shared these events with me. So there’s probably a lot of support and disagreements with what I’ve wrote. I hope this simply sparks your interest to play more as well as an open discussion. Take care everyone, good luck in your SCS, and I hope to see you soon at the next event. Make sure to come up and say hi!


Fun With Bonus is the home of the semi-coherent, misguided ramblings of professional and amateur pinball players.

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