So, you wanna be a professional pinball player? Frederick Richardson details his journey on the PAPA/Stern Pro Circuit of pinball tournaments. We continue with Atlanta Pinvasion, Pinburgh, Buffalo Pinball Open, Cleveland Pinball and Arcade Show and the Pittsburgh Pinball Open.

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




(5)  Alright, next up the bizarre 2nd weekend in June. There were two Circuit events to choose from. The homies back in Colorado with the

Pinball Showdown, or return to Southern Fried Game Expo for Pinvasion. Add to this, the Northwest Pinball & Arcade Show going on as well, but not a circuit event. Heard there were a lot of folks heading to Atlanta, so I choose there. That didn’t work out as planned. Pretty poor performance, didn’t qualify for Classics and bounced first round in the Mains, ugghh. Highlight here was commentating with Steve Bowden for the Championship round. Good times.

I would have been returning to Bat City Open in Austin, TX because I had a blast there last year (Trent would go on to win his 3rd Circuit event here). However, I headed to Grand Cayman for some business (and vacation time) with my best buddy Ashley. Sad to miss it, but come on… Grand Cayman! After we returned however, I had the best time visiting friends in Portland, OR and Seattle, WA. Also I got to go to the most kick ass 4th of July party with all the pinball gang.

(6)  Time for one of my favorite events of the year, Pinburgh at ReplayFX! This was my best finish the previous year, taking 8th. Two final appearances in the past two years, I was ready. Well, I barely squeaked into A Division. I was still Finals eligible going into the last round. I got #binghambounced. I needed at least a 10, but Evan took an 11 and I was done. You just can’t ride the rollercoaster. Stay 7-9 wins per round and you’ll be in the Finals. You can recover from one 3 point round, but two is tough. Hard to be disappointed at the greatest arcade in the universe, so I played games, hung out with friends and enjoyed another fabulous weekend at the Murthy’s palace.


(7)  I need some better finishes. Next up, the Buffalo Pinball Open. I haven’t been here before, so this is going to be fun. Kevin, Nick, and the gang put on a great event. I had a blast. I played better too (funny how those go hand-in-hand, huh?). Some different games, and a few I kept blowing up like Batman ’66, Demo Man, and Dialed in. This format, which allows you to choose games, shows how important driving the bus is. Once you’re comfortable with a few titles, you keep going back until the well dries up.

After taking 1st on AFM then Robert Gagno picking Demo, I was pumped. How quick things can change. The game I couldn’t score less than 2B on, all I needed was 900M for first place. Instead a 437M for last L. X-Piles was the 3rd pick, psyched myself out because the game wasn’t playing well, along with it being an X-Files, lol. Turned out another 1M and it would’ve been a 3-way tie with 2 advancing, but no. Everyone’s got a pinball story. I also took 5th in Classics, so took some decent points and cash from there.

To finish up the summer, there was the Cleveland Pinball and Arcade Show. However, the Captain of our traveling circus (Trent) said the

best event of the year was the same weekend. So we passed on Clepin, and headed to the Dory Hill tournament in Base Camp at Golden Gate Canyon, CO. Best event? Pssshh, I’m skeptical. Let’s see…


Trent, Deborah and I had been to almost 20 events together so far this year. This was a big change from

games lined up in a hotel or arcade. Now they were going to be on cabin porches. What? Yep, cabins, pavilions, and camp sites. What blew me away was the sheer simplicity all this went up. Tarps attached around the cabin porches for protection from glare and the elements. Everyone knew exactly what needed to be done, like seasoned veterans (many were). What’s this rolling through now, that looks like a border patrol bus? It was, except it was the Melvin Beer Company (Wyoming) and this thing was full of beer, FREE BEER. Good lordy, what did I get myself into?

He was right; it was the best pinball weekend of 2017. There were more than 20 games located all throughout the campground, a campground that was entirely filled with people who love pinball. We’re sworn to secrecy upon entry so I’m going to stop there. However, I will say this; a lot can be said for the environment of a tournament. This influenced by location, format, and how well the event is executed. There’s some places that feel like stress city, and then there’s Dory Hill, a place where cares just melt away.

There’s group play the first night, I did well there. Then the next day is 18 pin-golf holes. I qualified 2nd behind perennial house champ, Donavan Stepp. I was poised to make a deep run and then I committed a mistake I’ve made before, not fully understanding the format. By choosing the bank I selected, I put myself in the dubious position of having to play Doodle Bug in a tie breaker. Read all directions before assembly.

Home Stretch

(8)  By now, I’m playing fairly well and consistent. I’m winning here and there, local stuff, something in WI, and take 2nd in a tie-breaker (to Trent of course, lol) in Indiana. It’s time to head to PPO (Pittsburgh Pinball Open), another first time event for me. Start with a decent showing at the pre-party at DJ’s. The format is the classic PAPA style. I think I finally get a good grasp on how to approach this.

I have a blast, qualify 4th or 5th and feel pretty good on these games. Unfortunately I run into the buzz saw that is Alex K (who went on to win) and that was it. Close match, but he took it. Great to see him playing so well (he also won the Buffalo Open!). I end up winning the “losers” tournament, but that was it. Had a blast though! I love Pittsburgh.

Quick mention of my “home” tournament, the Pinball Expo in Chicago. I first attended in ’93 and go as often as I’m able. I typically play well here. Won the Classics last year, and 2nd the previous before that. This year was off to a strong start, Top Qualifier in the Open. Oh no, the kiss of death! Sure enough, lost a heartbreaker to Escher, and then losing on a few sloppy games with Lyman. Poop, oh well. Stunk it up in Classics too, lol.

I am excited to see this return to the Circuit in 2018. This powerhouse event deserves its rightful place as one of the toughest competitions of the year. Now if they could just run it like the center of pinball as it should be, that’d be great.


Come back for Part 3 and the conclusion where 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.


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

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