“The new machines are more complex, but you’re basically using the same skills that are applicable to old machines,” said Greg Poverelli, 26, of Flushing, Queens, the defending champion and top seed.
Those skills include quick reflexes, patience and hair-trigger timing with the flippers to best direct the ball. Strategic strengths include knowing when to keep batting balls and going for broke and when to cradle the ball in the crux of the flipper and deliberately aim it toward certain targets for more methodical scoring.
As players warmed up amid a cacophony of clacking flippers and bonus-point bells, plungers were pulled back and released, sending silver balls springing into rapid routes and ricocheting off blinking bumpers.
Players leaned into the machines, their fingers fast-twitching on the flipper buttons, punctuating this with emphatic body English and jostling the machine to coax the ball in different directions.
As competition began at midday, Matthew Carlson, a video editor for reality television from Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, fueled up with a tall Red Bull and an energy bar, which he said helped keep him alert and properly jittery.
Mr. Poverelli opted for a glass of whiskey.
“I usually play in bars, so this is my normal comfort zone,” he said. “I was drinking when I won my last tournament.”
Mr. Poverelli, a real estate manager, took on Beth Senturia, 49, a life insurance agent from Manhattan and the only woman in the tournament. She gained a love of pinball from her father, an avid player who put her on a stool to play when she was 5.
Mr. Poverelli ran up a score of 21,495,490 on his first ball and breezed to a first-round victory, as did Frederick Asher, 15, of Manhattan, one of the top-ranked junior players in the world.
Playing on the “Wizard of Oz” machine, Mr. Asher cradled a ball with a flipper and then batted it precisely past the spinning Kansas house, making the Scarecrow dance on a screen.
“If he loses, he takes it hard, but that’s how competitors are,” said his father, Eric Asher, who also participated but was eliminated before his son.
Like many of the players, Frederick Asher, known as Freddy, is a regular at Modern Pinball NYC, a game center on Third Avenue near 27th Street. A manager there, Francesco La Rocca, is an avid organizer of competitions and served as tournament director on Saturday.
Curiously, a 1942 law made pinball machines in public places illegal in New York City because of associations with gambling and the mob. The law was changed in 1976 after a pinball expert and top player, Roger Sharpe, played for officials to prove that pinball was not a game of chance.
“He proved it was a game of skill,” said Mr. Poverelli, who was eventually edged out on Saturday by Lee Hendelman, 42, of Bayside, Queens, for third place.
At stake in the championship match between Mr. Grant and Mr. Zendejas was $100 in prize money, as well as an invitation to play in the nationals in Mesquite, Tex., next month.
Continue reading the main story