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International Flipper Pinball Association Crowns State Champions in Middletown, New York

Published: January 24, 2023
Players compete in the 2023 International Flipper Pinball Association’s New York State championships on Jan. 20th and 21st held this year at Rock Fantasy in Middletown, New York. (Image: Judy Tao/Vision Times)

Last weekend, the International Flipper Pinball Association (IFPA) held two New York State pinball championships at Rock Fantasy in Middletown, New York. 

Players came from all over the state, and out of state, to compete on Saturday and Sunday in the state championships and the women’s state championships. 

Crowned state champion was Nick Zendejas of Northglenn, Colorado who will retain the title until next year’s winner is crowned. 

Taking the top prize for the women’s tournament is Anna Wolk of New York City who beat 16 other players to be crowned champion.

Wolk, told Vision Times via text message, “I’ve been part of the IFPA Women’s Advisory Board who initiated this first ever Women’s North American championship series, and am just so proud to have been able to help foster the tremendous growth of women in pinball that we’ve seen over the last several years,” adding that, “That alone would have been enough, so winning NY State is just the icing on the cake! I’m proud of this achievement and hope to do even half as well at the Women’s World Championship in Chicago in March.”

Howard Levine of Sullivan County New York and assistant tournament director, sat down with Vision Times to discuss the tournament and his passion for pinball.

Levine explained that players have been participating in tournaments throughout the year to earn a spot in the championship tournament.  

“We have some big tournaments on the weekends … we are here (Rock Fantasy) probably 30 times a year playing tournaments and that’s really what’s leading up to the state championships. There’s points awarded if you do well in the tournaments. The more points you get during the year, it qualifies you to play in the state championships,” Levine told Vision Times. 

Take your mind off your troubles 

Levine says that part of what makes pinball so popular is that it’s a great way to take your mind off your troubles. 

“I will show up to play pinball and I’m in a bad mood, maybe I had a bad day at work. Once I start playing pinball, you get so involved in playing the machine and trying to make your shots that you are not thinking about your troubles. It sort of really becomes sort of a spiritual experience,” Levine explained.

“It just takes you to another level and if you are concentrating on what you are doing, you’re not thinking about your troubles. Maybe you came in with some pain. You are not thinking about your pain. I think it’s good. I think it’s therapeutic and, you know, it’s fun,” he added. 

Pinball originated in its modern form during the Great Depression in the 1930s when Americans were looking for cheap entertainment. The game is based on the French game bagatelle where players had to maneuver small balls around metal pins on a playing field. 

As time progressed, the games became electrified and more and more complex, adding flippers in the 1940s, according to Levine. 

“Today’s games are complicated, multi-level, there are ramps, modes called ‘multi-ball’ where you have more than one ball on the playing field at the same time. Some games have four flippers and you really have to learn [the rules of the game] to have a competitive advantage,” Levine said. 

Levine, who has a collection of 25 machines in his own home, says he’s been playing pinball steadily since he was a young child, funding his first pinball machine with a paper route when he was just 12 years old. 


Where friends and family gather

Levine said he was grateful for all the people he has met over the years playing pinball in arcades like Rock Fantasy and on home collections.

“It’s fun making friends with people of a like minded nature and we have friendly get-togethers at each other’s houses just to go and play pinball and to enjoy each other’s company,” Levine said adding that “we’ve all built friendships and I feel like we’re playing with friends.” He said the community is very welcoming. “It’s a very, very welcoming community. You come and play pinball, we’re going to welcome you.

“If you came tonight and it’s your first time playing, we would welcome you and I would hope that you would have fun and maybe you will come back and try it,” Levine said. 

Levine explained that the tournaments are open to all ages and the only barrier to playing for children is potential age restrictions at venues; however, for the IFPA to sanction the event, it needs to be accessible to the public. 

“We’ve had a world champion as young as 13-years-old,” Levine said, adding that adult enthusiasts regularly bring their children, as young as six-years-old, to pinball events. “It’s a family game,” he said.

Players compete in the New York State pinball championships held at Rock Fantasy on Jan 20th and 21st, 2023  in Middletown, New York (Image: Judy Tao/Vision Times)

The future of pinball

Levine explained that pinball was very popular up until video games spread across the nation in the 1980s.

“Pinball was very popular in the 60s, 70s but, when video games were invented in the 80s, pinball started disappearing. It was easier for  an arcade to maintain a video game, which only has a few buttons and a TV screen,” Levine explained. 

Pinball machines are extremely complex and require more maintenance than a typical stand-up video arcade game; however as pinball machines were replaced by arcade games, enthusiasts continued to build their home collections, creating a thriving community. 

Pinball players would buy either new or used machines or refurbish old ones for home play. 

“Pinball was popular at home. Then the people that own their machines at home, [who] loved pinball so much, started opening up arcades like Rock Fantasy. The place we are at today is an extension of the owner’s life,” Levine said, adding that the owner of Rock Fantasy has 40 machines on site and upwards of 70 machines at home.

As far as the future of pinball Levine says he would “like to think it’s going to grow.”

“The machines that they make, modern games, are very interesting,” he said, adding that the new games that come out “are always popular to play.”

Levine explained that state championships are held on or around the same day across the country in multiple states, in part to prevent people from competing in multiple state championships.

The winner of last weekend’s state championship, Nick Zendejas, now has the opportunity to compete in the national championships being held in Las Vegas this March.