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Pinball Skills, Techniques and Strategies

April 19, 2010

picture logo "how to play pinball"

All credit to original content creators.

This information and the California Bay Area Pinball Locations Map can be found online at:

I think for most people it will be helpful to watch the vids first. It can be tough to visualize the techniques when described in words.

Note: the videos and web pages will often use different names for the same technique but you’ll learn what’s what pretty quick. For example, some people call it a “bounce pass” while others call it a “dead flipper pass”. Same technique.


Pinpin 7 – “Seven Flipper Skills You Need to Know”. This is the second chapter in the film, about five minutes in. You can fast forward or sit through the opening pinball fishing video.


Short youtube video showing various flipper techniques:

(note: the “slingshot pass” technique shown (aka “post pass” or “post transfer”) is not typically how this is done. The method shown in Pinpin 7 is how it is done on most games)

Pinball Techniques with Neil Shatz:

Short video showing some techniques. This is one of the few free videos that shows some multi-ball control techniques, however, it doesn’t really explain how they’re done.

How to Play Indy 500:…-tom-and-ffej/

This is a *long* (40 min) but well-made video. Though this is about Indy 500, if you are a novice it will convey the importance of having a game strategy to maximize points, extra balls, etc.

How not to suck at pinball:

Live Speaker Presentation on the very basics.

Pinball Skill: Slap Save:

Pinball Skill: Bangback:

Pinball Skill: Post Pass (aka ‘slingshot pass’ aka ‘post transfer’)

Pinball 101 DVD ($20):

This was made by world champion Keith Elwin. If you just want one “all in one” package for learning pinball with good presentation and humor, this is it. In addition to what the free stuff above describes, pinball 101 additionally describes how to control multiple balls during multiball. You can google pinball 101 to find online retailers that sell it.

Pinball Basics ($15):…ries/id51.html

I haven’t seen this one yet. Appears to cover similar material as pin 101 and I have seen generally favorable reviews from people who have it.


Pinball Rulesheets:

In-depth rule sheets for many popular games – because that little Rules card on the game just doesn’t cut it for the more complicated games.

Pinballnews Skills Guide Part 1:
Pinballnews Skills Guide Part 2:

These are great articles with pictures from Martin Ayub, the editor of pinball news and one of the top players in the world.

Internet Pinball Database Guide:

Great info, but no pictures.

Three Rivers Pinball Guide (pdf):

This is an oldie but a goodie. It has some advice about how to handle the ball when it starts getting knocked around in the slingshots, as well as some tournament advice. Save a copy while you can as the hoster may take it down at any time.

Tournament Approaches: One hit wonders:

Champion pinball player, Bowen Kerins explains how to play games with a repeatable (some say ‘abusable’) shot for maximum scoring in tournament situations.

Tournament Approaches: Attack from Mars:

A really excellent guide to feeling out and playing AFM in a tournament situation, by champion player Bowen Kerins.



Control the Ball

All of the flipper technique videos listed above will allow you to better control the ball, which in turn lowers the chance of a drain and enables you to take aimed shots.  Some players use a lot of control techniques and others use just a few, such as bounce passes.  You’ll have to try a few out and see which ones suit your style of play.

At the very minimum, trapping and bounce passing are required skills, and easy to learn.


I guess this sounds obvious but now that you have the ball under control the next thing to do is pick a shot and try to make it, and if you miss, adjust your shot for next time.  Your goal is to “learn the shots” in the game.  When you make shots (like a ramp, for example), typically the ball is returned to you in a safe, predictable fashion and you get points.  When you miss, the ball goes wild, you get no points and you might drain.

The really good players can learn shots very quickly, even on unfamiliar tables.  It may only take them two or three attempts to make a shot, after which they can hit the same shot pretty conistently.  That’s a skill that is developed after years of playing and practice.

To get big points, most games only require you to learn three or four key shots.  On the Addam’s Family, for example, the center ramp relights the electric chair and the electric chair starts the Mansion modes.  You can rack up a lot of points with just those two shots and nothing else.

Push the game around

Pinball games are designed to be pushed around, nudged, slapped and even slid a little.  Part of why pinball is so much fun is because it’s such a physical game.  A lot of players are afraid they’ll hurt the game or get kicked out of a place or whatever.

The most important time to nudge is when the ball is heading for the left or right drain.  This is when the ball is bouncing around in those areas trying to decide which lane it’s going to pick – either the inlane (feeding to the flippers) or the outlane (down the drain).  You don’t want to be in this scenario, period.  When the ball comes down the table toward the outlane you want to forward-nudge (push the game forward) so the ball just goes off the lane post and gets out of that area altogether.  True, the ball is a bit wild and out of control at that point, but that’s still “safer” than if it’s bouncing around the in/outlane.

Learn the Rules

On later machines from the late 80s to the present, the rules are extremely important to good scoring. On older electro-mechanical games the rules are simpler and if you can manage to keep the ball in play for any length of time you can expect a pretty good score.

I could give some examples but a couple recent video series have been produced which do a great job of this.


One of the most common differences between pinball and most video games (not all) is that pinball generally requires one to be highly focused more of the time. Modern video games generally have more moments of “downtime”, or, in cases where the pattern is known, the player can relax and “go on autopilot” for a little while.  If you take a moment to “focus-up” and before plunging the ball you will probably see an immediate improvement in your scores.

  1. March 4, 2011 2:36 pm

    nice tip on pushing the machine forward when it nears the drains. hopefully this will help keep my games going longer


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