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2018-01-24 / Featured / Front Page

Pinball collective hosts state championship

BY RICH GRISET STAFF WRITER


The Wizard! and Flash Gordon pinball machines are two of the oldest games at the Richmond Pinball Collective. The former is adorned with references to the musical film "Tommy," including the likenesses of the character Ann-Margret and The Who's Roger Daltrey. 
PHOTOS BY ASH DANIEL The Wizard! and Flash Gordon pinball machines are two of the oldest games at the Richmond Pinball Collective. The former is adorned with references to the musical film "Tommy," including the likenesses of the character Ann-Margret and The Who's Roger Daltrey. PHOTOS BY ASH DANIEL As the grimacing face of Clint Eastwood glowered from above, Kevin Kuntz stepped up to the Dirty Harry pinball machine.

Clad in jeans and a baseball cap, Kuntz reached down for plunger – shaped like the handle of a revolver for this game – and pulled the trigger. And thus he began his state champion performance this past Saturday at the Richmond Pinball Collective’s storefront space on Midlothian Turnpike.

Kuntz, who lives in Midlothian, won first place in the 2017-18 International Flipper Pinball Association’s championship in Virginia, beating out 15 other top-ranked competitors.


Joe Schober, below, warms up on a pinball machine based on rock band AC/ DC. Schober lives in northern Virginia and came down for the competition. Joe Schober, below, warms up on a pinball machine based on rock band AC/ DC. Schober lives in northern Virginia and came down for the competition. “It feels very good,” says the 30-yearold, adding that he’s especially pleased after finishing 16th in last year’s competition. “A little bit of redemption, I guess.”

Hosting the championship is something of a coup for the Richmond Pinball Collective, which opened the doors of its clubhouse at Midlothian Festival Shopping Center last spring. Before they created this space, Virginia’s state competitions were often held at people’s houses.

“The dream of putting this place together was having a place to compete,” says Bon Air’s Malik Berger, one of the collective’s founders. Berger came in third on Saturday.

Since opening the space, the collective has expanded to include 110 people and 27 pinball machines, 18 of which were used in competition this past weekend. Berger estimates they probably have the most machines of any location within 200 to 300 square miles. “It’s awesome,” says Laura Fraley, president of the collective, of hosting the event. “It’s nice to have a location outside of someone’s house.”

To make it into the competition, players engage in sanctioned pinball tournaments held throughout the year. The results are weighted by the caliber of players competing to determine the top 16 players in the state. These players are invited to compete in head-to-head, single elimination play for the title. Each coupling of competitors plays seven games to determine who moves on to the next round of competition.

Competitors are not required to qualify in the state in which they reside; Angela Pecora, for instance, lives in West Virginia but played well enough in Virginia to qualify here. Andrew Pancoast of Suffolk qualified for three state championships but chose Virginia because it was the closest competition to him. Pancoast is a big fan of the Midlothian clubhouse.

“It’s amazing,” he says. “It’s a collective. It’s not just one person’s machines.”

For Kuntz, a software developer for Carmax, his final game in the state competition came down to The Addams Family, the best-selling pinball machine of all time. After seven hours of competition, he dispatched his final challenger around 9 p.m. Now, Kuntz will ready himself for the International Flipper Pinball Association’s national championships in Las Vegas on March 1.

This will be Kuntz’s second appearance at the IFPA’s national championship; he went two years ago as the state champion of North Carolina. There, he hopes to do better than last time, when he was knocked out in the second round by one of the top 20 players in the world. The winner takes home a brand-new Stern pinball machine, worth upwards of $5,000.

“It’s definitely very exciting,” he says. “It’s a validation of a hard year of playing.” ¦

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