Pinball Wizard

BY JON STEVENS, Staff writer
WAYNESBURG – In the world of pinball machine players, Dominic Denicola is a wizard.
As The Who's Pete Townshend wrote in 1976:
"He stands like a statue, becomes part of the machine
Feeling all the bumpers, always playing clean."
No better words describe the 16-year-old from Waynesburg, who captured second place in the junior division at the World Pinball Championships Aug. 11-14 in Carnegie.
"It's all a matter of hand-eye coordination," said Denicola, who honed his skills more by playing video and computer games than by practicing on a pinball machine.
"No, we don't have a pinball machine at our house," he said, noting the cost of a new pinball machine can range from $4,000 to $6,000.
The tournament was sanctioned by Professional Amateur Pinball Association (PAPA) and included six different levels. Classes A, B and C were for the top players in these groups. "A" class is for the top players in the world and the pinball machines are set for the most difficult scoring.
The classic division is for those interested in playing on machines manufactured before 1985 and the senior division was for players older than 50.
Denicola, who could have chosen to enter either A, B or C, chose the junior division for players 16 and younger.
"I didn't think I was good enough to be in the top three divisions, but I am considering entering the "C" division next year," he said.
So, how did he get so good without having a pinball machine in his basement?
"We used to live in Philadelphia and there were arcades everywhere," said Denicola's father, Dominic, who by the way, also entered the tournament and placed tied for 52nd in the "B" class.
"Also, when we would take vacations, like to the Jersey shore, there would be machines Dominic could play," the elder Denicola said.
"I got in a little practice this summer at Wildwood (New Jersey), but you don't know what machines you will be playing at the tournament," Denicola said.
The first few days of the tournament were set aside for qualifying. Each player is assigned a set of pinball machines within their respective divisions. They play the machines to receive points based in their overall play. Each day the points are calculated and the player positions are set for the final rounds. Only the top eight within the junior divisions can move on to the final rounds.
On Aug. 13, the next to the last day of the tournament, Denicola was in sixth place but by that evening, he had moved into the fourth spot.
On the tournament's last day, Denicola was tied for fifth place and more competitors were arriving to qualify. At noon, he remained tied for fifth,
"Me and the other player flipped a coin to decide who would be in fourth place. I won the fourth spot for the final rounds," he said.
The final play was on two difficult machines, Hurricane and Tales of Arabian Knights. Denicola posted a top score of 2,641,490 to be tied for second place, which meant he needed to play the same machine to settle the tiebreaker with another player.
He posted a final score of 6,883,820 to take overall second spot and the second-place prize.
Bernard Denicola exposed his son to playing pinball when he was 7 years old.
"Pinball has become more and more difficult due to the new machines that play faster than machines from the past," Bernard Denicola said.
Denicola, who will be a junior at Waynesburg Central High School this fall, runs cross country and track at Waynesburg. "I think participating in sports has helped me," he said.
"You have to remember," his father said, "this was big-time tournament. "There was a $33,000 purse with $10,000 going to the top player who was from Sweden in class "A." That guy was on a machine for two hours for one game. I think he put up a score of a trillion," Bernard Denicola said.
For his second place finish in the junior division, Denicola won a plaque and $50.
"Finishing second in the juniors was not bad, considering there were 390 players who had entered the tournament," Denicola said.

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