Kouvostoliitto Kickback Open 2014 - Hopeakuula association arcade, Kouvola - 22/11/2014

The Kickback Open might just be a record setting tournament in many ways in Finland. First, it probably was the longest single tournament ever, lasting from early March into mid-November, getting over 2200 qualification entries from 47 players.

The funny thing is, that while at time it felt there wasn't much anything but Kickback Open in my life during that time, I actually got to play very little. And then all the sudden here we are - all 16 qualified players present, eager to get their hands on our laser engraved trophies! Well, it was time to bring to the end something we had set to motion.

Unique tournament needed unique trophies!


I remember very little about my qualification run. I did play game here and game there when I could, but I could never concentrate on playing as much as I would have liked. I avoided playing when no other players weren't present, the pinball folk in general are pretty honest, but I still wanted more than one extra pair of eyes to witness the games should I pull some kind of a monster game, or two.

My best in Apollo 13 was 3.2B, which in the end was 3rd best. It was a pretty standard game of doing the most critical modes right and then cashing out the 13 ball multiball jackpots. During the qualification I managed to pull multiple monster scores from invidual modes, like over 450M from Manual burn, when over steering the rocket on purpose.

I had feared that the Viking would turn into a drop target raping fest, but it was actually much more entertaining game-wise. Naturally the #1 objective was the get the 5X bonus, but it rarely came easy and then there was the whole business of trying to cash out the bonus. I believe my tap passing skills grew exponentially during this tournament all thanks to Viking! And like I suggested in the game introduction video, the best way to cash out the bonus (save draining the ball!) is to shoot the right orbit, let the ball come down, then shoot past the upper left bumper towards the collect bonus-hole and nudge the ball there. We saw multiple over 1M scores in Viking, mine was 1.2M and 5th best. I find it extremely satisfying hearing the three knocks when you get past 1M!

Judge Dredd was one surprising game. I hadn't realized how hard it is to most folks, and I expected to see multiple 1B scores. Instead my own best score of 422M, which I considered a rather bad score considering we're playing with extra balls, was still 3rd best. JD has the questionable track record of being the 2nd most troublesome machine to maintain in the tournament, as it blew multiple opto switches during the qualification.

Stellar Wars again was probably the #1 cause for player frustration. You could tell if someone was playing a tournament entry on it from all the F-words in the air! Where the other oldie in the Kickback line up, Viking was a rather fast machine, Stellar Wars was deceptively slow. Many players commented that at that rate the ball will never go down, yet trying to get a good tournament entry was at time extremely challenging! For me Stellar Wars has teached a valuable lesson on ball control - where the ball tracks in most modern machines are straight thanks to the fast moving ball, Stellar Wars gives a good example on how the physics work when the ball is moving extra slow. It takes a while to train your eye to see where the long arc-like track is going to take the ball and react in time. For many, it was "no, no, not there!", watching the ball taking an unfortunate hit from the left bumper and then taking a long trip over the playfield right into the right outlane. My best was 640k, which was 2nd best in the qualification. It was also the very last entry I played.

Then there's my personal favorite, Fish Tales. Many players actually reached the position where they could shoot for the super jackpots, yet very few actually scored it. I honestly expected to get way more than the 446M that ended up being my best, but in the end it was the 2nd best score out there. For the FT I had only one major goal: have the multiball as the next captive ball prize lit, and have the super jackpot lit. That way the first super jackpot would restart the ball saver and I'd get multiple free shots at the super jackpot. My record game was a bitter sweet one. I failed to get the extra ball from the video mode, got nothing from the multiple rock the boats I played, then all the sudden the super jackpot was lit and I had only two balls in the game, one in the bumpers and one cradled on the left. Fearing a bad feed from the bumpers I decided to flail away at the super jackpot, getting it on the first try, but also draining the ball from the right outlane. Then the other ball came screaming down from the bumpers, I slap saved it and accidentally hit the 2nd super jackpot, before draining it as well. Oh well.

Last, the Twilight Zone. I never tried any shortcuts, I just aimed to start a mode, then cash it out as good as I could. I got to over 1B only once, with my 2nd best entry just one shot shy from Lost in the Zone and ending up in 752M. My best was 1.6B, and it was nearing the 2nd Lost in the Zone.

It's kind of funny, in the end I wasn't #1 on any of the machines, but was still consistently enough in the top-3 that I managed to pull a 11 qualification point lead to the #2. I wonder what had happened if the bonus point table was in use this year! Still, I got 2 byes and was one of four players to begin right from the 3rd round, just one round before the semi-finals.


I have to admit I really dreaded this day. While I had the best possible starting point in the whole end-game, there was still one round where I could be eliminated in before the semi-finals. With the recent history of trouble with my back (that actually forced me to already skip one tournament), I was far from my peak playing condition.

Round 3

I started off from the round 3 with KML, IDO and TEN. We each would get our opponent from the previous rounds and would face each other only in the semi-final or final/bronze-game after that.

My opponent was JAX, who was one of two players playing only two full rounds in qualifications and still qualifying. From the very last position to qualify, JAX had then worked his way past the first round against MPS, the second round against JEP and was now playing against me for his place in the semi-finals.

We started off with the Twilight Zone, with me as 2nd player. JAX played his first ball for some time, but somehow managed only to score 15M points. I didn't do much better, but I did the skill shot and caught him just seconds after starting my first ball - the ball saver on the TZ is a real game changer!

I played couple of modes, nothing fancy but still got closer to 100M during my first ball. I accidentally played the multiball with just one lock, but at least got 2 jackpots out of it. I pointed out to JAX that the next ball in the gumball machine was the powerball. JAX then took it, but wasn't prepared to its speed and drained it. I was hoping there would be at least one ball in the lock so I could drain my first ball and get the power ball, but no. I got the locks lit and locked one ball, but drained soon after that, so JAX got the powerball. I suggested getting rid of it ASAP, which he did and got the powerball mania. Unfortunately he scored no jackpots out of it, and couldn't catch my 2nd ball score on his 3rd ball. First point for me.

Next up, Mousin' Around, me as player 1. My weapon of choice is the center ramp, which I hit hard. A bit over 10 loops on the first ball, 5 on the next one and another 5 on the last. I ended up with 2.5M, which was nothing special, but the face paced game gave some hard time to JAX, who was still to break first million on his 3rd ball. But then Mousin's dark side kicked in: the machine has a pity extra ball if the game time for the first two balls is especially low. JAX got the extra ball, played a round of multiball and got to bit over 2M. Without the extra ball this would have been it. JAX got the skillshot, worth 300k and while the extra ball didn't last too long, Mousin' Around's cumulative bonus was enough to get bridge the 200k gap. JAX took this one home.

JAX, starting to grind away his extra ball

The deciding game was Gladiators. I was metally high-fiving myself, as I consider this System 3 Gottlieb one of my strongest games. The game was very rude to JAX, who confessed he had no clue what was going on. I again went with my typical double-for-every-ball -strategy, but managed to drain the 2 first balls in record time. JAX had a bit better second ball, which took him to a slight lead, but then his 3rd ball was totally out of this world! He managed to start enough modes to hit the final mode, and even got one almost 100M shot to sink in there. He finally drained with almost 300M lead!

Time for a quick analyzation: next mode was the Catapult, I could grind at least 150M out of that. After the 3rd completed shot I'd also have double, after which I could play Cataclysm for 20+M a shot to catch him.

I started the Catapult from the skillshot, tap-passed three balls into the upper saucer, 50M a shot and went to double scoring. I then carefully started the next mode, which unfortunately wasn't the Cataclysm thanks to one extra bumper hit. I started Fire and ice instead, which lit all main shots for 10M. Well, that still worked for me, and I started to grind 'em away. I was contemplating whenever I should try to collect the right ramp as well, because of its rather nasty return near the right kicking target (which replace slingshots on this machine).

Well fuck-a-doodle-doo, the kicking target made a perfect left outlane shot, with me over 100M behind JAX. The very worst I had feared had happened, dropping me to the positions 5-8 game and getting JAX into the semi-finals.

I have to tip my hat to JAX, that was a real tough position he started from, and he kept his nerves calm and just kept on flipping towards the blinking lights. That gave him a devastating victory over someone who actually had a carefully planned strategy for the game. I always tell people to never give up, no matter who you're playing against, and this is a perfect example why. Way to go, JAX!

Positions 5-8 game

Having my goals set for any trophy position made the positions 5-8 game feel pretty underwhelming. However with a tournament of 47 players, with many big names taking part, several WPPR points were still for grabs, so after the round 3 had finished, I had to put on my game face once more.

I was playing against TTV, KML and VYV, two of which were 2 bye players. Out of the four 2 bye players only TEN managed to get to the semi-finals this time. 

The game was Judge Dredd, with me as player 4. Our first balls were pretty even, no one got anything that special going on. I got up to 60M or so, being a bit ahead of the others. My second ball was rather good, I managed to play couple of nice modes, but then almost center drained from a weak ramp shot. But what was even worse was that I managed to tilt the machine while slap saving from it! There went over 50M in mode scoring from the bonus!

TTV pulled a nice 150M lead on his last ball, KML and VYV couldn't catch him. At this point I was last, with about 10-15M behind both KML and VYV. I made the skill shot and looped the larger loop couple of times to catch them. After that TTV was in my sights. I noticed I was just one crime scene shy from the extra ball, so I made a rather risky shot at the left ramp. It however paid off and I got the extra ball lit. I drained soon after collecting it, ending up with a bit over 120M. TTV was still ahead of me, but I used the extra ball on modes, instead of the multiball which was 2 locks away, and managed to just pull myself past him. Phew!

The outcome

I was 1st in the qualification and 5th in the whole tournament. While I obviously aimed higher, I was relieved about the fact that this monster tournament was finally over and judging from the feedback we got after the event I'm pretty sure the Kickback will return in 2015, with a new line-up of qualification machines and even more epic end-game.

JAX, OMO and IDO, the Kickback champions!

Right now I'm just so damn happy to attend the next tournament, in which I have absolutely zero responsibility with maintaining the pins or running the show!

Final results:
End game

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