How to Play Pinball: All the Secrets You Need to Know

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Last updatedLast updated: December 31, 2023
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Pinball is a wonderful pastime, right up there with some of the more popular arcade and other types of table games. Of course, even though lots of people have played pinball, not too many actually know how to play pinball properly. A game should not just be a free for all of flipping and flailing paddles, but rather one of strategy and careful planning.

While this might sound like it is next to impossible to achieve, that isn’t the case at all. If you have a clear understanding of pinball basics, you can easily start to blow past your previous scores. Each of the skills necessary is easy to learn if you take the time to practice them. In fact, if you take the time to learn the proper pinball strategies, you are sure to be a pinball wizard in no time at all!

General pinball rules

Before you even get started playing a game of pinball or worrying about the different strategies and skills, there are general rules that you need to adhere to. Each game is a bit different, as some are smaller or larger than others, so you need to be sure to get a good idea of how it plays before you can truly master it.


The main objective of any pinball game, no matter the design, is to accumulate as many points as possible without having your ball or balls drop down through the opening between the paddles. Each game will also have different side objectives, which usually involve hitting different targets or fitting your ball inside of rails or tubes to gain more points. Regardless of the main objectives of each game, you always need to keep your ball in play in a similar fashion.

Start with reading the card

Before you play any new game of pinball, it is best to read the rule card. This card is usually posted on the backboard of the game or near the controls towards where the player stands. This card will give you pointers for how to play on that particular table. It will also act as a guide so that you can get as many points as possible each and every time that you play. As such, it is a great idea to familiarize yourself with this card so that you have the best chance of winning or breaking your high score.

Get used to flipping

Once you have a general understanding of how to play on a particular table, the next thing that you want to take some time and practice is using the paddles. Each pinball game is going to have a bit of a different feel. Some paddles are more sensitive, while others really need to be jammed to move appropriately.

By taking the time to get a feel for the paddles on the pinball game you are playing, you will greatly increase your chances of success.

Develop your shot accuracy

How to Play Pinball: All the Secrets You Need to KnowAfter you have practiced flipping the paddles, you next should concentrate on making accurate shots with the ball. This should be done in a slow fashion since you are not going to be able to make quick and accurate shots right when you first start playing. It is best to use the plunger to shoot the ball into the game and then flip up the paddle it is headed towards to stop it. From there, you can attempt to shoot for different targets in the game. This practice will eventually allow you to make the fast shots that you need to during a game with accuracy for the maximum amount of points possible.

Nudge and tilt

Though it might not seem like a legitimate move, you can actually use your hands and body to nudge and tilt the entire pinball game if you feel that it will give you an advantage while you are playing. If the ball seems as though it is going to miss your paddles, for instance, you can tilt and nudge the whole machine to get it back on the right track. These moves take a bit of practice but are great tools to have in your arsenal, whether you are playing with friends or in a tournament.

Watch the way you stand

Something else that you want to carefully consider is how you are standing when you are playing. Many players, especially when they are concentrating closely on a game, tend to lean into the table so that they can see the ball more easily. This is actually not a good idea since it will cause you to miss out on different aspects of the game that are important, like bonus points or extra balls. As such, it is better to stand straight and avoid leaning while you play.

Tips and tricks to play like a pro

How to Play Pinball: All the Secrets You Need to KnowNow that you know the basics of the game of pinball, it is time to focus on the finer points so that you can become a pinball pro. These six skills take a lot of practice but are essential if you want to take your game to the next level.

Tip pass

As the name would suggest, a tip pass is completed by using the tip of one paddle to pass it over to the other one. First, you need to catch the ball with one paddle. Then, you bump it up slightly before using a very small flick of the tip to pass it over to the other side.

Bounce pass

The bounce pass is another great way to regain control of the ball after you have shot it up towards the back end of the game. This pass works to cut down on the momentum of your shot so that you can easily make an accurate shot again. This is also a very simple maneuver to complete. Basically, if the ball is headed towards one of your paddles at the right angle, you allow it to bounce off of that one and then catch it with the other before shooting it again.

Post pass

A post pass is another simple move that you can use to get the ball from one flipper to the other. This should be done when you are looking for a different angle for your shots. Basically, all you need to do is regain possession of the ball on one flipper. From there, use a very quick flip to bounce it off of the nearest post, onto the original flipper, and over the other side, where you can then make your preferred shot.

Death save

As the name would suggest, a death save is designed to keep you from losing your ball and your turn. It is not a legal move in tournament play but is an effective one if you are playing with friends. This move is made by nudging the machine at just the right moment to send your ball back from the hole at the bottom of the board. If done correctly, this should cause the ball to pop back up into play.

Live catch

A live catch is used to stop the momentum of a ball that is barreling towards your paddles. With this move, you wait until the ball is right at the flipper and then put it up quickly. This should cancel the momentum of the ball and allow you to plan your next move.

Drop catch

A drop catch is performed by using a paddle that is flipped in the upright position. When the ball reaches the paddle, you flip it down and then back up quickly. If performed correctly, this move will stop the ball and allow you to catch it once again for a more accurate shot.

Pinball tournaments and leagues

How to Play Pinball: All the Secrets You Need to KnowWhile practice makes perfect, there is nothing quite like competitive game time to really help and sharpen your skills. If possible, it is a great idea to join a pinball league so that you can test yourself against other players. Not only will you get to see how well you are progressing in your skills, but you will also get to watch more experienced players play and learn from their techniques and styles.

Final thoughts

While pinball might seem like a straightforward game, there is actually quite a lot of strategy involved. There are plenty of different moves that you need to add to your repertoire so that you can be as successful as possible. Once you know how they play pinball basics, you can focus on these higher skills to try and become a pinball master.

Each of these higher-level skills is designed to regain control of the ball. By slowing you’re your shots and planning your moves, you can make more accurate plays with a higher level of frequency. With a bit of practice, we are sure that you will be breaking records in no time flat!

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