Story and pictures by Lukasz Dziatkiewicz and Jaroslaw Nietrzebka.
In our recent report from the Salon Gier in Radom City we showed how pinball is still alive in Poland but the game was first popularised in the early 1970s when the communist government began to open their door to goods from the west.
As previously unattainable products such as Coca-Cola, jeans, chewing gum and Marlboro cigarettes found a new and eager market in the country, pinball symbolised the new found freedom and rapidly gained popularity. The first games were brought into the country by sailors and people from the region of Silesia who had family members in Germany.
Machines were installed in clubs, bars, cafes, special arcade salons (salon gier zrecznosciowych) and, because they were especially popular with students, in university dormitories. The games earned well with the biggest problem being overflowing cash boxes.
But as with the rest of the world, the arcades of the golden years in Poland have gradually disappeared and games have become harder to find. There are a number of reasons for that decline.
In early late '80s and early '90s the price of new games started to rise far above average earnings and players' incomes in the country, making games much more expensive in real terms both to buy, to operate and to play. Operators gave up around the the turn of the decade, making early dot matrix games such as Terminator 2 the last to be imported in any numbers.
In a vicious circle, as pinball machines started to disappear, so too did the technicians who knew how to fix them, making new purchases a potential liability if a fault cannot be fixed easily. Large numbers of games were exported to countries such as Germany where they could command much higher prices than in Poland, while many of those that remained found their way into private collections.
In recent years, home video games have taken over and developed rapidly with internet linked systems producing gameplay not possible in most arcades. Pinball has an "old-fashioned" feel to today's youth who are used to fast-paced virtual reality gaming.
However, despite those set backs there is still an active fan base in the country who enjoy playing and collecting pinball games, while machine prices have increased in Poland as interest is revived.
In October that interest was reinforced when 16 players gathered for the 5th Polish Pinball Championship (Qulturalne Mistrzostwa w Grze na Fliperach) which took place at the Centralny Dom Qultury (CDQ) club in Warsaw.
Amidst the cans of Red Bull (provided by the sponsor) and cigarette smoke, the championship was played on four electronic games; two alphanumeric - Pool Sharks, Funhouse - and two dot matrix - Lethal Weapon 3 and Terminator 2.
At stake, besides the national title was a Williams Swords Of Fury game which was the grand prize for the winner. Play began at 2pm with 4 hours of warm-ups before the main tournament started at 6pm.
Every competitor played each of the four games with three other randomly selected players and points were awarded for the finishing positions. First place scored 4 points, second place got 3 points, 3rd place 2 points and fourth place earned a single point. All games were played with 4 balls.
After the first round, half the players were eliminated and the remaining eight player moved on to the semi-finals. The same rules prevailed to produce the four players who would compete in the final. They were: Janek Nietrzebka (aged 17), Jaroslaw Nietrzebka (43), Jacek Przybylski (52) and Aleksander Zurkowski (22).
Jacek and Jaroslaw both have around 30 years of pinball playing experience and have games of their own. Jacek has been involved in the championships since their inception, brought three games, helped organise this year's event and looked after the games. Janek is Jaroslaw's eldest son, while Aleksander used to play pinball as a kid and now owns a fixer-upper. He declared "Video & computer games suck! I love pinball!" and he plays at least once a week.
The final continued until 11:30pm with a close finish on the final game Terminator 2 deciding the outcome. Three players were in with a chance of the title but the winner by one point was Jacek Przybylski, beating Jaroslaw Nietrzebka into second, Janek Nietrzebka was third and Aleksander Zurkowski came fourth.
© Pinball News 2006