POLISH PINBALL IN 2011
|and some more about the Polish contribution to pinball -
especially with regard to Steve Kordek
Report and pictures by Łukasz Dziatkiewicz
Last year in Poland we had two big (for us, anyway) tournaments - one of them dedicated to a person who could be called one of the fathers of pinball. In addition, the Polish Pinball League finished their first season, and the second has now begun. The number of pinball aficionados is also growing in our country.
So as you see, I have a lot to tell you!
The 10th edition of the Polish Pinball Championships is a notable anniversary, so we were looking for something which would grace this birthday.
When it was realised that Steve Kordek would be completing his 100th year around the the date of our Championships, we decided to organize another tournament for his birthday. It was given the name, 'Steve Kordek 100'.
When I started to write this article, Steve was OK. Now I have to write in the past tense. He was 100 – that is an age! - but Mr. Fryderyk Maslo who took care for him for a year until the end, and with whom I had been in contact, told me many times that he was mentally OK, and physically not so bad too. I didn’t think that he would pass away so soon after his birthday. Well, he probably decided to make that his last goal...
Steve Kordek was born in Chicago on December 26th, 1911, but he is a native Pole. When he talked with compatriots (like me) he liked to use a Polish form of his first name – Szczepan.
During the Great Depression, he found a job by accident at the Genco pinball company. He went into the entrance of this company because he wanted to shelter from the rain. The receptionist asked him if he was looking for a job – something he had been seeking for months! As he told me, he had never seen pinball before, but he was an electrician by education so that was a good place for him to work .
Steve started working on production line, but after some time he was moved into the construction department where he worked under the main designer, Harvey Heiss. There, ten years after his debut in pinball industry, Kordek was given a great opportunity.
Gottlieb was the first company to use a flipper in the strict sense of the word - as an electro-mechanical device. There were six such flippers in their Humpty Dumpty game from 1947. These were positioned on both sides of that machine; two in the lower part of the playfield, two in the middle and two at the top. Kordek tried - successfully - to make them stronger. And fortunately (yes!) Genco hadn’t enough money for more than two on Steve's game, so he decided to install a pair of them in his Triple Action (1948) in the middle of the lower part of playfield, almost like they have been ever since. This was, in a way, the birth of real pinball!
Kordek later worked for Bally for 18 months, and then for Williams from 1960 until his retirement in 1980. He designed almost 100 pinball machines and other arcade games (gun games, for example) for Williams. Even after his retirement, he helped Williams as a consultant and in promotions. He continued to do so until the end of Williams in the pinball world. The last project on which he was a consultant for the company was Pinball 2000.
I had an opportunity to meet and talk with Steve in 2003, when I conducted an interview with him at his home in Chicago. I took some pictures of him in his basement, which was a real pinball treasure trove of machines and much assorted pinball material and memorabilia including, for example, the revolutionary Humpty Dumpty.
Recently I decided to publish the majority of our conversation. This is mostly in Polish ('mostly', because we use many English words or phrases). Please remember too that it was recorded for note taking and not for publishing, as you can probably hear.
You can listen to the full interview I recorded with him in 2003 here. Because it is quite long, it is split into two parts.
His family organized a private 100th birthday party, and later a trade birthday bash also took place. You can watch a part of it below, where Larry DeMar gives a presentation attending by many of the people who knew Steve during his long career. At the end Steve also says a few words.
Steve Kordek is the most important Pole in pinball history, but almost certainly not the only one. These names (mostly Designers) from pinball's past and present sound very, very Polish: Scott Slomiany, Ed Krynski, Ed Cebula, Greg Kmiec and Louis Koziarz. (Greg Kmiec confirmed this and added one more - Jim Patla). If anyone knows anything more about this or could provide any more information, please let me know! firstname.lastname@example.org.
OK, I’ll get back to Poland and those who are certainly Poles.
Last year showed a growing interest in pinball in Poland. It was especially noticeable after the double championship, when we saw many new visitors to our web site: www.flippery.com.pl .
There are definitely more people in Poland who own a pinball for their personal use. Some of them also agreed to make their machines available for use in our Championship. One did much more!
Mariusz Tkacz lives in Mysłowice, a city in a region of southern Poland with a convoluted history. His family has a nice, pre-war home with big garden. He stared as a pinball collector when he took part in the Polish Pinball Championships for the first time in 2008. Although it was his debut and we were also hosting our first recognized foreign, world class player (Albert Medaillon from Germany), Mariusz won, with Albert in second place.
As he told me recently in an interview, "It triggered an avalanche of events". Mario (this is Mariusz’s nickname) could have said "a pinball avalanche", because this is the most visible result. Where? In his home of course. Specifically, in his four room basement which is full of pinballs!
Before the Championships, he had one pinball; a Tales from the Crypt. He returned from the Championships in Warsaw with the little known - but quite good - Secret Service (Data East, 1988) which was the grand prize that year. (As usual we had - and hope we will always have - a pinball machine as the grand prize for the winner.)
At present, there are 15 pinballs in the basement (11 of Mariusz’s, and 4 of his colleague’s). The basement started to be open for all pinball fans last year with two pinball tournaments.
A third took place two days before Valentine's Day, which is why it was named the St. Valentine's Tournament.
This competition also launched the second season of Polish Pinball League. The 2012 season will be played in Mariusz’s basement and in a very fancy club, Sketch in Warsaw.
This is a good moment to say a little more about the Tkacz family. Mariusz’s wife, Marta, has a design/advertising company MT Graw. Last year she opened an internet store mainly with T-shirts where there is a separate pinball department. Her company makes and sponsors special T-shirts, mugs and some pinball gadgets which, along with trophies, are prizes for tournaments held in their home, league meetings and the Polish Pinball Championships.
Another pinball fan in Tkacz family who is comparable with Mariusz, is his younger brother Dominik. He doesn’t own any pinballs himself, but he has an opportunity to practice, and the results are noticeable. Dominik also helps with organising tournaments and making Marta’s pinball awards. Mariusz and Marta's son, 9-year-old Kuba is also playing better and better, and he was sixth in last tournament! Dominik was fourth, but Mariusz didn’t advance beyond the elimination round. So as you can see, even the king can lose his kingdom! ;)
Warsaw club Spoldzielnia CDQ was host of the pinball Championships for the tenth time, but for the first time this was held over two days! Machines were gradually arriving so that by Friday 18th November, all 17 were in the venue. 12 of these were to be used for the tournament with the remaining 5 for practice or warm-up, or for those people who weren’t playing in tournament.
The final machine to arrive at Spoldzielnia CDQ was Pawel Nowak’s Creature from the Black Lagoon from Pawel’s billiard and pinball club, Billart. It was this game which Aleksander Zurkowski and I played when we had the opportunity to appear on TVP.
TVP is a public broadcaster - one of the three main television networks in Poland. The address of its headquarters is probably one of the best known in Poland, certainly in Warsaw: Woronicza 17. We met in the new wing in Samochodowa Street. The other point of note about this new part of the TVP headquarters is how it looks; it is one of the ugliest buildings in Poland.
We went there to say a few words about pinball and to demonstrate what it is, in a programme for young people called Poziom 2.0.
It was broadcast live so it was quite stressful, but it wasn’t the only media performance by our duo, because before the tournament began we had two more for the radio. The broadcast for Eska Rock (and another station from the Time S.A. group) can be heard below, while other media outlets also visited and reported from Spoldzielnia CDQ.
Saturday (19th November) was, as usual, the first day of the Polish Pinball Championship. I use this name for the event because it is easier and more descriptive, but the full name this time was the Printimus 2011 - Qultural 10th Polish Pinball Championships. Printimus had sponsored the tournament twice before and were our main sponsor this year too. They prepared and printed the posters, and printed various other projects (in cooperation with me) such as certificates, calendars and mini calendars (the size of a credit card), and display boards for writing the scores. They also funded the grand prize – a pinball machine.
But this time we had two contests, so we asked if they would be able to fund two pinballs - one for each tournament - and Marcin Krysinski, who is an owner and boss, agreed. Many thanks Marcin!
Another person and their company who helped and who I would like to thank is Marcin Glowacki and his G&G Studio which is a large format digital printing company. They prepared banners for us, and Marcin also borrowed some pinballs for the event.
54 players enrolled for the contest. This isn’t our record because more people played in the previous edition when there were 64, but this time we have two tournaments and while most people played in both, a few decided, or were only able, to play in one or the other.
But we hosted the largest number of foreign players so far, and each came from a different country. France was represented for the second time by Michel Dailly who loves to visit different countries to compare tournaments. He also invited in our name Enrico Giorgio de Stefani from Italy. James Watson from UK was surely the oldest player in this event (and probably in the history of these tournaments in Warsaw) while Michael Trepp from Switzerland was probably the player who most terrified other competitors ;) He told me that after our duel on Star Trek - The Next Generation and I felt it for myself when we played. Michael, of course, won, but he admitted that after my first ball he was sure that he would lose – in this way I had my small, brief triumph.
The last pinballer from aboard to grace us with his presence was Günter Freinberger. This Austrian - nicknamed Pindigi - has a large collection of pinballs and jukeboxes. He was welcomed to Poland by Mirek Adamczewski who renovates the older electro-mechanical machines for Günter (and other people too, of course).
In this point I would like to admit that I have one passion which could be thought of as a little similar to pinball: billiards. There are some similarities, for example; where you play, both are played with balls, and - which is the more significant - the same origins. Pinball machines came from the game of bagatelle which was, let's say, semi-billiards or quasi-billiards; but it was treated more as a toy. "Bagatelle is to Billiards what Draughts [checkers] is to Chess, and he who plays at the superior game seldom practices much at the others", 1862, Crawly, from The New Illustrated Encyclopedia of Billiards by Mike Shamos (The Lyons Press, New York, 1999).
Both billiards and pinball are important in my life, but the difference what I do with them. I play pinball, write about it, organise tournaments and I’m President of Polish Pinball Association since it was established. However, I don’t collect anything with a pinball theme, although I do have some books and probably all the movies... Hmm... anyway it couldn’t compare with my collection of billiard memorabilia.
I collect almost everything, but it must be old – 30 years at least - and, of course, I don’t buy everything available because I would need millions and some giant storage space. I especially like (which is why I have many); postcards (over 100), posters, photos, books, prints, advertisements and postage stamps. The final difference is that I play billiards (pool and carom) very seldom; many years ago I used to play a lot and compete in tournaments and even in the Polish Championship.
But why amd I writing about it? Because in my city of Krakow lives my namesake Lukasz Szywala – very good trick-shot man in pool billiards, and one of the best players in the relatively new discipline of artistic pool billards ('artistic' and 'tricks' are not the same!). I have known him since he was a boy, and when we met a few years ago on a train he told me that he used to play pinball and he would love to take part in the Pinball Championships. So I invited him, and this year he came and had quite good result in the main tournament for someone who hasn’t played for a years – 18th place. Lukasz was our special guest and, let's say, 'celebrity'.
I don’t want to give you too many details about the format of the games because I don't think it's particularly interesting or unusual. But the key points are that the Polish Championships consisted of four stages. The first elimination stage was played on 12 machines with each player having a single game on 6 different pinballs. The 54 contestants were divided in two large groups, with the 16 players with the best scores from each group qualifying.
The next four stages (including the final) were duels in four-player groups. From this stage onwards it was the results in the group which were important. Each time they played on four machines which were drawn from the pool of good, fully-working machines. This way, after having 32 players, we got down to 16, then 8, and finally 4.
The four finalists were decided after midnight. The players who qualified for the final showed that Polish pinball still has some way to go to beat the best in Europe. They were: Trepp (Switzerland), Dailly (France), de Stefani (Italy) and the only Pole, Pawel. Luckily nobody objected to playing the final the next day, which we'd planned before Championship started.
So on Sunday (20th November) we started with the international final of Polish Pinball Championships. The final was played on three machines, two classic and very popular, one less so: Terminator 2, The Shadow and Who Dunnit?.
The winner was the representative from Switzerland, Michael Trepp. Pawel took second place, Michel was third, Enrico fourth.
Because we have two pinball machines for grand prizes (Data East's Laser War or Williams’ Cyclone) we decided to give the winner of the first tournament a choice – (“Choose wisely” I told him. I hope you know from which pinball this quotation comes? ;).
Michael decided to take the Laser War. He had a flight to Paris later in the day, so after an auction, the Laser War was sold.
Before the Steve Kordek competition started, prizes for the Polish Pinball League were awarded and we made prize draws for some pinball souvenirs from PAPA, Stern Pinball and, as in previous editions, from Pinball News.
Due to all these events, the second tournament didn't begin until after 2pm.
The rules used a different system because it was a different type of contest. It was a double-elimination format except during the qualification round, where each of 43 players got the opportunity to have 5 or 6 one-on-one duels on machines drawn at random. The winner got 1 point, the loser 0. The same number of contestants as in the previous tournament qualified; 32.
All next stages were played in a double-elimination format and again Pawel Nowak showed that being an organiser doesn’t mean you can’t play, and play well enough to win!
Second place went to a Polish player who is definitely one of the best and has the same family name as Pawel – Nowak. But Pawel and Daniel Nowak (which is his name) are not family. Nowak (and Kowalski which maybe you know, for example from film Vanishing Point, 1971) is one of the most popular in our country.
Third was our pinball specialist and definitely one of the best Polish pinball servicemen, Andrzej Karpinski.
The last player of the four finalist was Konrad Masłowski.
The end of Steve Kordek’s 100 didn’t mean the end of the games, because there was also a mini-contest played on the previously-mentioned CFTBL. The four players with the best results in both tournaments (and who still were present) were welcomed to this contest. They were Daniel, Pawel, Michel and Marcin Kisiel who came long way from the Kolobrzeg, which is on our seaside.
They fought for the honorary title of the winner of Printimus Polish Pinball Party - which was a general name for this double two-day event - from me as president of PSF. The victor wouldn’t only win the title, because there was something more, something special, something double...
I came up with the idea to silver-plate a regular pinball ball and ordered a second in another material - amber. The silver-plating process was very complicated but finally I fixed it! Thus we had a very special trophy enclosed in renovated old wooden box, sponsored jointly by a company specialising in amber jewelry, Amber Nowiński, and a new Polish pinball company Kingpin.
This set, together with the title, went to Daniel Nowak!
That wasn’t the only special prize. The second was an idea sponsored by the bosses of Spoldzielnia CDQ but decided by the votes of all the players. It was an award for the best game style and it went to the youngest player, Kuba, Mariusz’s son. He got a trophy in the form of a plate, and a really old-style fuse, together with information about from where it came.
Many contestants left club with something – we've never had so much to give away! There is a full list below.
Before I forget - a birthday cake was prepared for the double birthday. It was large and really delicious! I’m a gourmand, so I’m a real specialist in all sweets. ;)
The birthday cake was great, but of course not all things were perfect. In particular, we had some problem with game system in second tournament, but this was the first time we had double tournaments. Sorry for that – next time things will be better.
These three days, plus the many days before, were some of the hardest in my almost 40 years. But I, the rest of organisers, and most of contestants were (we hope) happy.
We have decided to continue the Steve Kordek tournament again next year so it would become an annual memorial - the first such contest in pinball history, as far as I know.
On 26th December, after I told him about the achievement, my colleague and US correspondent at Radio Zet, Piotr Milewski, aired this broadcast in Polish about Steve Kordek’s 100th birthday.
The year 2012 in Poland will see more pinball than ever before, with seven tournaments in the Polish Pinball League (three in Mariusz’s basement, four in Sketch).
These, together with the return of the two tournaments above brings the total to nine this year.
Mariusz also has the ambition to organize a big tournament in Silesia. He will hire a large space and the name of the event will probably be the Polish Pinball Cup. And, of course, at the end of year the 11th Polish Championship will be held.
All of our events are open to everyone, not just for our members, and foreigners too so that more people who have never played can try the game.
My acquaintance Adam, who only ever played in my home, took his girlfriend Malgorzata to Myslowcie. She didn’t take part in the tournament but she played on the machines not used in competition. For the next event they came with Malgorzata’s father who hadn’t played pinball for 20 years (but was really good in his comeback games) and their friend, and all four took part in the tournament this time.
It shows how pinball bug is spreading. There is no chance of an epidemic, let alone a pandemic, but I'm sure there's at least a local outbreak here in Poland!
MORE MEDIA MATERIAL:
Articles and photos:
EksMagazyn – different to other magazines for women.
Gazeta gazeta - the leading Polish language newspaper in Canada.
Eurostudent.pl - a portal for Eurostudent magazine for students, of course.
ONET - the main information portal in Poland.
All these media (except Gazeta Wyborcza) were among our media patrons.
WINNERS AND THEIR PRIZES:
Printimus 2011 10th. Qultural Polish Pinball Championships
1st: Michael Trepp – Laser War pinball
2nd: Paweł Nowak – brake blocks for any motor car, made and sponsored by the Tomex company, and a food/drinks coupon for club SOLEC. This is a very special place with a huge variety of games (for hire or to sell; they will also have a pinball), delicious food and a wide variety of beverages.
3rd: Michael Dailly – mini-subscription (four issues) to the Pingame Journal
4th: Enrico Giorgio De Stefani
1st: Paweł Nowak – Cyclone pinball
2nd: Daniel Nowak – brake blocks and SOLEC’s food/drink coupon but also something very special from Gary Flower and brought to Warsaw by James Watson - a crystal diamond with the inscription: Pinball Expo 2011, 27 years and still flippin’.
Gary explained me what it is: "The prize I donated to your event was an award I was presented with at Pinball Expo 2011in acknowledgement of the support I gave by presenting a Fireside Chat with Steve Ritchie as the guest celebrity".
3rd: Andrzej Karpiński - mini subscription to the Pingame Journal
4th: Konrad Masłowski
Both sets of top three placed players got glass trophies and both top fours received certificates.
All competitors received certificates of participation, mini and full-size calendars, posters and magnets with posters. So everyone who played in even one tournament left Spoldzielnia CDQ with something. But of course enjoyment and the chance to play and meet other pinball fans (or even fanatics) were the most important aspects.
© Pinball News 2012