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Franklin man, ranked 29th in the world in pinball, looks to defend his state championship

When it comes to pinball, you likely won't find anyone better in the state than David Daluga, who has won three of the last four state titles.
Posted at 6:00 PM, Jan 20, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-23 10:51:52-05

MILWAUKEE — When it comes to pinball, you likely won't find anyone better in the state than David Daluga, who has won three of the last four state titles. He's got the hardware and the cash prizes in the bank to prove it.

“I believe I get a w9 form in the mail this year from pinball winnings, so I could definitely say professional pinball player," Daluga said.

While David might have the pinball crown right now, he’s putting it all on the line and defending his title this weekend. He will be one of the people to beat at the Wisconsin State Pinball Championships held in De Pere, near Green Bay, on Jan 21. In fact, District 82, where the tournament will be held, is one of the largest pinball arcades in the world. It is also home to the upcoming North American National Championship.

To warm up, he's playing a few games at his buddy’s basement in Milwaukee. It’s actually where the previous state championships were held.

Daluga doesn't play as much as one might think. The 34-year-old is pretty busy with a three-year-old and a full-time job.

"I wish I had more time to practice."

But he still gets enough games in to stay fresh and stay at the top of the pinball food chain. His next goal is winning nationals.

"I've had three cracks at nationals. (I) definitely don’t think I'm at that level yet," he said.

He placed 17th twice and got a 9th-place finish at the national competition.

Make no mistake, David and the people he plays against are true competitors.

“This is going to sound silly. It’s a physical sport," Daluga said. “You’re just standing there flipping the machine like what how can it be physical? But it really is. These things weigh probably about 200-250 pounds. So to be able to maneuver, nudge, shake, you’re on your feet all day at these tournaments.”

The competition is getting tougher every year too. Daluga said that the sport is growing rapidly. The International Flipper Pinball Association, the governing body of the sport, lists 30,906 people on its rankings. Daluga currently ranks 29th in the world. He's a good pinball player, but he gets even better when he is on his favorite game, Spider-Man.

"A lot of people are scared to play me on this. If they get drawn with me on this game, they're like oh no I have no shot. Just take it."

While novice players might think it's luck, there is a ton of strategy that goes into competitive pinball. Hours of practice are involved, and there are various techniques, and play styles. However, Daluga said what differentiates the best pinball players is their knowledge of each pinball machine.

Every pinball machine is like a new opponent with new obstacles, rules, and point multipliers. Players need intimate knowledge of each one to play their best games.

And it's that knowledge of each machine that could be the difference maker in this state tournament.

Wisconsin has no shortage of great pinball players. There are three more people ranked in the top 50 in the world. Teenager Neil Graf from Appleton ranks 8th in the world. His dad Tom Graf is ranked 38th. Erik Thoren from De Pere is 48th. There are six more people from Wisconsin ranked between 50 and 100 mainly coming from the Fox Valley region.

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