Players stand perched over pinball machines, laser-focused; money is on the line, and they’re here to win.
Multiball Monday, a monthly pinball tournament open to all over the age of 21, is held on the last Monday of every month at the 1-Up Lounge in Fairhaven.
From 7 p.m. to late, players fight for their position in an elimination-style bracket. The bar adds $100 to the pot, and the buy-in is $5 to play, making for a competitive night of pinball.
These tournaments are recognized by the International Flipper Pinball Association, meaning high scores and wins add points to the accounts of players who are members of the association. These points affect players’ world rankings, and with more points, they are one step closer to being the best player in their region, the country or the world.
As of 2023, there are 30,835 players registered under the association.
Mike Wolff, the host and event coordinator of Multiball Monday, started running tournaments after the pandemic. Prior, Wolff attended tournaments but was not the host.
“After COVID-19, when things started to open back up, nobody wanted to do it. And I wanted to play in pinball tournaments,” Wolff said. “I wanted to have a scene up here.”
Wolff hosts pinball tournaments and game nights all throughout the month in Bellingham at the 1-Up Lounge, The Racket and 20th Century Bowl. Wolff also manages the Whatcom Pinball League. The Multiball Monday tournament at the 1-Up Lounge is the largest and most popular with over 20 people in attendance.
“It’s getting bigger and bigger,” Wolff said.
Each tournament has a score multiplier based on how many people attend a tournament, meaning the more players, the larger the multiplier will be. In Bellingham, players can be found from all over the state and even Canada.
“I literally took the day off work today [for the tournament],” said Dion Bellay from Burnaby, Canada.
Bellay uses tournament days to travel to the U.S. to shop and run other errands, but ultimately, he is here to play pinball.
On Monday, Jan. 30, Bellay placed second in the Multiball Monday tournament at the 1-Up Lounge.
“I was very happy with my performance. I played well,” Bellay said. “I won $50 after paying $5 to buy in. I had fun and made money; it was a good night.”
Bellay has been an International Flipper Pinball Association member since 2016 and was ranked third overall in British Columbia in 2022.
“I feel that pinball machines are good equalizers for skill,” Bellay said. “Two random people can have the same chance of winning, and that’s what’s fun about it.”
Leaving with $87, Andrew Bentley won first place in the tournament held on Jan. 30 with a high score of 670 million on a Bram Stroker’s Dracula machine.
Bentley planned on using the money to take his wife out for date night. You can find Bentley’s high scores in pinball machines across Bellingham.
“I put [my wife’s] initials in all the games if I get a high score. So L-I-Z is me.”
Bentley stumbled onto the pinball scene in Bellingham through Mike Wolff while playing at The Racket. Wolff invited Bentley to join in the tournament, and Bentley has been a part of the pinball scene since.
“Everyone here is friendly. Everyone cheers each other on,” Bentley said. “[If interested] I would come play first by yourself. It’s not intuitive. Just practice and play a lot, and then it’s fun playing at the tournament.”
There are two tournaments this month, both being 21 or older events. The first is the Sunday Funday Tournament on Feb. 19 at The Racket; sign ups are at 6 p.m. with a $5 buy-in.
The second is Multiball Monday on Feb. 27 at the 1-Up Lounge. Sign-ups are also at 6 p.m. with a $5 buy-in, but this tournament includes an additional $100 in the pot provided by 1-Up Lounge.
“This is a great community here,” Wolff said. “All skill levels are welcome. Show up, and if you have any questions, you can ask any of us; we're all willing to share, even if it's in the middle of a tournament.”
Tarn Bregman (he/him) is a fourth-year environmental studies major who has also worked as a reporter and photographer for The Planet magazine. In his free time, Tarn can be found on Galbraith Mountain riding his mountain bike or hanging out at Bellingham skatepark. Tarn hopes to bring The Front’s coverage to niche sports and recreational activities locally and across the county.