By Tyler Barth
A 15-year-old from Long Branch is New Jersey’s new pinball wizard.
Jason Zahler was crowned state champ on Saturday at the Morristown Game Vault.
“It’s my favorite hobby,” Zahler said. “When I get home from school, play pinball. It’s more than video games. It’s different and it’s fun.”
Next stop for Zahler is the IFPA North American Pinball Championship in Denver, on March 5, 2020.
Zahler beat out 15 players from across the state in a long tournament to score the trophy and the $300 winner’s prize. He will be playing for $25,000 in Colorado.
Basci Dinc of Little Falls finished second, and will take the trip to Colorado if Zahler can’t make it for any reason. Francesco LaRocca and John Moran rounded out the top four.
The players displayed plenty of camaraderie, and all praised the Morristown Game Vault. It was the first time the South Street venue has hosted the championship, held in a collector’s storage area in Somers Point for the past few years.
“Dave keeps this place up to standards. He’s anal about upkeep, making sure these pinball machines are up to date and sound,” Erik Ryan, a competitor from Somers Point, said of Game Vault owner David Balsamini.
The Game Vault contains 22 pinball machines, most of them made by New Jersey-based pinball manufacturer Jersey Jack’s Pinball. The video game arcade remained open for business during the championship, but the pinball area was closed off for the last round to prevent distractions.
According to Zinc, who plays pinball full-time after selling his cafe, the Garden State pinball scene isn’t as large — or as lucrative– as in other states. Most championships pay several thousand dollars to their winners, he said. Still, very few people play pinball for the money.
“What’s $10 to go play pinball?” said James, a 30-something spectator and pinball devotee who declined to give his last name.
If Zahler prevails in Denver, he may qualify for the World Championship in May in Fort Myers, FL.