How to hit a shot

I haven’t seen any discussion about this, and it’s the singular most important skill in pinball: hitting a shot.

I could watch all the tournament footage in the world and learn all about rules, strategies, nudging, control, recovery, and what have you, but I’ll never learn how to hit a shot, because that’s all in the head of the player.

So, how do you do it?

If I’d had to answer that question myself, I’d say I just flip when it feels right, but I really hope that there’s more to it, because if there isn’t, I’ll never get better.

These are some things people do that I’m aware of:

  • Remember how you missed a shot (early/late) and adjust accordingly
  • Trap up to get consistent shots
  • From a trap, use artwork hints to determine when to flip
  • If it’s an important shot, try to convince yourself that it’s not, or try to flip a bit late

I don’t know which of those things top players actually do, so any feedback is appreciated.

Here are some questions I have about how to make your shots and PLAY BETTER:

  • Do you conciously adjust your shot after a miss, or is it just instinct?
  • When you’re shooting on the fly, are you consciously aware of different ball speeds and adjusting accordingly, or do you just flip when it feels right?
  • How do you handle upper flippers, where it’s not possible to trap up? I’ve seen people hold the upper flipper up until the very moment the ball comes down—is there a reason to do that, does this help with the timing?
  • When you’re walking up to a machine you haven’t played before, and all the shots feel off, is it a conscious struggle to adjust your timing, or does it just happen naturally that you’re hitting them after a few tries?

If I’m playing competitively, yes. I don’t use artwork to aim I use the flipper. Where on the flipper does the ball need to be to make this shot? I also don’t look up until after I have flipped. It’s like hitting a golf ball for me.

Depends on the game, but on the fly I use mostly feel unless I cannot make the shot consistently. Then I revert back to what I mentioned above.

I believe what you’re seeing here is someone using the upper flipper to change the travel of the ball to a safer path. Upper flippers are a tough one to master for me. The best I’ve done to get consistent for upper flippers is use the artwork in front of the flipper and flip when the Ball gets there.

This usually means I’m about to take a last place. Haha

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I’ve said a few times now, accuracy is the weakest part of my game. I have shown marked improvement though and I attribute it to the following;

  • Actively looking for what I am doing wrong and trying to get better at it.
  • Practicing the Quiet Eye technique (I’ve spoken about it before, there are some good articles on the internet about it).
  • Finding a game I can loop shots repeatedly in order to practice wide shots, and only shooting those shots (having a Scared Stiff helps!).
  • Practicing relaxation techniques (deep breathing).
  • Finding a stance that works.
  • Play in as many comps as I can, and play players that are better than me as much as possible - even though it is depressing to lose all the time!

The above also means I’m playing as much as I can, and to be honest, I think that’s the most important thing. Play, and play a lot. I may be more accurate simply because I’m playing rather than the above factors. It’s hard to say…


I’ve found a number of times that it’s important to figure out exactly what you’re aiming for, not just “that shot”.

For instance, when trying to hit a forehand shot to a ramp, it’s more helpful to visualize where you want the ball to make contact within the ramp. If shooting from the right flipper to a ramp on the left side, try to visualize where the left side of the ball should make contact with the ramp past the opening of the ramp.

If shooting for an orbit, visualize where you want the ball to hit the rail, etc.

At an earlier point in my pinball career, I had a lot more frustration with my accuracy, and I found that my accuracy from a trap got meaningfully better when doing this. Not sure if it’s true, but it felt true.


aim small miss small!


I was thinking about something like this:
Zach is holding up the upper flipper and dropping it again shortly before he actually takes the shot, and it looks like he does that for every upper flipper shot. I’ve seen a bunch of other people do that, too, and I have no idea why. Does it help with the timing?

Oh yeah. I think that’s to help with timing. Force of habit kind of thing. I do it on some games when I’m trying to make a repeatable ramp shot over and over again.


Thanks for the link, very interesting. Sorry for duplicating basically the same question, goes to show how limited my active English vocabulary is—I didn’t think to search for any of those obvious keywords in that thread title before posting. But I guess it doesn’t hurt to talk about it again.

I just don’t understand how it helps. And if it actually does help, why do people mostly do it with upper flippers and not with on the fly shots on lower flippers? What’s the difference?

Here’s a video of Josh doing the same thing:
Here’s a video of KME doing it:

Pinging @Smack847, @pinwizj and @sk8ball, what’s going on in your head when you do that little pre-flip flipper hold on an upper flipper, and why don’t you do it with on the fly shots on a lower flipper?

To be honest? I have noooo clue. If anything I’d say it’s a combination of a timing/feel mechanism somewhere in my subconscious. And I’m sure there’s plenty of examples in other videos, but I don’t just do that with the upper flipper on games, I also do it on the bottom flippers, especially on games with a consistent ramp shot from the same flipper (i.e. Scared Stiff, Judge Dredd) -

I don’t do that though with “on the fly” shots since usually those decisions have to be made super quickly and I’m never one to keep my flippers ‘up’ just so I’m always at the ready to try and save/flip/etc. Same with the upper flipper, if it’s on the fly, I won’t keep the upper flipper engaged prior to the shot. I also don’t do that “pre-flip” when staging any upper flipper since it’s hard enough to do that without taking unnecessary flips.


Very cool, I haven’t heard about this before. I just realized that I’ve occasionally been doing this after missing a shot a few times, and it always helped, but I’ve always just attributed this to “taking some time” or “taking some speed out of the game”.

Pretty interesting that it might mainly be about eye focus, and that there are actual studies backing this up. Can’t wait to consciously try this at my next tournament, since this seems to have particular benefits in high pressure situations.

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One thing I do if I have to hit a certain shot over and over again on the fly(e.g. Dr. Who Loop or TOM center ramp) is count in my head. Make the shot, then start counting like 1,2,3 flip. I think it just helps with timing. Not sure if anyone else does this too?


Thanks for the video, looks like I was wrong about this being exclusively an upper flipper phenomenon.

Can you say anything about how you started doing that? Was it something you just came up with yourself because it felt right, or did you get it from other people you watched play?

I’m just trying to figure out whether I could improve my shot accuracy by emulating that behavior, or whether there’s an independent reason why many people who have good accuracy do that.

Again, no clue how it started or how long I’ve done it. Definitely wasn’t anything I watched others did. Maybe a good analogy is it’s almost like a pre-hit routine when there’s time allowed, almost like a batter in baseball who doesn’t just stand completely still with his bat before swinging? Or it’s simply a subconscious paranoia that the flipper is going to stop working and it’ll give me time to call out an impending major malfunction, couldn’t tell you.


Here is something that has helped me:

If you notice a table is slanted even slightly, or some part of the playfield is worn in a way that is causing a certain ball behavior, try repeating that to yourself in your head. You will find that from then on your brain will unconsciously incorporate those factors into your perceptions.

The part of your brain that does the complex algebra in real time to calculate and predict ball trajectory is a bit of a black box. We can’t turn it on or off, and we can’t consciously access those thought processes. But it does have an API, or interface, that is pretty robust and intuitive. I’m serious, stay with me – say you walk up to a table. Generally, you can’t tell if it’s leaning a fraction of a degree to one side, but you might notice it after a while. If you repeat this to yourself, you begin to actually perceive the slant that you couldn’t see with the naked eye, and all your future ball judgments take the slant into account in real time without you even consciously thinking about it. but I think you do have to not just notice the slant (or other feature), you have to take the trouble to try to input that observation into your black-box physics engine by kind of repeating it to yourself once or twice.


This is the thread I’ve been meaning to start for a while now, so, thanks. I’ll be following it avidly!


I had/have and I think all players (even the best) always struggle at it. Best advice is this “training wheel” technique and it helped a lot . A lot of people will say trial and error and it’s true you get better aiming over a course of time however that is dependant upon the state of the rubbers and flipper mechs. People also say to time it sooner or later to flip and that is also true but a fraction of of space on the flipper makes a huge difference and is hard to judge often times.

So what my piece of advice is to watch a person who lowers his center of view like Lyman Sheats. Everybody plays pinball differently. Lyman plays unlike any other player, almost kissing the lockbar of a pinball table when he plays.

  1. Spot your shot.
  2. Lower your head to the level of the flippers and face in the direction of the flipper.
  3. Release the flipper and flip when the ball is in front of the target.
  4. If you don’t hit your shot, re-adjust with trial and error.

Using this technique over time and you will learn how to make shots better thus the “training wheels”. It’s similar to using the sights on a gun. Some people suggest using a chair to play but I don’t suggest this as people don’t play pinball in a chair and it’s far harder to nudge. Other players have many subtle things that they don’t realize they do and often is not noticed or thought of “not big” to playing pinball better but it is.


I’ve found that visually tracing a line between the point you’re trying to hit and the point the ball will leave the flipper helps me. Its kind of like lining up a putt in golf where you visualize the line the ball will travel on.


As someone who also has a low-stance, I have never gotten much help out of getting behind the ball and spotting my shot like in pool. What it has done is helped me focus on the flippers, and keeping me thinking about looking at them when I shoot, because that’s how I guide things. In the past I would have a tendency to look away when shooting, which is pretty useless.

I also like having my arms bent when I’m nudging, which this does.