Growing up in New Jersey always meant summer vacations to the Jersey Shore (no we didn’t share a house with Snooki and The Situation). This also meant my yearly attempt to conquer the many games in the boardwalk arcades so I could accrue enough points to finally win that bike or boom box (when in reality it was usually a spider ring or a Chinese finger trap). My favorite method of making the arcade spit out that sweet, perforated colored currency was always skee-ball. So when I learned that skee-ball evolved from a kids arcade game to a serious sport for adults with a national tournament, I was intrigued to say the least.
“Oh, this is a skill? I had no idea.” – Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams) discussing skee-ball in Chasing Amy (1994)
The reigning national champion of skee-ball is Austin, Texas’ Roy Hinojosa, or Brewbacca as he’s called on the circuit. See, skee-ball has been paired with another (vastly more) popular American tradition (drinking) in what has become known as Brewskee-Ball. Each year a nationwide tournament is held between rollers from various Brewskee-Ball leagues throughout the country. The 2017 national championship, affectionately known as the BEEB will feature five cities; Austin, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Brooklyn, and WIlmington, North Carlina (but sadly not New Jersey, where the game was invented).
I spoke with Brewbacca to get a better understanding of what it takes to go from casual arcade roller to the best in the country. Here now are his keys, err “skees” to success.
#1 Develop a Strategy…But Don’t Be Afraid to Leave It
When it comes to skee-ball there are a lot of different ways to approach your set. Games in the Brewskee-ball league consist of nine rolls a frame and ten games. Hinojosa usually sees his game average settle in the 350-380 range (he comes into this year’s tournament at 359.7). A “Full Circle” is 360 points, or nine rolls in the 40 pocket, which is where many players aim.
“The motto of Brewskee-ball is find the 40. The 40 pocket is where you’re going to get the most bang for your buck. You might go into 30 or 20 or even roll up into a 50, though if you shoot for 100 and miss its gonna go in the 10,” warns Hinojosa.
Most rollers avoid the temptation of relying on the corner 100 pockets (hundos).
“When it comes to the national championship there hasn’t really been anyone who used the strategy (of aiming for 100’s) to get into the tournament. Last year when I was down in the semis I had to use the hundos and luckily it worked out for me. If you have to go for hundos in the last frames or at all you made a mistake to that point.”
Despite many player’s reliance on the 40 point shot, Hinojosa cautions it’s best not to get too married to one plan of attack, as each matchup presents itself differently.
“Its all fluid. There’s no game plan. I might say I’m going to roll 40’s today and I’ll see if I can hit 50’s. If I need to I’ll go for the hundos. But that could change.”
#2 Practice but not too much
As with any sport, practice makes perfect. Hinojosa is no exception. In fact, after first joining a Brewskee-Ball league in Austin with his wife Rachel, AKA “Minor Riot” (aptly named for the “minor riot” she nearly caused in protest of her husband’s controversial defeat in 2013), Roy invested in his own skee-ball machine. Hinojosa says he doesn’t play every day (unless he’s in tournament season) but averages about two to three times a week. Sometimes, less is more.
“There’s definitely a fatigue factor. If you’re constantly rolling and practicing to get better, eventually you’ll start picking up bad habits. Your back gets tired, your arms gets tired, you shift your weight. If you start doing that over and over again, doing it the wrong way, you’ll start picking up really bad habits and not understand why you’re missing.”
Still, he says repetition and building muscle memory is important. Whether you’re aiming for a Full Circle or not, he says you need to have all the shots down cold. “There’s no harm in practicing 50’s and 100’s. Getting the muscle memory for the 100’s is important. So that requires practices. But you need that base of the 40’s first.”
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