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02/09/94

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Stanford pinball wizard scores big in world championship

STANFORD - For Stanford University sophomore Bowen Kerins, all those quarters finally paid off.

Kerins, an 18-year-old prospective math major from Newport, R.I., recently won first place - and $4,000 - in the fourth annual International Pinball Association Championship, held Feb. 4-6 in a New York City ballroom.

The contest, the largest ever held, involved about 700 pinball wizards from 25 states and five countries, who bumped, flipped and rang up points into the wee hours.

"I don't really have a distinctive playing style," said Kerins, who racked up 3.1 billion points on the "Tommy" machine (inspired by the rock group The Who) to clinch the title.

"I just try to keep my mind away from the game and focus on something else, like the piped music."

Kerins has been playing pinball since he was about 7 years old. He's always preferred them to video games, where "you're watching a screen and moving pixels and nothing's physically happening."

The $2.2 billion pinball-machine industry also has been a lot more innovative than the video game industry in recent years, he said.

"It seems like all the latest video games are just new fighting games, but the new pinball games have different toys that make them fun to play," Kerins said. "The Tommy machine, for example [based on The Who's rock opera about a blind pinball player], has a shield that covers the flippers so that you can't see what you're doing."

Kerins decided to enter the world championship after scoring well last year in a San Francisco tournament. Since winning in New York, he has been bombarded with calls from newspaper reporters and television news crews - and earned a front-page photo in the life section of USA Today.

"My grandfather used to watch me play and say, 'What a pointless thing!' " Kerins said with amusement. "After I won, I asked him what he thought, and he said, 'I guess I was a little wrong.' "

Kerins plans to use part of his prize money to buy his own pinball game, which he will set up for fellow students in Florence Moore Hall, where he lives on campus.

Eventually, he hopes to be a high school or college math teacher.

"Pinball would never be a wise career choice," he said. "But it sure is a lot of fun."

-tmj-

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