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Burnaby’s Robert Gagno is the best pinball player in the world.

Gagno, 27, beat out world No. 2-ranked Keith Elgin, described as the Tiger Woods of pinball, among others.

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From wizard mode to motherlode, Burnaby’s Robert Gagno is the best pinball player in the world.


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He’s got the trophy, a 30-pound solid block of wood topped by a snarling bronze three-armed alien, to prove it.

Gagno, 27, topped a field that included world No. 2-ranked Keith Elwin, among others.

World No. 1 Jorian Engelbrektsson skipped the April 7-10 world championship at Carnegie, Pa., to remain in Sweden with his newborn child.

“I remember the instant I won, my phone started ringing,” Gagno said. “I was getting Facebook messages from people I don’t even know.

“I wondered if that happens to basketball or tennis champions, too.”

Gagno, whose mom Kathy was once one of the highest-ranked female players in Canada, played his first tournament at 19 in Toronto while on a business trip with his dad Maurizio.

He won the varsity division.


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“This is the holy grail of pinball right here,” said Maurizio Gagno, pointing to the 30-pound PAPA 19 trophy his son won and gets to keep. “And next year Robert’s banner will join the 18 banners hanging from the rafters.”

The tournament is held at the Professional and Amateur Pinball Association’s 30,000-square-foot world headquarters warehouse.

More than 500 machines give the space a Las Vegas casino feel and the weekend of the world championships is the only time of the year the public is invited inside, to watch the 400-plus competitors from around the globe.

Each year the A-division champion’s name is emblazoned on a banner and raised to the ceiling.

Gagno becomes the 19th champ.

“There’s no monetary value, but you become one of the legends, up there in the rafters of that building,” his dad said.  “It’s amazing, Robert is the first Canadian ever to win the world championship.”


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The younger Gagno has been one of the top-ranked players in North America ever since he started playing competitively in 2008, rising to world No. 4 three years ago.

As well, a documentary film crew has been following Gagno around for two years — he won the U.S. national championship in Las Vegas a year ago — and the film Wizard Mode , featuring Gagno, will be released next month at the Hot Docs Festival in Toronto. It  premieres at the DOXA film festival in Vancouver on May 11.

“I was in tears when I realized Robert had won,” said his proud father. “He got his life’s goal. Ever since he started competing he was trying to win the world championship.”

Gagno said his next goal is becoming just as good at his other passion, board games, especially Settlers of Catan.

Otherwise, he vowed, being champion won’t change him.

“One thing I’ve learned in life is respect can’t be bought by money, respect is earned,” he said.



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