Local pinball wizard now No. 1 in Canada

Burnaby's Robert Gagno, 24, is now Canada's No. 1-ranked pinball player, and No. 10 in the world.
— image credit: Mario Bartel/NewsLeader

Burnaby's Robert Gagno continues to rise up the pinball rankings, and is currently No. 1 in Canada and No. 10 worldwide out of a field of about 16,000.

Only two years ago when he was last featured in the NewsLeader, he was headed off to the world championships as the No. 60 seed in the world, No. 2 in Canada.

Now 24, the Moscrop secondary grad is working full-time doing data entry at a plumbing company, enjoys training in gymnastics (he's got a backflip down pat) and playing poker.

Robert uses his math skills to determine probabilities of what cards are on the table, but has to work on his poker face, said his mom, Kathy Gagno, with a laugh. "He often has a serious expression but sometimes he'll overdo it."

Robert is autistic which affects mainly his social skills, but he impresses in other areas, including math and visual memory, the latter which appears to help him quickly master new pinball games.

Kathy said that unlike most people, Robert seems to get nervous in early rounds of pinball tournaments, eventually relaxing when the stakes get higher.

Otherwise, he approaches pinball like an athlete—he's very focused and must have good stamina to still be standing and playing hours later.

"He sets really high expectations for himself so he gets really mad at himself if he doesn't do as well," Kathy said.

For his part, Robert said he feels he has more to prove "because I've got a lot more competition trying to catch up to me and I need to make almost a statement."

He was pleased with a recent string of three tournament wins in a row earning the championships for the Vancouver Regional Pinball Association, the Seattle Pinball League and the Fraser Valley Flipper Freaks.

"It feels like a hat trick to me," Robert said, adding that in Seattle he had to play until 2:30 a.m. before securing the win.

In terms of world pinball powers, the rankings are dominated by Americans, starting with Keith Elwin of Carlsbad, Calif. Robert is only one of three non-Americans in the top 10 along with Daniele Acciari of Italy at No. 2 and Jörgen Holm of Sweden at No. 7.

Robert hopes to represent Canada again at the next world championships being held in Frankfurt, Germany in May.

"I love anything that feels like competition where it almost makes you sweat, gives you a heartbeat, it gives you a really big adrenaline rush, which is why I love this so much."

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