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'Michael Jordans' of Arcade Games Face Off in Logan Square Tournament

By DNAinfo Staff on March 24, 2013 8:15am  | Updated on March 25, 2013 8:35am

LOGAN SQUARE — All it took was a few tiny pickup games of Donkey Kong and Tetris to draw some of the biggest names in arcade gaming.

Over the weekend, arcade aficionados from across the country met for a small tournament in an arcade behind another arcade in the back of a record store in Logan Square.

"This is like we're having a basketball game in the street," said Mark Alpiger, who organized the 2013 Classic Arcade Gaming (dot com) Tournament. "Except it's with Michael Jordan, Larry Byrd and Magic Johnson."

Like the hoops champs, these gamers have spent their lives practicing their coordination and muscle memory. They come in jerseys — Pac-Man t-shirts and Frogger jackets — and they all want to score the most points.

But there are no jump shots.

"Some players, they'll use three fingers, like this," said Logan Hardware owner Jim Zespy, fluttering his fingers across blue Tetris buttons.

"I've never seen that move before," he said when one gamer got down on one knee, turned his face away and smashed buttons, rapid-fire. "He's really bustin' it out."

Hailing from the Bronx, the West Coast and even Alaska, the high-scorers caught up with their fellow champs over the sounds of 8-bit "bings," "whoops" and game-over jingles.

"It's one thing to play in your house, it's another thing to come out and play with other people," said Donald Hayes, who holds so many records he can't remember them all off the top of his head. He made an appearance in indie documentary, "King of Kong," which chronicled a high-score rivalry in Donkey Kong.

Frogger high-score holder Pat Lafayye said he's happy there's a lot of competition and rivalry within classic arcade gaming.

"Otherwise there's no one to push you," he said. One ficticious rivalry even pushed him to achieve his current record.

Lafayye worked for years to beat George Costanza's high score of 860,000 from "Seinfeld," a feat he didn't even think was possible.

But since achieving a score of nearly 900,000, his first-place throne has been usurped.

"I'm not happy about it," he said, adding that he plans to start practicing again.

David Cruz, who traveled from Florida to Logan Square, was ready to attempt a world record at the tournament.

Only six people have ever completed a perfect game of Pac-Man, and he was up to the four-and-a-half-hour challenge. His pre-game rituals involve making sure to use the restroom.

"I just try to concentrate on the game," Cruz said. "Any little distraction, it could all be over."

The last time he attempted the feat, the classic arcade machine reset when he was more than half-way through. But it was fun anyway, he said.

"There's no other reason to do it."

Zespy looked up from attaching a camera to the Pac-Man game.

"Besides the fame and fortune," he said.