I played my first Scrabble tournament in over a year and a half this weekend. I haven’t skipped a beat -- perfectly average just like last tournament. Seven wins, seven losses, and an average spread of a few points a game. I had one spectacular game and one terrible game. It’s funny though, the extent to which the bad feels bad is far greater than the extent to which the good game feels good. I am going to be dwelling on it for a while.
Things began calamitously before the tournament even starts. Because of the National Marathon a strip of streets in D.C. is shutdown. I have to take a completely roundabout route and arrive a half hour late. It ends up not being big a deal, other than pissing me off and stressing me out. I quickly settle in by being handily beat by Grant Guenzel 358-428.
My next game against Stan Williams is my closest of the tourney. It was looking bleak for me with him up by 90 early, but I rally behind two late bingos and eke it out 426-424. He would have won had he played IRES instead of ORES at the end, but he was not 100% on IRES – lucky for me. This victory incites a mini-run as I win my next three games over Eric Lutz, Verna Berg, and Edward Stewart, respectively. The wins are rather unspectacular, but I do get a chance to play TALIPED, a word I like. It means one afflicted with clubfoot.
Next is a disappointing match against Lorraine Burton. After falling behind early I bingo to go up by 11 and I pick a blank and an S on the ensuing draw. A few plays later I see INVERSED (it's valid), but decide against playing it under the logic that “invert” is a verb, and “inverse” is a noun. Plus the board is open and I have a 39 point play elsewhere. It might have been the right move given I’m only about 50-50 on INVERSED, but it did not work out for me. I don’t have racks with any synergy the rest of the game. I don’t draw a single A or E. It seems like I have IIVUUS? every turn. Not only can I not bingo, I can’t score, and I can’t open new bingo lines. Meanwhile, she is playing 2 and 3 letter words – FA for 20, BE for 18, NAH for 27, BAP for 26 – that are scoring and closing the board. Despite getting both blanks and three S-s I lose 327-274. Lorraine so graciously points this out, saying that she won despite being “outdrawn”. Not exactly. Given the board and my supporting tiles, the blanks and S-s were not that great to have. I would have traded my racks for hers in a heartbeat.
Seth Mandel draws the bag and the slaughters me 344-456 in the next game. I end the day with a good win against Tobey Roland 424-391. The key play late is ANENT which he unsuccessfully challenges. I was slightly worried because I have never looked this word up in a Scrabble dictionary nor recall ever seeing it played. But I have looked it up in a “regular” dictionary (after seeing it in a crossword puzzle) and about 99.9% of the words you can find in a regular dictionary are good in Scrabble (“iter” being a notable exception). I’m mostly satisfied at 5-3 on the day.
Day two starts well as I outpick Doug Hoylman (who, incidentally, is a 6-time champion of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament) and coast 403-341. I lose my next game to Jeff Cook 363-435. We draw pretty evenly, and both bingo twice, but he beats me to the punch on the good lines. The wheels start to fall off against Lucas Hayden (the eventual champ) my next game as not only do I allow a phony bingo (MALARIUM), but I try to hook it with an S on a bingo of my own leading to a successful challenge from him. From there on out he draws the bag and beats me 333-402. I have no legitimate complaint for being outpicked, though, as had I challenged his phony we would have entered an alternate reality in which I would have bingoed and he would have still had AAILMRU on his rack. The future in that reality isn’t looking so bad for me.
The next game against Diana Grosman is the one I am going to be losing sleep over for quite some time. Still feeling the sting from MALARIUM I allow Diana to play two phonies on me, UNPURSE and MACHINER. The first one I suspected was phony, but it was not completely idiotic for me to not challenge since I had a bingo, and there was a decent chance she would block the only line if the challenge was unsuccessful. However, not challenging MACHINER is quite likely the stupidest thing I have ever done in a Scrabble game (maybe just ever, period). It is near the end of the game and there is no way I can win other than challenging. I have nothing to lose. But I completely panic. My clock is low, I have mistracked the letters, and she only has a slight lead, so I just immediately play the best play I see. Then I instantly realize that I am going to lose because she is going to go out and I will be stuck with points on my rack. Yep, that’s what happens – 396-415 her victory. I feel sick.
I lose my next game, as well, to Edward Stewart, the fourth in a row, but I’m not unhappy about it, because he drew the bag on me. However, with him up by 115, I play an unchallenged phony bingo myself (DETERING) and then successfully challenge three straight phony bingos of his (FORESAVE, OVERBASE, FOVEATES) to come back and take the lead. Unfortunately, he gets lucky at end (drawing 2 tiles with 3 in the bag, I don’t pick the only one I need to win) to edge me 399-409. I feel I played about as well as I could. I just didn’t get the tiles.
Salvaging my tournament I destroy Dan Milton 553-310 in my final game. I hit INQUESTS for a 203 point triple-triple (my first ever in a tournament). It was the high play of the tournament by far. Then the next play I bingo BANTIES for 81, and a few plays later POLENTA for 75. The high game for the tournament was 565 and had I known this I might have been able to beat it. I was not really spending a lot of time looking for my best play at the end. Oh well, there was no cash prize for high game or high play, anyway.
Until next time…