By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 24, 2015
In my eighth and final game of day one of the Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, I faced D., a very familiar foe. She lives locally (Chapel Hill, I believe) and is a regular participant in the Sunday-afternoon casual Scrabble contests in which I’ve frequently played over the past three years.
I was feeling some pressure in this game. My loss to S. in game 7 had given me a 3-4 record on the day, the first time I’d been below .500. I really wanted to finish on a positive note going into the second and final day of the Duke PBMT main event.
But D. got an early lead on me, and she extended it methodically in turns 4 through 8. Each of those plays was worth at least 21 and as much as 26 points. D. held a 170-93 lead by the end of this stretch of the game.
For my eighth move, I traded a single tile. This worked out great: After exchanging a V for a U, I was able to play SQUArES, a 94-point bingo, in the ninth turn. That gave me a narrow 187-180 advantage.
D. re-took the lead immediately after with a parallel play to start the 10th turn: SERIES/AS/rE/SI 32. I could muster much in response, at least not with a rack of FILNNNT, so I played INNS for a paltry 8. S. led, 212-195, going into the 11th turn.
Then D. tried to play a phony, ZAW* 26. I challenged, and the move was voided.
I kept on trying to balance my rack with modest plays. On turn 14, D. played ZAG/AG/GO 32, putting her up by more than 50 points, 277-225.
Slowly but surely, however, I was getting my rack in order. I’d picked up the second blank after playing INNS in turn 10, and five turns later, I had a collection of tiles that formed a bingo. My HAUNTEd was worth a cool 89 points.
D. challenged — because I didn’t record the cross-words, I’m honestly not sure why she did so — and my play was upheld. Because I’d drawn CDDRRTU, I used the free play to trade three letters. I didn’t take note of what I traded in, but my rack got worse, because I drew CLM and wound up with the admirably bad CCDLMRU.
(Presumably, I kept my C because I had some kind of use for it, although I don’t recall what it was.)
After my trade, I led 314-289. D. was able to narrow the margin with LOX 18 and DOT/DO/OX 18, although she never retook the lead.
My last big play was CURD/COX/UT 30 in turn 18. I was up 364-338 at that point. But I could only score 7 points the rest of the way; D. recorded 22.
It wasn’t quite enough for her, however. I escaped with an 11-point win, 371-360.
Tournament record: 4-4 — back to .500. Cumulative margin: minus-180.