By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 24, 2015
The second and final day of the Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament began at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015. I arrived moments after play began, but about two minutes before my opponent arrived.
P. is another local player, although I hadn’t seen her in some months. When we got under way, I soon fell behind, partly because I drew a Q after my first turn and needed to stall until I found a way to use it. After three moves, P., who took the first turn, had a 60-23 advantage, mainly because of her SOX/PECS 32.
Her fourth play was a small one, worth only 5 points, and then I had my opportunity. I laid down QAIDS 57 and zoomed ahead, 80-65.
That wouldn’t last, because with her very next move, P. sprang FREEING, a 76-point bingo, retaking the lead.
The situation shifted drastically again in the seventh turn, which P. began by exchanging three letters. I dropped MEATIEr 69. My lead was 205-159.
But my momentum stalled, and P. pulled back into contention with DORK 22 and BODE 26 as I struggled with lousy racks. In the 12th turn, P.’s HI 15 narrowed her deficit to two points, 249-247.
But I was ready to inflate my margin for error. I put out DAIRIeS, a 65-point bingo. The score became a much more comfortable 314-247 going into the 13th turn. Little did I know that disaster was looming.
P. opened turn 13 with TOY, a very nice 36-point play. I sought to block bingo alleys by playing VAT 12, which I thought would make the top two or three rows of the board more or less unplayable.
This was a good idea — or at least, it would have been but for one thing. The A in my VAT was just to the right of a double-word-score square. My play enabled P. to put down two tiles, Z and I, to form ZOrI/ZA, a 46-point move. (Because the 10-point Z tile was put on the bonus spot, it was doubled not once but twice.)
This was a terrible strategic error, one from which I would not recover, despite retaining a 348-329 lead after 14 turns. P. closed with NEW/HISN 25 and EELS 12. The latter move, an out play, garnered P. 16 points from the unused tiles on my rack. Also, we recalculated the score for P.’s eighth turn (DORK/KANE — KANE is valid, by the way) and found that she’d undercounted the play by 10 points.
Final score, with corrected math: 392-360, a 32-point loss.
Tournament record: 4-5. Cumulative margin: minus-212 points.