Game 10, Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, 1/18/2015

January 24, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 24, 2015

By losing my opening game on day two of the Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, I fell back into negative territory with a 4-5 record. That left me feeling some pressure to get a win in my next game, the 10th of the two-day main event.

My opponent was J., a novice tournament competitor who (if memory serves) was winless to that point in the conclave. Even so, he jumped out to a 62-23 lead after two turns thanks to a pair of strong plays, ZOO 32 and XIS/ZAS 30.

I had one thing working in my favor early on, however: I had yet again obtained a blank tile on my opening draw. After some low-scoring balancing moves, I was able to put out ESTEEMs/HUTS, a 75-point bingo, on the fifth turn. J. answered with MOW, a 24-pointer, but he trailed, 138-120, going into the sixth turn.

We treaded water for the next few turns. Then, for his ninth move, J. opted to trade in three tiles.

At that point, I had a 189-168 advantage, my largest of the game, and a horrendous rack: AEEETUU. I responded to J.’s trade with an exchange of my own, switching out five tiles. (I think I kept an E and a T.)

Alas, J. was about to bingo on me. He played WATERING, an 89-point bingo, retaking the lead, 257-189, with 10 turns in the books.

Let’s pick up the action in the 19th turn. With a not-so-promising rack of ADHILNN, I noticed an open triple-letter-score square on our crowded board. To this spot’s left was a G; to its right, an I; one row beneath it, another I. I put down my H for GHI/HI, a nifty 28-point play.

The move got even sweeter because J., a smart and earnest 20-something guy whose word knowledge is a bit raw, challenged GHI. It was valid (definition: semifluid clarified butter, a popular cooking oil in India), so J. forfeit his opportunity to make a play in the 19th turn. Even better, my draw was the second blank, which might prove to be useful in the end game.

But J. still led, 359-305, and the game was rapidly approaching the end. I stared unhappily at the board, which didn’t have a lot of bingo alleys. I stared unhappily at my rack, which was ADILNN?. That could make…what?

I searched for a bingo. I searched and searched some more. It seemed hopeless.

I was about to give up when inspiration struck. Elated, I put down inlands, hooking my blank (the s) onto the front of pa. Result: INLANDs/sPA 76. I rocketed out to a 381-359 lead.

Frankly, I wasn’t sure if inlands was a valid word or not. Somewhat to my surprise, J. opted not to challenge, instead making JIG 33, a terrific play that used a triple-word-score space. That put J. back on top — by a single point, 382-381! — at the completion of the 20th turn.

But two factors were working in my favor. One was that the bag was virtually empty when I put out INLANDs, meaning that I could go out with my 21st move. I put down ED 3, emptying my rack and collecting 16 points from J.’s leftover tiles.

My other advantage was J.’s slow pace of play — a typical problem for novice players. (I suffered from it when I first tried my brain at competitive Scrabble.) Not only did he use up his entire 25-minute allotment, he also used more than one minute of extra time. Consequently, J. was penalized 20 points.

Like I said, both of those factors worked in my favor. My final score was 381 + 3 + 16 = 400; J.’s final score, 382 – 20 = 362.

The 38-point victory evened my record again at 5-5. My cumulative scoring differential remained negative, however, at minus-176.


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