Game 15, Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, 1/18/2015

January 26, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 26, 2015

By winning my 14th game in the Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, I preserved my opportunity to finish 8-8.

But to do so, I’d have to win my last two games. That was no small feat, considering that for game 15, I was assigned to face L., the bright middle-schooler who had defeated me, 321-261, on day one.

I was playing from behind ever since turn 2, when L. made the first of three straight strong moves: FACE 31, FAZED 59 and TaJ 34. At the end of five turns, I trailed, 136-67.

My sixth move, QUIT, was a 39-point play that narrowed the deficit somewhat. But L. built his advantage fairly steadily. The score was 236-165 entering the 10th turn.

That turn would prove to be decisive. I played BULK for 20. But L. responded with an 89-point bingo, SWEETING.

I’d never heard of this word before. If the play stood, L. would have a 325-185 lead, essentially guaranteeing him a win.

So I declared a challenge. We went up to the computer. The computer flashed — a green screen. SWEETING was a valid word.

L. let out a big sigh as we walked back to the game board. He told me that he’d taken a flyer on the word, half-suspecting that it was a phony.

This debacle was my fault. With my fourth move, I’d put down GIN, a 17-point horizontal word starting at A13. A is the left-most column. Without any obstruction from other words on the board, the G sat there, turn after turn, waiting for someone to make a play on it that would utilize one of the triple-word-score spaces that are arrayed on the board’s edges.

Alas, that wasn’t me. I didn’t have a combination of letters that would allow for a high-scoring play, and with L. holding a lead, I didn’t feel as if I could afford any low-scoring moves. A few turns passed, and I stopped paying attention to that bingo alley in column A.

L. didn’t forget — and unlike me, he found a possible bingo to play there. And, of course, he made me pay for this strategic lapse. It was an odd repeat of the error I’d made in our previous game on Saturday.

There were only a few more plays of note.

In turn 13, I parlayed a rack of INORSS? into SeNIORS, a modest 69-point bingo. That seemed to put a victory within reach, narrowing my deficit to 334-281.

Unfortunately, L. had just traded in three tiles. That allowed him to play ENDEARS, a 75-point bingo, immediately after my bingo. Score entering the 14th turn: 409-281.

The game was no longer in doubt. Knowing that, I got a bit careless about my end game, and L. was able to use his last tiles while I still held an X. He collected 30 points from my rack leftovers and finished with a 456-299 win — a margin of victory of 157 points.

Tournament record: 6-9. Cumulative scoring difference: minus-396.

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