By Matthew E. Milliken
June 30, 2015
Game 5 started off as a massacre and ended as one, too. But it nearly took an interesting twist along the way…
My opponent was a fellow about my age, a local player whom I’ll call T. On the first move, he bingoed with SNORTEd 61. I replied with HID 16. On T.’s second move, he bingoed again with MOISTURE 61. That gave him a comfortable 123-16 lead midway through turn 2.
I had one hope to make the game competitive, which involved the word MOISTURE. T. had played this vertically through the O in SNORTEd. The second bingo was on the board’s center column; its final letter was on the 14th row.
That meant that if I could put an S or a blank on the end of MOISTURE, I’d be able to score a huge play using the triple-word-score space — a bonus that would apply to MOISTURES and to whatever word I formed on the bottom row.
On turn 5, T. played PIXEL 42, which extended his already commanding lead to 205-46. But I had a shot…
My rack at the moment was ADEGIST. I stared and stared and stared before realizing that these letters could made DIGESTA. Was that a valid word? I certainly thought so, for reasons that I’ll elaborate upon in a separate post. Was MOISTURES good? Well, if it wasn’t, I was totally screwed. And so I played DIGESTA/MOISTURES.
The letters in both words added up to 20 points. That jumped up to 60 points thanks to the triple-word-score bonus. And that further ballooned to 110 total points thanks to the 50-point bingo bonus. If that isn’t the highest-scoring play I’ve ever made in competition, it’s got to be among the top three. I’d cut my deficit to 205-56, meaning that I might make the game competitive if I could play another bingo…
Key word in the preceding sentence: If. I had to get a bingo first.
T. opened turn 6 with LAMED 34, which moved him to a 239-156 advantage. My rack was EEQRRS?. Could I convert the Q and the blank into beaucoup points?
Yes, I could, I realized. Using the I in MOISTURES, I put down a horizontal play, REQuIRES. The 86-point bingo narrowed the deficit to 239-232.
In only two moves, I’d gone from trailing by 159 points to losing by only seven. I was ecstatic!
Ecstasy transformed into concern almost instantly. T. put down ZOOS 33, and just like that I was down by 40 points agin.
And my rack was not helpful. Following REQuIRES, I’d drawn INOOORU — simply a horrific collection of tiles. Rather than trade in that mess, I worked through it, playing IRON 16 and VUG/ORG* 18 on consecutive turns.
T.’s KA/KA on turn 9 opened up the left-most column, enabling me to make a nice score with JOT/OKA/TAM 37. (The T covered the triple-word-score space in the board’s bottom-left corner.) Even so, I trailed by 335-303 after nine plays.
T. added to my immiseration in turn 11 by playing HEINIE 37 on another triple-word-score space on the left-most column. I challenged, unsuccessfully, not because I believed HEINIE was phony but because I felt I had virtually no chance to win if the play stood. It gave T. a 383-313 lead.
The game wasn’t quite over, however. My rack held CDEIPRT. If there was a free E to use on the board, this would make the bingo DECREPIT. If not, I could try hooking onto the end of another word to make the bingo PREDICT.
Unfortunately, the board would not enable either of those moves. I finished the game with an 80-point defeat, 427-347.
Tournament record: 3-2. Cumulative scoring margin: minus-42.
Afterward, T. told me that REQUiRES had blocked his plan to play ZA/ZOO for more than 60 points, with the Z occupying a triple-letter-score space that wound count for both words.
In other words, my loss could have been worse. It could have been a lot worse.
In game 6, I faced a young man, F., whom I’d never played before. He actually was leading the division, which I found a little intimidating. But the game turned out to be quite competitive.
I led off the game with HATED 26. F. played through my A with LACKY 28. I thought about challenging this play but opted against it; later, I learned to my chagrin that, as I’d suspected, lackey does indeed require an E.
My second and third moves were COX 39 and BLOOM 31, giving me a 96-46 lead midway through turn 3. But then F. put down a bingo, SEATING 69, to spring into the lead.
I notched a nice play by hooking an E onto the end of ROT; the result, AMPLER/ROTE, enabled me to score 30 points using the triple-word-score space on the board’s far-right column. I momentarily went ahead of F.
But he responded with FEDS/SAMPLER 27, restoring his lead, 132-126, after four turns.
I again briefly took the lead in turn 6 by playing ATONE/EF 24, which used the first letter of FEDS and the top row’s triple-word-score space. But turnabout is fair play: F. used the first letter of my most recent word to play MARiNER/AR, a 72-point bingo. That vaulted him into a 229-172 lead.
I was starting to get nervous. That continued as the board and my rack forced me to play small ball in turns 7 through 11. I used one turn to exchange six of my seven letters. My only score higher than 16 points in this stretch was QUANT 30.
I got a little annoyed at F. Not only was he openly quite happy about his bingo (“My father will be so happy because he is one!”), he — inadvertently, I’m sure — gave himself extra points on one play. He also misstated my score on at least two consecutive plays.
At one point, I said, “I have no idea where you’re getting these numbers from.” We paused the clock to review the score; it turned out that in F.’s joy over MARiNER, he’d forgotten to write down the 24 points I’d made immediately before he laid down that bingo.
Going into the 12th turn, F. held a 334-242 advantage. But I was able to strike a big blow for myself with HINDERS/EH, a 70-point bingo. To my surprise, F. challenged this play — he thought that I’d inappropriately extended the noun hind when in fact I’d only added an S to the verb hinder. The play stood, and I’d slashed my deficit to 334-312.
F. forfeit his 12th move as a result of the unsuccessful challenge, but I wasn’t able to take advantage.
By this point, the board was pretty well closed in. I briefly took a 350-348 lead in turn 14 when I played ZIN 24. Unfortunately for me, F. clinched the game with a nice play, PISTE 22. I went down to a 13-point defeat, 376-363.
I was disappointed because I’d squandered an excellent chance to take down the division leader. On the other hand, F. got three of the four Ses and both blanks, and despite that considerable benefit, he’d topped me only narrowly.
Tournament record through six games: 3-3. Cumulative scoring margin: minus-55.