Games 1 through 4, Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, Jan. 16, 2016

February 6, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 6, 2016

My first game in the main event of the sixth annual Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament  was against P—, a local player whom I’d officially played twice before, in the 2014 and 2015 PBMT tournament main events — both losses. This time around, I held a modest 221-195 lead until the 14th turn, when P— played FONdeST, a 70-point bingo.

(A few quick Scrabble reminders: A bingo is a play that uses all seven of the tiles on a player’s rack; it’s worth a 50-point bonus on top of normal scoring. Also, a blank is indicated before use as a question mark; after use, as a lowercase letter. P— used two of them for her bingo.) I was unable to come back, and lost, 335-288.

Game 2 was against an older woman whom I had not previously faced. I’ll refer to her as KE. I trailed slightly, 125-111, after five moves. In the sixth turn, I played METTLEs 81 to go ahead.

KE responded with IXIA/MI/EX/TI/TA for 48 points.

Unfortunately, my draw had been horrendous: GNNSVVW. In turn 7, I traded in all of my tiles except for the S. KE played OAK for 28 points, which put her back up, 201-192.

The contest was neck and neck until turn 12, when KE played TWIRLEd. The 7o-point bingo gave her a 343-296 advantage. I went on to lose, 392-368, which left me 0-2 in the tournament with a spread, or cumulative scoring margin, of minus-71 points.

Things started to turn around in game 3, my third official meeting with another older woman, GH. My fourth move was PUTTINg 81, which left me ahead, 142-67, midway through the turn.

Halfway through turn 10, I led by 257-187. Then GH, who had traded four tiles in turn 9, put down XI. The X was on a bonus spot, and the play was worth 36 points, which reduced my lead to 257-223.

But I had a decent rack, so I started the 11th turn by putting down a second bingo, GUSTERS* 72. (The asterisk indicates an invalid word; frankly, I hadn’t even realized that GUSTERS was phony until just now as I was writing this post.) GH did not challenge the word, and I went on to a 390-308 victory.

My fourth game was a relatively easy 458-243 win against an elementary-school player. My opponent’s highest-scoring play was JOG 33, while I put bonus spaces and the so-called power tiles to good advantage. I played ZIT 45 in turn 1, FLOW 54 in turn 5 and WONK 62 in turn 7. The last play was on the top row, with the W on a double-letter-score spot and the K on a triple-word score space.

With my 12th move, I tried to put down a 77-point bingo, GLOwIEST, but it was challenged off the board. I didn’t really believe that the word was valid, but because I already had a big lead by that point, and because I would essentially have had a guaranteed victory had the play stood, it was worth taking a risk. Two turns later, I played STILTEd, a 67-point bingo which my opponent unsuccessfully challenged. (She had also challenged WONK, which is valid.)

At Saturday’s lunch break, I had an overall record of 2-2 4-4 with a spread of plus-226.

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