Games 9 through 12, Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, Jan. 17, 2016

February 7, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 7, 2016

Of all the Scrabble players I’ve officially faced (51) in all the official Scrabble tournaments I’ve officially played (10), there is one person I’ve faced more than any other. X— is a local kid who might be a high school freshman or sophomore now. In 11 games, I had beaten him five times and lost six times. Our most recent meeting, in the 2015 Duke PBMT tournament, had resulted in a discouraging 366-263 loss for me, largely thanks to a nightmarish six-turn stretch over which I contended with such unpromising racks as NOOSSU?, IOOSSU? and OSSUVY?.

I entered day two of the 2016 Duke PBMT event with mixed feelings. I’d beaten four players by respectable margins and lost four games, with three of those defeats being close. On Sunday morning, I tried to view the glass as being half-full. I would build on the positive things and forget about the negative things.

My ninth game of the tournament, and my first game on Sunday, was against X—. I was anxious at first, especially after I used a bonus spot to play HEX for 36 points, only for my opponent to respond immediately by playing BOXES for 34 points, which put him ahead, 67-62, after three turns.

I hit my stride in the fifth turn, when I used a rack of AEHILRS to play a 77-point bingo, HAILERS. My next play was KAY for 40 points, which put me firmly in the lead. The rest of the game, X— made only four moves that scored more than 20 points, and only one more than scored more than 26 points (QADI 41). Meanwhile, I used two additional decent plays — ZORIL 45 and JAW 35 — to cruise to a 407-310 victory.

(Incidentally, a zoril is a weasel-like African mammal, Ictonyx stratusresembling a skunk in coloration and habits. And yes, it takes an S.)

My opponent in game 10 was T—, the player whom I’ve faced second-most-often in official tournaments. He’s a local fellow a bit older than me. Entering this tournament, I’d played T— four times, winning three of the encounters. We’d split our last two clashes, in June 2015, with T— beating me in a high-scoring game before I clobbered him in a rematch. (My loss to T—, incidentally, involved my playing DIGESTA. This word, which T— did not challenge, is phony despite being an actual word.)

This time around, things started off poorly for me. I drew AAEEOOI for my opening rack, which I immediately returned to the bag, getting EIOPRTX in return. In turn three, I played XI; the X hit a triple-letter-score spot going both ways, giving me 52 points for the play. T— traded in two letters, leaving me with a 60-36 lead. I would never again trail in the game.

With my fifth move, I played TIcKERS/PALE/GOITERS for an 88-point bingo. T— traded four tiles, leaving me up, 168-57.

On the next turn, I played HATE 33.

I swapped out three tiles in the eighth turn. That helped sparked a strong five-turn run for me: GAVE 32, FIB 25, YAK 32, ZiNE 54 and ZERO 33. Meanwhile, T— traded in four tiles after both ZiNE and ZERO. I had a 400-183 lead at that point.

In the 16th turn, I put down my second bingo: TENSILE/TE/EGO 65. I went on to win by more than double T—’s score, 538-259.

My 11th game was against O—, a local student whom I had never faced before. He went first, trading in four tiles on the opening play.

In turn 2, I played eROSION 66 to jump ahead, 84-24. But O— did me one better on the next play, putting out eQuALED 70. However, that positioned me to play BANE with the B on a double-letter-score space and the E on a triple-word-score spot, yielding 48 points. My fourth move was HET 31; my fifth, PRICK 32.

O— then forfeit his next three moves by playing a string of phonies, including VOIT*/IL* and BID/BLOP*/DOP*. He followed up by trading in four letters, meaning he went four turns without gaining any points.

I kept on finding high-scoring words, including AXEL 37, RITZY 86 (R on triple-word-score, Z on double-letter-score) and PUN 39. After nine turns, I held a commanding 375-140 advantage.

The rest of the way, O— had just two plays of 20 or more points, and just one (JIGS 38) that exceeded 23. My only score higher than 18 points was JEU 30, but that was enough. I won, 497-299.

In the 12th round, I had my first rematch of the tournament: A game against KE, who had beat me in the second round on Saturday.

This time, I jumped out to a lead from the start: ALLOY 24, OWE 31, GOX 56 and RIVER 31, which used the triple-word-score in the bottom-left-hand corner. KE fought back in turns four through six with JUVIE 32, YID 36 and ALB 28, but I held a 172-149 lead going into the seventh move.

That turn, I put out PASToRS/NAT/YIDS, a 79-point play, but it was invalidated because NAT is phony. I put the same word down in another spot in turn eight, gaining 62 points. I led, 234-191, going into the ninth move.

Remember RIVER? In the 10th turn, much like the merchants of yore, I figured out a way to capitalize upon it. I rearranged AEIMPRT and played TRAMPIER, a 95-point bingo. KE opted to challenge, I think more out of a sense of desperation than because she believed the word was phony; it was good, and she lost her turn.

I put down HEED 40 for my 11th move, while KE traded four tiles. That left me up, 386-274.

We both had pretty strong finishes. In turn 12, KE put out FLATTING 73. I responded with BIZ 49, but KE put her Q to good use with TUQUE 36. (Flatting: To flatten. Tuque: A knitted woolen cap.) On turn 14, I played DIF 32, while KE went out with CUNT, worth 6 points on its own plus 14 from the leftovers on my rack.

The final result was a 479-403 victory. My record to that point was 8-4 with a spread of plus-553. Not too shabby!


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