Late-bird event, games 1–3, Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, Jan. 18, 2016

February 13, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 13, 2016

After acquitting myself fairly well in the 2016 Duke PBMT tournament, I decided to take one last bite at the Scrabble apple. I drove back to Duke on Monday morning, Jan. 18, to participate in a five-gave “late bird” side tournament.

I opened play against KE, the older woman whom I’d lost to by 24 points on Saturday but beaten by 76 points on Sunday afternoon. Playing second, she took an early 106-55 lead on the strength of her first two plays, MEZE 35 and UNMERGE* 71. (That bingo turned out to be phony, as I learned after the game.)

In turn four, KE put down REqUEUE/MOPER, a 66-point bingo. It came off the board after I challenged both words; as I later learned, MOPER is good but REQUEUE is not. (To prevent a player from gaining a competitive advantage, when multiple words are challenged during a tournament game, the computer simply states whether or not the play as a whole is good without specifying the invalid word or words.) Despite my successful challenge, KE led, 142-108, going into the fifth turn.

Things turned with my sixth move, SHIVERy/MOORS 74. KE responded with a 30-point play, YEH, but even so, I completed the turn with a 194-182 advantage. As it turned out, KE would not score more than 29 points in any single move the rest of the game.

Two things allowed me to pad my lead. One of these was VENT, my 33-point play in the seventh turn, which utilized one of those combos that tend to be high-scoring: The V was on a double-letter-score spot and the T was on a triple-word-score space. I was up, 227-198, following the turn.

Entering turn 10, I had a great rack: AEGINST, or TISANE+G, which makes several seven-letter bingos: EASTING, EATINGS, GENISTA, INGATES, INGESTA, SEATING, TAGINES and TEASING. (Note: Two of those words, GENISTA and TAGINES, entered the official Scrabble tournament lexicon relatively recently.) What’s more, I had a clear path to the T at the end of VENT.

After cogitating for a while, I realized that I could play an eight-letter bingo beginning on the triple-word-score spot in the board’s bottom-left corner. My 83-point TANGIEST helped me secure a 336-266 lead by turn’s end.

I wound up with a 408-368 win.

My second game was against K—, an excellent player who had beaten me in our only previous official encounter. She entered the event with an 1175 rating, nearly twice my 621.

She started the game with AHA 12, which I responded to with a 12-pointer of my own, CHORD. But K— got ahead in the second turn with STIFF 34, while I used the move to trade in my entire rack, ILMNOTV. (The bag yielded AAIILRZ — not terrible, but not great.) I had to play catch-up from that point forward.

Matters got worse when K— broke out a 76-point bingo, SAUNtER/SCORING, on the ninth turn. Even after I answered with a 38-pointer, DEX, I trailed, 258-168. That was not good, to say the least.

Amazingly, I fought my way back to take a late lead. In turn 12, I converted a rack of EINOPST into PINTOES/ORTS. K— challenged this 70-point bingo, but both words were valid. She therefore forfeit her next move, in turn 13. (Incidentally, I could also have played POINTES/ORTS.)

I drew AEILNTW and found a strong play, AWL 37. And like that, my 90-point deficit had turned into a 333-319 lead! (I’d trailed by 71 points entering the 12th turn and by 95 points midway through the turn.) However, my momentum was about to stall.

K— played KeNO for 29 points in turn 14, while I put out QUOTE 28. That put me back on top, 361-348.

But K— was able to go out in turn 15 with SIR, which was worth 21 points plus another six points due to the leftover tiles on my rack. Final score: K— 375, me 361.

I began my third game with about the worst opening possible. My opponent, a new player named R—, started play with an 80-point bingo, THANKER. I challenged and found, to my dismay, that the word was valid, meaning I had to forfeit my turn.

I faced a big hole, but I was able to make up some ground in turn five with Xi. The X utilized a triple-letter-score space both horizontally and vertically, so I garnered 53 points with the move. My deficit after that was 166-99.

R— tried to score a quick 13 points with his sixth move by putting down ZOOT. I challenged it off the board.

A few plays later, R—’s MINTY added 35 points to his tally. After my response (BAT 17), I was significantly behind, 223-144.

The tide finally began to turn in the 13th turn, which started with an inauspicious play. R— put out SOE* 14. I considered challenging but didn’t, I think in large part because I had a bingo ready to unleash: SOILIER/QUEERS. The resultant 74 points gave me my first lead of the game, 287-274.

The next turn also included something odd. R— played GRIS/SOILIERS 23. Both of these were phony, but I declined to challenge because I wasn’t absolutely sure and because I had another good play lined up.

Or so I thought. Instead, I carelessly put out BEAD/BI/EE*/AR, which would have been worth 41 points if not for the EE, which R— correctly challenged. The score was 297-287 in R—’s favor going into the 15th move.

My thoughtless misstep nearly cost me the game, especially when R—’s GOES in turn 15 bumped his advantage by 30 points. I was behind, 363-332, after 17 turns.

But I was able to make a move. R—’s 18th play was very modest (NET 6). By contrast, I had something big — and legitimate — lined up: JET 28. That narrowed my deficit to 369-360.

The J in JET was in the left-most column, two spots up from the bottom. R— tried to play JEN vertically with the N on the triple-word-score spot in the bottom-left-hand corner. It would have been worth 30 points, but I challenged it off the board. That reset the score to 369-360 in R—’s favor midway through the 19th turn.

Since the tile bag had been emptied, I had just four tiles remaining on my rack: IRS?. I played SIRe for 26 points, which boosted me to a 388-369 lead. Counting 14 points from the tiles left behind on R—’s rack, and subtracting 10 points because I’d exceeded my 25-minute allotment by a few seconds, I won, 392-369. That had been far too close for comfort!


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