By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 14, 2016
After the first three games of the late-bird event Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, I had a 2-1 record and a positive spread. I wanted to keep the momentum going with a win in game four against TS, a student who was participating in only his third official tournament.
Beating TS proved to be no easy feat. I had a 59-34 lead midway through the third turn when my foe played TENTIES*/FUNDS. I retained the lead by challenging this 75-point fake bingo.
Unfortunately for TS, and fortunately for me, I entered turn four with the über-rack: AEINST?. (As I wrote last year, AEINST, or TISANE, is the best bingo stem.) I played TEASING/BOOTHS for 78 points to go up, 137-34.
TS had a bingo of his own, and this time, it was valid. Using the N that I had just played, he put out SENTIENT 62, narrowing my advantage to 137-96. Game on!
Both of us also put out high-scoring words in the sixth turn. Mine was JOULE, a 58-pointer thanks to a combination of having the J on a double-letter-score space and one of the other letters on a double-word-score spot. TS’s reply, KIWI 44, did the same thing with, respectively, K and I. That made the score 200-166 in my favor.
My lead shrank to 242-215 in the eighth turn after TS played ZIP 34.
Since I had a very poor rack, BCDGLY?, I swapped out everything except for the blank, getting AEHRSX — a pretty excellent draw. I used the X horizontally and vertically on a triple-letter-score spot in turn 10, gaining 52 points.
TS only made one play larger than 20 points (FOCUS 27) the rest of the way, while I popped out YEW 37 with my 16th move. The final score was 421-323, giving me a 3-1 record on the day.
So far, so good, especially since my only loss had been a narrow one to a player with a rating nearly twice mine. Unfortunately, the fifth game went extremely poorly for me.
My foe in the late-bird finale was H—. Our first-ever meeting had been in the 2014 Duke PBMT tournament, which she had won, 414-387. Our second encounter had been a heart-breaking 377-374 loss in the 2015 Duke PBMT tournament. I’d won our third game, 503-422, when we played in June 2015 tournament.
H— was about to get her revenge — big time. Two turns after starting the game by swapping out four of her ties, she played ZAG for 33 points. She led, 56-51, after three turns.
I cut my deficit to one point, 64-63, in the fourth turn. Each of us scored six points in turn five, meaning I still trailed by just a point. So far, so close.
That changed on the very next play: H—’s OSIERED, a 71-pointer that put her on top, 144-69. (An osier is a willow tree with tough, flexible twigs or branches that are used for wickerwork. Osiered or osierlike are adjectival forms of this word.)
My seventh move was QIs/ENABLERs 40, which closed the gap to 156-118. H— responded with QUA, a 24-pointer thanks to a double-word-score spot.
My rack at that moment was inauspicious: GHILNNR. Desperate for points, I played RIG/QUAG, which was worth 22. That made it 180-140 after eight turns.
And here things turned south. H— converted her rack, DEIOST?, into SOrTIED/QUAGS 89. I challenged, thinking — hoping! — that QUAG might not take an S. I was wrong, and therefore I forfeit my ninth turn. (I also challenged because I thought that if that bingo stood, my chances of winning were extremely poor, especially because my rack was pretty bad: HLNNNTY.)
H—, already leading 269-140, played FORD for 36 points. I swapped all seven of my tiles. The score after 10 turns: 305-140.
Things would soon get worse for me. H— swapped out five tiles in the 11th turn, allowing me to cut into her lead slightly with TRAPPER 22. But her next two plays didn’t just put a win out of reach for me; they also annihilated the possibility of a respectable loss.
First up was WEARY, a 38-pointer. My response was creditable: JOB/OW/BE for 29 points, but that still left me in a 343-191 hole.
H—’s 13th move was a bingo, her third of the contest: MOTTLES 74. My answer, AH/MA/OH 29, was again not nothing, but it was again inadequate given the massive deficit. I trailed 417-223 at that point.
There was one more notable play: my HAVEN/HAH/AMA 30. I went on to lose by a final score of 468-307.
That dropped my record in the tournament to 3-2. Perhaps more importantly, it entirely wiped out my winning margins of victory, leaving me with a cumulative spread of minus-14 points. I had the same record as K— and as another competitor, whom I had not played, but when win-loss results are the same, spread is the tie-breaker, so K— finished third out of eight players; I was fifth.
Still, as in the main event, I again outperformed expectations, based on my rating and those of my opponents. My rating rose slightly, from 621 to a lifetime high of 644. I said it about the main event, and I’ll say it about this one: Not too shabby!
(Incidentally, my lifetime tournament record is now 44-60-0, for a wining percentage of 42.3, with an average score of 348-357.)
OK, that’s enough Scrabble talk for now. Peace out!