Mall Scrabble: Part 3

April 17, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
April 17, 2016

Going into the seventh game out of a total of eight, my 5-1 record with a modest spread had me positioned to finish at almost any point in the Division C rankings. It all depended on how I played.

My opponent in the penultimate contest was S—, a man in his late middle age who was participating in only his third tournament. I’d narrowly beaten S— in January while he was playing in only his second official competition (not, as I’d erroneously implied in my post, his first tournament).

I got off to a brisk start by playing FREAK for 34 points, and I held a modest lead of 63-56 going into turn 6. At that point, I had a rack of EGORST?, which I did not like. Generally, it’s hard to bingo with an O — although when I sat down to write this recap, I realized that I could have made STORaGE. Instead, I played LOG for 4 points. S— traded in four tiles; it was the second time in a row that he’d swapped out four letters and the third time in the young game he’d made that precise trade.

So I led 67-56 entering turn 7, and I had a great rack, because after playing off my O and G I’d replaced them wth EI. That gave me a terrific rack, EEIRST?, which I converted into RETIrES, a 67-point bingo that instantly doubled my score.

S— closed out turn 7 with ORATE, a 30-point play, his biggest of the game to that moment. But I answered right away with HAVE 32, thereby extending my lead.

In the 10th turn, I played XU with the X going both ways on a triple-letter-score spot, which gave me 54 points and boosted me to a 226-115 lead. But S— responded with HERMIT 39, so my lead was certainly not insurmountable.

I led off turn 12 with CUSPID 38, which briefly me put me ahead by more than 100 points. However, S— had a brilliant riposte, FLaNGES, a 79-point bingo. That narrowed the deficit to 288-259, meaning that I would not be able to coast to victory.

Fortunately, in the 15th turn, I had a rack of DDEISZ — only six letters because the tile bag was empty. The board was open enough that I could put down SIZED for 53 points. The game ended after my next move, ODA, a seven-point play that garnered me an additional two points because S— had a low-value tile remaining on his rack. Final score: 376-310, my largest win of the day.

My win-loss tally stood at 6-1, good enough for first place in Division C. But my final-round opponent was to be J—. If I lost to him, we would have identical 6-2 records, and his spread would exceed mine, making him the division champion. So I couldn’t rest on my laurels.

J—, playing first, opened the eighth game with VICE for 18 points. I had an unappetizing starting rack, EFGLNOV, but I used his I to make FLING for 21 points. However, J— had a very nice second play, COMBS/FLINGS 32.

I had a 61-50 lead at the close of the third turn, thanks in part to J—’s trading in five tiles rather than playing a word. Turn 4 ended in a 73-73 tie after J— played TOE/OHO/MAE 23 and I responded with GENT/EFT 12.

J— swapped out three tiles in his fifth turn, while I took a modest lead on WO/WEFT 15.

The sixth turn wound up being incredibly significant. J— played TIRADED/VICED, a 72-point bingo. I had a yucky rack, ABLPSSU, so I declared a hold and contemplated whether this was a valid play.

In the end, I decided to challenge. The computer told us J—’s play was invalid, so he pulled his letters back. I played PUB/PO for 20 points, giving me a fragile 108-73 lead.

Neither J— nor I scored many points in turns 7 through 10, in part because my racks were… well, they were weird. I picked up a blank and two vowels after playing PUB in the sixth turn, yielding a rack of AALSSU?. I picked up a third S after playing ALA 18 in turn 7, giving me ASSSUU? for my eighth turn. My racks in turns 9 and 10, respectively, were ERSSSU? and EKRRSS?.

J— started turn 11 with JERK 30, only his second score of more than 23 points. (Excepting the phony bingo that I’d challenged off the board, of course.) My rack held DERSSU?, which could have made tRUSSED, although I don’t think I saw that possible bingo during the game. Instead, I made another modest play, DE 14, leaving me with a 177-147 advantage.

J— traded in three tiles in the 12th turn, which kept some pressure off of me. Given that my rack was AARSSU?, I thought it prudent to play AA 5. That made the score 182-147.

Not one but two major plays occurred in the 13th turn, which began when J— played XENIA/EAUX for 35 points. That briefly knotting the score at 182-up. However, I was poised to break out with a rack of IRSSTU?, which I converted into SUIToRS/JERKS, a 76-point bingo. That moved the score to 258-182.

J—’s 14th play was TWIT/IT/AW, a 26-pointer, but I padded my lead with EYE/TE/oY/RE, which was worth 34 points because the Y occupied a triple-word-score spot that counted both horizontally and vertically.

Two turns later, J— traded in three tiles. It was his fifth swap of the game, and the fourth time in a row that he’d changed out three letters. My play was MID, a modest nine-pointer that put me up, 316-227.

J— rallied beginning in the 17th turn when he put down ZIN/MI/IN 38. The next three words — two of mine and one of J—’s — both were put down in the bottom-right corner.

In turn 17, I played FOR/IF/TO 24, which paralleled the bottom of TWIT. J— led off the 18th turn with YE/TOY/RE 24. But I had yet another solid response, QIs/TOYs 27, so I maintained a respectable 367-289 advantage entering the 19th turn.

Fortunately for me, J— had a lousy rack. He played GOR, a modest nine-pointer, while I emptied my rack with NEE/INN, an 18-point play supplemented by the six points I got from J—’s leftover tiles.

Final score: 391-297. The 94-point victory was my largest of the day. More importantly, it left me with a 7-1 record, thereby sealing my first-ever Scrabble tournament championship.

Here’s a picture of the final board in game 8:

Final board, game 8, April 2, 2016, Scrabble tournament

The final board in game 8, the Division C championship game in the Scrabble tournament held at Northgate Mall in Durham, N.C., on April 2, 2016. 

Friends, thanks for journeying along with me on this Scrabble odyssey!

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