By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 30, 2016
I returned from lunch to face RB, the third seed in the division with a rating of 880. (I was the fifth seed, having begun the tournament with a rating of 810.) RB, going first, had a modest 77-74 lead after four turns.
Fireworks were about to erupt. She led off turn 5 with ErASERS/HOBS 69. I responded with ZONAS*/ZA/OM, a triple-double that had the 10-point Z occupying a triple-letter-score spot and the S taking a double-word-score space. All in all, this phony was worth a rather impressive 103 points.
But RB didn’t realize my error, so after five turns, I held a 177-146 lead. She (ahem) erased her deficit in turn 6 with KIF/KA/IS 34, but my GRUNT 14 was enough to put me back ahead, 203-180.
The game stayed close the rest of the way. The only big-point plays came in turn 11, when RB played FEW/EM/WO 31 and I replied with QI/IF 32. That left me with a 285-279 edge.
RB’s SIRE 22 closed the gap to 327-326 midway through turn 15, but I surged back ahead with sEI 20. (Using a blank for only 20 points was acceptable because the game was close to the end and my rack at the time was EIII?.)
Turn 16 featured RB’s VOE 15 and my TIC 5, which left me with a 352-340 advantage. I tried to go out in the next turn by hooking my last letter, I, onto the front of TIC, but RB challenged and I had to take back my last lonesome letter. She closed out the game in turn 18 with NOM 5.
She got two points from my leftover tile, moving her score to 349. But because she’d exceeded her 25-minute allotment by a few seconds, she also lost 10 points.
Result: A 352-339 victory for me, advancing my record to 5-0.
Round six saw me facing a person I shall refer to as Lady Persistence or LP, a sweet-natured older lass who has played a fair amount of tournament Scrabble but has very few wins to show for it. She opened the game with RELIeS, squandering not one but two very valuable tiles — an S and a black — on a 12-point play.
I successfully challenged LP’s second, fourth and sixth plays: WALL/WE/AL/LE/LE*, TIF and DIFUSeD. Meanwhile, I was stringing together a bunch of modest words. After six turns, I led, 114-45.
LP’s highest-scoring play for the game was LUVS 27. I didn’t bingo against her, but I had five plays that garnered more points than LUVS: DOJO 38, CASK 29, FORM 38, NIXE 37 and CRAZES 41. I wound up moving to 6-0 with a 350-196 win.
My seventh-round rival was MPM, the mother of the teenager whom I’d faced in game three. I got off to a fast start, opening with WOVEN 30 before going on to make ZIN/QI/UN 44 with my third play. In turn 5, I put down JO/OE/JUN, a 36-pointer that MPM unwisely challenged. My follow-up, ATOMIC 10 — extending MPM’s ATOM 12 from turn 4 — left me with a 133-81 lead midway through the sixth turn.
Because it was late in the da and I’d lost some of my focus, I nearly threw away the game. After ZIN, I’d drawn an X, and I was eager to set up a play that would let me use a triple-letter-score space going both vertically and horizontally. I tried to do this with ODA, a six-pointer descending from the second row that had its first letter positioned beside a TLS spot.
The play was risky because it enabled MPP to use the triple-word-score spot at center column–top row. But I didn’t think it was that risky.
C- is an acceptable front hook for ODA (forming coda), but there are only two Cs in a regulation Scrabble game. One blank had been used, so that left only three letters that would allow MPP to use the triple-word-score spot.
Or so I thought. What I’d forgotten in my afternoon delirium was that S- is also a valid front hook for ODA (soda), and there are four Ses in a regulation game. Only one S had been used to that point. So the truth was that six tiles could help MPP utilize the center–top TWS bonus.
Unfortunately for me, MPP had not one of those tiles. She also had a bingo-in-waiting. After some contemplation, she played ABDUCTs, a masterful 96-point bingo that gave her her first lead, 207-155.
Also unfortunately for me, this great play had blocked my use of the triple-letter-score spot. I settled for using a double-letter-score spot two ways with OX/OM/XI 35. That left me trailing, 207-190, midway through turn 9.
Much to my chagrin, I followed my OX by drawing not two but three tiles — one more than I was allowed. One of those three was an S, but luckily for me, MPP didn’t get a chance to throw it back in the bag.
(Because I’d put at least one of my newly drawn tiles on my rack, MPP picked out three letters from the eight on my rack without knowing what they were; one of the ones she picked was an F, which she threw back. The S stayed on my rack, safe and sound and unexposed. See item 12 on this page for a concise explanation of overdraw procedures.)
I spent several turns struggling with bad racks. I began turns 10 through 15 with the racks AGRSTUU (this followed my OX overdraw), ADLNRSU, ADELMRS, BDEKLERS, BFIKRRS and BIIKRRS.
During this stretch, MPP’s two biggest plays were AHH*/AD 15 (which I suspected of being phony but was afraid to challenge) and OF/FAD 17. The score was 298-283 after turn 15, and I was lucky to be trailing by just 15 points.
The tide would soon turn. My 15th play was LIRI 4, which got rid of a redundant I and a redundant R. I drew DE. This left me with a much friendlier BDEIKRS, which made… BRISKED? I later learned that this is in fact a valid word, but I didn’t know it at the time. Instead, I went with RISKED/AHHS*, a 47-point word thanks to the triple-word-score tile in the bottom-right corner. That vaulted me to a 330-298 advantage.
MPP was unable to come back; also, she wound up using more than three minutes of overtime. The final score was 366-268 in my favor, leaving me with a spotless 7-0 record.