By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 30, 2016
All of my games thus far in the Delaware event had been scheduled in advance by Dan, the tournament director. For the first seven rounds, we were playing round robin — that is, each of the eight players would face everyone else in the division once and exactly once.
The eighth and final game of the day, however, couldn’t be scheduled until the results from the first seven rounds were in. That’s because the eighth round was “king of the hill.” In this format, the top two players in the tournament standings face each other; the Nos. 3 and 4 players in the standings play each other; and so on down the line.
In this case, I was atop the standings with a 7-0 record and a plus-587 spread. The No. 2 player in the table was RB, my round-five opponent, whose only loss in seven games had been to me. She boasted an excellent spread of plus-675.
RB and I would play each other in the eighth and final round. If I won, I would be division champion with an undefeated 8-0 record. If she won, we would be tied at 7-1 apiece, but she would be champion by virtue of her superior spread.
In other words, my friends, the pressure was on me to continue to perform at a high level!
Things got off to an uneasy start. Going first, I drew BEGILTY and played BILGE 22.
In turn 3, with a rack of ACDETVY, I played CAVED 17 and drew DOTZ?. RB exchanged three of her seven tiles, leaving the score 69-47.
I entered turn 4 with a rack of DOTTYZ? — not great. Luckily, I was able to play DOTTY/ED/DO on the center–bottom triple-word-score space for 47 points, providing me with a 106-47 advantage.
Alas, the draw had been kind to RB, who responded with ENAMORS/DE, a 73-point bingo that put her up, 120-106.
I took the lead back immediately with (oddly enough, given our previous game) ZONA/ZA/OM/NO/AR 47. But RB hopped back ahead with PAGE/ZAP/OMA/NOG/RE, a 39-point play that made the score 159-153 in her favor.
I retook the lead for the final time in turn 7 with LO/DOL 10. But that was pretty much the end of the line for me.
RB answered with RAVINeS/ZAPS, a 76-point bingo which gave her a very intimidating 235-163 advantage.
In turn 10, with a rack of ARSTWX?, I played AX/AN on the center–top triple-word-score space for 33 points. Even so, that left me down 305-234 midway through turn 10.
My opponent struck the decisive blow in turn 11 with READY/BILGED/OILY, a 34-pointer. I had considered playing BILGED near the beginning of the game, but I hadn’t known whether or not it was valid. Now, facing a 341-244 score disparity if the play stood, I knew that my only chance to win depended upon a successful challenge. I announced one, but the computer flashed green when we entered the words: Bilged was valid, and RB was going to win the game and the tournament.
I tried to meet defeat with my head held high. I entered turn 12 (and turn 13, because of my challenge-related forfeit) with JORSTU?, which I made into JOT/OP/TA 32. Two turns later, I played QUIPUS/IFS on the bottom-left-hand triple-word-score spot, which netted me a cool 66 points.
But it wasn’t nearly enough to save me. RB cruised to a 440-357 victory, winning the division with a 7-1 record and a plus-758 spread, while I finished in second with an identical mark and a scoring margin of plus-504.
All in all, I’d had a pretty decent day. But boy, did that final-game rout leave my ego smarting.
Fortunately, I’d have a chance to make up for it on Tuesday…