By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 1, 2017
After our first day at the Delaware Scrabble tournament, D— and I had some more-or-less family-friendly adventures that I may write about in a future post. It was fun, but regrettably, I had a bear of a time falling asleep afterward.
I tried going to bed a little before 2 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 27, but abandoned the effort after only 10 or 20 minutes and headed down to the hotel lobby for more than an hour to finish writing my post about La La Land. But when I returned to the room, despite being tired, I still had trouble entering dreamland. Oblivion finally overtook me after 4 a.m., but I woke up around 7 or 7:30.
I went back down to the lobby for a bleary-eyed early breakfast, grabbed a bit more shut-eye in the room, and then hurried to shower and dress in time for the start of Tuesday’s Scrabbling at 10 a.m.
In other words, my nerves were a little jangled when I sat down to play JC in game 1 of Tuesday’s stand-alone event. Still, I was determined to make a good showing for myself, especially after finishing 7-1 and in second place on Monday.
Going first, I took a modest lead in turn 3 by playing OOZING/OW 37; after JC’s QI 11 completed the turn, I held a 68-47 edge. But my foe went back ahead on the strength of a pair of 34-point plays: SIX/HALTS in turn 4 and SANDER/SO in turn 5.
JC led, 115-110, at that point; it was the last lead he would hold in the game. My sixth move was TUCK/UT/MU 29, which my opponent countered with FEEB 17.
Then I really broke out. In the seventh turn, I converted a rack of AEFLORT into FLOATER/ROW, a 78-point bingo. My follow-up was DJIN/QI.
After that 35-pointer, I drew NV? to complement my leave of AEER, which combined to make AEENRV?. I very happily spotted a play involving a G that JC had put on the board: AVENGERs/sO, a 72-point bingo that gave me a comfortable 319-173 advantage through nine turns.
The biggest play the rest of the game was JC’s AY for 25 points. I ended up with a 411-240 win; my margin was padded slightly because JC went over his 25-minute allotment by a few seconds.
Game 2 on Tuesday was a rematch against Lady Persistence, whom I’d beaten soundly on Monday. I successfully challenged three of her plays — DIC* 10, UNDEElS 73 and UNNEEDeS 60. Eventually, LP used her blank for a valid bingo: UNNEEDEd, a 58-point word in turn 13 that gave her 182 overall points.
But I already had a 226 points when she made that play. My highlights included OX/GO/AX 48, with the O occupying the triple-word-score spot in the top-right corner, and SILKY/ZAS for 38 points.
Frankly, I was probably lucky to have that much: The board had started off very cramped as LP opened with ZAG 26 and I had played through her vowel to make VAV 9. Lots of early plays featured user-unfriendly letters such as C, V and Y.
At any rate, after LP’s bingo, I had three big plays in a row: QI 33, ROW 36 and REB 33. LP unsuccessfully challenged the latter play; I took advantage of her forfeit by balance my rack with ONO 7.
I was stuck with a lot of vowels after that (my rack was AAEERS?), so I played EAR/RE in the top-left-corner for 15 points.
That brought me PRT, creating a rack of AEPRST?, which is pretty terrific — it can generate 47 seven-letter bingos, according to an app on my phone (which uses a slightly out-of-date word list).
I don’t remember if any of those 47 or so possible bingos came to mind during the game; however, I did notice that I was just one letter short of patterns. I played through a T that LP had put down to get an eight-letter bingo, PATTERNs, a 76-point play. That left me enjoying a 426-236 lead through 18 turns.
Two plays later, the game was over. Because LP went over her time limit by more than two minutes, she lost 30 points. Final score: 459-223, leaving me with a 2-0 record.
I was nervous about my third game. I was playing Dan, the tournament director, who was also the highest seed in the division, having started the day with a 1033 rating. (Two quick notes: My rating went from 810 to 866 after Monday’s 7-1 run; also, on Tuesday we had three divisions, and once again, I was grouped among the eight lowest-rated players.)
Dan, going first, opened with PHT 16. (Pht is an interjection used to express mild anger or annoyance.)
This was unhelpful to me, as my opening rack was BLLMTY? and I was unwilling to use my blank for a small gain. I tossed back everything but the blank and drew AGIIS?, leaving me with AGIIS??.
Dan’s play in turn 5 was TAJ/AT/JAR 32, which put him ahead, 102-30.
My rack was AABIS?? at that point. If the score had been more even, I would have attempted to find a big-scoring non-bingo using just one blank, but I was desperate for points. Using the H in PHT, I played HABItAtS; the S went on the triple-word-score space at right column–middle row, so the play generated 83 points and gave me a modest 113-102 lead.
I held onto the advantage as Dan traded five tiles in turn 6. I went on to make a string of modest plays: DRAW 11, YAP 15, VIN 14 and so on.
I was happy to be ahead, but I was also frustrated. I’d drawn ADPRVWZ after my bingo, and I’d deliberately positioned DRAW in the right-hand column in hopes of forming words both horizontally and vertically with my Z on the triple-letter-score spot next to the A. Alas, I never drew the A I needed to complete the play I had in mind, ZEtA/ZA.
Instead, Dan used the spot by playing HA/HEt for 35 points. That put him ahead, 199-175, midway through the 10th turn. My answer, DIVE, was worth 23 points, which left me trailing by one little old point.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t come up with a good play until it was too late. My rack in turn 14 was EEINNOZ; in frustration, I traded three tiles and pulled GIO, leaving me down, 288-257, and holding EGINOOZ going into the 15th turn.
Dan was able to strike a crucial blow: WOODS/US, which occupied the triple-word-score spot at top row–center column. The play’s 36 points gave Dan a 324-257 edge midway through turn 15.
I played OZONE/FE using the triple-word-score square at bottom row–center column. That gave me 51 points, and narrowed the score to 324-308.
I finally had my big score, but it wasn’t enough. I never found a way to take the lead. I ended up losing by 11 points, 354-343, which dropped my record to 2-1.
I had to shake off my disappointment because I would face another stiff challenge in game 4. My opponent this round was HC, who had impressed me when I’d managed to beat him in a competitive match on Monday.
Playing first, my rack was AEORST?, which I converted into ROASTEd, a 64-point bingo. HC had a snappy answer with QUA 32, getting the 10-point Q on a triple-letter-score space. But my second play was VEND/RE/ON/QUAD, a nifty 30-pointer. And in turn 6, I played HOOD/UH/GO for 31 points.
Otherwise, however, I struggled to find points. HC chugged along, using modest plays to narrow his deficit to 179-165 after nine turns. My response was KIN/NI*/LIN 22, but HC knotted the score at 201-all through 10 turns by playing TIZ 36 on the triple-word-score spot at right column–middle row.
I surged back ahead in turn 11 by using the triple-word-score spot at left column–middle row with CAMELS/SKIN 42. Even so, HC nearly tied things up in turn 13 with JEWS/ZORIS. That 45-point play left me with a narrow 260-259 lead.
But HC had only one score larger than 16 points left in the contest: sENIOR/KIs/NITE, a 30-pointer. Meanwhile, my last four plays were fairly solid: VOTE/JO/ET/WE 32, RAISE/WETS 25, OX/MO/EX 54, and POND/PO/OR 17. I wound up a 388-324 winner, finishing the early session with a respectable 3-1 mark.