By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 3, 2017
In game 3 on Wednesday, I faced SF, a player whom I’d never met before. She went first and ended up leading, 122-107, largely thanks to her seventh move, LEZ/LID/ED 35.
I struggled with unbalanced racks early in the game — DFHIRSU, BINNSUY and AEINOSU, to give a few examples. In turn 10, my hole got deeper as SF led off with QUASI/SPA/ION 39, which left me trailing, 200-148. Facing a rack of ABEEOSU, I tossed back everything but the S and drew AELY??.
In turn 11, I scored 30 points with YEZ and drew RS, leaving me with ALRSS??. SF responded with WET/YE/ET 26, putting her up 238-178.
I needed points, and I needed points fast. But where, and how?
After puzzling things through, I found my move: LARgeSS/ANES, a 68-point bingo which put me on top, 246-238. (Both words are valid: largesse can also be spelled with an E at the end.)
SF struck back on her very next move with LOW/LO/AW, a 29-point play that used the triple-word-score at center column–bottom row. Using a rack of ACDINOT, I found a solid response: TACO/AY/COR/OBI, a 32-pointer as the C went both ways on a double-word score. That put me back on top, 278-267, after 13 complete turns.
The back-and-forth continued the rest of the way, leaving the outcome in doubt literally until the last second.
In turn 16, I played VIXEN 26, leaving me with just three tiles on my rack: EGR.
The score was 349-326 in my favor at that point, and each of us was struggling to find high-point plays that wouldn’t allow our opponent to use a valuable bonus spot.
As SF evaluated her moves, I went over my tile tracking. Something seemed off, but I wasn’t sure what, so I kept on counting and recounting.
Eventually, I decided that there must be a tile left in the bag, even though I thought I’d checked it carefully already. As if in a dream, I picked up the bag with my left hand, turned it upside-down and shook it. A single tile fell out.
I stopped the clock and asked SF whose tile that should be. She had a full rack of seven letters, so it was obviously mine. I restarted the clock and took stock of the new situation.
I’d had had a solid out play for EGR, but I had no idea what I’d do with EGIR. And I had less than a minute remaining on the clock…
SF played ERA/EX/RE/AN for 28 points, going back ahead, 354-349. As my last precious seconds ticked away, I searched in vain for an out play. At last, I played REG/REX/ERE/GAN 28 and hit the timer button with 0:04 showing on my clock. The play leapfrogged me back ahead, 377-354 score.
SF considered challenging GAN but decided not to. (It was a desperate guess on my part, but it turns out to be a valid word — gan is the past tense of the archaic verb gin, which means to begin.) Instead, facing a 23-point deficit and holding four tiles to my one, she played an S to make VOTES/TAUNTS 18, which cut my lead to 377-372.
There weren’t a lot of places on the board where I could use my last letter — but one was all I needed, and I’d spotted it while SF plotted her move. I played gI for 1 point, declared the score, hit the clock and announced that I was out of tiles as quickly as I could. The timer showed that just one second separated me from a 10-point overtime penalty — the difference, in other words, between victory and relief.
The final score, much to my relief, was a nerve-wracking 384-372 W that boosted my record to 3-0.
My fourth game was against Dan, the tournament director, and I’ll be frank: I was spoiling for payback after he’d escaped our Tuesday match with an 11-point win.
On turn 3 of Wednesday’s contest, with a rack of AEELRVW, I played REVEAL/MAR down the center column for a 44-point double-triple. Dan’s answer, HE/EH/AE, garnered 25 points and left me with a 77-54 edge.
I struck my big blow in turn 8 with the game’s only bingo, SINgERS/BAN 71, giving me a 227-124 cushion.
Dan played two words that I considered challenging: BORK 11, which I knew was real but did not know was a valid Scrabble word (it is), and AUDIAL 8, which I wasn’t sure about but is also real (it pretty much means what you think it would). In both cases, I had good follow-up plays (JOIN/BI/ON 32, which built on BORK, and FUD/NU/AD 22, which did not), so my decision not to challenge either time certainly paid off.
I had two big plays near the end of the game. After Dan opened up the top row in turn 13 with CLAD 10, I played ZINC on the triple-word-score space in the left corner for 45 points. And one turn before the game ended, I played QI with the Q on a triple-letter-score spot for 31 points. In the end, I was victorious, 449-271, collecting my fourth win in four matches.