By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 5, 2017
Although it felt as if hours had passed since I’d begun my game against Lady Persistence, I still had two more contests left to play. I convened my seventh-round match against KB, whom I’d beaten by 200 points the afternoon before, as hastily as I could.
Although I was 6-0 and atop the standings, I felt like I was behind badly, largely because everyone else already seemed to be halfway through their seventh-round games. (Well, everyone else except for Lady Persistence and her opponent, of course.) Playing second, I took a first-turn lead with ORIGIN/LO/AR/MI 20. That would prove to be my highest score through the first 13 plays of the game.
One of the issues was that I was getting horrid tiles. In turn 3, with a rack of CEMSTUW, I swapped out everything but the S. KB traded three tiles in turn 4, but my rack was still horrid: AHIIOSU.
“Well,” I said, “I had so much fun the last time, I’m going to do it again. Trade six.” The resulting rack, ELNRSST, was still unbalanced, but at least it gave me something to work with.
Things did not go my way. In turn 5, I played LET/LOT 8 but had a bad draw: HSV, which left me with HNRSSSV. I headed into turn 6 facing a 62-42 deficit.
The score got even worse for me in turn 9, when KB played WAXER/EF/RE 37. That was the third time in the game she’d made a word for 21 or more points. Meanwhile, I’d made only two plays for more than 16 points, and none worth more than my 20-point opening move.
Part of me wasn’t worried about the way this game was going: After all, I was undefeated to this point. Also, I found out that the player in the division who worried me the most — my buddy D—, whom I’d beaten in game 2 that morning — had sustained at least a second loss, so I was unlikely to face him in the king-of-the-hill round.
On the other hand, I would have loved to have gone unbeaten on the day. So I was annoyed by all the bad letters, and I kept on fighting for all the points I could get.
A pivotal moment came in turn 12, which began with KB holding a 167-117 advantage. My 10th move had opened up the far-right column and two of the triple-word-score spots it contained, but KB had used one right away, and my letters didn’t allow me to exploit the opportunity in turn 11.
So with a prime spot available, KB played AEGIST/YA on the other open triple-word-score spot for 30 points in turn 12.
I immediately announced a hold. I was familiar with aegis, which means protection or support; I also knew of the adjective and noun ageist, which relates to discrimination against older people. (Although I wasn’t sure whether the latter is valid in Scrabble — now I can tell you that it is.) But AEGIST? That… that seemed fishy to me.
After some hemming and hawing, I went ahead with a challenge, not so much because I was sure the word was invalid — I wasn’t — but because I knew that I could not recover from an 80-point deficit given the situation. (My rack at the moment was ANQRSS?.) We discovered, much to my satisfaction, that the play was bad, so the tiles came off the board.
Alas, I just didn’t have a good way to score points, so I attempted to balance my rack by playing GIN. That brought me 5 points and gave me a Y to replace my N.
In turn 13, KB used the N to make STEWING/BI 26. Holding AQRSSY?, I put down AY/YA 12, mainly so I could prevent KB from utilizing the available bonus square she’d tried to make use of with AEGIST*. This time, the tiles came my way: I drew EU, which is about the best I could have hoped for.
But the score was 193-135 against me at this point, and KB had a good play up her sleeve: FOAM/OS/AT/ME 38, a high scorer thanks to its double-letter-score/double-word-score combo. Now I was trailing by nearly 100 points…
The good news was that I was finally ready to make my big play. I turned EQRSSU? into SQUaRES/NEEPS, an 82-point bingo. (Neep is a Scottish word for turnip.) All of a sudden, I’d reduced KB’s lead to 231-217 with 14 plays in the books.
Two turns later, I managed to take a lead by playing LEZ/LAX; with the Z on a double-letter-score, I got 32 points and a 268-264 lead. Was my dream of going undefeated still alive?!
KB’s answer was TEN/MET/WE/BIN 22, but I came back with VAT/META for 20 points. That left me up, 288-286.
But then KB put down ARK; with the K on a double-letter-score spot, she got 17 points and went back on top, 303-288. I was holding CDUU?, and all I could manage was sCUD/ARKs for 15 points, which left the score tied at 303-303.
KB answered with OE/OD for 7 points. I had only one letter left, a U, but I faced two problems.
One was that there was no place on the board to use the U. Ultimately, I put down UNO* 3, which emptied my rack. KB elected not to challenge, perhaps because she had no idea what to do with her rack: IOU, which gave me six points.
Which brings me to the second problem. I’d spent so long pondering my plays that I’d now entered my 25th minute of play, thereby incurring a 10-point penalty. By overthinking things in a desperate bid to win the game, I’d wound up squandering a chance at victory.
I added up the points from UNO and from KB’s leftovers; that gave me 312 points. But after I subtracted my overtime penalty, I found myself on the wrong end of a 310-302 score. My first loss of the day left my record at 6-1.
When I went to look at the final-round pairings, I got a rude shock. The scuttlebutt as we’d played game 7 was that I’d been Gibsonized. (That’s a Scrabble term for having guaranteed myself the top prize in the division.) However, this rumor turned out to be untrue.
If I’d beaten KB, I would have emerged the victor in division C regardless of the final-round results. But since I’d lost, one player still had a chance to equal my record.
For round 8, I would play a rematch against RB, the player I’d beaten in game 5 that afternoon.