By Miotthew E. Milliken
Feb. 13, 2017
My opening game in the main event of the seventh annual Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament was against BC, a clever local youngster who had never before participated in an official tournament. In turn 2, playing first, BC jumped out to an 86-25 lead by putting down ZEE/ZA/EL/EF, a 70-point move thanks to his placement of the Z on a triple-letter-score spot. I closed the gap a bit with my second move, LONER/YE/AR 14, but that still left me trailing, 86-39.
I started the game with a blank and drew an X after my first move, but wasn’t able to outpoint my first play (HALF/HM 25) until the sixth turn. That was when I played DRIP/PLUCK for 42 points, a prime example of a triple-word-score plus double-letter-score bonus combination. I drew DRST after that play, which left me with a rack of EORSTX? entering turn 7.
I was trailing 173-139 midway through turn 7 when I turned the score on its head with a phony: DETOXeRS*, a 119-pointer that extended from the D in DRIP down to the open triple-word-score spot in the bottom-left corner. (The score was inflated because the X went a double-letter-score spot.) As it happens, DETOX, DETOXED and DEXTOXING are valid Scrabble words, but DETOXER(S) is not. Perhaps knowing that my play had a valid root, BC declined to challenge, so I went ahead, 258-173. (Incidentally, dextrose, a type of sugar, is acceptable.)
BC made the game competitive by playing a 75-point bingo, RaISING/PEEVES, which left the score 285-307 midway through turn 10. But I won, 406-326, thanks in part to using the Q and an open U for QUINTET, a 34-point word that I put down in turn 12.
My second opponent was also a new tournament player, EB. Going first, I took an early 49-28 lead by playing QI/KI 37 with the Q on a triple-letter-score spot. But EB pulled ahead by playing QIS/POIS 18 and then SNOW/CUTS 17.
My response, HALT/HO/AW, gave me 47 points thanks to another double-letter-score/triple-word-score combo. But then I was plagued by a series of lousy racks: ADDEORU (play: OD 12), ADEERTU (RATTED 7), BEEINNU (BEEN 18) and EEILNNU (exchange all seven letters; zero points), just to name what I held over turns 6 through 9.
While my tile misfortune continued, EB was patiently working toward a big play. He took a 174-156 lead in turn 10 with IDLER/ID 21 and added on to it the next turn with another 21-pointer, MIR/QI.
Holding GIIORZ?, I tried to balance my rack with GI/MI 10.
That’s when EB busted out his big move: pLUNGES/IDLERS, an 84-point bingo that used a triple-word-score spot on the far-right column.
I went on a small run over the next three turns with ZORI/GO/MIR 34, COMe/MEAT 36 and XU/XU/UN 52. But it wasn’t enough to overcome EB’s bingo, and he ultimately went on to a 382-358 victory.
In game 3, I once again faced a tournament newbie, JP. Playing second, he grabbed a 65-24 lead in turn 2 with a 62-point bingo, OUtINgS/AIOLIS. I went back ahead on the very next play with a 50-pointer, ADZE/DAFT, which utilized the triple-word-score spot at top row–center column.
We had a pretty close game going for several turns, partly because I didn’t challenge JP’s phony GURLY 11. I established a permanent lead with a series of decent moves starting in turn 9: AYE/YA/EF 32, WO/MEW 29, ORANGE 24 and BUNGEE/FE 35.
Over that stretch, JP had just one score larger than 20 points: HAJ/HE 31. I ended the sequence with a 283-236 advantage.
I extended my lead in turn 14. After I played AXE/OX/RE 33, I challenged JP’s QI/IFE* 34 off the board. I wound up winning, 383-261, to bump my record to 2-1.
For game 4, I squared off against DL, a local player whom I’d officially played six times to that point, with each of us winning three games.
In turn 3, holding AAELSS?, I played SALSAEd*/ADd, a 67-point bingo that DL, a dance aficionado, challenged off the board.
Incidentally, that rack can make five valid words, all plurals: ALIASES, ANLASES (a type of medieval dagger), ATLASES, BALASES (a type of mineral) and CALESAS (a two-wheeled carriage in the Philippines).
DL had a 97-49 lead midway through turn 6 when I found a bingo, converting AEORSS? into SOARErS/TRIPS 65, which vaulted me ahead, 114-97. (That rack can generate 19 bingos, including AROuSES, OARLESs, REASONs, RESOAk, SEnORAS, SOAkERS and SOApERS.)
Two turns later, I played a second bingo: BEEFINg/gAL 65, which put me ahead, 196-109.
DL had only one score larger than 30 points the entire game: ZEE 32. I was fortunate enough to have three after my bingos: ROW/ROE/OOF 39, GAB/AYE/BED 30 and FIX/QI/TIX 47. The final result was a 407-303 victory that put me at 3-1 heading into the lunch break.