Games 5 through 8, Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, Jan. 14, 2017

February 14, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 14, 2017

Following Saturday’s lunch break, my fifth game matched me against R—, the fellow who had handed me my only defeat in the tournament that I’d won the previous spring.

I took a 68-29 lead after three turns, largely thanks to WROTE/EVENT 32, which used the triple-word-score bonus at top row–center column. R— would tie the score, 89-89, with ZIG/ADZ 52, but that wouldn’t last.

In turn 6, playing second, I converted AABHRS? into BAsHARS*/BI/AN, an 82-point bingo. I was hoping, incorrectly, that bashar was some kind of title of a ruler; since R— did not challenge, the play stood, giving me a 179-97 advantage.

That rack makes three valid words, all plurals and all unknown to me: BHARALS (a goatlike mammal), BRAHMAS (the Hindu god of creation, or the foundation for all being in Hinduism) and SAMBHARS (a type of deer).

I also bingoed in turn 9, this time with the valid RETAILOR 77. That put me on top, 287-125. But R— cut into my lead with a bingo of his own on the very next play, STONIeR/AALS 62.

There were a few more big scores in the game. I struck first in turn 11 with XU/OX/NU 38, while R— replied in turn 12 with SIFT/EDGES 32. My last play was PEPS/UP/LOBS, which got 30 points with the second P going both ways on a double-word-score spot.

The game was also notable for some unusual words that got played over turns 13 and 14. R— played FUB, an alternative spelling of the archaic verb fob, which means to cheat or to deceive. My next play was JUCO, which I had seen used in the sports pages to refer to a junior college or an athlete at a junior college. As it turns out, this is indeed a valid word — and it takes an -S, incidentally.

R— then put down GIED/NUG. I challenged this knowing that gied is acceptable (it’s a Scottish variant on the verb to give) but not knowing that nug is a chunk of wood sawn from a log.

Outcome: A 426-328 victory for me, moving my record to 4-1.

I faced a very familiar nemesis in game 6: X—, another clever young local player whom I’ve played in tournament games more than any other opponent. We had met 12 times since June 2012, most recently in the 2016 Duke PBMT benefit tournament, with each of us owning six wins.

X—, playing second, held a 117-90 lead after four turns thanks to three solid consecutive plays: BASH/ORBS/EH 29, QUA/ABA 37 and FEZ/OF/WE 40.

I started came to life in turn 4 when I hooked my blank onto the front of QUA to make FRaIL/aQUA, which exploited the triple-word-score bonus at top row–center column for 36 points. On my next play, I had a nice 77-point bingo, RADIOES/SHORN, which X— unwisely challenged. That left me holding a 167-117 lead through five turns.

My lead was 50 points entering turn 12 when I found my second bingo: IGNITED/ZITI, which generated another 85 points for me. X— had a sharp riposte, NIX 30, which utilized a triple-word-score spot in the far-right column.

But that was X—’s only score of more than 24 points from turn 5 through the end of the game. And he took three zeroes over that span — once for challenging RADIOES, once when he swapped out three tiles and again in turn 13 when I challenged X’s phony TAN/TET/ADA* 16. I wound up collecting a 448-279 win.

The next contest pitted me against EM, the gentleman whom I’d met and played several times in Delaware the month before. Playing first, I put down a bingo in turn 2, DEPILERS* 72, but EM challenged it off the board. (As it turns out, there’s no way to convert my rack of DEILPRS into a seven-letter bingo, and there doesn’t seem to have been any way to play an eight-letter bingo given the open letters at that point in the game.)

In turn 3, I played off all of my letters except the S by putting down REPLIED/ER for 22 points, which gave me a 44-18 lead. But EM’s move, EnLIVEN/ERN 74, leapfrogged him past me and into a 92-44 lead. (By the by, an ern, which can also be spelled erne, is a sea eagle.)

I went back ahead in the next turn by playing AXELS through the first letter of EnLIVEN; with the X on a double-letter-score and the S on a triple-word-score spot, I collected a cool 60 points.

But EM had an excellent response, SEZ/JAGS, which got the Z on a triple-letter-score bonus for 44 points. That put him back on top, 136-104, after four turns.

I entered turn 5 with the rack ACEIMOS, which I eventually (and happily) realized could play through EnLIVEN to make CAMISOLE. The bingo was worth 68 points.

Our scoring pace slowed for a short while, thanks in part to EM’s decision to swap out all seven of his letters in turn 7. But in turn 8, I played QUAKED/HOARD for 49 points, leaving me with a 256-187 advantage.

It was not to last. EM answered with UNWiTTED, a 72-point bingo that I unwisely challenged. As a result, I forfeit my next move and EM went on top, 259-256.

But EM would have only one big play the rest of the game: DAUTY*/ED, a 36-point move that I later learned was invalid.

Meanwhile, I had three big scores in my next four moves: WIMP/WE/ID 30, FUNGI 30 and SIRING/CAMISOLES 37. In the end, I won a close game, 386-361, which put my record at 6-1.

The eighth and last game of the day — but not the tournament, which would conclude on Sunday — saw me play CC; of the experienced competitors in the lower division, she was the only one I’d never previously faced. I had a decent early run beginning in turn 2, when I played FLAVIN. The combination of the F on a triple-letter-score and the I on a double-word-score got me 40 points. (Flavin, like flavine, is a yellowish pigment.)

I built on that with my next play, VIBE/FE, a 32-pointer that exploited a triple-word-score bonus on the bottom row. And in turn 4, I collected 40 points for HONEY/EH, which got both its first and last letters on triple-letter-score spaces. I finished turn 5 with a 133-87 lead.

In the early going, CC had just two big plays. HIND in turn 3 and FlUKES/RAPS in turn 7 both exploited double-letter/triple-word combinations to score 36 and 57 points, respectively.

Midway through turn 8, I held a modest 205-189 advantage. My rack at that point was ADEIPRS, and because of the board’s configuration, I needed a word that ended in either R or RS. But I hesitated before playing DESPAIR/LOR because something told me that there had to be a better play. (Lor is an interjection of surprise or dismay.)

I pondered and pondered, but I couldn’t find that better play. Ultimately, I went with DESPAIR/LOR, which generated 67 points and put me ahead, 272-189. This move would also prove to be my undoing, as I’ll explain in a moment.

One of the problems with the play I made was that the D was in the far-left column, which opened up a triple-word-score bonus. CC took advantage of that immediately in turn 9 with MoTTLED, which scored 36 points. This was the start of a good run for CC, which continued in turns 10 and 11 with SQUAD 30 and EXED/OE/MUX/oRE 42.

I challenged that last play. Both XED and EXED are valid, but I was unfamiliar with MUX, which also turns out to be good. (It means multiplex.) My ignorance meant that I forfeit my 11th move.

At that point, I was clinging to a 301-297 lead, but it would not last. In turn 12, CC took a 325-301 lead on AGS/SQUADS 28.

I reclaimed the high score in turn 12 with PIT/QI/UT, a 25-point play that put me on top by a single point. I actually extended the lead next turn with JO/TOR 21, leaving me up by a 347-334 score.

CC’s next move was AWA/ALA/WED 16. That put her ahead, 350-347, but I went back on top with my very modest reply, ERR/UTE 6. That was the last lead I would hold in the game.

CC played MUXING 32 in turn 15. I challenged because I had just two letters at that point, TU, and there was no way I could make up such a big deficit. But MUXING was indeed valid.

The game ended on the next play when CC emptied her rack with DIE 4, which netted her another four points because of my leftover letters. Final score: 390-353 in CC’s favor.

Remember that play I agonized over? As stated, my rack at the moment was ADEIPRS, which can make three seven-letter words that I spotted, one seven-letter word that I did not know and one seven-letter word that I knew but failed to spot.

The three words that I knew and spotted were ASPIRED, DESPAIR and PRAISED; the one I didn’t know was SAPIDER, an adjective meaning flavorful or agreeable; and the word that I didn’t spot was DIAPERS.

The loss — and that rack — gnawed at me. The following morning, I realized that the better move would have been DIAPERS/LOR/ABS.

That play had several advantages, the most obvious but least important being that it it would have scored 74 points compared to 67 for the move that I made. Moreover, DIAPERS wouldn’t have opened up the triple-word-score bonus in the far-left column, a mistake that enabled CC to play MoTTLED, EXED, and MUXING — three moves that, thanks to the bonus spots made available by DESPAIR, gave her a total of 110 points.

In short, I had been the author of my own despair. And despite holding a 6-2 record that left me on top of the lower division, that annoyed the heck out of me.

To be continued…


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