Games 9 through 12, Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, Jan. 15, 2017

February 15, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 15, 2017

I began Sunday as the leader in the lower division, but I was annoyed. My failure to spot the word DIAPERS on my rack of ADEIPRS in Saturday’s final game ate at me.

Still, there was nothing to be done about it. So I geared up for my ninth-round game against J—, the excellent local player whom I’d beaten three times in five tournament meetings.

J—, playing first, took a lead going out of the gate, and I never caught up. Over the first nine turns, J— had a pair of 30-pointers (JOE/ER 32 and YEW/ITCHY 30) and a bingo, CUrATES/CAT 65. My highest-scoring word over that span was PRIDE 27 in turn 9; I trailed, 255-172, following that play.

Both of us had good plays in turn 10, but J—’s sTATUES/SCAT, a 68-point bingo, trumped my 45-point MINKs.

The only notable plays the rest of the way were my DRAFT/EFF/ET 35 and J—’s 26-point phony, SOIL/FEYS*, which I challenged. J— defeated me, 349-312, leaving my record 6-3.

Interestingly, my 37-point loss to J— was exactly the same margin of defeat as I’d had against CC in Saturday’s concluding round.

Speaking of rounds: The tournament was 16 rounds, with eight games on each day. Our division — B, the lower division — had 10 players, and the tournament combined two formats. Our first nine rounds had comprised a round robin, in which each player played everyone else in the division once. The rest of the way, we were to have a modified king of the hill round robin in which the standings determined the pairings. We’d go 1 vs. 2, 3 vs. 4, 5 vs. 6 and so on through the final round, unless the top-ranked player was Gibsonized. (If that were the case, the top player would face the bottom player and 2 would face 3, 4 would face 5, etc.)

My opponent in the 10th game was EB, who had handed me my only loss in Saturday’s early session. Needless to say, I was spoiling for revenge.

Unfortunately for me, EB took control of the game early with INSULiN/OIL, a 65-point bingo that put him ahead, 112-55, midway through turn 4.

Unfortunately for EB, his highest-scoring play after that bingo was PAUPER 32, one of only three words that generated more than 25 points for him.

Meanwhile, I started to find my footing in turn 5 with a 40-point play, HEX/RE/OX. That started a respectable run for me (HOB/HO/REB 24, MOIL/ME 22 and AMIE/AL/ME/IT/ET 36), which put me on top, 195-179, after eight turns.

In turn 9, ZERO used a double-letter-score spot/triple-word-score combo to give me 66 points. Two moves later, my JIGS exploited a double-letter/double-word combo to generate 40 points. In turn 12, I salted the game away with an 87-point bingo, FANCIES/IF/LA. In the end, I was victorious, 435-302.

The next game was another rematch, this time against J—, and once again, I was hungry for revenge. Playing first, I gave myself some breathing room in turn 4 by putting down TAX/ERA/DEX; playing the X on a triple-letter-score bonus helped me collect 56 points. I led 103-66 going into turn 5.

In turn 6, I played RESUMEd/FOPS. Because the R and the blank each occupied a double-word-score space, the word got a quadruple bonus; all in all, the play was worth 91 points.

I had a 297-179 lead after 11 turns, but J— cut into the gap on his next play, TURBOeS*/TON 67, which incorporates a phony. I considered challenging but did not. (That rack makes 10 valid words, some familiar — OBTUSeR, RUBOuTS — but most not: aBORTUS, BURTOnS, ROBUSTa, RUBaTOS, TaBOURS and TURBOtS.)

J— followed up that high-scoring phony with a trio of solid plays: QUOD 34, MINUTE/ISM 30 and AJI 30. But I still managed to collect a 407-378 win, going to 8-3 to that point in the event.

Sunday’s early session ended with a rematch against EM. My foe went up in turn 4 with GOXeS/OUZOS, which notched 50 points using a triple-word-score bonus spot on the bottom row. His very next move was a 71-point bingo, ARTISAN/FACTS, which buried me in a 179-102 hole.

I never managed to catch up, thanks in part to having some racks that just didn’t work with any board, let alone that board. (Examples BEIKRRU, all of which I traded in to get AIOQTVY; AGIIQTV; AAGIRSS.)

I managed to chip away at EM’s lead with EASINGS*/ORG, a 64-point bingo that, alas, is phony. (It turns out that my rack, AEGINSS, doesn’t make any valid seven-letter words.) But by that point, my rival had gotten his second bingo, BREaKER/BA 88. EM went on to win, 458-319, dropping my record to 8-4.

The 139-point loss was by far my biggest of the event. Because the loss was so large, it gave EM the tie-breaker in cumulative scoring margin. He took over the division’s top ranking with an 8-4 record and a spread of plus-531, just barely better than my 8-4/plus-523 marks.

As we broke for lunch, I fumed a little bit. I had some work to do to reclaim my standing in the tournament.

To be continued…


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