Late-bird event, games 4–5, Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, Jan. 16, 2017

February 18, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 18, 2017

The fourth game of the 2017 Duke PBMT late-bird tournament turned out to be much more exciting than the third. My foe was TS, whom I’d beaten in the 2016 Duke PBMT late bird tournament and in the April 2016 mall tournament.

We saw a lot of early scoring: In turn 1, TS hooked an S onto my INIA to make a 66-point bingo, ROUTERs/INIAs*. In turn 3, I put the X on a double-word-score bonus for MIX/OX, a 42-point play. And in turn 4, LOOSING/DAG scored me 65 points. (Dag means a hanging end or shred or matted or manure-coated wool.) But TS’s response, VIEW/LI/OE/OW, scored 31 points and left him with a modest 137-135 lead.

Here I ran into a spot of trouble. My rack entering turn 5 was AEGHINS, which can’t be arranged into a seven-letter word. Since AEGINS is a great Scrabble “stem,” I played the H on a triple-letter-score space to make HOW 17, only to be rewarded by drawing…the second H. This time, I played AH/AT/HE for 19 points.

I then drew IM, making my rack EGIIMNS. I continued making small plays, hoping to get the tiles that would set me up for a bingo.

But this never happened. In turn 9, I held EFILNPS, another seven-letter combination that does not form any valid words. I played off the P for 5 points, only to be rewarded by drawing…the second P.

Fortunately for me, TS ended up taking a pair of consecutive zeroes while I was searching for serendipity. In turn 5, he swapped out five letters; in turn 6, I challenged his 61-point RAINERS*/IS off the board. (That rack does make SIERRAN, which means of or relating to the Sierra Nevada mountains.)

Midway through turn 11, I led, 227-160. Unfortunately, TS held AEILNRS, which he converted into NAILERS/MIS, a 64-point bingo that cut his deficit to only three points. (Incidentally, TS’s rack also makes ALINERS and RENAILS.)

TS put out a second straight bingo in turn 12 with EVADINg/BINGED, an 80-pointer. That left me trailing, 304-249.

TS nearly made a crucial mistake in turn 14, laying down GUAZE* (not good!) and GAUZE (good!) before removing the U and going with GAZE 28.

The end game turned out to be excruciating as I searched and searched for a way to catch up. It was a lot of pressure.

Part of the problem was a challenging rack: FISTTUY entering turn 16, which I made into TUFTY/MIST 25. I drew EQO — those were the last tiles in the bag — making my rack EIOQS.

That posed a number of problems. Thanks to tile tracking, I knew that TS held KSTTUU. The K and the two Us were liabilities for him, of course, but his S would be very valuable. I would have to empty my rack while preventing TS from capitalizing on any bonus spots that I left open.

But I couldn’t quite pull things off. What ended up happening was that I allowed TS to play TUTS/YOS* for 20 points before going out on QIS/OES 17. With the KU left over on TS’s rack, I got 12 additional points, but I fell short, 382-362.

As someone pointed out to me, I should have challenged YOS*, which I (rightly) suspected was phony. Had I done so, I could still have gone out on QIS/OES. That still would have been worth 17 points, but I would have gotten another eight points from TS’s leftover tiles, and his 20-point play would have been negated. Had I done that, I would have won, 379-362.

Unfortunately, hindsight is 50-50, and my record fell to a very disappointing 1-3.

My fifth and final game was against J—, who had now beaten me two times running. Playing first, he had a 153-109 lead entering turn 7, when he put down a 68-point bingo, fELONIES. Fortunately, I had a decent riposte: StONIEST/OVUM 77, which hooked onto the front of VUM and played through the first vowel in J—’s bingo. Still, that left me in a 221-186 hole.

J— kept on making solid plays, most notably ARIGHT/NA 35, and he led 297-256 entering turn 11. But then he made a rare misstep, playing WORRIEST*, a 72-point phony that I challenged off the board.

Alas, I just couldn’t find a big play to put me back into contention. I settled instead for setting up a big play that would narrow the margin of defeat.

In turn 13, facing a 353-294 deficit, I played NE/ME for 5 points. The rationale there was that it enabled me to play ADZ/AI/MEZE the following turn; that was worth 58 points because the Z was positioned on a double-word-score spot.

But I finished on another down note, losing 376-352 to drop to 1-4 — a somewhat demoralizing end to a fun but challenging weekend of Scrabble.

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