By Matthew E. Milliken
April 7, 2017
Coming out of the lunch break, I was pitted against my friend D—, whom I’d beaten 395-344 in Delaware in December. (Our only other previous official encounter had been a 355-310 decision in his favor in September 2012.) Playing second, he took a 51-42 lead in turn 3 with MUTER 25, which I considered challenging but ultimately opted not to.
Things got worse for me in turn 4, as D— bingoed with OVERrUN 72. I was able to make up a bit of ground in turn 5, however, with QUIRT 48. (As in game 1, I got the Q on a double-letter-score bonus and the T on a double-word-score bonus.) Alas, D—’s follow-up was RELAX 47, so I ended the turn trailing 170-106.
Neither of us knew it then, but the tide was about to turn in my favor. My sixth move was WINCE 39, which spotted the W on a triple-word-score bonus and the C on a double-letter-score spot. (The E was helpfully provided by the second letter in RELAX.) I added to my score in turns 7 and 8 with THEY 23 and GOUDA 22, respectively.
Meanwhile, D— fell into a slump, at least compared to how he’d opened the game. His lead — just 200-168 after seven turns — was further cut to 200-190 after I put down GOUDA. That word proved to be pivotal, although neither of us knew it at the time.
D—’s eighth move was SUGgEST/GOUDAS, an 85-point bingo. Fearing this would put the game out of reach, I challenged. I was on tenterhooks as I waited for D— to press the key on the computer that would show us the result of the challenge; when the screen flashed a big red X, I practically sighed with relief. I still had a fighting chance!
As it turns out, neither GOUDA nor GOUDAS are valid Scrabble words. If D— had known that, he probably would have challenged my eighth move, and the outcome would never have been in doubt.
I took a 206-200 lead in turn 9 with VITA 16. That state of affairs would not last, however: D—’s ninth move was GUSSETs/QUIRTS, an 83-point bingo that I was sure was good. Once again, I was facing a big deficit; still, at least I had some momentum and a little bit of hope.
The next few plays proved to be quite nerve-wracking. I edged closer in turn 10 with my AMA 25, which D— replied to with LIBs 8. But the deficit grew in turn 11: I put down JIN for 19 points while D— had ADZE 28, making the score 319-250 in my opponent’s favor.
And yet, and yet…
My play of JIN had actually been a calculated risk, much like one I’d taken in game 2 against A.H. The letter J can pair with but one other letter to make a two-letter word: O. (Together, they make JO, a Scottish term of endearment equivalent to sweetheart or dear.) At the time, I knew that there were no blanks and only a few Os available in the game — and I held one of those precious vowels.
After D— dropped his ADZE, I held ABFIKOY. After some cogitating, I put down KAYO/JO, which netted me a cool 60 points. That narrowed the score to 319-310 with D— yet to make his 12th move.
That play was HORA 21, which I mulled over for a while before opting not to challenge. (This was a good choice: A hora is a Romanian or Israeli circle dance.) That left D— with a 340-310 lead.
My rack at this point was BCEFIPS, and with the board closed up, points were at a premium. I played SIB/MUTERS* for 23 points. (MUTER is valid, as is SIB, but not MUTERS.) D— answered with KAYOS/GIS 16, leaving him up, 356-333.
The bag was empty, so I held just four tiles now: CEFP. I put down CEP (meaning an edible mushroom) for 23 points. D— closed out turn 14 by playing COPIER for 10 points. This made the score 366-356.
Now I had but a single tile, F. I put in on a double-letter-score tile to make a nine-point play, EF.
That brought the score to 366-365, but because I’d emptied my rack, I got two points from D—’s leftover I. We checked some of the high-scoring plays to verify our math, but the result, amazingly, was a 367-366 victory that bumped my record to a respectable 3-1 (albeit with a hohum spread of plus-85).
I was happy about my comeback win, but I felt badly for D—, who had lost two one-point games in the tournament.
In game 5, I played J—, who had absolutely destroyed me in a few of our recent games. Naturally, I was eager to get some revenge.
Playing second, I took an early 60-28 lead after playing DROVE 26, helped in part by J—’s having to swap out four tiles. But J— opened turn 4 with GRAsPED, a 71-point bingo that gave him a 99-60 advantage.
We then traded a few modest plays until turn 8, which proved to be fateful.
J— opened that round with QAT, a cool 39-pointer. Meanwhile, I was stumped as to what to do with my rack of EINRSST. I kept on telling myself that there was definitely a valid bingo there, but I wasn’t sure what it was.
I ended up playing SISTREN on the assumption that it was a cognate of the word brethren. J—, who mistook my word for a misspelling of cistern, decided to challenge my 70-point play, and rightly so. The computer told us that SISTREN was phony, I removed my tiles, and the score held at 174-122 in J—’s favor.
My opponent then played TARRING, which was worth only 16 points but which effectively made it impossible for me to play the actual bingo on my rack: INSERTS. (If only I’d spotted it in time!) I settled for SIGNET 24 and hoped that I’d find an opportunity to catch up.
That came in turn 11, when I played BAILERS 77 to go ahead, 239-238. But J— went back on top with NOH 23. Sadly, this word took up a spot that I’d hoped to utilize for my own purposes.
In turn 13, I went back ahead with FAUX 43, which restored me to a 299-290 lead.
I entered turn 14 with IIKOS, which wasn’t that promising. My OI 12 gave me another narrow lead, 311-309, but J— then ended the game by using his last four letters to play sCUD. That gave him 11 points plus the 12 he got from my leftover IKS.
Result: A 332-311 loss, which knocked my record back down to 3-2. This left me rather upset, because my overlooking INSERTS had seriously jeopardized my tournament effort.
My sixth game was against F.T., a highly ranked player. Trailing 27-23 after two turns, I used my third move to swap out my entire rack — GILMRTZ, which didn’t work well with the board. I drew a blank but struggled to make points.
I was behind, 129-97, after turn 7. I opened the next round with a bingo, ENTAsIA, a 61-pointer that left me with a 158-129 lead. (Entasia is a muscle spasm.) But F.T. jumped right back into the lead with her response, PESTY 44.
I played F.T. close until turn 11, when she hooked an -S onto the end of my bingo to make MAIDS/ENTAsIAS 36. That gave her a 240-197 advantage.
And things only got worse from there. F.T. used the X both ways on a triple-letter-score bonus to collect 54 points and bump her lead up to 315-227. My rack at the time was an unpromising CIIIRS?, so my answer was a measly CRIME 9.
Here F.T. made her only serious error of the game. EX had opened up the triple-word-score bonus at center column–bottom row, and it was too valuable a spot for her to leave open.
That wasn’t the problem; the issue was that she put down HENDS/CRIMES 37. To have a hope of winning the game, I needed to challenge that play off the board. I didn’t know whether HENDS was valid or not, but I took a deep breath and challenged. As it turns out, HENDS was phony, and the play was nullified.
My rack now was IINSTZ?, which try as I might I couldn’t turn into a bingo. Instead, I put down ZITIS/CRIMES, a 52-point play that brought me to within 315-288.
But this word opened up a triple-letter-score bonus, which F.T. instantly put to use by playing QI for a quick 31 points. Now I was well and truly screwed, as the kids say.
There was nothing I could do, dear readers. I went on to a respectable but nonetheless disappointing 380-331 defeat, which left me with a thoroughly pedestrian 3-3 record.