By Matthew E. Milliken
April 8, 2017
Two straight defeats had dropped my record to an unremarkable 3-3, and my seventh game would hardly be a walk in the park. My opponent was to be K.L., the event’s second-highest-seeded player.
Playing first, K.L. began the game with IODINE 16. My response, PEONY, garnered 15 points — and that was as close as I would get in the contest.
K.L.’s second move was WHIM 45, which scored 13 points more than my biggest play of the game. I answered with MOB 22 to put me behind, 61-37, after two full turns.
We traded standard plays in turn 3 — MOURN 14 for her, RUIN 6 for me — before things really got out of hand. K.L. dropped AHOYING, a 96-point bingo. That put me in a 171-43 hole. (Much later, I would learn that this word isn’t valid in Scrabble, or probably anywhere else. Alas, ’twas too late.)
I mentioned playing RUIN in turn 3. That proved consequential because, immediately after playing off the U, I picked up a Q. Unfortunately, K.L. would get the remaining three Us, thwarting my attempt to catch up.My foe’s seventh play, LISTInG, also did a lot of damage. This 72-point bingo left me facing a 285-119 deficit midway through turn 7.
As I struggled to find points, K.L. kept on piling them up, notably with XI in turn 8.
I briefly impeded K.L.’s progress in turn 11. When she played BALL/BEVIL*/AD in for 31 points, I smelled a rat and challenged. This worked out, as bevel (the slant a surface or line makes with another when they are not perpendicular) is spelled with two Es.
I made a feeble effort to catch up late in the game, placing ZIT on a bonus tile for 32 points, but this was far too little, far too late. K.L. closed the game with KILL/CULTI 34 and SWEARER/IODINES 72. I challenged the latter play — there is literally no reason not to challenge a potential game-ending play — but both words were valid. K.L. consequently got 20 points from my leftovers (AEEFRRS).
Final result: A 510-229 defeat. This not only dropped my record to 3-4, it reduced my spread from a piddling plus-15 to an atrocious minus-266.
That brought us to game eight, the final one of the event. I was pitted against J.M., a smart North Carolinian who was playing only his second tournament in the past three years.
Playing second, my opponent took a 33-6 lead in the first turn with HEM, which utilized a pair of double-letter-score bonus spots adjacent to my six-point opening move of ERA. I responded with JEW/HEW 30 and added to my total in turn 3 with OF/JO/EF, which garnered 35 points mainly from placing the F on a triple-letter-score spot.
That left me with a 71-63 lead entering turn 4. I increased my advantage with ZEST/FRONDS, a 46-pointer that got both words on a double-letter-score spot. J.M. swapped out six of his seven tiles to conclude the turn, leaving me with a 117-63 lead going into turn 5.
J.M. had a smart play the next turn by hooking six letters onto the front of ER to make GUILTIER. That generated 30 points mainly thanks to its use of the triple-word-score tile at center row–far-left column. But I bounced back with INERRING*, an 83-point bingo that built on the G from GUILTIER. J.M. gave some serious consideration to challenging before deciding not to; as it turns out, inerrant and unerring are both valid, but inerring is as phony as a $5 gazillion bill.
My foe got some serious points in turn 9 when he played STEaLING for a 78-point bingo. My riposte, DEBTS/STEaLINGS, generated 36 points and ultimately cost J.M. a turn because he lodged a challenge. (Many English words that end in -ing don’t take an -S, but STEALINGS is in fact valid.) That made the score 305-227 in my favor through 10 turns.
Late in the game, J.M. scored 44 points with ZAX. But I made a nice play to open turn 15 with LaKE/KIN/HEME, which got the K going both ways on a triple-letter-score bonus and generated 43 points for me.
What’s more, J.M. challenged and lost his turn, so I was able to close out the game with MILES 8. I got 22 points from my foe’s leftover tiles (AOUWY?) to collect a 454-338 victory.
That evened out my overall record to a meh 4-4 and left me with a disappointing minus-150 spread.
I placed eighth out of 12 contestants, or marginally better than my No. 9 seed would have indicated. I was very glad to have defeated A.H. and D— and proud that I’d played J— and T.F. closely, but the huge loss to K.L. and my mistake against J— (why didn’t I see INSERTS?!!!) definitely bothered me.
Still, my rating rose 17 points, from 917 to 935, so it was better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.