June 3, 2017, mall Scrabble recap, part 1

June 7, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
June 9, 2017

I returned to Scrabble tournament play at Durham’s Northgate Mall last Saturday. Despite having had another night of abridged sleep, I was feeling pretty excited about the day ahead of me.

The event started with my facing S—, an older North Carolina player whom I’d beaten in our only two previous meetings. Playing first, he swapped out five tiles, letting me open with LOVE 14. S— then used the O to put down a 70-point bingo, PIMENTOS. I considered challenging but opted not to, which is fortunate; PIMENTO (referring to spice) is valid, and its plural can be spelled with either -S or -ES.

My second play, FAILED/FA/AN/IN/ES, garnered 36 points. But S— answered with a nifty 47-pointer, CROAK/CLOVE/RES/OD, which I challenged because I was unsure of RES. Since that three-letter word is valid, I forfeit my next move. I trailed, 117-50, entering turn 4 — hardly a great start. 

I gained some ground in turn 5 with ABOVE. This 30-pointer used the triple-word-score bonus in the top-left-corner, a spot opened up by a V that S— had just put down. Even better, two turns later, I played a 63-point bingo, LATHiNG/EL, which narrowed the score to 187-167 in my opponent’s favor.

Alas for me, S— answered with CHID, playing through the H in my bingo and utilizing a double-letter-score/triple-word-score to collect 39 points. (Chid apparently means the same thing as chide, although I can’t find a good citation for this.) My eighth move was WAIT/AW/TA/iT, good for 30 points thanks to a triple-letter-score bonus going two ways. That still left me in a 29-point hole, however.

Turn 10 kicked off with S—’s DIODE/GO/OD/RE, a 25-point play. I answered with a 25-pointer of my own in QUIRE. Neither of us knew it at the time, but the game was about to enter the home stretch.

S—’s next two moves sowed the seeds of his destruction. He opened turn 11 with AX/ODA/REX 23; I closed it by playing GOSH/SAX, which generated 36 points thanks to having the S on a double-word-score bonus going both horizontally and vertically.

S— then played ZIG 26, which I’ll return to in a moment.

My rack at that point was a relatively unpromising EERSSUW. But QUIRE had opened up the triple-word-score bonus spot at center column–bottom row, and I was able to play SEWER/SI/ER/WE on the space. The TWS bonus combined with the W on a two-way double-letter-score bonus to give me 37 points, narrowing the score to 317-305.

S— built on my play with ORA/OWE/RE/AR 15. But my third straight big play, BOITES/AWS, generated 32 points and gave me a 337-332 lead.

boite is a nightclub; it’s a French word, and it takes an -S. Interestingly, AW does not take an -S, as I learned only in writing this blog post.

We’d come to the final turn. S— had a rack of ILNRU?, as I learned by tracking the tiles that had been used, while I held only a U. My opponent used his blank for JUKEs/sAWS, a 21-pointer that vaulted him back out to a 353-337 advantage.

However, I had a short but potent closing move. I put my last letter on a double-word-score spot. UH 10 made the score 353-347, with S— still ahead. But by emptying my rack, I became eligible to collect double the value of S—’s leftover tiles. Those additional 10 points gave me a very dramatic 357-353 victory.

S—, naturally, was disappointed at losing the game after having led nearly the entire way. He expressed regret over playing off his X and Z for relatively meager totals. I pointed out that my opportunity for victory was due to the availability of the TWS bonus that I exploited with SEWER.

The following contest pitted me against C.L., a youngster participating in his first tournament. Midway through turn 4, I had a 44-38 lead and a rack of AELORS?. I converted this into MORALEs/AHs, an 86-point bingo. (Both AHS and AAHS are valid Scrabble words, unlike AWS.)

Midway through turn 8, I was up, 163-118, when I played SWILLED/HAJI for my second bingo of the game. This one was worth 92 points and gave me a rather forbidding lead.

I had a nice stretch with four consecutive 20-point plays in turns 10 through 13: REF/EWE/FAD 26, YET/EL/TI 26, OBA/OX/BE 27 and KEG/GOX 29. That left me holding a 372-202 lead going into turn 14.

Incidentally, I was able to make that last play only because I’d challenged C.L.’s 13th move, ROTTIEr/ROX, both of which are phony.

I had two more strong plays as the game wound down: VIS/HI/QIS 29 and AMPED 30. The latter used the triple-word-score bonus at center-row–far-right column and actually  built on AMP, a play I’d made back in turn 5 when I’d held ADJLMNP, a rather dubious collection of tiles.

The final score was 461-264, which moved my record to 2-0.

Game 3 saw me face N.C., the top seed in the lower division. He had a rating of 1032, as compared to my 935, although he had gone 1-1 against the two players I’d just beaten, C.L. and S—.

Just to let you know how this game went, N.C. never had a play worth less than 23 points; he had four plays worth 40 or more points, and he opened and closed the contest with a pair of 30-pointers. Meanwhile, I had but two words worth more than 28 points.

N.C.’s opening moves of KAY/KI/AL 32 and PAX/PAL/AY 38 far outweighed my paltry GRAIL 16 and ADIEU 8. Trailing 70-24 at the start of turn 3, and having HLNRUV?, I traded in everything except my blank.

The result was a slightly more promising assortment, AAHIRT?. But N.C. continued to build words, putting down BOWED/OPAL/WAY/EX for 46 points.

Staring at a 116-24 deficit, I more than doubled my score with the rather modest HAT/HEX/AD, which gave me 28 points.

The situation continued to devolve in turn 6 as N.C. put down RETAILEd, a 78-point bingo. He now had a mountainous 243-78 lead.

This was especially discouraging because I had a bingo ready to play: SCENTInG. That gave me 72 points, but instead of putting myself in a competitive position, I still faced a daunting 243-150 deficit.

N.C. had another bingo in turn 8 with FOULEST/FET. The 70-point play definitively converted an uncompetitive 270-172 slaughter into a 340-172 laugher.

I entered turn 10 holding AGIMOST, which I turned into IMAGO/LI/EM/dA for a modest 24 points. Sadly for me, this opened up a triple-letter-score/double-word-score combo for N.C. in the form of QUOIN 68.

I had a respectable play in turn 12 with VEIN/QI/UN 34. But N.C.’s final two moves were MARVEL 36 and COZIER 37. In the end, I lost, 506-288, which left me with a 2-1 record. The 219-point defeat left my spread at a pathetic minus-22.

To be continued


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