June 3, 2017, mall Scrabble recap, part 2

June 8, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
June 8, 2017

The fourth game — and the final one of the tournament’s morning session — pitted me against N—, a North Carolinian whom I’d beaten a few months ago in our only previous meeting. I began with a rack of CEGHLTT and started the game by playing TETCH*, a 28-point phony. (TETCHY, TETCHIER and TETCHIEST are valid.)

N— answered with a 28-pointer of her own, COOEED, which I challenged — unwisely, as it turned out. Cooee is, per Dictionary.com, “a prolonged, shrill, clear call or cry used as a signal by Australian Aborigines” that has been adopted by that country’s settlers; it can also be a verb meaning to utter the call cooee. Upshot: COOEES, COOEED and COOEEING are all valid, and I forfeit my second turn. The score remained tied, however, as N— used her next move to swap out all seven of her tiles.

The two of us played a nip-and-tuck game until turn 9. I started the round with a rack of AILOSV? and played VOE 9, which tied the score at 146 apiece. N— responded with CORSETE*/LATE, a 65-point bingo.

I was instantly skeptical, as I’d never previously encountered the word CORSETE. But I was afraid to challenge. One reason was that I wasn’t completely sure that the play was phony. (Which it is!)

The other reason was that I had a tempting rack of my own: AIILNS?. After puzzling things out, I realized that this could make fINIALS/GOALS, a 68-pointer. Even better, N— did not recognize my bingo, which is an architectural term for an ornamental feature. She challenged and lost her turn.

That gave me a narrow 214-211 lead. But N— went back ahead, 258-247, when she played PIKA/fA on a triple-word-score bonus for 30 points in turn 12. We leapfrogged each other with our next two moves before I gave myself some breathing room in turn 14 with PRIZE/ED 39.

Even then, matters remained unsettled. N—’s riposte was VAU/UP, which garnered her 22 points and cut my lead to 306-297. I replied with FLEW for 28 points thanks to a double-letter/double-word combo, but N—’s FIEF gave her 30 points, leaving me with a precarious 334-327 advantage.

Fortunately for me, I’d just drawn a high-value tile. I used it to make XI/XED on a triple-word-score bonus to get 38 points. The game ended on N—’s next move, SITS/SLATE, which got her 13 points as well as 10 from the MNT that remained on my rack. Final result: A very dramatic 372-350 victory for me, which bumped my record to 3-1 and left me with an anemic spread of plus-22.

Following lunch, I sat down for a fifth-round match vs. O—. We’d met once before; I’d emerged victorious against her in the same November tournament where I’d also first played N—.

After six turns of our second game, she had a 94-93 lead. My rack at that point, alas, was EOOORSU. I traded four tiles and wound up with a rather unimpressive ERRRSTW.

O—’s rack, however, was primed for a bingo. She played AtONIES/AL for 60 points, putting her rather a long distance ahead of me. (Atony is defined by Dictionary.com as either a muscular weakness or a lack of tone or energy or, in phonetics, the lack of a stress accent.)

I minimized the damage by playing through one of her bingo’s vowels for a double-letter-score/triple-word-score combination with WEET 33.

I clawed my way back to the lead in turn 11 with XI/XI/IN, a 31-point play that left me with a 191-170 lead. It vanished instantly, however, as O— sprang another bingo on me: ERASING/WRINGS, good for 78 points. Now I was on the wrong end of a 248-191 score.

I continued to fight, replying with VOLTS/TRANK/SI for 33 points. At least I was keeping things respectable.

But I just couldn’t find the magic I needed. I opened turn 13 with GOV 13, a 21-point phony that O— challenged off the board. In turn 15, I had a rack of ADDOSY?; I swapped out four letters to get DEHSTU? — not terrible, but not particularly helpful, either, given that the board was fairly closed off.

I played ETCH/YET for 34 points in turn 17 and drew JU, yielding DEJSUU?. Feeling absolutely desperate, I formed a 28-point phony, JUDEa*/aBA, making the score 311-296 in my opponent’s favor. O— declined to challenge and instead played ON/JO/UN for 17 points.

The game was settled in turn 18. After I played AYS/JOY/UNS for 23 points, O— put down RITZ/SI for 25 points. My only hope of winning would have been to catch O with that Z on her rack, but that was no longer a possibility.

I passed in turn 19 because I just couldn’t find a place to put my last letter, U. O— closed the contest with DRAYS, which left her with a 366-319 victory. My record fell to 3-2 and my spread dipped back down to minus-47.

Down but not out, I readied myself for a sixth-round contest against C—, a younger man whom I’d defeated in our only prior meeting in June 2015. C— had started the day with four straight wins before losing a blowout to N—. I was eager to prove my mettle by giving him another loss.

That shaped up to be quite a challenge as C— dropped a 65-point bingo, ENTWINES, with his second move. That left me trailing, 90-44.

But I was rather nicely set up for success. To start turn 3, I had AAINSX? on my rack. I played AX/BA/EX, using a high-value tile both ways on a triple-letter-score bonus. That gave me 54 points and put me back on top.

It didn’t last; C— answered with TIZ/TAX 32 to go up, 122-98. But now my rack held AEHINS?, and I was able to put down SHEItAN/ES/SH for a 75-point bingo.

C— struck back in turn 7 with a 40-point phony, SMOOT*/SHEItANS, which I was afraid to challenge. I played RITZ for 33 points to restore some padding to my lead, but C— fired back with JIGGER 30. That left the score 260-247, and there was no doubt about it: C— was gunning for a comeback.

But the tiles were kind to me. In turn 10 I converted ADELUV? into DEVALUe, a 79-point bingo. The resulting 349-267 lead wouldn’t hold up, of course; C—’s next move, PHAT/UP/eH, generated 43 points thanks to the triple-word-score bonus activated by the H. (I declined to challenge the play, which turned out to be fortunate, because PHAT, PHATTER and PHATTEST are all good.) Now my lead was decidedly modest, 349-310.

C— followed up with QIS/PRANKS 24 and NAY/NE/AR/YO 26, but he just couldn’t overcome my second bingo. My final two moves, FEU/FeH 15 and INDEX 15, helped push me across the finish line. The 386-367 victory left me with a 4-2 record and a pallid spread of minus-6.

To be concluded


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