Aug. 26, 2017, mall Scrabble recap, part 1

September 3, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 3, 2017

I plunged back into competitive Scrabble play last weekend with another tournament at Northgate Mall in Durham. I knew it would be an exciting day: Stanford football would kick off its 2017 campaign in Sydney, Australia, that night, and I was planning to drive up to Northern Virginia as soon as the event ended.

I didn’t get a great night’s sleep, but I felt pretty sharp in the morning. I’d already packed most of my bags. I woke up in timely fashion, showered, and walked over to the mall, arriving 15 or 20 minutes ahead of start time.

The field was small, only 12 contestants; I was seeded ninth with a player rating of 922. I was a little nervous about my first opponent, C—, a Scrabble veteran with a sixth seed and a rating of 1080. C— is a Carolina resident and shows up to all of the Durham tournaments, so I knew him a bit, but I was a little intimidated by his extensive experience and higher rating.

I played first. My opening rack was ILOORU?, which I turned into LOUR for 8 points. (Lour, a variant on lowermeans to look sullen or to become dark, gloomy and threatening.)

I kept on playing off tiles until the fourth turn, when I had a bingo-capable rack of NNRSTU?. I turned this into STUNNeR, a 68-point play that gave me a 101-55 lead.

Unfortunately, C— methodically cut into the point differential, so my lead was just 153-123 after six turns. I then made a misstep by playing PAGE/GLOUR* 15, which C— challenged. As we went to the computer, I realized that I’d confused my phony coinage with glower, which is a real word. My freshly played tiles came off the board and C— put down CRIT 19, which left me with a meager 153-142 advantage.

We stumbled through a lengthy exchange of modest plays. My advantage grew as large as 45 points or so before shrinking back down to nine points when, in turn 12, C— played JOB 25, cutting his deficit to 242-233. C— actually took the slimmest of leads two turns later when he put down CHEESE/FUDS for 30 points. (I considered challenging FUDS but did not; it is valid, a pluralization of a contraction of fuddy-duddy.)

Fortunately, I had a good rack, AGMNSU?, and the board allowed me to score some points. I put down GrAMS for 36 points. This key late play enabled me to claim a 338-287 victory.

My second opponent was K.L., the event’s third-seeded player, who was rated 1450. We’d met once before in competition, in March, which had resulted in a crushing 510-229 defeat. “Good luck,” I said to K.L. before we started, “but not as much luck as you had last time.” She laughed and admitted that she never remembered the results of her previous games.

K.L. opened with URINAL 14. My starting rack was FINUWY?, which led me to play UNIFY 21. K.L. then played OPTED for 38 points, which put me in a pickle, because I’d drawn EIIOO, which left me with the staggeringly awful EIIOOW?. I swapped out six letters.

K.L. added to her lead in turn 3 with JAUNTED 30. That left me facing an 82-21 deficit. However, by the next turn, I had a rack of ADEMRU?, which allowed me to play MaRAUDED, an 86-point bingo using the final D from OPTED. That gave me a 136-121 advantage, which I extended the next turn with FOX 36.

And yet I fell behind again in turn 7 when K.L.’s MOTH 35 lifted her to a 176-172 lead. But I came right back with another 36-point play, which I incompletely recorded. (The primary word was LEE, which I think formed EX and another word.) I was back on top, 208-176.

In turn 11, my rack was EEIRRST, which I converted to RETRIES, a 75-point bingo. (I failed to record the crossword.) That gave me a seemingly decisive 309-216 advantage.

But K.L. came back with AZO/AM/Za/OR, a 48-pointer that put the Z on a double-word-score bonus spot, so my lead was not entirely safe. I sealed the deal in my 13th turn by playing SCAB/BRIGS for 34 points, which ultimately took down a 376-355 victory.

My third game pitted me against O—, who had beaten me twice in June, including a devastating 366-319 last-play defeat in the seventh round. Needless to say, I was hungry for revenge.

Things got off to an unpromising start, however. Over the first five turns, O— had three moves that scored from 28 to 33 points, while I had but one play worth more than 13 points (LOAM/FA/OM 20). She ended the sequence with a 114-56 lead.

Fate intervened in turn 7, which I began with a rack of AELRSST. I happily played SLATERS/LIDS for a 79-point bingo. This narrowly vaulted me ahead, 151-147. (Slaters, meaning people who lay slate, is valid, as is salters, meaning people who make, sell or apply salt.)

However, O— came right back with HO/HI/OR for 28 points, so I once again was on the wrong end of the score.

I retook the lead in turn 11 by playing CANDY 28, which put me back on top, 239-229. But this didn’t last, either, as O— immediately responded with ToNGUES/TE, a 63-point bingo.

At that point, I held the unpromising EEIIRTY. Fortunately, I was able to play YETI/YE/ES for 44 points, thanks to a double-letter-score/triple-word-score combo on the top line that was opened up by O—’s bingo. Even so, that left me trailing, 292-283.

O— played ME/Mo/EN over the triple-word-score bonus at top row–center column for 23 points. Holding ABEEIIR, all I could do was play BI/ORB/AI for 13 points and hope for the best. I trailed, 315-296.

I did, in fact, draw the final two tiles in the bag, T?, which gave me a rack of AEEIRT?. However, I wasn’t sure just what to do with it. And after O—’s FEIGN/FE/ER/IS 22 put her ahead, 337-296, I knew I would need an absolutely marvelous play in order to win.

It wouldn’t be easy because, as much as I searched, I could find but a single bingo alley. I’d have to play an eight-word letter vertically starting with the last letter in YETI.

But what word could I possibly play? I spent several minutes mulling it over before deciding that I had to try InERTIAE, a Latinate plural for intertia. When I put it down, O—, much to my surprise, didn’t even challenge; she said she knew that it was good and she’d seen the word as soon as she’d figured out the letters on my rack. She good-naturedly accused me of toying with her emotions, but I declaimed that I hadn’t seen the word until just before making the play. (Inertias is also valid.)

That 74-point bing combined with 14 points from O—’s leftover B and W to give me a 384-337 victory. That put my record at 3-0 on the day with a spread of plus-119 — a fine start.

To be continued

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