Aug. 26, 2017, mall Scrabble recap, part 2

September 4, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 4, 2017

Despite getting off to a 3-0 start with a win against the tournament’s highly rated third seed, I knew that I’d have a stiff test in the fourth game, which would close out our early session. I was to play F.T., the fourth seed in the field, who began the day with a rating of 1394. We’d played once before back in March, which had resulted in my sustaining a 49-point loss.

F.T. opened with DIDY 18, which was not positioned so as to enable me to convert my rack of AELLMST into the obvious bingo of MALLETS. (Didy, alternatively spelled didie, means diaper; its plural is didies.) I settled for MALL/MY 14.

F.T.’s second play, FUMY 14, didn’t cooperate with my rack of AEEIPST. (Fumy, of course, means emitting or full of fumes.) I settled again, this time for APE/LA 17, which left the score 32-31 in my foe’s favor.

My draw was NO?, leaving me with EINOST? entering the third turn. That’s an excellent rack, and I played INTOnES/DE/IS for a 64-point bingo, taking a 94-54 lead in the process.

F.T. methodically chipped away at her deficit. In turn 4, she played WHO/LAH/PO 27. (Lah is a musical note, also spelled la; po, pluralized as pos, is how some in Australia and New Zealand refer to a chamber pot.) In turn 5, she played MIRK 20, a variant spelling of murk. That reduced my lead to 110-101.

I took a risk by playing QI/MI 30 in turn 5. Unfortunately, F.T. answered in turn 6 with IS/QI/MIS 44, exploiting the triple-word-score bonus in the top-right corner that I’d made available. I now trailed, 145-140.

I retook the lead — briefly, alas. I held EINNRTT, which I turned into INDENT 8, thereby giving me a very tenuous 148-145 advantage.

The next three moves would decisively favor F.T. In turn 8, she unleashed CHEZ/EL/ZAG for 71 points. (Chez, of course, is a preposition derived from French meaning at the home or business place of, and it is a valid Scrabble word.) I responded weakly with AGREE/TA 26, making the score 216-174.

F.T. then put down INTERNES, a 70-point bingo that I unwisely challenged, thereby leading to my forfeiting my eighth turn. (Interne is a variant on intern.) Now my foe held a commanding 286-174 advantage. She used her next turn to play DWEEB/BI 31, leaving me even further in the hole.

My rack was DEOPTT?, which I could have turned into sPOTTED if there’d been…well, a spot on the board capable of accommodating that bingo. Feeling desperate, I took a gamble and used the E in APE to play EsPOTTED*/WHOs*, a 92-point bingo thanks to the triple-word-score spot in the board’s bottom-right corner. Sadly, both of these words are invalid, but F.T.’s decision not to challenge enabled me to cut into her margin. I was now at the wrong end of a 317-266 score, but at least I had a fighting chance.

F.T. came back in turn 10 with WAXES 30. I was able to answer with AFOOT/IF/NO/TO/ET 39, but that still left me facing an uphill battle.

I never found a big play to pull back into contention, and F.T. wound up with a 416-375 win. That dropped my record on the day to 3-1 and shrank my spread to plus-78 going into the lunch break.

I squared away my stuff and briskly walked over to a nearby pizza joint, where I consumed two slices and some soda before walking home. I changed out of my sweaty clothing, packed my car, and drove back to the mall, where I found a shady parking spot and power-walked back to the tournament a couple of minutes after everyone else had resumed play.

In game 5, I battled A.H., the top seed, whom I’d dealt a surprising 409-384 upset back in our first meeting in March. This time, things went south for me in turn 2, when my foe played TOURNEY/TAXED for an 83-point bingo. That put him ahead, 110-46.

I made a serious oversight at this point. After my opening play of AXED 24, I’d drawn an S. Unfortunately, what I didn’t see immediately after A.H.’s bingo was that tourney is one of the (relatively rare) words ending in Y that takes the suffix -S. If I’d realized that, I might have been able to exploit one of the triple-word-score bonuses that the bingo had made available.

Not being savvy enough to realize that, however, I went on to make modest plays like GUNK/GOD 22, OIL/LEX 15, RAJA 22 and LEWD 24, all while holding an S.

A.H. presumably didn’t have an S during this time, but he did have some nice tiles. He put down JAW/WO 31 and ZEE 32, among other things, to put me in a 192-107 hole after five turns.

I found a nice move in turn 6: UNITY/GUNKY 53. That made the score 192-160, which at least left me in position to make a comeback.

The next few minutes contained a rich mix of good and bad news for my hopes of winning. The first piece of good news was that I was about to realize that S could hook onto TOURNEY. The first piece of bad news was that I only saw TOURNEYS right after I’d made my seventh play, VAR/AB/RE 20.

The second piece of bad news was that A.H. had an S by that point, and in turn 7, he put a major dent in my chances by playing SLOTH/TOURNEYS 35. The second piece of good news was that I got a high score in turn 8 by putting down SHADE/UH/NA/ID/TE 47; this parallel play on UNITY used the triple-word-score bonus in the bottom-left corner to cut my deficit to 247-227.

There was yet more bad news. A.H.’s eighth move was LOBE/ABO/REB/NE, which used the TWS bonus in the top-right corner to leave me trailing, 281-227.

We exchanged some modest plays for the next few turns before A.H. lowered the boom in turn 11. He put down bIOTInS/bE/IF, a 65-point bingo that basically crushed my chances of winning. I challenged biotins (a plural of biotin, meaning Vitamin B) and forfeit my 12th move.

I held APQRSTU at this point, but I made an unconventional decision: I passed rather than make a play in turn 13. This sprang from somewhat convoluted reasoning: I wanted to play QUA 32, but I knew that A.H. had an A that would allow him to play AQUA and probably also use the triple-word-score at top row–center column.

What I (again) didn’t realize, however, was that I could have played QATS/SCANTED or SUQ/SCANTED for roughly 40 points. Instead, after A.H.’s DEVA/DA 13, I settled for SQUID 30. A.H. then went out with SAU 6 to seal a 436-307 victory. (He got 12 points from my leftover tiles, APRT.) I was now sitting at 3-2 with a spread of minus-51.

My sixth game pitted me against a very familiar contestant, local player J—. We’d met 12 times in official tournaments, with J— winning 8 times, including the past five in a row.

Playing first, I had an interesting rack: FHSTY??. I opened with THY 18 and picked up LRW. The resultant tiles, FLRSW??, also lacked vowels, so I played FURL 14 through J—’s first word, HURRY 13. (I now realize my rack could have made FLoWeRS, but I don’t think the board could have accommodated that bingo.) J—’s second play was INIA/TI/HA 14. (Inia, as best I can determine, is the plural of inion, the most prominent point at the back of the skull.)

I picked up CS, which still left me with no vowels. I played off the C with TIC 5 and — shades of my Jan. 16 game against TS — was rewarded by getting the second of the two Cs that come in every standard Scrabble set.

I entered turn 5 with the CSSTT??, the same thing I’d had the turn before. This time I converted it into STaTiCS/TICS, a 70-point bingo, which gave me a 142-53 lead.

I maintained a healthy advantage for a while; midway through turn 10, I was up, 222-130. However, J— then put down BRANDIES, a 64-point bingo that left him trailing by only 222-194.

J— then suffered a bit of a power outage, so I was able to rebuild my lead; my biggest play, QI 31, put me up 286-217 midway through turn 13.

But I sensed trouble on the horizon: The board had two wide-open bingo alleys, and I couldn’t think of a good way to block either of them without causing myself further trouble. I ended up rejecting attempts to block because the only plays I saw would have opened up either the TWS at bottom row–center column or the one at center row–far-right column.

In turn 15, holding EEIIKMO, I played KIN 14 and drew the final two letters, ER. After surveying my rack of EEEIMOR — a motley assortment if ever I’ve seen one — I set out to determine what was on J—’s rack.

A moment or two later, process of elimination led me to conclude that his rack was SEIOGPN. That doesn’t seem very promising, I thought to myself.

Before I could rearrange these letters in alphabetical order (EGINOPS), J— uttered a triumphant cry and put down PIGEONS/TEEN. This 72-point “walk-off” bingo put him in the lead; thanks to the laggards in my rack, he wound up with a 338-311 decision that left me thoroughly demoralized. My record, once 3-3, drooped to 3-3, while my spread sagged to minus-78.

To be concluded

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