Aug. 26, 2017, mall Scrabble recap, part 3

September 5, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 5, 2017

My foe in game 7 was L.B., a veteran player I’d never encountered before. She was seeded seventh and had begun the day with a 1029 rating.  To that point, her only loss on the day was a 538-351 defeat to A.H., the top seed, who’d beaten me to start the afternoon session.

I got off to a rocky start. L.B., playing first, opened with GRADED 22. My rack was awful, IILRRUX; I played off LURID 7 and drew AADO, which left me with a similarly puzzling rack of AADIORX.

L.B. used my L to play QUALE 30. (You can read the definition of quale here; I won’t claim to understand it.) I answered with RODE 15 and drew EIS, which gave me AAEIISX. Once again, these were not stellar tiles.

Things really went south for me in turn 4, however, when L.B. busted out ROADSTeR, an 80-point bingo. That put me in a 143-29 hole.

I started to dig myself out by playing XI/AI with the X going both ways on a triple-letter-score bonus space for 50 points.

But L.B. nullified most of my gain with what turned out to be the first of several excellent plays in a tight space: ZEE/ADZ 45. Her next move, in turn 6, was EF/ADZE/EF 40, which she then followed up with VROWS/ADZES 37. (Vrow, also spelled vrouw, is a term referring to a Dutch or Afrikaner woman.) L.B. had just scored 122 points in three turns and 202 points in four turns, and she led 265-111 midway through turn 7.

It had taken me a while, but by this point I finally (finally!) had an excellent rack: AAEIST?. I put down SAtIATE/ZEES 77 to reduce my deficit to 265-188.

But my bingo barely deterred L.B., who collected 140 points in turns 8 through 11 with WRING 30, MOHEL/ME 40, OPAL/OH/PE/AL 33 and SPEW/BANKS 37. (A mohel is someone who performs ritual Jewish circumcisions; pe is the 17th letter in the Hebrew alphabet.)

Meanwhile, I struggled to score points. I put down BANK/TA 28 in turn 8 and tried to build a parallel play to MOHEL in turn 9 with MAV*/ME/AL 30. L.B. wasn’t having any of my nonsense, however, and she challenged this play off the board. (I guess I should have played NAV/NE/AL 24 instead, but I was desperate to mount a comeback since L.B. led 335-216 at that point.)

I was trailing 368-216 midway through turn 10 when I formed CAM/PEC/ALA, a 31-pointer that still left me stuck in a deep, dark hole. Even when I found a great play in turn 11 with JUTTY, which exploited a triple-letter-score/double-word-score combination to score 62 points, I still faced a 405-309 deficit. (Incidentally, my rack entering turn 11 was JNTUVYY — not exactly comeback tiles.)

Reader, things were about to get even worse. In turn 12, L.B. played an 89-point bingo at the bottom of the board, FILETING, which I unwisely and unsuccessfully challenged.

In the end, I sustained a devastating 539-344 defeat that left me at 3-4 — my first time under .500 on the day — with an abysmal spread of minus-273. (L.B. went on to play A.H. in a round 8 rematch; she finished 6-2 on the day, having lost only to the tournament champion.)

That left the final game, a rematch from round 1 against C—. I played first again, and started the game with ABHLOUY, which I used to make HOB 16. C— replied with WEE/OW/BE 17. I built on that with ONLY/WEEN 21; C— followed with FLU/EF 27, putting me in a 44-37 hole.

In an attempt to block the triple-word-score bonus at bottom row–center column that I’d exposed with ONLY, I played OKA 12. (Oka is either a measurement of weight in Turkey and neighboring countries or an alternative spelling of oca, a type of plant.) But C— put my effort to nought by making an excellent extension, OKAPI. It was worth 33 points thanks to the TWS I’d failed to put out of his reach. (Okapi, as zoo enthusiasts will recall, is an African mammal.) I now traile,d 77-49.

My rack entering turn 4 was GNPRSU?, and I initially put down PURSiNG, but I withdrew it, which surprised C—. I instead made UP 18, in hopes that I’d find a more valuable bingo somewhere down the line. “Talking heads say you should always take the bingo,” he said, which surprised me, because I initially misunderstood him to be referring specifically to the iconic 1980s new wave rock band rather than generically alluding to the wisdom of Scrabble experts.

At any rate, C— made played through the A in OKA to make CHOLERA 24, which put him ahead, 101-67.

My rack going into turn 4 was DGNRSV?. Since I was tired of playing from behind, I decided to play DRiVINGS through the I in OKAPI, a 64-point bingo. C— challenged — a reasonable decision, as many English words that end in -ING do not take an -S. However, my word was valid, so C— forfeit his fifth turn, leaving me with a 131-101 lead.

In turn 8, holding EINNOTV, I played VOG 7. C— challenged this word, which entered the Scrabble lexicon in the 2014 update, and lost his turn. (It means air pollution caused by volcanic emissions.) I was up, 163-144, at that point.

C— cut into my advantage heavily in turn 9 by playing ROQUE, which refers to croquet played on a hard court with a raised border. (It takes an -S.) The 28-pointer left me with an unimpressive 181-172 advantage.

C— went ahead the next turn, 211-195, by playing DEX 39 over the TWS in the bottom-right corner. My response, WORTY* 17, put me back on top by a single point. We wound up exchanging the lead with every move we made through the end of turn 12.

The streak ended with C—’s 28-point TAIGA (a subarctic forest at the edge of the tundra), which put him in control, 255-234, after 12 turns. He added to the lead in the next turn as his CODA 18 outpointed my LEE 12.

I entered my 14th move with an intriguing rack: AEEIMSZ. I formed MAZES/CODAS 38 to reclaim the lead, 284-273.

C—’s next two turns determined the outcome. First he played JURAS, which generated a whopping 56 points by placing the lucrative eight-point J on a triple-letter-score bonus and the S on a double-word-score spot. Knowing the game would be lost if this play stood, I challenged — successfully. C— returned his freshly played tiles to his rack.

I then made a grievous error. Holding EIINS — I’d gotten the last three tiles in the bag when I’d played MAZES, a five-letter word — I didn’t attempt to block the TLS/DWS combo C— had just used. Instead, I played the phony MIN* for 15 points.

C— didn’t challenge; instead, he put down JURAt/It in the same spot as his previous play, for the same 56 points. (His blank was on the DWS spot; blanks have no point value, but the I in MIN, like all vowels, is worth one point, the same as the S from JURAS*.) Again, I challenged — but this time, the play stood, because jurat is a document describing when and how an affidavit was made.

Of the game’s four challenges, this was the only one I lost; it was also the one that sealed the decision. I forfeit what would have been my 16th move and C— played off his last letters to collect a 343-299 victory. I had lost my final five games on the day to finish 3-5 with a miserable minus-319 spread.

I wound up finishing in ninth place out of a 12-person field; even one additional win would likely have boosted me to seventh place.

There was some good news, however: Except for O—, all of my opponents had been rated more highly than me, so my five losses were still outweighed by my three wins. (Chief among these was my victory against K.L., which had boosted my rating by 17 points.) Overall, after the tournament, my ranking rose from 922 to 932.

So I improved my ranking somewhat, I learned some new words (and identified some new phonies) and I had some fun. In the end, despite some disappointing missteps and results, it was a pretty good way to occupy myself on a late-summer Saturday.

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