Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament: Session 3, Jan. 14, 2018

January 21, 2018

By Maajthew E. Milliken
Jan. 21, 2018

I finished Saturday, the first day of the Duke PBMT benefit Scrabble tournament main event, with a six-game winning streak. I even got a good night’s sleep that evening! So I felt fairly optimistic as I sat down to open the event’s second and final day of play with a rematch against TS.

The tournament’s ninth game got interesting in turn 5 when, playing second, I played ZAG/GLUTE, a 39-pointer that put me ahead, 92-91. TS parried with ToNNeRS/SI, a 64-point bingo that pushed him out to a 155-92 lead. This play wasn’t quite as bad for me as it might have seemed: It came relatively early in the game, it didn’t score a ton and it required my opponent to use both blanks and an S.

Not until turn 10 were either of us able to make another word worth more than 27 points. My next big play was TAXES/DANGS, a 48-pointer. (Dang does in fact take an -S, though I wasn’t sure at the time.) That left the score 235-210 in TS’s favor.

The only other big score came with my very next move, TOG/TAT/ODA/GOX, which gave me 37 points. TS clung to a 260-247 lead entering turn 12.

We had a bit of drama in turn 14 when my foe put down CHEAT/NORE*, which scored 36 thanks to a triple-letter-score/double-word-score combination. He was forced to retract the play when I challenged.

Unfortunately, although I closed the gap to just four points, 296-290, I was never able to retake the lead. TS claimed a 334-312 victory, dropping my record to 6-3 with a cumulative spread of plus-239.

Game 10 was a rematch with tourney organizer K—. Playing first, he traded three of his tiles. I had drawn AEENSTU and put down TUNE 8.

K—’s first big play was in turn 3, which saw him form SAFETY/ORCAS for 40 points. My first biggie was NEXT/LAX/AIT, which generated 56 thanks to a TLS bonus. That made the score 95-85 in my favor entering turn 6.

K—’s fifth word had been the very modest NOTION 7. Getting rid of three vowels helped balance his rack, setting up a sixth-turn bingo of TAJInES/NOTIONS 87. (Tajine, also spelled tagine, is a heavy North African pot with a conical lid or the stew cooked therein.) He followed up with QUID/DE 31 to gallop to a 203-112 lead midway through turn 7.

Two moves later, I played YAH/HA on a DLS bonus to collect 30 points. That cut my deficit to 254-193. In turn 13, K— sprang ZEK/KA for 32.

That was pretty much it for heavy-hitting scores. Other than the two abovementioned plays, I had no words worth more than 18 points. One really frustrating and unusual thing for me in this game was that I drew an S at the start and never used it.

K— (who got the three other Ses and both blanks) ultimately clobbered me, 358-241, dropping me to 6-4.

My rematch with AZ took place in the seventh round. The first big scores came in turn 7, which I opened with SPLIT/ORGS 30 and my foe closed out with ZIT 32. That made the ledger 112-111, advantage mine.

The game had only four further plays of note, three of which belonged to me. In turn 9, I put down MIX/XI, which capitalized on a DLS bonus for 37 points. I was up, 173-131, at that point.

My following word, AURORAE 9, burned off five vowels from a rack that held AEEORUU. It also helped blocked the lower-right quadrant of the board, because AURORAE is already plural and therefore does not take an -S. (Aurora, of course, is either a Roman goddess of dawn, dawn itself, or upper-atmosphere lights that appear near both poles thanks to the interaction of solar particles with Earth’s magnetic fields.)

In turn 14, I played JADE/AFAR. This 67-pointer exploited a DLS/TWS combo that AZ had exposed by playing FAR near the top-right corner.

AZ’s big play came in turn 15: BOSSUms*/AYES, a 75-point bingo that would have shaved my lead to 299-298. I challenged it off the board, however, and went on to win, 314-275. That broke a two-game losing streak and left my tournament record at 7-4.

Sunday’s early session concluded with a rematch with young B—. I took an early lead on the strength of my second and third moves, WAIF/GI/IF 31 and JEU/WEE/AMU 37, both of which utilized DWS bonuses going both ways.

I added to my lead in turn 7 with AIRY/CODER, a 29-point play thanks to the TWS bonus in the center row–far-right column. I held a modest 161-117 lead entering the next turn.

That’s when I started to find a groove. Holding EFGOST?, I played FrOGGIEST/EME/JEUS* for a 69-point bingo. (Jeu, a French word meaning game, is pluralized not with the -S but the -X; I knew this but figured I could get away with this phony against an inexperienced player.)

(Rather to my surprise, both froggier and froggiest are valid Scrabble words.)

The very next turn, the ninth, I transformed my rack of EILONRS into SERLOIN*/NA, a phony 70-point bingo. Once again, I figured that I’d probably get away with my fake word, and in fact I did: B— didn’t challenge and I took a 300-133 lead.

B— had a good response here: ZETAs/MOLEs, a DLS/TWS combo that resulted in 58 points for my foe.

Other than that, B— had just two plays worth more than 21 points in the entire game, the biggest of which was a rather modest 26-pointer. Meanwhile, I continued my run with solid scores in turns 10 through 12: ZERO 39, VAST 33 and VEX/EX 42. The first two used TWS bonuses; the latter positioned the X on a DWS spot.

The final product was a 470-268 victory for me, leaving me in second place with an 8-4 record and plus-363 spread.

The bad news for me at this point was that the field’s top seed, C—, was in first place at 9-3 with a dominating plus-944 spread. The good news for me was that I’d face C— in the first contest of the afternoon session, giving me an opportunity to hand him a loss.

To be concluded!

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