Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament: Session 4, Jan. 14, 2018

January 22, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 22, 2018

I started the second and final afternoon session of the Duke PBMT benefit Scrabble tournament with a chance to hand a loss to C—, the division’s top seed and leader.

C— and I swapped leads through the first five turns of the 13th game, with the biggest play being my second move, HuRT/EDH 41. I hadn’t wanted to use the blank for a relatively modest play, but I was desperate to prevent C— from hooking an -S onto ED and exploiting the available triple-word-score bonus spot near there. I was on top, 139-115, entering turn 6.

That’s when C— sprang what would turn out to be the biggest play of the game: LUNARIA*/FA, a 64-point bingo. I considered challenging, and in fact C— later confessed that he was unsure if the word was valid; unfortunately for me, I didn’t, and it isn’t. That left my opponent with a 179-139 lead.

In turn 11, C— put down his only other word worth more than 27 points: YAGI/AMI, which exploited a double-word-score bonus going both ways for 35 points. (In retrospect, I think the play’s value was miscalculated; looking again at it, I think it should have been worth just 26.) Yagi, incidentally, is a type of shortwave antenna; it takes an -S. Ami, taken from French, means friend.

I had just three big plays the rest of the way. But just one of them was truly high value. In turn 8, I played KIP/KI/IN/PE for 29 points, which cut my deficit to 217-188, and in turn 12, I formed NOSH/NA/GO/AMIS 28, making the score 319-275.

My big play made use of the triple-word-score bonus in the bottom-right corner: SQUATs/CRONES, a 53-pointer that reduced C—’s margin to 300-247.

C— scored 15 or more points over each of his remaining moves, while I could only muster 26 total points. (One reason: I played VUGS/LAIDS*, which C— challenged off the board.) In the end, I lost, 407-301, knocking my record down to 8-5.

Incidentally, the savvy C— made three valid plays that I considered challenging. In addition to YAGI, there was BITER and FOOTLE, the latter of which means to act foolishly. (While lunaria is phony, luminaria, or a traditional Mexican Christmas lantern, is good.)

I faced EM in my final rematch of the event’s second round-robin, the 14th game. I had a decent play in turn 2 with BRIGS/FAWNS 33, but EM eclipsed me two moves later with ZEDA/ZA 93, a play that I unsuccessfully challenged. Za, one of the two-letter words that are essential to Scrabble, is (supposedly) slang for pizza, while zeda is one of several transliterations of “grandfather” in Yiddish.

When I made my ill-starred challenge, I was holding AADEEOT. Not only did I lose my move in turn 4, I got another zero in turn 5 because I swapped out all of my tiles. EM, meanwhile, just kept on scoring points.

I held EIRSSTU midway through turn 7, which makes one bingo: SUITERS. Alas, I wasn’t sure that that was valid, so instead I took a risk on another dubious word: RUSTIES*/TONS/UT/BI 78. For a moment, I thought I was going to get away with this play, but EM was too smart for me and challenged it. Instead of being at the wrong end of a 207-152 deficit, I trailed 207-74.

EM’s ninth move was also a phony bingo, PALLIEs*/PE 71. I challenged it away.

My rack here was EINSSTT, which makes no bingos. Desperate to open up the board, I made a two-point play: TA.

But EM jumped all over that opportunity, forming PILLAgE/ETA, a 69-point bingo. Now I was even worse off than before.

It was here that I made one of my biggest errors of the tournament. My rack was CEINSST, which makes INSECTS. (Later, I realized that it also makes INCESTS, which also is valid.) However, I didn’t see a place on the board for this, and I couldn’t figure out a good move that used either of the first two letters of PILLAGE. So I played TIC/CRUST for 18 points.

EM then showed me the error of my ways by putting down sEV/sPILLAgE. It was only 23 points, but it used a TWS bonus, and it showed me that I’d completely overlooked hooking an S- onto the front of EM’s bingo. Playing INCESTS/SPILLAgE probably wouldn’t have won me the game, but it would have scored me 95 points. Doing that instead of TIC would have left me trailing 296-194 after 10 turns, rather than 319-117 midway through turn 11.

(Incidentally, sev is an abbreviation for several.)

At any rate, the die was cast. EM scored 23 or more points in five of the final seven turns, while I had only two plays worth more than 20 points: EXON/JO/HON 45 in turn 12 and SURGED/OVALS 24 in turn 16. (Exon is a British designation for one of the leaders of a military guard or a genetic sequence.)

Result: I lost again, 431-251, dropping to 8-6.

At this point, the event switched formats to king-of-the-hill. The rankings pitted me against TS for game 15. My opponent laid down the bingo eNSLAVE/BE for 77 points in turn 3, but shortly thereafter, I converted DEIRSTT into STRIATED for a 60-point bingo. That left me trailing by a single point, 138-137, through four turns.

TS had a good response in store, however: BITMAP/ZA/WOP 49.

My foe was up, 244-190, when he put down RIN/FANER*/DI* 16. (Rin is a variation of run; fane is a place of worship.) I challenged it off the board but, holding ILQSTU?, I played LET 3 in order to obtain a move favorable rack.

My draw was ST, giving me IQSSTU?, which makes either SQUInTS or SQUIrTS. I opted for the latter. My formation, which crossed at the front and bottom with WOPS and the phony BREDS*, gave me 102 points and put me on top, 295-262.

But TS fought back to regain the lead with a series of modest plays, such as VIN 18 and RUNE 15. I was angling for a kill shot with LEX/OX 19, but my opponent anticipated and blocked that play. He also blocked a play that, shamefully, never occurred to me: TIX, which would have given me 18 points thanks to a DLS bonus spot.

I went over my time allotment by half a minute, and we did a recount. The final score: TS 337, me 323. I fell to 8-7 with my third straight loss.

The 16th and final game was another rematch with J—. I was eager to top him, not just because it might help salvage a third-place finish but because J— had to that point beaten me seven times in a row dating back to January 2017.

Holding CDMNOU?, I opened the game with MOUND 22. J— swapped out four of his tiles.

My draw had been EEETT, yielding an unpromising CEEETT?. But after some pondering, I realized that there was a bingo available to me, and I played DETECTEd for 89 points, putting me up, 111-0.

J— had a nice riposte, however: MINtIEST, a 70-point bingo that brought him right back into contention. He drew even closer in turn 3 when my UTA 3 (which I played to manage a rack of AAIOUUW) was dwarfed by his BAIT 21.

My lead grew fairly steadily over the next seven turns. While I had one six-point play, three 20-point plays, two 30-point plays and a bingo, J— was never able to score more than 28 points the rest of the way.

My second bingo — dRAINERS 74 — used a TWS bonus, just as my first had. I also played a phony bingo, RETINDER* 77, which J— challenged off the board.

J—’s draws were unhelpful; at one point, having essentially conceded the game, he showed me a rack that contained JPXZ.

I won, 416-320, moving to 9-7 in the event. My win-loss record was identical to that of TS’s, but my spread of plus-159 beat his plus-35. Thanks to that tie-breaker, I finished in third place for the event.

To be extended

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