Late-bird event, games 4–5, Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, Jan. 15, 2018

February 4, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 4, 2018

My third-round victory in the late-bird tournament left multiple players with two wins and one loss. Due to the spread tie-breaker, K— remained atop the table at plus-263; I was second at plus-22; the tournament organizer, my friend D—, was third at minus-18; and C— was fourth at minus-142.

Game 4 saw me face AZ, the Canadian player whom I’d beaten twice in the main event. She was in fifth place in the six-player division, having just defeated J— in round 3 to go to 1-2. (Poor J— fell to 0-3.)

AZ, playing second, took a 93-23 lead in turn 2 on the strength of a fantastic bingo, UNTINTED. This formation used an N from my opening move to swing a rare double-double. Because the play used two double-word-score bonuses at once, the total base value of the tiles (nine points) was multiplied by four instead of two — hence, 9 points × 4 = 36, which when combined with the 50-point bingo bonus yields a handsome sum of 86 points.

My rack entering turn 3 was AEINRSU, which isn’t terrible. However, it didn’t work very well with the board. AEINRSU+T makes four eight-letter words (RUINATES, TAURINES, URANITES and URINATES), but other words that had already been played prevented me from utilizing either T in UNTINTED.

Instead, I tried a hail mary, playing through the last letter in UNTINTED to make URANIDES. AZ declined to challenge this word, fortunately for her: My play was valid, as are DENARIUS (an ancient Roman coin) and UNRAISED. My 69-point move cut AZ’s lead to 93-92.

AZ followed up with HEM/HI/ME 33, and I formed HOD/MEH/SO 32 in turn 4, leaving my deficit at 4 points.

AZ continued a string of solid plays, scoring at least 17 points in every turn the rest of the way. Thanks to that consistency, even my sixth play of TIZ/IT/LI left me trailing despite adding 36 points to my score.

I managed to flip the script three turns later. My rack entering turn 9 was ABPST??, which I converted into BiTmAPS/HODS 89. That put me ahead, 288-230.

In turn 11, I played FIXER for 48 points. AZ had a nice riposte, QUA/QI/AG 41, but I still retained a 356-313 advantage.

I put the game away in turn 13 with WARY/WAG/AI 34 and went on to win, 436-383.

That set up the event’s fifth and final game, my third clash of the weekend with D—. The tournament was structured as a round robin — six players, five rounds; everyone plays every other player once — but as fate would have it, the last round served as a de facto king of the hill. At 3-1 with a plus-74 margin, I was in first place, while D— was in second with an identical record and a minus-12 spread.

Each of us had a big play early on. Mine was QUID/ID/DO 33 in turn 2, while D—’s was FEH/EH/ZA 46.

The game really pivoted in turn 5, which D— opened with BLADDERS, a 76-point bingo. I held AEILNOS, which makes one bingo on its own: ANISOLE, a clear water-insoluble liquid.

Here’s what I’d like to tell you:

I played ANISOLES through the last letter in D—’s play. This employed the triple-word-score bonus in the bottom-left corner and the TWS at bottom row–center column, thereby multiplying the value of the tiles in the play by nine. 

ANISOLES, which is valid, is formed by eight one-point tiles; since the S from BLADDERS had already used the double-letter-score bonus on that stretch of the board, my play was worth:

8 points × 3 × 3 = 8 points × 9 = 72 points 

But that’s not the full value. Because this eight-tile play was a bingo, pressing into service all seven of the letters on my rack, I was also due a 50-point bonus. Ergo: 

72 points + 50 points = 122 points 

Score after five plays: D— 177, me 197. 

Here’s what actually happened:

Stumped to find any eight-letter bingo that would have used a triple-word-score bonus spot exposed by BLADDERS, let alone one that would have used both available TWS bonuses, I gambled on SALONISE* 74.

D— paused before deciding to challenge my phony off the board. 

Score after five plays: D— 177, me 70.

Obviously I had a lot of ground to make up. I got a break right away as D— wasn’t able to make a good play in turn 6, settling instead for OURS 12, which used the TWS bonus in the bottom-left corner.

The next notable move was D—’s 37-point JURIES/FIBS in turn 9, which put him ahead by 150 points. I held NRRSTTT at that point; I swapped out everything but the S.

My draw was good, positioning me — finally! — for a big play. I converted ACEINS? into ChAINERS, a modest 68-point bingo that reduced my deficit to a still-unmanageable 277-195. D— challenged, but much to my relief, the word was good.

Alas, my best play in the final stretch was TOMS/JO/GUM 25, while D— had three plays worth more than that: ZAX 35, KAE/DO/OE 30 and COT/TO/JOT 27.

Obviously, D— cruised to a triumphant 403-295 victory, earning the event championship with a 4-1 record and a plus-106 spread.

The other two games affected the standings at the top of the table. J— was able to hand K— her third straight loss; she finished 2-3 and plus-152, which was the field’s best spread. Also, C— claimed a 25-point victory over AZ.

In the end, I finished in second place by virtue of spread: My not-so-great minus-44 was superior to C—’s minus-161.

Although I was disappointed by my two losses, I was pleased to have bettered my 1-4 record in the 2017 late-bird event. All in all, it was a fun weekend of Scrabble!

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