April 15, 2018, mall Scrabble recap, part 2

April 23, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
April 23, 2018

During the lunch break, I walked home, refilled my water bottle and noodled with my phone until it was nearly time to return to the tournament. I picked up and scarfed down some pizza before sitting down to start the afternoon session, which would consist of five games.

We’d be employing king of the hill format the rest of the way. Four players had perfect 3-0 records; of them, I had the best spread at plus-189, which put me in first place. I was paired with the No. 2 player in the standings, N.C., for the fourth game.

My foe was the division’s top seed, having entered with a player rating of 1013 — substantially higher than my 931. N.C. and I had played just once before, in June 2017. That encounter had gone poorly for me — a 506-288 defeat, my first after two wins in that single-day tournament. Obviously, I was hoping for a much more competitive battle this time out.

N.C., playing first, started with FEZ 30; I made a parallel play with AMA/FA/EM/ZA 29. I went ahead on the second turn when, after my foe swapped out four tiles, I played ROOT/FAT 12.

That was the first and last lead that I’d have. N.C. played SENILEs/OS/FATE, a 71-point bingo; I challenged it, but since the play was valid, I had to forfeit my third move.

N.C.’s next move was HARP/sH 32, which left me in a 133-41 hole. Things were threatening to get out of hand, but I fought to keep my head above water with PREX 39.

My foe then put down VERVING* for 36 points. After some consideration, I challenged, and the word came off the board.

But that was about it as far as good news on my behalf. From turns 5 through 22, my biggest single play — indeed, my only score to exceed 19 points — was JIG 22. N.C., meanwhile, racked up three 30-point plays and four 20-point plays. He also challenged my phony DIEM* 7 off the board — one of three occasions that I went scoreless. (I exchanged all seven letters from a rack of ABEELOQ in turn 11 and traded everything but the S from my rack of DEIIQST in turn 17, after DIEM* was banished.)

Result: An ignominious 430-245 defeat, dropping my record to 3-1.

My opponent in game 5 was E.M. Although he was a new tournament player, he’d actually passed me in the standings by virtue of winning all of his first four games. At 3-1 with a rather pathetic spread of minus-4, I’d dropped to fourth place in a field of 10, so I had a lot of work to do to get back to the top of the table.

E.M. opened the contest with GOOF 16, which I answered with FORAY/AG/YO 31. Each of us had solid plays in turn 2: TOAD/FA/OD 31 for him and AW/AR/WAG 30 for me, thanks to my usage of a triple-letter-score bonus.

I took command in turn 3 by converting my rack of AEILRSU into a 63-point bingo, FAILURES. That put me on top, 124-67. Luckily for me, E.M.’s response was the modest REUSE, which exploited the triple-word-score bonus at bottom row–center column for just 15 points.

E.M. dissolved much of my lead with his seventh move, MIX/HI/AX 47, which left the score 187-175 in my favor. But he had no 30-point plays the rest of the way, while I finished the game strong with — ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

After FAILURES, I picked up one of the game’s two blanks. Following turn 6 (HAD/WAGED 25), I picked up the second blank, which made my rack GNOPT??.

The blank, of course, is the most flexible tile of them all, but holding two of them can pose some distinct challenges. Rather than play something like TOPpiNG, I decided to hang onto my blanks unless they were going to generate huge points or otherwise give me an immense strategic advantage.

Fortunately for me, as alluded to previously, my opponent never found a really strong play. In turn 10, with a rack ogf BELVZ?? and a modest lead of 250-223, I did something that I rarely do: Swapped out a single letter — the difficult-to-use V, naturally. (I drew an N.)

E.M.’s 11th move was GLEE/MONG*/ER 18, which would have cut my lead to 250-241. I challenged it off the board.

Midway through turn 13, the score was 267-252 in my favor and my rack was BDELZ??. Since I didn’t see a good spot to play BEZeLeD, I decided to use just one blank with BLItZ 30.

E.M. responded with ZIP 28, but my answer of SOD/ZIPS 27 negated virtually all of the ground he’d made up. My 15th move was KAY/GOOFY 32, which put me on top by a score of 356-288.

Holding BEISTV? in turn 16, I played VIBiEST*/LEKS/AT for 82 points, but my foe challenged it off the board. However, his 17th move, CLAUSE/LEKS/AE 26, opened up an avenue for an actual bingo. My VIBrATES 76 concluded the game and left me a 442-321 victor. The result upped my record to 4-1 with a passable spread of plus-125.

The sixth round pitted me against N—, whom I’d beaten in both of our previous two encounters. The contest opened inauspiciously for me when, going first, I opened with the phony REHONE* 26, which N— challenged into nothingness.

We were tied, 52-52, after four turns when I played HEX/NE/OX for 56 points. Once N— traded in two tiles, I added to my margin with ATONE/HA/NET/OXO 31. That put me ahead, 139-52, midway through turn 6.

Five moves later, I had a 169-136 advantage when N— passed me by playing STOUtEr/ERRS for 68 points. Even so, I was able to reclaim the lead in turn 13 on the strength of AVIARY/MY 43. This was the start of a solid three-turn run that included ZIP/OP 38 and CABLE/AE 32. At the end of turn 15, I held a 308-274 lead, which would have been more had N— not played ZIN 36 during that run.

We closed out the game with three tension-filled turns. N— put up a good fight, but I hung on for a 350-333 victory. I was now in sole possession of second place with a 5-1 record and a plus-142 spread — one game behind N.C., who was 6-0, and one game ahead of E.M. and another player, who both had 4-2 records.

Since we were playing king of the hill, the seventh round — a rematch between me and N.C. — had the potential to alter the standings in a major way.

To be concluded

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: