June 2018 Scrabble tournament: Part 1 of 4

June 28, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
June 28, 2018

About a month after this year’s pokerpalooza concluded, I participated in a week-long Scrabble tournament. I was seeded third in the 12-person C division, which contained the lowest-ranked group of competitors after divisions A and B.

The event opened with an 11-game round robin, meaning everyone in the division played everyone once. That was to be followed by a five-game “king of the hill” battle. After 16 games staged over two days, the division’s top three players would receive small cash prizes.

My Saturday morning began with an opening game against D.A., whom I’d never faced before. Her rating entering the event was 991, a bit higher than my mark of 965. (My longtime local rival, J—, was the top seed with a rating of 1019.)

Playing first, I drew the unpromising CJLPRQT and threw all of them back. D.A. put down the first word, RENTE 10, a French term meaning revenue or income or a document showing the right to such. I built on it with WEND/RENTED 16 and soon followed up with OX/WO/EX, which scored 55 on a two-way use of a double-word-score bonus spot.

I made a big oversight early in the game. I entered one turn with a rack of ACEIRSU, which of course makes SAUCIER. Unfortunately, I didn’t see a spot for placing this on the board; only after I’d announced my move — CURE/COX 24 — and hit my clock, which officially ended my turn, did I realize I could have put down SAUCIER/WENDS for 71 points.

Even after this oversight, I had a 95-24 lead. I would fall behind, 132-116, soon after when D.A. played DRAFTS/PLUMS with the S on a DWS bonus for 38 points.

I never regained the lead, as D.A. mounted a solid streak of eight straight plays scoring a minimum of 24 points with a high of 57 (for DOPEY/PA/EN/YO, which put the D on a DWS bonus and the Y on a triple-letter-score bonus).

I had only three plays worth more than 24 points in the entire game: the aforementioned OX, ZIG/GAL 37 in turn 9 and the phony bingo COISSUE*/CHI for 88 on a triple-word-score bonus in turn 14.

The end result was a 387-336 defeat — not the start I’d wanted to have, obviously.

My second game pitted me against R.F., a relatively inexperienced older Tennessee player who entered his first official competition in 2016. Going second, I grabbed an 86-14 lead in the second turn with INTONED/NAN/AWE/OD, a 73-point bingo that my foe unwisely challenged. The bad challenge caused him to forfeit turn 3, which I used to make JOE/OI/EN for 34 points, putting me up, 120-14.

R.F. mounted a bit of a comeback in turn 5 thanks to consecutive plays of CHOSE/BRUTE 40 using a TWS bonus and HOMERINg 36. That made the score 156-124.

I need to take a moment here. Originally, when R.F. played HOMERINg, I thought he’d made a bingo. However, the score he announced was less than 55 points, which is the absolute lowest amount a bingo can be. (That would consist of five one-point letters and both zero-point blanks plus the 50-point bonus that all bingos automatically receive.) I think R.F. began drawing quickly, so when I looked at his rack, there was already a tile on it; therefore, I never prompted him to add the 50-point bingo bonus.

Reviewing the game, I now realize that my initial instinct was correct: R.F. had indeed bingoed but did not credit himself with the proper bonus. Had he done so, I would have trailed 174-156 at this point, and I would have felt a considerable amount of pressure. Even with the improper score, I was starting to sweat.

For a long stretch of the game, R.F. and I struggled to score more than 22 points in one move. There were two — well, one and a half — exceptions, both of which belonged to me. In turn 9, I put down EX/HE for 30. Three turns later, I played a phony bingo, PESTIES*/INS 80, but R.F. challenged it off the board.

The game ended with some suboptimal decision-making. R.F.’s 15th move was TZAR/OWT 29. The R was on row 9 of in column O, and it opened up two of the super-valuable TWS bonus spots contained in that column — an extremely risky move on his part. (Owt is a Northern English word meaning anything or a variant spelling of either ought or aught, depending on which dictionary one consults. Also: A Scrabble board consists of 15 columns and 15 rows.)

My rack after TZAR was AEEIRS?. I have memorized all the words made by the three most common bingo stems, one of which is SATIRE. (TISANE is the stem that appears most frequently on a Scrabble rack; SATIRE is No. 2, followed by RETINA.) SAtIRE+E, I knew, makes AERIESt and SERIAtE. But what does AEEIRRS? make?

I spent some time trying to puzzle this out, without success. Eventually, I settled for playing AE/NA/PIE in the bottom-left corner; the A occupied a TWS bonus, thereby scoring me a cool 17 points and putting me ahead, 302-278.

As much as I hated not utilizing one of the TWS spots exposed by TZAR, this seemed to be a relatively safe move. I thought this because there were some unsavory letters not yet accounted for, meaning they were either on my opponent’s rack or in the bag: two Ds, a G, a V and Y. I was skeptical that my opponent would be able to bingo with these.

In preparing this post, I checked an online anagrammer and found that AEEIRS? plus an R on the board makes nine words: arteriescreasierdreariesgreasierrarefiesrealiserreraised,
reraises and smearier. The first four of these words, as you can see, have an R as the second letter, meaning my play’s first and last letters both would have occupied one of the available TWS bonuses. Forming any of those bingos would have generated 98 points, thereby handing me a commanding lead.

As it happened, R.F. made me sweat by opening turn 16 by playing GRIEVED in the far-right column. This was a 48-point play thanks to one of the TWS bonuses that TZAR had opened up, and it gave my foe a 326-302 advantage.

My draw after AE/NA/PIE had been kind, DI, giving me a rack of EDIIRS?. I finished the game in turn 16 with InSIDER/TI, a 69-point bingo that gave me a 371-326 edge. The value of R.F.’s leftover tiles, IORUY, were doubled and added to my score, leaving me with a 387-326 win. I now had an overall record of 1-1 with a spread of plus-10.

If R.F. had properly scored HOMERINg and the rest of the game had played out identically, I would have won, 387-386, leaving me with a significantly poorer spread of minus-50. Be that as it may…

Game 3 pitted me against M.K., another player new to me; the fifth seed, he had won his first two games.

Playing second, I grabbed an early lead in turn 1 by converting my rack of DEILSTT into STILTED/VENTS, a 74-point bingo. (I could also have played SLITTED.) Two turns later, I bingoed again with rEBUTTED, an 83-point play that put me ahead, 171-69.

M.K. responded with NOTCHER, which I considered challenging before letting it go. (It’s valid.) Instead, I used one of the letters in that word to make TAJ/AR/JOW for 37 points, furthering my lead.

Midway through turn 13, I held a 353-258 advantage when I put down ZA/ZA/HA going two ways on a DWS bonus for 49 points. M.K. came back a little with his final play, forming OX/MIX on a DWS for 42 points, but I closed out the game with SIrE/US/GI for 12 points. The leftovers on my foe’s rack gave me an additional 12, thereby leaving the final score 448-310 in my favor.

Any good feelings I had about this win evaporated shortly into my fourth game. Playing second, A.M. — another player new to me — grabbed a lead in the first turn by bingoing for 64 points with AGrEEING.

My attempt to eat into A.M.’s 90-43 advantage after two turns by playing FEH/WE/AHH* 37 failed when my foe challenged it off the board.

Over the final 13 turns, I was unable to score more than 29 points in a single move; in seven of those turns, I was unable to score more than 18 points, and twice I was unable to break into double-digit scoring. (My second move, WHO/AH/GO 31, proved to be my biggest score of the contest.)

During this sequence, A.M. broke the 30-point mark on four different occasions, including a high-scoring non-bingo of SQUAReD 72. This placed the 10-point Q on a TLS and the blank on a DWS. Worse yet, I set this play up perfectly: My previous move, LEU 3, had made the TLS available.

(Instead of playing XI/XU for 50, as I’d foolishly hoped to do, I had to settle for XI/SI 29, my second-highest score of the battle.)

Ultimately, I went down in flames, losing 420-259. My record dropped to 2-2 and my spread plunged back into negative territory. Fuming, I set off for lunch.

To be continued…

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