June 2018 Scrabble tournament: Part 4 of 4

July 3, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
July 3, 2018

I kicked off the fourth and final session of my June Scrabble tournament with a game 13 rematch against M.K., whom I’d beaten in my third game Saturday morning. Since then, he’d taken off on a tear: His record entering our rematch was 10-2, leaving him well positioned to win the division. I knew that I’d have to play well to take him down.

Playing second, I had a narrow lead when M.K. opened the fourth turn with INSANEr/LUNES. His 69-point bingo put me in a 133-68 hole.

Two turns later, I reclaimed the lead thanks to a 70-point bingo of my own, COWIEST/EWE. Unfortunately, my foe had a comeback loaded and ready to fire: ERASION/ET 74, which left me down, 217-156.

M.K. truly broke the game open in turn 10 with CHAY/HO/AT, a 36-point play that I challenged unsuccessfully. (Chay is the root of an East Indian herb that yields a red dye.) Not only was I now trailing, 297-229, I had to forfeit my next move.

And matters devolved from there. First, M.K. followed up with QAT/AY 31. Then, holding EIIJVV?, I swapped out six letters.

It didn’t help much, as by then the board was not amenable to fitting in bingos, which I needed to make up my deficit. Even so, I kept trying.

In turn 14, holding EEIIRV?, I played sIEVIER*/TROLLYs*, a 72-point bingo and out play (because the tile bag was empty) that narrowed the score to 359-324 in my foe’s favor. I also stood to gain 24 points from his rack of AGIMTV, meaning that I would have converted a blowout loss into quite a narrow one.

However, as was appropriate, M.K. challenged sIEVIER, so my phony had to come off the board. (Trolly is valid but does not take an -S; trolley, however, does take an -S. My opponent didn’t challenge TROLLYS, which would have been a tactical error on his part if my play had stood.)

In the end, M.K. walloped me, 403-272, dropping my tournament record to 8-4 with a spread of plus-142.

The 14th game pitted me against D.A., who’d defeated me in the very first game of the event on Saturday; naturally, I was eager to get some revenge. At the end of turn 8, my opponent, playing second, had a 184-153 lead as I struggled to find my bearings.

But things were about to turn around. I converted DEINRS? into INSiDER/BI/GIN/PATS. This 84-point bingo made the score 237-184 and put me in the driver’s seat.

I struck again soon afterward, turning AILRST? into FRAILeST. That 72-pointer that gave me a 340-234 advantage midway through turn 12.

I had a number of other respectable scores in the contest: JO/JO 35, HINTS/EH 45, AHEAD/AL/He/ES/AT 34, ZERO 46 (which used a double-letter-score/double-word-score bonus combo) and SI/QATS 30. The draws were very kind to me — I got both blanks, all four Ses and J, K, X and Z, which are four of the five power tiles. (They’re so called because they’re the tiles with the highest individual values in the game; Q, which like Z is worth 10 points, was the only power tile D.A. drew.)

The final was a 473-322 victory, bumping me to 9-5 and plus-293 with just two games remaining.

Up next in round 15 was my second game of the day against J—, who’d broken my four-game personal winning streak against him that morning. He put me on the defensive almost immediately, playing COASTER/BEAUS 68 to take an 80-22 lead midway through the second turn. J— also scored big in turn 6 with REPENTs/sKID 68.

I started the contest with an eight-turn series of 19- to 28- point plays: Not great, but hardly terrible. The only other thing I had going for me thus far in the contest was that J— used two of his early moves to swap out tiles — once in turn 4, again in turn 9. I was fortunate to be trailing only 222-184 at that point.

I was holding BEEEFS?, which does not make a valid seven-letter bingo. But I formed FEEBLES*/RE/ES, a phony 80-point bingo that J— declined to challenge. That put me on top, 264-222.

I nursed that advantage for a few turns, but J— tied the game at 301-301 in turn 14 with DO/LINED/BO 13. We then each recorded 17-point plays, leaving us tied at 318 apiece through turn 15.

I then played TAJ 18 to go up, 336-318. But that was where things fell apart for me: J—’s next move was VIGS/WHIMS 29, which put me in a big hole with AILNU left on my rack.

Due to an extremely unfortunate mistake I’d made in tracking tiles, I was under the mistaken impression that J— might get stuck with the Z on his rack at game’s end, which would provide me with an extra 20 points. I schemed to block any spot where he could dispose of that letter.

My efforts were in vain: J— was just holding a pair of Ns, which he was easily able to put on the board. That sealed his 359-341 victory.

J— and A.M., who had vanquished me in the fourth round on Saturday, were now tied with 10-5 records and met in the 16th and final round to play for second place. (M.K. was Gibsonized, meaning he was guaranteed first place in the division, and therefore played someone from the bottom of the standings while other top competitors slugged it out.) Meanwhile, I was paired once more against N—, who like me had a 9-6 record.

I started the game with IOSSUYZ, which I used to make SIZY 32. N— used the last letter in that word to make FYTTE 11, which I considered challenging. (I didn’t, which was for the best: It’s an archaic form of fit meaning a division of a poem or song.)

Midway through turn 5, I had a five-point lead. N—, playing second, swapped out all of her letters.

I was holding CENOSS?, which I made into SECONdS/TENd 69, a bingo that put me up, 152-89.

The next turn, N— played REQUINE* 32. I was immediately suspicious and put a hold on the play. Equine, I knew, was good, but requine? After a few moments, I challenged it off the board. That left me with a 179-89 lead.

My opponent got back into the fight in turn 10. In ridding myself of a pair of inconvenient Os, I inadvertently set up N—’s JUN/JO, which scored 51 points thanks to its usage of a premium tile two ways on a triple-letter-score bonus. Even so, I led by more than 50 points.

N— had another nice play two turns later with MIX/MAD 36, but I responded in turn 14 with dUELLED/DO. The 74-point bingo gave me a commanding 337-202 lead as we approached the end game. N— riposted with BAHT/dA/UH/ET 33, but that still left me with a big advantage.

To open turn 15, I held AEEPRST, which makes repeats or retapes. But since I didn’t see a place to put down either of those words, which is known as having a homeless or orphaned bingo, I tried to set myself up by making a small play, PE/BE 12. (Pe is a Hebrew letter; in Scrabble, PE takes front hooks of either A- or O-.)

I drew IW, giving me AEIRSTW, or SATIRE+W, which of course makes waisterwaiterswariest or wastrie. (SATIRE is the second-most-common bingo stem.)

Now, obviously N— knows that either ape or ope is valid, so there was clearly a risk that she might take my bingo spot. My hope was that if she did so, she would open up a “bingo lane” in the far-left column, which might allow me to use one of the triple-word-score bonuses there.

It was not to be. She converted AEGIMNR into MANGIER/APE 79. Her bingo was bad news for two reasons: It narrowed the score to 349-314 and it prevented me from using the far-left (or A) column for my prospective bingo because a C in column B was serving as a blocker.

Fear not, reader: Even as N— was rallying in turn 15, I noticed an alternative play. My response was STRAWIER, which used an R in the bottom-right corner of the board to make an eight-letter bingo. Since I got the S on the bottom row’s center-column TWS bonus, my play went for 95 points and netted me 22 points from N—’s leftover letters, EEFNW.

Result: A resounding 467-314 decision in my favor, leaving me with a tournament record of 10-6.

M.K. lost his final game of the event, to O—, and wound up winning the division with a 13-3 record and a fantastic spread of plus-775. J—’s 16th-round victory left him with sole possession of second place at 11-5 (plus-195).

A.M. and I had identical records of 10-6, but I finished in third place by virtue of a superior spread (plus-429 for me, plus-169 for him).

Of my six losses, half were blowouts. However, the other three defeats were by a cumulative margin of 115 points, or about 38 points per game. I was disappointed that I hadn’t been able to finish higher than third or beat J— in two tries. However, third place was not a wholly shabby finish.

When I reviewed my career tournament record, I noticed that this is only the second time that I’ve won more than nine games in two-day events. This bears repeating: Not too shabby.

Once again, it was an enjoyable weekend of crossword competition.

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