Aug. 25, 2018, mall Scrabble recap, part 1

August 30, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 30, 2018

The opening game of the Aug. 25 Scrabble tournament pitted me against S—, the older North Carolina player who had handed me a 100-point defeat around the start of the summer. I had a modest lead of 64-30 midway through turn 3 when, playing second, S— put down sENIORS/GUYS, a 67-point bingo.

I responded with AYE/As/YE/EN, which scored 28 thanks to its placement of the A on the triple-word-score bonus spot at center column–top row. S—’s riposte, BUNKO 22, minimized my gain. However, in turn 5 I played ZA/REZ/MA for 47 points, which gave me a 139-119 lead.

S— reclaimed the lead three turns later with DESIST/SWAG. The play notched 35 points thanks to its utilization of the TWS in the center row–far-left column and put my foe ahead, 200-195.

Unfortunately, I let S— get away with a phony in turn 12 when he played CANOLE* 24. (The Italian pastry is actually spelled CANNOLI.) In a fairly close game, that accounted for much of the final margin: A 325-310 win by S—, who closed things out in turn 15 with sEEN/ET/ER/NA 13 and collected four points from my leftover tiles of A and I.

That teed up a second-round matchup with B.W., a retiree who was participating in his first competitive Scrabble tournament. Playing first, he opened with RAVER 16. Holding ACINTVY, I responded with CAVITY/CRAVER 48. (And yes, craver turns out to be a valid word.)

I ran into trouble after my second move, CIG 12. I’d entered the play holding CDFGGNX; my replacement tiles were KR, leaving me with a thoroughly unpalatable DFGKNRX.

My third move was to swap out everything but the X; unfortunately, my draw was LLLNNZ, giving me three turns in a row without holding a single vowel. In turn 4, I again threw back everything except for the X. My draw was passable: DEEEPT.

B.W.’s fifth move was HEARINg/HE/ER, a 69-point bingo that rocketed my foe out to a 130-60 lead. After some cogitation, I realized that I had a superb comeback: EXPEDITE, an 88-point bingo that utilized a vowel in my opponent’s seven-tiler. That put me ahead by a tenus 148-130 margin.

B.W. was far from done, however. His next four plays each garnered nice scores: WAD/EXPEDITED 35, WAXEN 30, OY/NO/JOY 34 and sKIN/HEARINgs 30. The latter two plays exploited TWS bonuses, the first in the bottom-left corner and the latter at center row–far-right column.

The last play in that sequence was especially dear; after it, midway through turn 9, I found myself trailing 259-216 and holding a distasteful ADOTUUZ. I traded in everything but the Z in hope of finding something better. I pulled IIIMSS — again, not great.

I played MI/OM/PI 12 in turn 10 and drew FO, which were not the tiles I’d wanted. In turn 11, trailing 294-228 and possessing FIIOSSZ, I made my fourth trade of the game, turning in everything except the Z and one of the Ses. That yielded EOOQT — not ideal, but useful, as shall be revealed.

Ever since my bingo back in turn 5, there had been an extremely tempting spot on the board: a triple-letter-score bonus that I could use both ways, if only I had an E.

E, of course, is the most common tile in a Scrabble set, with 12. (The second-most-common letter, A, appears nine times; there are 100 tiles in a regulation game.) I’d gone seven turns without an E at a time when I’d needed one badly.

Now, in turn 12, I played ZED/ZA for a whopping 70 points. I was still behind, but only just: B.W.’s lead had been reduced to 304-298.

I leapfrogged B.W. the next turn with OOT/MOOD/OR 18, which used a double-word-score bonus going both ways. (Oot is a chiefly Scottish variation of out; it indeed takes an -S.) But he regained the lead in turn 14 thanks to FLITS/OOTS, which generated 32 points thanks to its usage of the bottom row–center column TWS bonus.

However, the tiles were going my way, and I was not to be denied. My 15th play was QUIET/IF/EL/TI, a 45-pointer thanks to my spotting the 10-point Q on a TLS space. That gave me a lead of 361-342. I recorded a pair of 18-point plays on my way to a 405-367 victory. My record now stood at 1-1 with an overall spread of plus-23.

The third round saw me face D—, who had defeated me in our last game to claim a victory in a five-game late-bird tournament in January. Playing first, I opened the game with BAIZE 38.

Things were going pretty well for me over the first half of the contest. I scored 30 points per turn on consecutive moves in rounds 5 through 7 (KERNS/PECK, JOTA/OBI/TAD/AI and OF/OAR/FAN). After eight turns, I held a respectable 193-132 lead.

Then D— put down eTHIONS/STEW, a 77-point bingo that left me with a precarious 214-209 advantage. (Ethions are pesticides.) The next turn, D— played HORN 21 to go ahead, 230-229.

I retook the lead with my next word, QuOD 33, and worked my way to a 278-252 lead midway through turn 13. But that’s when D— made a 30-point player, the phony PEGGER*. (Oh, but if only I’d challenged!)

I responded with FINDS 22, but D— came back with AIRY/AY 19. That left D— holding a 301-300 edge.

Unfortunately, I’d drawn the last three letters in the bag, LRV, leaving me with ELLRSV — not a great set for the end game given that the board was relatively cramped.

I played VISE/GUYS 15; D— played AHI 12. I played ILL/EL 6, leaving me with a single tile. Then D— concluded the game with OE/ON, an eight-point play thanks to its use of a TLS. He also gained two points from my leftover R.

That put D— on top, 323-321. While D—, the tournament director, put scores in his computer, I conducted a recount. But the only scoring error I found was that D— had shorted himself by four points on one play, boosting his margin of victory from two to six points.

The final result: A 327-321 defeat, dropping my record to 1-2 with a spread of plus-17.

To be continued

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