Aug. 25, 2018, mall Scrabble recap, part 3

September 2, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 2, 2018

I was riding a three-game winning streak going into the seventh round of Saturday’s tournament. The task ahead of me was a rematch against D—, who had narrowly beaten me in the final game of the early session.

Playing first, D— got off to a terrific start with JEWED! 48. (This verb conjugation is rightly considered offensive, as the exclamation point indicates in Scrabble notation.) Holding AAEEFOP, I was only able to retort with OAF/OE/AW/FE 24. D— added to his lead in turn 2 with JINGLED 32; my answer was PEA/PI/EN/AG 20.

My third move garnered a nice score: ZEALOT/FEZ/DE 54, which left me trailing 104-98. But that was the moment where it was all about to go off the rails.

D—’s fourth move was sEXTING/ZEALOTs, a 93-point bingo. I asked D— to hold.

Because I was under the impression that sext only existed in the Scrabble lexicon as one of seven periods for prayer and devotion, I went ahead and challenged the play. The word was good, and I forfeit my fourth move.

(Point of order: Sexting has been admitted to the Scrabble canon in the sense of sending a sexually explicit picture or message, usually via cell phone… and it takes an -S. However, Scrabble does not recognize sext as a verb, so sexted is invalid.)

My unsuccessful challenge would have serious ramifications. D—’s fifth move was CAROMInG, which used a triple-word-score bonus in the far-right column that had been opened up by sEXTING. The bingo generated 86 points and left me in a 283-98 hole.

Reader, I was discouraged, but I did not quit. I got hot in turns 7 through 10, recording respectable scores with QUAD/DOE 38, NESTERS/SQUAD 89, THOU/HE/OX/UT 32 and MOA/OXO/UTA 38. Even so, I sustained a 481-361 defeat. Notably, D— had four plays worth more than 40 points and just two plays worth less than 20 points (VIED 16 and DEPART 10), whereas I had but two scores in excess of 40 points and a pair of 12-pointers.

(Incidentally, the rack that forms NESTERS is EENRSST, which makes two three other valid bingos: RENESTS and RESENTS. It also forms the phony SENTERS*, which I’ve tried to play at least once.)

The decision dropped my record to 4-3, and the 120-point margin of defeat knocked my tournament spread to a measly plus-20.

J—, the division leader, now had a 7-0 record and was guaranteed first place in the event, which is known in Scrabble circles as being Gibsonized. For the eighth and final round, he was paired with the person at the bottom of the division, B.W., whom I’d beaten in the second round. The rationale for this first-vs.-last matchup, by the way, is that if the underdog records a final-round victory, her or his player rating can receive a major boost.

S—, who had beaten me in the day’s opener, was ranked second in the division; he played the third-ranked contestant, whom I had not faced in this event. My match was a “threepeat” against D—; we both had 4-3 records but I ranked fourth, one spot ahead of him, because his spread was minus-16.

I ran into trouble almost immediately, despite playing first. After my opening, PILOT 20, D— put down LINCoLN*/LO/IT, a 66-point bingo of which I was instantly skeptical. I said as much, saying “I don’t even know what to think anymore” aloud because I’d been thrown by sEXTING in our seventh-round game. I opted against challenging because it was early in the game, meaning that I had plenty of time to fight back.

(Following the game, D— said that his play had involved deliberate gamesmanship: He wasn’t sure LINCOLN was valid but thought I might be reluctant to challenge because of SEXTING.)

I trailed until the 12th turn, when I converted a rack of AEINSS? into NAStIES/SNIP. This 68-point bingo gave me a narrow 264-255 lead. However, in retrospect, it would have been better to play tANSIES/SNIP — the points would have been the same, but this play would have made it harder to exploit the TWS that it exposed.

Speaking of which: In turn 13, I played BOLDS 30 using the center row–far-left column TWS opened up by my bingo. This move gave me a 294-277 advantage, but it was instantly erased when D— played EX/ER/XI for 52 points thanks to a triple-letter-score bonus involving the eight-point X tile. (Sadly, I’d thought of utilizing that TLS spot but passed it up for what seemed to be the 30 very valuable points imparted me by BOLDS.) Now my foe held a 329-294 lead.

My 14th move was KEG/STARK 25, which left me facing a 10-point deficit. But D— played through my G with FUNGI, a 34-pointer thanks to its combination of TLS and double-word-score bonus spots. Now D— was ahead, 363-319.

If my luck had been better, I might have been able to win by going out. However, I held AEQWY, and there was no way to use all these tiles in one go. At this point, I got sloppy and wrongly determined that D— was holding ARU. Since I didn’t think he could go out with those letters, I played AW/AB/WO 12.

This was an error — I should have played either QUEY/QI or QUAY/QI for 27 points. This would have left me with a vowel and a W; I still would have wound up losing, but it would have prevented the utter disaster that actually happened.

In reality, D— held ART and concluded the game with ART/UT, an 8-point out move that also gave him 30 points from my leftover tiles of EQY. (At the conclusion of a tournament game, leftover tiles’ values are doubled — in this case, 1 for A (or indeed any vowel) plus 10 for Q plus 4 for Y equals 15.)

The result, a 401-331 defeat, left me with a final win-loss record of 4-4 and a negative spread. D— elevated himself to third place at 5-3; I was stuck in sixth place, since my spread was inferior to those of fellow 4-4 record-holders B.R. and C— (whom I did not actually meet in this event).

It was a disappointing finish. Not only did my record against S— fall to 5-2 with my second straight loss to him, I dropped to 3-6 lifetime in competition against D— after sustaining five straight defeats at his hands. (In addition to the three decisions he collected in this event, he beat me twice in January — once in the 10th round of the main event and again in the championship game of the late-bird event.)

On the other hand, a day playing competitive Scrabble is fairly enjoyable. I’ve got another event coming up in early October, and I’m hoping to improve my performance then!

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