Revenge of the Archaic Conjugation of ‘Since’

Monday, 2 August 2004 — 8:07pm | Scrabble, Tournament logs

The way the pairings work at the NSC this year divide the thirty games of the tournament into sessions of three or four games apiece. After the first day of a straight round-robin evenly distributed by rating, each successive session is a round-robin within a group of four in their given win-loss bracket. Because of my abysmal 1-7 record on Sunday, I began Day Two with other players who had endured a similar experience.

Those of you who have participated in or observed a debate tournament, particularly in the points-based Worlds style, are familiar with the notion of riding the lower bracket; a decent team that drops to an unlucky draw in the round-robin can feed off the bottom and bounce back into contention. Doing the same thing at a Scrabble tournament is a little trickier for a number of reasons. Because the tournament is divisionally segregated, the opponents at the bottom of the pile are often either players of equal skill who have just had a horrific run of luck, or overrated due to a stellar performance at a prior event. The first category confers limited raw advantage in terms of providing a rebound, and one has to rely on two other things: defiant concentration in the face of demoralizing circumstances, and blind superstitious belief in the law of averages.

The case study for a miraculous recovery is my performance in Rounds 9 to 15. Was it luck or a relative superiority of skill? You decide.

So let us begin with a look at Round 9 against Ossie Mair:

The game began modestly enough. I permitted a low-scoring phony (TREW*) on account of not knowing for certain whether or not it was allowed, and trailed by a slim margin for the first couple of turns. Then I played the one bingo on the board, TASTING for 78, and never looked back. Ossie made it halfway back across the divide between our scores when I left a triple-letter open beside the O in AZO, where he played JEU for 51 points. As the game wound down, it looked very much like he was shooting for a comeback bingo, so I made a succession of small plays to close up the board. I kept a blank in reserve as the Q was still unseen, but he picked it up and managed to squeeze it out in his last move. In my previous draw I had picked up a second blank, so I played out with ROsiN for 24. On paper it looks like I outdrew Ossie significantly – he only had the J, Q and one S – but it was actually quite even, given how the blanks were not a factor. My seven-game losing streak comes to an abrupt end with a modest but triumphal victory, 399-335.

Round 10 vs. George Rogers:

In spite of how I controlled the board the entire game and cruised to a win by a sizable margin, I am actually disappointed with this one. A lot of the credit goes to my being fortunate enough to have an opponent complacent enough to not challenge a silly and unnecessary phony. I refer, of course, to OUTRoAD*. Yes, that blank is an O, and although George considered challenging, he mistakenly did not. For some reason I did not play any of the eight legal words in that rack, the silliest of which is OUTReAD – the same play, but defining the blank differently. Against someone with a solid knowledge of the words that take an OUT- prefix, that wouldn’t have lasted a second. This time, I was forgiven for a critical mistake without penalty.

I started closing the bingo lanes early on to maintain the lead, hence the stepladders slithering their way to the top and bottom right corners, though George managed a big counterplay with ZEKS for 54. However, a second bingo, BANTIeS for 69, followed by PAX for 53 with a tripled X in two directions sealed the round. Final score: 412-292.

Then came Round 11 with Bruce Cramer:

Bruce, who now lives in Buffalo, tells me he was actually a cellist in the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra back in the 1970s. So it’s only appropriate that four turns in, holding ACENILT, I see my own instrument for 72 points across the R in REJOIN. As soon as I established a 103-point lead with my second bingo, GUPpIES for 80, I start closing it down like I did with the first two games, only with a lot more urgency, as it becomes increasingly obvious with the plays my opponent makes that he is on the verge of squeezing one out. The riskiest one was FIRS down the M column, which took care of a dangerous hanging I and made a vertical bingo unlikely due to the adjacent consonants R and S, but left a T hook open to make FIRST. In fact, I was the one who subsequently drew to a bingo rack with a T in the fifth position – NEGATES – but Bruce blocked it as he played ADD to open up for the S he was holding. KNEE was the nail in the coffin, forcing him to play off his power tiles and draw the one remaining tile in the bag. I took this one by a slightly higher margin than the last, 393-268.

Round 12 vs. Herb Lewis:

I made a bad mistake in this game. Immediately after I play DaMNING at I8 for 70, leaving a volatile triple nearby, Herb plays SLATTER* at 15I, hooking it to make DaMNINGS*. I challenge the entire play, and it gets taken off – but when you challenge, you are not told which word in the play is the phony. So I notice that in his rack he also holds RATTLES and STARTLE, both playable in the same position, which he somehow missed – under the presumption that DaMNING might indeed take an S, which I did not know for sure either way. So in order to block the triple lane and either of the bingos I saw, I play OW for 12. But Herb sees the one I didn’t: STARLET for 68. Ow. I recover, and it really does come down to the endgame – his 40-point SuQ puts him within 5 points of me. He held DDLRUY, I held GLORSUU – neither of them impressive racks, but GURUS for 16 and LOG for 10 did the trick. Score: 351-309.

Armed with a 5-7 (+57) record, the adventure continued in the afternoon in a new round-robin group. First came Round 13 against Carol Spencer Yamashita:

I get off to an incredible start, drawing two blanks and an S in my first rack and immediately seeing HALidES for 74. Then I draw the Q and a U at the same time, play AQUA at E5 – only to notice that I had the tiles to extend it to AQUARIA for a double-double (not the kind you order at Tim Horton’s, but hitting two double word scores at once) – 64 points. Unfortunately I get overly enthusiastic and lose a turn for mistakenly playing WO at 6J under the E and D in PAGED, which was challenged off. It’s not that I forgot EW* was not a word – I didn’t even see it until Carol stopped the clock for its removal. I now have an arrow pointing to that turn’s respective cell on my scoresheet with the words “pay attention” beside it.

My second mistake: at one point I need to dump some consonants, and I wrap a C and a D around OWED to make COWED. At that point I had an S (which I played off in STORY for a few measly points and to take out the lane under dEW) – not even noticing the huge opening I left until she played ZEST, hooking to make SCOWED, for 51 points. It puts a dent in my lead, but I still manage to work my way to a 402-310 victory.

The funny thing is, I’d managed five consecutive wins by this point and had yet to hit one that I would consider the Requisite Lucky Game of the day. Then comes Round 14 against Lynda Cleary:

Right off the bat I held the J, playing JUG for 41 with the J doubled two ways. Lynda tried CANKORS* at L1; I challenged it off. Another two turns and I have ADEINZ? on my rack. I see ANoDIZE, but there’s nowhere for it to go, never mind the others – AGNIZED, DIAZINE and ZENAIDA, only two of which I knew, none of which I saw. The last three letters in CRANK were the most open and volatile spots at the time, but I didn’t know ZENAIDAs, rENDZINA or KyANIZED, so I played ZIN for 32. Then I held QUAIlED, but again, there was nary a place for it – I didn’t see ANtIQUED through the N over IKON, which Lynda had just played – so I played QUAI for 33. The bingo came out with EVIDENt for 74, which I followed with IXIA for 33. FATALITY was not a bingo – I played FATAL for 42 first, and extended it for another 42 four turns later. Drawing only an S and a blank on a board that I was quick to tighten, she never managed a play over 35 points.

I scored my way up to 453 points, but Lynda held an unplayable G at the end, and kept passing her turn as I played off my last rack (BDERRYS) piece by piece, not realizing how long I was taking to do it until I had about twenty seconds remaining. I went overtime by ten seconds, rounded up to a minute for a 10-point deduction. It’s my sixth straight win nonetheless, 443-262; I’ve recuperated from the disaster on Monday for a 7-7 record.

Then I finish the day with Round 15 against Susan Rhea:

Well, I was overdue for a Requisite Unlucky Game, but despite drawing only the J and a blank, I kept pace for most of the game. I got a natural bingo out early, MARRIED for 109, and played JIVE for 48 to take what seemed like a thundering lead. But against my better judgment, I neglected the open X next to a double word score, thinking that it would amount to an average dump of two or three tiles – then Susan played QuASI for 67. With four A’s on my rack, I had to blow a turn on an exchange, and she came out in front. Even after she plays TWEEZES for 40, I keep within 30 points of her for the rest of the game until the last few moves, when I held some bingo racks that had no place to go, and was trying to block at the same time. I burn a blank by playing DIs, a block that is successful, but renders me unable to catch up with her remaining plays. I lose, 343-397, but at least I kept it from being the blowout it could have been.

After two days and fifteen rounds, my record is 7-8, +256 – 90th place with the second-highest spread in my win-loss bracket. Although I am still a long ways away from the money zone – the top players in my division are sitting pretty at 12-3 – it is a remarkable recovery given the unprecedented slump on the first day.

Later in the evening I attended the National Scrabble Association town meeting, a Q&A forum that exhibited the hack side of Scrabble – questions about the progress on the next revision of the dictionary (ZA* and QI* are in, EMF is rightly out), the ESPN deal (the crews arrive tomorrow), factoring scores and spreads into the rating system (not until there’s a better way for tournament directors to submit them), that sort of thing. The most interesting question was one about why, if Canada falls under the NSA and thus the North American lexicon, no Canadian dictionary is among the many sources used in said lexicon’s compilation. It was assured, though, that LOONIE* and TOONIE* are indeed in the next revision.

There was another interesting legal issue brought up concerning the rights to Scrabble software, particularly online play, but it relates to the state of the electronic games industry on a much broader scale, so let us leave that for another post someday. Fifteen rounds down, fifteen to go.

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