Yet another spectacular nosedive

Tuesday, 3 August 2004 — 10:41pm | Scrabble, Tournament logs

So much for getting back on track. The third day of the tournament, Rounds 16 to 23, constituted a disaster on the scale of the first eight rounds, and dismantled any hopes of finishing even in the top half of the division for good. With the last seven rounds to go tomorrow, all I can hope to do is pull off another winning streak to save some face – and for that matter, my rating.

First came Round 16 with Judith Ford:

I get away with a phony on the opening play, NUNU* (as opposed to allowable U-dumps like JUJU, LULU, MUMU and TUTU), but Judith takes an early lead with EXTERNES for 68, which I unsuccessfully challenge. She later told me it was a guess extrapolated from the fact that INTERNES is acceptable. It takes me several turns before I get back on pace with fATIGUE for 67, and I trail her within a recoverable 40 points throughout the midgame. What really kills me in this game is her ENSiGNS through a very difficult position in the N column between ELL and the unchallenged IRIDIA*, subsequently followed by my taking the bottom-right triple word score with HOSE and leaving the one in the A column open for a big insurance play of hers, VATIC for 42. It felt very much like a Requisite Unlucky Game, as I drew only the blank in fATIGUE and an S I blew early with WOOFS to turn over a bad rack, and she made use of the eight power tiles she had. If only I knew. Regardless, this was my biggest loss of the day, 313-403.

Round 17 vs. Robin Torrance:

This one was truly a fight to the finish, possibly lost in a miscalculation but perhaps unwinnable, given the state of things in the endgame. Most of it the round was spent playing catchup to Robin’s 82-point GRADErS, but I pulled in close again with RINGLET for 66 followed by JET on the opened triple for 34. Both of us are close to a game-winning bingo near the end with the S-hook on TOYON, but Robin plays it safe and closes it by dumping TINES. GREEDIER is no bingo, but a play I successively made through TINES to try and draw some high-point tiles now that bingos were out of the picture. XU for 38 was a shocker, but it was really a race to draw the X and play it on the volatile double word score above the U.

With the game sitting at 277-315, the bag empty and holding CEIIKS?, I consider my options. My tracking sheet tells me that Robin holds BEHILSV, I think of ICKIEr down B10, leaving me with an S but opening the triple for a potential parallel counterplay with the H I knew he still had. So instead I go for the higher-scoring ShIRK (36 points), knowing that he would likely play VIE, but calculating that it would not provide him with enough. What I did not consider – in the first of many such endgame oversights today – was that he would also play off the S to make VIES for 30. Because there were plenty of spots left where he could score very well with the H, I had to play off all my tiles; the best play I found was FICE for a measly 12. With a bonus of 16 for BHL on his rack, I lose by a hair, 341-345.

Round 18 is a rematch with Susan Rhea, who ended my winning streak in Round 15 yesterday:

This game is the very definition of what it means to get off to a rough start. My opening draw is the discouraging AEEEIU?. I keep the blank and an E and pass my first turn to toss AEEIO in the bag – only to get EEIIO in return. I toss five again, picking up all consonants. As I was already down by 92 points, I decided to get on the scoreboard with WE, unwisely leaving myself with no vowels but gambling on their abundance given that I just returned so many to the pool. I fight my way through a few vowel-free racks before a lucky draw gives me SURfING for 75, which still left me behind, but put me back in contention. But three turns later, Susan finishes me off with ZINNIA hooked onto AX to make ZAX, a play that lands on a triple for 64 points.

I stare at ETHOSES for a bit, a potential comeback bingo sitting on my rack, but shy away from playing it off because I reason that ETHOS should pluralize to ETHOI* (it doesn’t); checking afterwards, ETHOSES turns out to be good. But she holds the J and the Q in her last rack, and I have a very slim chance of pulling ahead if I can stick her with both – but with two T’s open, I can’t stop her from playing off the Q in QAT. In spite of drawing all four S’s, the only one that sees good use is the one in the bingo I played, and I lose the third straight game of the morning, 318-391.

Round 19 vs. Karen Fishman:

Now, the first three losses I can blame on luck all I want, but there’s no excuse for the blunder I made at the end of this one. I trail for most of the game – she gets off NASTIEST for 60 and AZO for 42; late in the game, I play AIM to take a triple word score before she does, but it’s an incorrect guess, as she slaps an X on a nearby triple-letter for a 50-point XU. But I recuperate right away with TIeRING for 62 with nine tiles in the bag, knowing that while there was a chance I could end up with the Q, I was also as likely to draw a blank. I get the blank, and the bag empties with the Q in her hands, and every A and U on the board. Planning to stick her with the Q and eke out a victory, I play CaN for 28 on the triple up top – but I inexplicably miss the one obvious spot where the Q is playable. She wraps the S and the Q around the U in XU to make SUQ and FATES, and without the Q-stick bonus on my side, I have to concede yet another match. This one is a close shave, 354-371, lost on account of being completely blind.

Round 20 vs. Raymond Slaughter:

The one bingo on the board, REPORtED, falls on my side for 62. Raymond runs dry in the midgame, allowing me to pull ahead to a sizable lead. The endgame is a coffin waiting to be nailed, AANOSU? on my rack and EEIMNSX on his. There is exactly one improbable move I can make, just one, that would give him a shot at rebounding to a win. See it? I sure didn’t. Sure enough, I somehow reason my way to a ridiculous play – NAOs at 4B, hoping to play out with EAU at D6, thinking that the best he would manage is NIX with the X on a triple-letter – not enough. He thinks for a few minutes; my eyes suddenly widen as I realize my mistake – I created the one spot where he could play out with EXAMINES through the A. A second later, he does just that for 88 points, which was soon followed by exclamation marks and silent cries of “Stupid!” and “Pay attention!” scribbled in angry capital letters on the scoresheet with arrows pointing every which way. For the second game in the row I give away an assured victory, 336-354.

My opponent in Round 21 is Jamila Atcha:

This game starts slowly, with tile exchanges on both sides at various points and only one bingo, Jamila’s LEADING for 71. When I start catching up, she pulls ahead again with RANDIES for 69, but I bingo right back with a double-blank rack, SHEarED for 79, taking a 280-262 lead. Then comes something that damn near gives me a heart attack or two: holding ACEHIMR, she lays down CREAMISH* through the S in SHeaRED for a triple-triple and announces the score for that one turn – 221 points. Most living room players don’t score much more than that in an entire game. But I challenge it off, and breathe a huge sigh of relief. I see from her tiles that she could play CASH for a lot of points, so I block with KIST for 39. Neither of us saw the legitimate bingo she had going through a triple word score, CHIMERAS, which would have sealed a three-bingo win for her as well, though not by so incredible a difference. She never fully recovers from the turn she lost on the CREAMISH* gamble, and four consecutive plays each over 30 points put me way ahead. I end my six-game losing streak with my first win of the day, 435-360.

Round 22 vs. Jeff Myers:

An early blank bingo apiece (my INSTANTs on a double-double for 78, his TEXtILE for 70) leave the game almost even. I fall behind when I try a phony, PICTS*, on the triple in the bottom right – Jeff took it instead with HIRED after he challenged it off. He pulls further ahead with GEEZ and DEAFER back-to-back, both for 42, and not even sticking him with the Q can save the game for me. No winning streak for me this time, as I lose 351-387.

The last game of the day was Round 23 with Betty Cornelison:

This is the tightest board I have played in the tournament, with no bingos on either side. As the stepladder formation from the centre to the bottom left demonstrates, it was an extremely closed board with the occasional weak single-digit play on the part of either player. Without any bingo lanes, the S’s and blanks are not a factor in this game. Unfortunately, Betty draws the Z, X, J and Q, all of which she uses to make strong plays, such as ZINC for 47 and SOX for 40. The other six power tiles fall on my side, but four of them only come at the end; my final rack is RSSOE??, which makes no less than 164 different bingos. But with no place to play – DUO, RUT and QAT sealed off the board – I had to dump ROSE for 36 and SuQ for 11, which left me with my lowest score after 23 rounds: as 293-330 defeat.

After three days of play, I now sit at a devastating 8-15 (+56) record, ranked 158th in the 169-strong Division 3. The top players in the division are already well over 15 wins, so I have no hope of catching them at this point. Bad luck can only be blamed for so much; it was endgame stupidity that pulled me back down today, and there are many hard lessons to be learned here. Next: the exciting conclusion as I play Rounds 24-30 to wrap up my participation in the 2004 Nationals.

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