Trashed by hardset hatreds and dearths of hardest threads

Wednesday, 15 June 2005 — 12:38am | Scrabble, Tournament logs

Or simply, trashed.

You’ll notice that I haven’t posted here about Scrabble lately – not since the beginning of February, as a matter of fact. Until about two weeks ago I was away from the game for a very long time, which turned out to be detrimental to my health, as I quickly learned the hard way.

In the intervening time, the biggest change to the game in ten years fired its first salvo off the bow: The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, Fourth Edition. It hit shelves only two weeks ago, and mining the Internet has yet to turn up any meaningful list of changes besides the well-known ones like the addition of QI* and ZA* and the invalidation of EMF, and I hear a lot of words listed in the Dictionary Committee online beta didn’t make the final cut, but I plan to pick up my copy straightaway.

Like the current edition, getting the OSPD4 is primarily for definitions and getting a head start; as longtime readers should be aware by now, the mass-market dictionary is censored (with famous consequences) and does not reflect changes, if any, to the “offensive” list. The next edition of the Official Tournament and Club Word List, available only by direct purchase from the NSA store, does not arrive until August and will not come into effect until after Reno Nationals that month. The actual transition in terms of competitive play is at this time ambiguous.

So with my next tournament not until the WCSC in late September, and who knows what dictionary it’s using (though I just thought to ask), the OSPD3 and I aren’t exactly parting on good terms. Months of not studying harbinge destructive ramifications. And yes, I know “harbinge” isn’t a word, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Right now I’m hoping a number of things. One is that the transition comes late enough that I can actually get some mileage out of my most excellent Mike Baron Wordbook before it is rendered outdated, because lord knows I’ve hardly touched it since Christmas; another is that I don’t plummet below the 1200 mark, not just because it would mean a year-to-year ratings drop of 200 points, but because it would drop me a division at the WCSC. While I might get some money out of it, that’s just not fun.

This game is stacked. Incomplete and diminishing lexical knowledge just exacerbates the problem. In six of my fourteen games – just under half – one player or the other scored consecutive bingos. (In five out of six cases, it decided the game; the sixth was a miscalculated endgame on my part that put me under by 19 points when I projected I’d lose by 1.) That’s luck for you – playing off all your tiles, then drawing straight to a second bingo common enough to see with the bag half-empty (or half-full, depending on whether you’re a Marlin or a Dory), and having a spot to play it. For some perspective, the probability of drawing a bingo with a full bag is one in twelve, and that’s when you don’t need to account for your opponent’s rack management.

Granted, one of those sequel-bingos was a (successful) phoney of mine: HARBINGE*. The verb for the action that a harbinger performs is just that – harbinger. Now I know.

Speaking of successful phoneys, this tournament – while a disaster for me – produced a great story. As I believe I’ve mentioned in the past, Calgary tournaments award a trophy of a horse’s ass to the player who gets away with the one deemed most outrageous by vote. One game in my division began with Jefficus playing IN to open – and it sure looked innocent enough. Then his opponent, Saskatoon club director Al Pitzel, responds with a bingo: JAILERS, with the A hooked in front of Jeff’s play to make ANI.

Read that again carefully.

Jeff makes no complaint, and only after he is no longer able to challenge does he realize that Al had inverted the board and hooked his seven tiles in front of NI* to form… SRELIAJ*.

Final notes: Canada has its first two-time national champion, mathematics professor Adam Logan, who now teaches at Oxford. The tournament took place over the weekend and the online coverage is stellar; as with last year’s NSC, you can play through key games and see how your appraisal of the board positions match up with the experts.

I also finally made my way to Edmonton’s two local Scrabble groups in late May. The NSA-sanctioned and more competitive one in Sherwood Park is on holiday until after Labour Day, but ordinarily meets Mondays at 6:30pm in the Strathcona County Library at Sherwood Park Mall. There’s a more casual one just northwest of downtown, a games night that meets 6:45pm Thursdays at Queen Mary Park Community Hall, and they are switching on and off this summer in an erratic, flickering sort of way. Both offer good people and a welcome place to start, but are not so good in terms of tournament preparation.

I’ve been contemplating this since first year, but I do wonder if there is any interest in a Scrabble student group on the U of A campus. It would be a good way to foster some new opponents, as I reckon there are a lot of living-room players out there who are on the cusp – they can beat all their friends, but haven’t had the exposure or opportunity to move beyond that. Campus is also easily accessible without a vehicle, and that’s a big deal. But seeing as how I might be on my way out in a year, it’s not an easy project to get underway. The game, on a serious level, just isn’t for everybody.

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