So long, Frank Lloyd Wright

Saturday, 5 August 2006 — 7:15pm | Scrabble, Tournament logs

First off, a word of thanks to whoever tipped Cartoon Brew about my previous post, and a warm welcome to all the Real Animators who have come to pay a visit. You guys inspire me. Moreover, it’s nice to get some heavy traffic, for a change, for a post not related to Harry Potter.

I don’t have much else to say about animation this week, though, because I am quite busy playing Scrabble at the luxurious Arizona Biltmore. I came expecting to stay in a hotel, and what I got instead was a monument of sorts to Frank Lloyd Wright. The gardens are decorated with Wright sprites, and the architecture is all Wright (pun very intended). There’s a soup and sandwich place called the Café Wright, a little shop called The Wright Stuff, and a fancy restaurant named – you guessed it – Wright’s. Unlike the National Scrabble Championship in New Orleans two years ago, I’m not taking time to see the surrounding area, or doing much of anything that doesn’t involve letters with points on them, but that’s okay. Like the Fairmont Banff Springs, the resort itself suffices as a tourist attraction.

So let’s talk Scrabble.

First, some links: you can follow my round-by-round progress at the tournament website, and I’m photographing every game I play and storing the snaps in this Facebook album. You’ll notice that the tournament is called the U.S. Scrabble Open now, but it’s really just the National Scrabble Championship under a different (and more accurate) moniker.

Prognosis after Day One: much better than New Orleans. I’m ranked 32nd out of 116 players in Division 4 thanks to a 4-3, +408 record, the second-highest spread in the four-win bracket. Let’s see how I got there. Again, check out the photo album to follow along with the commentary.

Round 1: What a great start. Two natural bingos (ENRICHER, AEROSAT) secured me a 120-point lead by the midgame, and then it was just a matter of shutting down the open lanes and still managing to average about 25 points per turn. I didn’t have a particular advantage in tiles, either; among the power tiles, I drew ?JQSS, and my opponent drew ?SSXZ. And I didn’t really use my blank, since I picked it up near the end. I won a challenge when my opponent tried PARFAIS* down the A-column, too. 433-272, and it’s full steam ahead.

Round 2: I had to fight against the tiles on an incredibly tight board, skipping a turn and exchanging on four separate occasions where I drew to too many vowels or too many consonants through little fault of my own. Thankfully, my opponent lost three challenges, since I wasn’t about to let her get away with INTACTS*, hooking GIAOURS onto BIG to make BIGG*, or OVE*. Word knowledge saved my hide – almost. I technically lost this one 301-312, but my opponent went two minutes over for a 20-point penalty, and I was only 14 seconds away from going over myself. 301-292. Way too close, and I’m evidently a lot more comfortable playing in the open.

Round 3: It’s not like I drew everything. I had ??QSX to my opponent’s JSSZ (and an unplayed S), but good positional playing overcame my letting two phonies go by without a challenge (VEIGH* and PERC*). After the triple-header of WARMEsT for 80, PLOY for 39 and NEXT for 40 near the beginning of the game, I maintained a commanding lead the whole way. It’s always a bit frustrating when you’re way ahead, you shut down the board, and then draw to a bingo rack. Luckily, it turned out that when I held DEELNR? as the game was winding down, there remained a lane that hardly looked open at all. I played LENDERs on a triple, parallel to AIMED to make AN, ID, ME, ER and EDs – and with another 97 points to my name, that sealed the deal. A huge win, 464-243.

Round 4: Among the power tiles, I only drew QSS this game, but I kept pace for most of the game until my opponent finally got rid of both blanks at once with BaNNeRS for a relatively meagre, but game-winning 66 points. Actually, I was still in it, but then she played NU to make PEND, and block off the bottom-centre TWS, right before I’d planned to play OCULI there for 33 points. It was basically an unwinnable game from that point on, and holding EIILU at the end, I was lucky to have the M open for MILIEU. A close and fighting loss, 355-363.

Round 5: I was already playing catchup before my opponent played EXPLAIN for 85 points to take a 90-point lead that I never managed to recover from. I couldn’t really open up without giving away some opportune spots, so she kept on scoring. My one bingo, INSTaTE, gave away the TWS in the top right corner, and a much safer play would have been LINTiEST off the L in PLOVER. I was almost back in the game when she found VARIoLES, and given what was left in the bag, I had no real way of catching her. My biggest loss of the day, 337-413. At least it wasn’t a blowout.

Round 6: I controlled the whole game. Sure, I played a phony without even considering that it might be unacceptable (momentarily confusing VACU* with the valid VATU). But armed with both blanks, drawing great tiles and playing both bingos on the board, my only complaint about this game was that I saw a valid and beautiful bingo (BIOMETEr on a triple) but didn’t play it, since I wasn’t sure it was good. Given that I was leading 311-152 at the time, I really could have afforded to take the risk, and make a serious stab at the 500 mark. Another big win, 417-253. It should have been bigger.

Round 7: Ouch. I challenged the double-blank bingo ROIlIeST and lost, falling behind by a 96-point deficit early on, and just couldn’t get my act together. Exchanging three times didn’t help either, except for temporary alleviating some serious vowel trouble. My opponent lost a turn for challenging JOWAR, but all it did was give me a chance to dump the Q and hope for a bingo-prone rack, which didn’t come. I got stuck with the V for the rest of the game, and lost 322-385.

It wasn’t a bad day, overall, and with 21 rounds to go, I’m still in contention the way I’ve been playing. The interesting thing about this division, which spans the 1200-1399 ratings bracket, is that word knowledge is really all over the map. There are players with strong vocabularies who are merely recovering from a slump, and there are those who simply aren’t comfortable enough with the fours and fives to fill the space between bingos with strong plays and keep the rack balanced.

I’m somewhere in between. Today I played one successful phony and got duped by two, but I also challenged six plays and was right about five of them. I’m playing my way out of bad tiles well enough to get out of trouble, if not always retake the lead. That’s really an essential skill in this game: making high-scoring plays and staying in the picture in the face of horrible misfortune. Most of the time, the frustration of bad luck and the elation of its goodly counterpart are direct consequences of strategy.

And there’s more where that came from. Onward!

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