Alphabet soup for the soul

Sunday, 6 August 2006 — 7:47pm | Scrabble, Tournament logs

Look, I moderated myself at the players’ reception, even though the wine was free. There’s no reason I should have been this addled.

Let’s review what happened today. As before, there are photographs of every game to accompany the commentary.

Round 8: It was an uphill battle as soon as my opponent opened with DESTINy for 68 and SHUTTING for 64. I replied with SHELTERs, but that meant he still held a one-bingo lead for the whole game. I fished off a few tiles in order to keep some openings available, but didn’t know the word that would have done the trick – INCREATE through the N in DESTINy. I exchanged a few nasty vowels, snuck away with a phony (ERMITE* for 35) and tried to stay in the game, but he just sat there calmly and took it, since he drew and controlled all four Ss and knew I wouldn’t have an opening. I only drew ?JZ among the power tiles this game, but it’s hard to blame the loss (and I did lose, 364-412) on bad luck. If you make big plays, you turn over more tiles, and you’re more liable to draw the juicy ones.

Round 9: Easily my worst game of the tournament so far. I opened with LEGAToS for 70, but I might as well have sat out the rest. Here’s how you can tell if you’re asleep at the wheel. In a fit of insanity, you play WOR* instead of the higher-scoring ROW on a triple only to have it challenged off (this being a division where everybody is expected to have known their threes perfectly for years). Then you let your opponent take your spot with DAMN for 36, and run away with AVIUM* for 44, which for some reason you choose not to challenge. You exchange racks like GLTTRUW while she plays REPLIED and AWAITERS, the latter of which you mistakenly challenge because at that point, the game is over anyway. You lose, 282-523. Yeah, she drew everything, but there’s no telling how else it could have gone had I actually been reasonably attentive while I held my early lead.

Round 10: My turn to draw everything. I still played suboptimally, no thanks to incomplete word knowledge, and broke DEIRTU? (which could have gone down with the D in any of the last three positions) because I didn’t know FRUITED, and I wasn’t looking nearly hard enough to see some of the obvious ones that I did know (OUTRIDE, QUIRTED, and so on). Thankfully, I managed to play fOUNDER the next turn. Another bingo (InFARES), and the rest of the game was just a matter of keeping my lead, challenging desperate plays on my opponent’s part (SORRIES*, which I knew wasn’t good, and an attempt to hook an S to make PONYS*), and shutting down the remaining lanes. In spite of some serious consonant trouble for both players by the game’s end, I think this one went well – with a little help from my blanks. 458-278.

Round 11: Ouch. Round 9 may have been a blowout loss sparked by an inexcusable mistake, but I think this one was the more frustrating one to sit through. A slow start, coupled with big plays on my opponent’s part (AIRHOlES for 61, and a few 30-point fillers), and it was a fight to catch up… only to end up stuck with low-point dreck. Get a rack like that and you can’t score, you can’t bingo, you can’t quite fish, and you can’t do anything. You can’t even exchange too often, lest your opponent shut down all the lanes before you can build up to a bingo. I managed to play AcETOSE near the end, but by then that was just saving face and keeping the difference under a hundred points. A nervewracking loss, 283-382.

Round 12: And the punishment continues. This time, it really wasn’t my fault for the most part, except for my losing two challenges. I tried UNLANED*, thinking that it might have something to do with inner-city roads, but even LANED* isn’t any good. And then I lost another turn challenging CAPTuRER, my rationale being that someone who captures is a captor. That one was tricky. Between CAPTuRER and AENeOUS, my opponent more than doubled her score in the last five turns, while I couldn’t do anything, having drawn nothing but JX to my opponent’s SSSSQZ??. 283-494.

Round 13: This game was liberating. It’s always nice to dump some crap (FLMUV) and draw to a bingo (DONAtES for 71), only to draw to another bingo (AILERONS for 68) as opposed to, say, a bunch of duplicate vowels. Timely exchanges, decent rack management, and only two significant blemishes: losing a turn trying to play DEFS* when I’d looked at the hooks on the new three-letter words just two nights ago, and not challenging a phony bingo (REAIRING* on a triple for 80) that put my opponent dangerously close. I didn’t even consider REAIRING* might be a phony until I was uploading the game photos, and at the time, it was too dangerous to challenge it when I wasn’t sure. It put him only 24 points behind, and losing a turn might have meant losing the game, so I took my chances with the slimmer margin and still wound up on top, 421-369.

Round 14: I can’t believe it took two full days for me to finally have a round that was genuinely interesting and hotly contested from start to finish. I missed the possible bingos in DEEIOS? early on when the board was wide open, and I was far enough behind that my first bingo (SQuINTED for 70) only put me ahead by 8 points. The lovelier find was JINGOIST for 84 two turns later. But I didn’t stay ahead for long, since my opponent found TENNeRS before I got a chance to shut down every lane, and from there to the end it all depended on careful mathematics and prudent endgame strategy. I locked it up as a sure win, which forced my opponent to try hooking CEES onto REFT to make REFTS* and tie up the game, which I challenged. Were it an acceptable word, I would have lost. But it’s not, so there. 388-349.

So I’m now at 58th place with a 7-7, +80 record, smack in the middle of the pack and four wins behind the leader. If there was a big lesson to be learned from today’s misadventures, it was that my vocabulary sucks, and I need to study. There’s no excuse for messing up on three-letter words and their hooks; I thought I was past that three or four years ago. Moreover, I need to search harder for bingos, because I prematurely gave up on bingo racks on several occasions. It’s also high time to study more heavily by probability, since most of my bingos are either based on six-letter stems or common prefixes and suffixes, and that simply won’t do.

Now it’s a test of endurance. I was sitting at a very similar 7-8, +256 record after Day Two of the 2004 NSC, albeit by way of a more erratic pathway, and the real nosedive came in the second half of the tournament. Let’s see if history can, uh, unrepeat itself this year.

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