Botched endgames, ahoy!

Monday, 7 August 2006 — 5:51pm | Scrabble, Tournament logs

Holy zyzzyva, this was a bad day.

Here are the pics, and here’s the scoop.

Round 15: I kept up for most of the game, and then I created an ill-advised opening without realizing it, playing HOG instead of HAG to prevent an S-hook. I’d forgotten that SHOG was good, and my opponent immediately took advantage of it to play ATTAINs. The next turn, he exchanged, and then – with the other blank – played SUNnING. With the board shutting down, and my tiles nowhere close to a bingo, it was over in a jiffy. 341-424.

Round 16: My opponent drew GIILS?? to start, and played SmILInG for 66. Now, an opening bingo is no big deal, but I was stuck with one-point dreck (and repeated vowels) galore, and I had to contend with a hundred-point deficit for pretty much the entire game. He shut the board down, and without any bingo-prone tiles to speak of, I posted my lowest score of the tournament and lost, 274-361.

Round 17: Finally, some proof that I can play this game when the draws are balanced and it all comes down to skill. With two bingos (nITERIE and URANIDE) and good use of the X and Z on my side, and playing off my opponent’s Q and J to nullify any advantage they conferred on her, it was smooth sailing to a 445-357 victory. It helped that I knew URANIDE and she didn’t.

Round 18: This was simultaneously the most stressful and exciting game I’ve played so far in this tournament, against a very evenly-matched opponent who has improved at the same snail’s pace as me since our last tournament meeting. She played a three-bingo game (GETTERS, OVERpAID and ELOINES*, which I didn’t even think to challenge because I confused it with ELOIGNS and expected her to know better), but I kept up the whole time with the help of the J, Z and Q, and even took the lead with BRANDING for 82. Coming off it, I drew AAEINT?, which is just about a sure thing as far as bingo racks go. But I didn’t know pALATINE through the L in ELOINES* and, for whatever reason, didn’t see AErATING hitting the G in the bottom right. I knew ENTAsIA, of course, but wasn’t sure BRANDING took an S (it does). So I fished away the A, and she blocked the triple-triple lane up top with CHEAT. Now I found myself staring at AEINTU? – still unaware that BRANDING took an S, which permitted AUNTIEs, and failing to see the three bingos through the G. So I played off CUE to finish with a final rack of AINRTU?. This permitted four bingos through the G, not to mention NUTRIAs with the S-hook. Somehow, I missed all of those, even though three of them were common words with -ING endings, and tried a phony: AURATING*. My opponent thought it was good, but expecting to lose anyway, challenged it off (after about five minutes of meticulous calculations). She blocked the lane with VINTAGE, and it was over. I lose 420-447. Poor word knowledge rears its ugly head, and eats it too. What a heartbreaker.

Round 19: This was another wild ride. Like the last game, I made great use of the tiles that I had to make big plays almost every turn, and even survived a few turns of trouble with low-point tiles. The lead kept changing hands: he surged ahead with BESpOKE, I later replied with DIARIST (after missing RESILED the turn before, since I didn’t know it), and he bounced back with FIRInGS. Then it boiled down to a prudent endgame. He held X and Q on his last rack, but only managed to get rid of the X, and I managed to go out with BRAVOS and feed off the rest of his tiles (INNQV) for a 34-point bonus. A close shave of a hard-earned win, 406-402.

Round 20: No chance. I played the best I could with what I had, squeezing every last drop out of the four-pointers (FLEAS for 39, BLEW for 47, ETHERS for 44), and I was still in it even after her second bingo (SEqUOIA on a triple). Now, it just so happened that the bag still contained the X, J, Q and one of the blanks. And it just so happened that after her bingo, she drew the encouraging DEOPRT? while I got stuck with the J, X and Q and almost no vowels to speak of. So she played her third bingo right on the heels of her second one (PRONaTED). I challenge it because the game is a lost cause anyway, and lose a turn. I played off the J and X, but not the Q, and the result was my biggest loss of the day, 348-457.

Round 21: I got off to a slow start, caught up with ARANEID on a double-double for 90 points, and took control of things. I didn’t close the board down, though, because I had a late blank, suspected my opponent held the other, and my lead was hardly a thunderous one. I spotted bUTTALS with the S hooked onto DOC, but I rejected it outright and crossed it out as a possibility, not knowing that it was quite valid. The situation, at the end of the game, was a tricky one: I led 322-278, I held EIIRTU?, my opponent held EGIRSS?, and the bag was empty. There were only two possible lanes – through the S in NULLS, or the T in TAJ. For some reason, I spotted sUITSIER* through the S in the bottom and played it right away. There really had to be no room for doubt, since it was the last play and she was certain to challenge. It wasn’t until afterwards that I realized that it was my own neologism for DRESSIER, and clearly not a real word at all. (The one valid bingo was UTILISER, which I didn’t even consider.) Naturally, she challenged it off. Now, with a rack like EGIRSS?, you can’t really miss. But it turns out there was only one possible bingo in this position. She found it (RESIGhTS through the T) and tried it as a guess. It was a good guess. The right move, in retrospect, was to block the T with a tiny play like TI. I misjudged the bottom lane as the bigger threat, and with two lanes open, thought I had to try a bingo to win. Terrible endgame judgment costs me again, and I lose, 322-360.

So I’m now in 83rd place with a record of 9-12, -166 – squarely in the bottom half and fully out of contention to place. What have we learned?

First of all, intermediary plays with the four-point tiles improved significantly today, and I’m able to keep apace without relying too heavily on bingos, even winning Round 19 in the face of drawing no blanks. I’m escaping deluges of one-point tiles by not giving up on searching for bingos just because my rack is replete with duplicate vowels, playing high-probability, non-stem words like NITERIE, ARANEID and DIARIST.

It would be easy for me to blame the tiles – I only drew three blanks in seven games – but the fact is that if you play off one blank in a bingo, you’re drawing seven new tiles and the chance of picking up the next blank is that much better. Turnover matters.

Word knowledge has proved to be a serious problem, and if I don’t fix it soon, I’m going to be stuck in sub-1300 purgatory for some time to come. I’m passing over too many bingos and lucrative hooks because I’m not sure about them, when prevailing board conditions deter me from taking too many risks. Unfortunately, this isn’t going to fix itself overnight. And something needs fixing overnight, pronto, or I’ll find myself condemned to sub-1200 hell for the first time in three years and be forced to drop down a division at the Calgary tournament in October. Not acceptable.

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