Tuesday, 8 August 2006 — 7:15pm | Scrabble, Tournament logs

Scrabble is a metaphor for life. With the right (read: wrong) conjunction of bad luck and poor judgment, what you get is an inverse relationship between the passage of time and your degree of ambition. Take, for example, the progressive modesty of my objectives. Day One: Win the division. Day Two: Place in the top ten. Day Three: Break even in wins and losses.

Today – Day Four – the primary objective was to keep my rating above the 1200 mark, something that I didn’t consider a risk before the tile-tossing travails of the weekend. Whether or not I achieved this is still in doubt. As far as I’m aware, what happens is that for the purposes of rating calculations, the first two days of the tournament are considered separately from the last two, so the estimated rating changes (which appear to take all the rounds lumped together, without adjustment at the halfway point) may be a little off. It has me listed as landing at a regrettable 1216, but for a number of mathematical reasons that I won’t go into, the actual rating change will probably be even lower. I’m not in the clear yet.

But enough of the number-crunching. If you’ve unscrambled the title of this post, you already know how I did today. (For those just joining us, board photos are here.)

Round 22: I opened with ALEURoN, but lost my lead as soon as my opponent played ZESTErS. I lost a turn challenging it, and had to play catchup the whole time and struggle with the tiles. I came close, but she managed to collect the I, N and G required to stretch BOARD down to the nearest triple, making BOARDING, and then there was just no catching her. The lost tempo from the bad challenge was almost certainly a critical factor. A bad start, 359-410.

Round 23: I made some huge plays in the early turns – EAUX for 36, YELP for 48, OKE for 44, RAJEE for 36, one after another – but hit a major snag that resulted in my scoring only 17 points over four turns (two of them spent exchanging tiles). In the interim, my opponent caught up to me with SUNTANS. I rebounded with RAVINEs, but couldn’t shut the board down in time for her to play BUSTLING. I might have caught her were it not for our final racks. Mine was the ugly DIIGRUZ; hers, EEGIQ?. That meant there was no way I could stop her from doubling the Q somewhere, so it was already a lost cause, and just a matter of narrowing the spread. Another loss, 355-393.

Round 24: This was a rematch against my opponent from Round 4. She had an early bingo, INTENSE, to which I responded with a phony double-double, RECTILE*. She let it slide and hooked an E on top to make the valid ERECTILE, but no matter – I was keeping up in spite of having to dump some consonants twice in three turns. Despite her second bingo, STRANDeD, I made big plays every turn and stayed ahead right up to the final rack, where I held EFILUU? to her ADEOORR. It was basically unwinnable at this point, though I will probably simulate the position in Quackle later to find out for sure. I didn’t have any bingos handy, that’s for sure – the paired Us got in the way. So she surged ahead to a big finish, assisted by my challenging OREAD (because if it was unacceptable, challenging was my only shot at still winning), and I post my fifth consecutive loss, 338-381.

Round 25: I find the only possible bingo with the typically unfortunate AAEISST on my second turn – ATRESIAS through the R in CLERK – and I kept a lead until the bad draws started piling up in the midgame. At one point my opponent, whom I defeated earlier in Round 3, took a 7-point lead – but I quickly recovered, and drew both blanks near the end. With no bingo lanes available, and no desire on my part to open any, I burned both blanks on relatively small plays: VAs for 32, JOTs for 19. Luckily for me, the last S was still in the bag, so she couldn’t hook anything onto the available lane (tacking an S onto FANO and hitting the bottom-centre triple). The result was a low-scoring win, 327-291.

Round 26: Yep – it seems like I couldn’t get through an entire day without having a sure win handed to me on a platter, only to implode on my final rack thanks to a horribly miscalculated endgame. I fell behind with a series of weak plays in the first half of the game, but quickly recovered with two blank bingos, ANtHERS and INrOADS. The game was basically sewn up, but the final draws would tell a different story. I held BDEIPRS, with AEIOORTX unseen. (It turned out that the last tile in the bag was the O.) I suspected my opponent (another rematch, this time from Round 21) had the X, but she had two available spots: the open double in the bottom left to make XU and XU, and another one under the F in GOLFER. The XU play would have given her 36 points, and for some reason, I instinctively identified that as the bigger threat and blocked it by playing my P to make UP. So she goes ahead and plays EX under GOLFER for 37. Huge mistake on my part: I should have taken advantage of the double under the F, let her play off the X on XU, and still come out ahead. But I was very tight on time, and I couldn’t relax and do a thorough analysis of the position. Another move later, I can’t find a play with my remaining tiles (B, I, and S) worth over 14 points, so I stick the B and S on WE to make WEBS and GOLFERS for 20. She plays off her last tile, an I, for 8 points – and wins 367-372. Another one bites the dust.

Round 27: Finally, a game that was, in fact, not a possible indirect cause of hair loss and a diminished lifespan. I made big plays the whole game and already led by 84 points before my first bingo, PEOnIES for 74. Then I drew CDEINR? and saw INDICtER across two double word scores for 90 points, but wasn’t completely sure it was good, since the -ER suffixes tend to be rather inconsistent and tricky. And damnit, I wanted that second bingo. So I played DECRyING for 74, which was positionally safer anyway, though either play left some lanes open. I got stuck with bad one-pointers for the rest of the game, but all I needed to do was shut down the board and not worry too much about scoring, so I wasn’t too crippled. My opponent did not have a good time. But I sure did, 406-261.

Round 28: God, what a wonderful way to finish – for me, anyway. Now, it would have been nice if some of this luck had been sprinkled over my earlier games instead of being bunched up all at the end, but I’m not going to complain about no less than three consecutive bingos (DENtURES for 68, IMPACTER for 95, COnFESS for 78) followed by another bingo-sized play (QUOTE with the Q on a TLS and the word on a DWS for 68 points). No complaints whatsoever: I drew beautifully, my unfortunate opponent only got a bit of mileage off the Z, and I coasted to my highest score of the tournament – a triumphal victory, 512-312.

My final record: 12-16 (+78), ranked 84th of 116 players in my division. I am thoroughly displeased, but considering how many games that should have been sure wins given optimal play in the endgame, but fell short of that due to silly mistakes and a rusty vocabulary, this tournament was a telling and necessary kick in the rear.

Time management is a huge issue. I didn’t go overtime in any of my games, but I played almost every game with less than a minute or two left on the clock. On the upside, it looks like I’m using all my time, but the real story here is that I’m taking far too long in the early turns – tracking tiles on my own time, double-checking my scores, having trouble choosing between different potential bingos – and most of the endgames end up rushed, especially the ones where care and attention are absolutely necessary. This will probably just require me to play more often, as far as remedies go. In New Orleans, my problem was that I played much too impatiently. I’ve since swung a bit far in the other direction, though curiously, I’m missing too many bingos because I’m not looking hard enough.

Tomorrow is the best-of-five final between Jim Kramer and Geoff Thevenot, which will be taped for a future broadcast on ESPN. As in New Orleans, I will be watching it on closed-circuit television in a room surrounded by other Scrabble players calling out the plays they see, but I won’t have the opportunity to post about it until after I return to drab, Scrabble-challenged Edmonton.

Two other notes about the tournament results: Albert Hahn, who has ruled the roost at the Calgary club for as long as I’ve been playing the game, finished seventh in the top division. If you were at all familiar with the superstars whose names embroider the divisional roster, you would understand the scale of this feat. Looks like Alberta’s getting a boost in the state/province rankings.

The second note, which I just have to share, is about this remarkable oddity in Division 6: identical twins finished fourth and fifth with identical win/loss records. You couldn’t plan this sort of thing if you tried.


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