Aargh! Aarrgh! Aarrghh!

Thursday, 29 March 2007 — 1:36am | Scrabble, Tournament logs

I don’t think I’ve ever been this upset about winning a game of Scrabble.

You can tell this post is going to be about Scrabble, because its title consists of three playable ways to spell a certain interjection used to express disgust. But I digress. On to the story, then: as you can see from the results of last weekend’s tournament in Calgary, my division played out dans un mouchoir de poche. I placed second with a record of 10-4 (+454), behind a record of 10-4 (+457). There exists self-incriminating photographic evidence.

In order to place first, I needed to not only win my last game, but win it by at least 31 points. I had it handed to me, and then I proceeded to subconsciously do everything I possibly could to methodically twist a rusty bayonet in my foot prior to firing the armament to which it was attached, and win by 29.

On my final rack, I held a 405-380 lead and AEERSU? to my opponent’s AEELOS. In spite of the fact that I couldn’t find any of the five bingos through the G at the bottom (AUbERGES, REGAUgES, lEAGUERS, pUGAREES, REArGUES), with the blank in hand – and no place for my opponent to go out in one turn – a 31-point win should have been a piece of cake for any even remotely competent novice player. Yet somehow, I did all of the following: a) not score nearly as many points as I could have; b) not block the natural spot for my opponent’s S, the hook on the end of JOLT; 3) play off my blank for a zero-point gain on the same play without the blank. The first two sins were suboptimal. The third was anti-optimal.

In case you’re following the photograph, the play was ERASErs, hooking onto the blank S in WARTIEsT with the other S on the end of TAV. That’s how you use the blank if and only if you’re trying your darndest to lose a game you’ve already won. I’m fairly certain it is the worst play I have ever made.

Why did I do it? I was tight on time (under half a minute), and the spot where I played it was a location where I was looking for potential bingos. It was a panic move based on the typical instinct to play off as many tiles as possible at the end of the game, a usually sound endgame principle that does not at all apply if a) you know your opponent can’t go out in one turn, or b) one of said tiles is a blank.

It’s been four days now. I’m still not over it. I could have forfeited the tournament by headbutting my opponent in the chest, and suffered less regret.

The mouldy icing on the flea-infested cake, though, was that this didn’t lose me a shot at first place. I still held a U, which would have fit in nicely at 4D (between R and IN to make RUIN) for a 33-point win. Nope! With under ten seconds left, I played UP for half the points. By that time, I’d realized what I’d just done with my blank, and the subsequent horror may have blinded me to the winning play. I still won the battle, 427-398, but the war was so acutely a self-inflicted defeat that I initially handed my opponent the tally slip for recording the final score, a duty that falls upon the victor. It was a mite confusing.

Sometimes, people ask me if playing Scrabble competitively is just a matter of knowing a lot of words. I tell them about how you need an intuitive grasp of probability and board geometry, and a strategic mindset in general, in order to succeed. But it’s more than that. Surviving a tournament requires a degree of mental fortitude that verges on the absurd. I’ve plateaued at the 1200-1400 ratings zone over the past two years, and while much of that is due to lack of practice, I wonder how much of it falls upon a lack of discipline and self control in moments of extreme panic. You don’t have what it takes to be an expert until you can lift stones with your mind while standing on one hand with Yoda balanced on your foot. Maybe that’s why Joe Edley does Zen.

On the upside, in Round 10 I finished with my first triple-triple in a long time: BUSTLING for 158 points. An expert opponent would never have given me the opening created by STUMpER: even upon failing to see MURkEST (making FE, ES and ATT and not opening any new lanes), he or she would have blocked. Every available bingo that opens the A column would have begun with either S or M, permitting BUSTLING or TUMBLING. I’ll take the points and like’em.

Sigh… poor little blank. I threw it away like an unwanted child. Like it was trash. Like it meant nothing to me. And after all we’d been through together. I’m sorry, little blank. I won’t do it again.

Okay, I’ve had enough. I’m going to Disneyland.


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One rejoinder to “Aargh! Aarrgh! Aarrghh!”

  1. Hello Nick, in researching some bits for my next novel “Rumbles in Arse du monde” I need to come to you for expert advice. WHat would it cost someone to buy a replacement Scrabble tile?

    Kathleen Molloy – author – Dining with Death

    La Mort au menu

    Monday, 11 February 2008 at 9:56am

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