The National Scrabble Calamity, Day 1

Saturday, 26 July 2008 — 10:33pm | Adventures, Scrabble, Tournament logs

I am sitting at 0-7 (-320) in LADROON (that’s Orlando, for the rest of you), dead last in my division, wondering if my time might not have been better spent at the Magic Kingdom.

This is not my first seven-game losing streak at a Scrabble tournament. I’ve done it twice before, both times at my first National Scrabble Championship in New Orleans. This is, however, the very first time I have ever gone a full day at a Scrabble tournament without winning a single round.

It’s not like I haven’t been scoring points, either. According to my statistics page (which all of you can follow, quasi-live!), I scored an average of 375 points per game—greater than or equal to the Day 1 averages of… all seven of my opponents (370, 346, 369, 375, 372, 364, and 329, respectively). Compare this to my average score against: 421 points per game. Conclusion: every single one of my opponents had an aberrantly high-flying game against me.

Bad luck? In Rounds 6 and 7, maybe. It would be more accurate to blame the first five on poor time management and gross incompetence.

(More on this in a moment. But first, my Day 1 bingos: OUTGROwN, TAINTING, FAGGIEST, TORsADE, COSINES, HANGArS, wRANGLER—wait, was that it? Was that all?)

I photographed every board for reference, as I almost always do, but I’m not particularly inclined to do a round-by-round, blow-by-blow summary of my day as I did for Orlando and Phoenix. So here’s to a quick diagnosis of what I’m doing wrong, which will give me an opportunity to use bullet points for a change, now that I’ve fixed the way lists are handled in my CSS stylesheet.

  • Time management. This is becoming my curse. As I predicted, my ability to make quick, decisive manoeuvres has taken the greatest beating from seven months of Scrabble-muscle atrophy, with word knowledge running a close second—and keep in mind that I’ve been having time trouble for a few tournaments now. I finished virtually every game with less than ten seconds remaining on the clock, and I can attest that far too much of my thinking time was needlessly expended in the middle game instead of the endgame.
  • Poor defence. The way I understand my relatively high points-per-game averages (both for and against), I’ve been going for high-risk, high-scoring plays, leaving dangerous openings sitting about as a consequence of a greedy point grab. I don’t manage my rack well enough to capitalize on the openings, and I end up dumping low-scoring tiles while my opponents stomp on all the bonus squares. This is a far cry from my usual defensive aptitude, and it may be because after being away from the game for so long, I’m far more confident in my knowledge of long words than short ones (which have always been a muddy alphabet soup), making me reluctant to shut the board down.
  • An atrocious endgame. Again, it’s because I’m not leaving myself any time to think—and the endgame is when the most precise, methodical computations should occur, as that is when you have the most knowledge of your position in the game, and have to contend with the least randomness. I threw away at least two games in the last two or three moves.

After the first five rounds, I was sitting at 0-5 (-94), which was pretty good in terms of point spread, as I was only falling behind by about 20 points per game, and never getting blown away. Rounds 1 through 4 were more or less quite winnable; Round 5, certainly so. Unfortunately, those are the games that make all the difference: the ones that could have gone either way. As for Rounds 6 and 7, not much could be done once bad luck decided to show up to the party.

The one round I’ll talk about is Round 5, because of an interesting circumstance that handed me a game I’d seemingly lost on a shiny, silver platter—which I promptly dropped on the floor.

A few moves before the end of the game, with three tiles left in the bag, my opponent knocked one of her tiles onto the floor, and didn’t notice it. She saw that she only had six tiles on her rack, and we both presumed that she simply hadn’t replenished her rack. (My tile tracking seemed to be off by one, but I blamed my tile tracking, which has had some unreliable moments in the past.) So she drew another tile from the bag. Two in the bag.

I’m holding the unenviable DDIIILT and am behind, 360-386, and play DID for 12 points, drawing the last two tiles from the bag (L and K) for IILLKT. An empty bag, with eight tiles unseen (again, I blamed this on a tracking error): IIMNOSSU. My opponent plays SUE for 18, I play KILT for 24, and she plays MIB for 14. The score is 396-418, and it looks out of my reach. I’m holding IL, with INOS unseen (but only three tiles on my opponent’s rack).

Then the Division Leader, while making his rounds, notices our dropped tile on the floor. It’s an S, so I know my opponent holds INO. The director’s adjudication is to back up and figure out who should have drawn the S, were it the last tile in the bag. That’s me, as I emptied the bag (with room on my rack to spare) when I played DID. So, right before I was to play my last move, I was basically given the mighty S for free.

I saw a winning move that would have given me 18 points, plus 6 off my opponent’s rack, for a narrow 420-418 victory.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see it until half a second after I hit the clock to end my turn, after having given up on the search for a play that would get rid of all three of my tiles, and dumping the S for 18 points elsewhere.

So I lost, 414-430, with ten seconds left on the clock. The fallen S ascended from the depths to give me one last chance, and I threw it in the dumpster like it was a dead hooker.

It was all downhill after that. Well, it was already downhill, but then it got steeper.

I have a bye in Round 8 (thanks to being in last place, I think), which nominally puts me at a 1-7 (-270) record in the standings heading into tomorrow morning. We’ll see where things go from there.

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