From the archives: Scrabble

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Hobbling against the clock

Sunday, 7 September 2008 — 4:52am | Scrabble, Tournament logs

4-2 (+475), second place; time management denied me a finish in first. I did this at the first Edmonton local tournament I’ve attended since the establishment of the Edmonton Scrabble Club. Outside our game room, there was a convention of 9/11 conspiracy theorists. Edmonton, you silly place.

The tournament scene here is fairly new, so the competition was light, and as the top seed I needed to win all six rounds to keep my rating. 4-2 is disappointing, but not catastrophic; I needed to stay above 1200 to play in Division 2 at the Western Canadian Scrabble Championship as I’ve been doing for the past few years, and I think I’ll be okay.

I lost my last game because my opponent drew tiles like a magician pulls rabbits from transdimensional hats. That happens, and I can live with it. I can’t live with Round 2, where I lost to the same opponent by 6 points with one second left on the clock, a defeat that epitomized everything that went wrong in Orlando.

The scenario: I’m holding CO with 0:03 on the clock. As far as I can see, I have a sure win as long as I play my tiles and announce my score before the clock runneth over. My opponent surprises me and plays YEG*—a word I instantly know to be a phony—but without thinking, or really looking at it, I dump my play on the board and finish with the clock reading 0:01. I lose by 6 points.

As it turns out, even if I’d taken the 10-point penalty for going overtime, and took the time to look at his play and challenge it off the board, I still would have won the game. This made all the difference between first and second place.

It’s time to admit it (and to be frank, I already have): there is something systematically rotten about my time management, and it’s killing my endgame. This has deteriorated from embarrassment to utter lunacy.

On the upside, my resumption of serious word study over the past few weeks is beginning to pay off. A month ago, I would never have seen HETAErAS. You would think that somebody as interested in ancient Greece as I am would know what the Greeks called their courtesans. Well, I do now, and I’m all the richer for it.


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New York Minutes

Tuesday, 5 August 2008 — 10:55pm | Adventures, Jazz, Music, Pianism, Scrabble

I visited Manhattan for the first time before and after the Orlando NSC, and one doesn’t visit Manhattan for the first time without coming back with a swarm of impressions that cling to the memory like barnacles.

Not content with restricting myself to the usual landmark-hopping tourist experience of scheduling ill-lit drive-by shootings (now in digital), I thought it would be rewarding to amble around the City That Sleeps As Much As I Do with little planning and forethought, and let adventure ambush me as it will. At times, the excursion assumed the manner of a pilgrimage. Mecca, with less ululation. This isn’t to say that I didn’t tick my way down the usual checklist—the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the more navigable corners of Central Park, a Broadway production or two—but stopping there wouldn’t have made it my New York, and like any good tourist, I populated my list of things to see with a few sentimental items, guided as always by the invisible hand of personal entitlement.

So when I wasn’t busy getting lost in more of Central Park than most New Yorkers will ever see, I went looking for Scrabble and jazz.

Continued »

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The National Scrabble Communion, Day 4

Tuesday, 29 July 2008 — 8:33pm | Adventures, Scrabble, Tournament logs

It’s over, thank goodness.

I finished on a record of 10-18 (-533), ending up in 125th place of 133 players in Division 3. I was bottom-feeding all day, but at least I was feeding.

Truth be told, this was an unremarkable day. I didn’t come away with many stories to tell, though I did pay more visits to the challenge table than on the first three days combined. On one occasion, I opened the game with FEDEX for 48 points, drawing a challenge and buying myself an extra turn. My opponent didn’t know that FEDEX was added in the 2006 dictionary revision, along with a whole smattering of genericized trademarks like PYREX and KLEENEX. This worked to my advantage, since I’d placed the word in a risky position: if he knew the back extension, my opponent could have plopped an -ING on the end to make FEDEXING and hit the TWS for 60 points.

Really, though: that’s the most interesting thing that happened all day, unless you count the incident where my opponent and I were mistakenly assigned to Nadine Jacobson’s permanent location at Table 65. Nadine Jacobson, I should explain, is the blind player with the Braille Scrabble set who reads the board in caresses and keeps score on a Perkins Brailler. She famously refuses the extra playing time that she is entitled to on account of her handicap, preferring the standard allotment of 25 minutes per player simply because it’s fair.

This year’s National Scrabble Championship did not feature a televised final, unlike the ESPN-affiliated editions that ran from 2004 to 2006. It reverted to the old format, where Division 1 is treated like all the other divisions, with no separate best-of-five showdown. In a way, this is fairer—why shouldn’t the top prize go to the player with the best record?—but it’s also a shame, because the thought of witnessing a Richards-Cappelletto battle on a closed-circuit feed in a room full of kibitzing experts strikes me as both educational and intensely entertaining. Oh well: I could always trace my way through Nigel and Brian’s top-table matchups in Rounds 26 through 28 online.

So that just about wraps it up for the Orlando NSC. According to the full tsh report, this tournament chipped my rating from 1315 to 1254. In a way, it was Day 1 that did most of the damage; I went 10-11 in the remainder of the tournament, good enough to save my rating from too steep a plummet (i.e. I can still play in Division 2 at the WCSC). Nevertheless, I think it may be high time to start being concerned that I haven’t appreciably improved in the last four years: sooner or later I’ll have to face the decision to either shape up or ship out. You know which one I’ll pick.

(Day 4 bingos: REtAINER, RERAISE, ABATeRs, RECLINeR, OVERPILE*, RIsIBlE, OUTROSE*, RESoLVES, FLOATIER—bringing my tournament total to 38 bingos over 27 games played, which is merely ordinary and not reflective of the travesty that was my win-loss record.)

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The National Scrabble Cataclysm, Day 3

Monday, 28 July 2008 — 10:13pm | Adventures, Scrabble, Tournament logs

“How does that saying go?” one of my opponents asked me today, after another heated battle at the bottom of the barrel. “The road to hell is paved with…?”

“Good intentions,” I said, “and bad tiles.”

I am now at 6-15 (-528), and sincerely having the time of my life. I may be losing, but at least I’m playing real Scrabble. In my 133-player division, I’ve gone from 133rd on Day 1 to 132nd on Day 2, and now I’m 131st. At this rate, I should finish the tournament in fourth-last place, a smidgen worse than New Orleans (where I finished 165th of 169).

So why am I having so much fun? Round 19, that’s why. Oh, golly. Let me tell you about Round 19—instantly one of the most memorable games I’ve ever played, and enough to make me stop worrying and love the bomb (aka the SCRABBLE® Brand Crossword Game). It was like falling all over again for a lost and unrequited love that had already jilted you a dozen times. Like making beautiful baroque music with her after months of distant longing and minimal conversation. No, not whoopee, you unchivalrous pervert. Just music.

I lost Round 19, you know. It was euphoric anyway. Sometimes a loss is a loss, and all you can do is make the best of it. Is there a word for the opposite of a Pyrrhic victory?

(Before I proceed—Day 3 bingos: ESTUARY, WOrRIeS, WEARYINg, VISITOr, NOTaRIZE, ELECTOR, RADIANT, OPERATED, SANdBILL*, UNAIrEd, ANTSIER, FLATIROn, COILIEST*. More blanks, more phonies, and more laughs.)

Continued »

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The National Scrabble Catastrophe, Day 2

Sunday, 27 July 2008 — 4:39pm | Adventures, Scrabble, Tournament logs

3-11 (-307), and one of those “wins” was a bye. I’ve gone from last to second-last. This tournament is going so poorly, it’s looping around from tragedy to comedy. Dear Tile Gods: did I not sacrifice enough virgins or something? Love, Nicholas.

Yesterday, I had a lot more to blame than luck. Today was mostly bad luck. I drew 2 out of 12 blanks over six rounds (Rounds 13 and 14, to be precise), and I am at least relieved that I fired them off on bingos as soon as I picked them up. The blank in Round 13 was very nearly useless, too, coming as it did in my last draw from the bag.

That isn’t to say I haven’t been making bad decisions—missing bingos (like seeing RETILES and LEISTER, but giving up on the rack when a tiny bit more searching would have revealed STERILE), forgetting common stems (I knew there was something in BEIORST but tried SORBITE* instead of ORBIEST), and losing boneheaded challenges (LAYED looked funny at the time, and I let my opponent get away with PLIAR* instead of PILAR)—but they weren’t any worse than yesterday’s unmitigated silliness.

Time management is going better: I had over a minute left at the end of every game, leaving me time to find bingos on tight boards in the last turn or two. I benefited from not having to play against any speed demons, for the most part, so I didn’t get killed on the clock like I did on Day 1. Defensive play could still use some work: in Round 12, I missed a crucial bingo lane when I had almost tied the game (243-245), letting my opponent run away with it.

All in all, my play has gone from atrocious to average. It would be nice if the tile bag started cooperating. Then again, I suspect that I’m drawing at a disadvantage because I’m playing too many short words when I’m in a tight spot; I need to turn over more tiles.


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