From the archives: Tournament logs

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A habit of last-minute implosion

Monday, 24 November 2008 — 12:36am | Scrabble, Tournament logs

I competed in another Edmonton local tournament this weekend. My 5-1 (+381) record in the top division is much too flattering; more than one victory capitalized on my advantage over my opponents in both word knowledge and the ability to see bingos. For all the challenges I won, I allowed more phonies than I am willing to admit, and there is no question that my defensive play wouldn’t have held up very long against the level of competition I usually face.

Nevertheless, I was relieved, if not entirely satisfied, to be undefeated after the first five games. I might even have begun to believe, much to my own detriment, that neither studying nor practicing since the Calgary tournament in mid-October wasn’t such a boneheaded idea after all. Sitting in first place with 5-0 (+479) ahead of the nearest challenger’s 4-1 (+293), I had first place in the bag as long as I didn’t lose by over 93 points.

Naturally, I made just about every possible mistake—the usual culprits, too: mixing up my 3-to-4 hooks (which I should know cold by now), not giving myself enough time to work out the endgame math, trying to play my way out of hopeless racks instead of exchanging—and lost by 98.

I wonder, sometimes, if I have the mental fortitude to play this bloody game. It’s been one long and steady decline since New Orleans in 2004. (2004!)

Not much happening on the bingo front, either: SATIRES, HERNIAE, TESSERa, ERASUrE, OVERlAIN, SARSNET, FACADES, VERiTAS, STRiATe.

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Purloined letter scores

Monday, 20 October 2008 — 11:22pm | Scrabble, Tournament logs

9-12 (-289), 19th place out of 26. The main event of the Western Canadian Scrabble Championship expanded to 21 rounds this year, up from the heretofore typical 17. I still only won nine games. I have now finished with nine victories in Division 2 for four straight years. That, my friends, is consistency.

Day 1 (Rounds 1-8) was a right drubbing. I lost three rounds by margins of over 150 points, one of them because I went four minutes overtime. In those three games, I played no bingos while my opponents notched 11. Sure, there were the usual issues with time management, and a few crippling decisions with respect to rack management and defensive positional play; but as reluctant as I am to blame the tiles, a lot of it was dumb luck. What’s the use of a good, balanced leave if the bag is going to spit out EEE or UUU?

Apart from that, I let my opponents get away with too many yucky phonies, some of which sealed the fates of their respective games. Some, like PANTLESS*, I didn’t consider challenging at all. If someone without a shirt is SHIRTLESS, what do you call someone with no pants?

I only finished with a reasonable spread because Day 3 (Rounds 17-21) came along and finally gave me a shot at clobbering my opponents when I was already well out of contention for any prize money. And I did find my share of nice plays, my favourite being WHISKED with the K on a DLS, the S hooking onto BOO to make BOOS, and the E turning ZIN into ZINE, for a whopping 115 points—easily my highest-scoring single turn of the tournament. I also fulfilled one of my longtime Scrabble ambitions: to draw a challenge with CALENDER, which looks like a misspelling of CALENDAR but is actually something to do with papermaking. I also made some good decisions to play words I was uncertain about, like DIGITALS, instead of shying away from the risk. (What kind of watch do you have? Mine’s a digital. I really should have known the noun form of the word, though: the Scrabble dictionary’s abbreviated definition tells me that a digital is a piano key.)

In other adventures: on the Friday and Saturday, the Scrabble tournament shared the host hotel with an Alberta Teachers’ Association professional development event, a jolly sort of pow-wow for the public stewards of your children replete with sessions about adolescent culture and information-age learning strategies in addition to a well-stocked flea market of picture books. One of the delegates, a young gentleman who has a posting as a band teacher in Airdrie, thought it would be fun to commandeer the hotel piano for some good old-fashioned ragtime over lunch. I joined him for an improvised duet.

I played better after that.

My measly 23 bingos: ENErGIEs, ADORERS, cLOSERS, READIER, ATOnIES, SiNUATE, CALENDER, LINTERs, ENHAnCE, GOAlIES, ATONIES, LANDINGS, ReCLINE, JELLIES, DIGITAlS, TELERANS, GOLfERS, WHISKED, DELIvER, AEROBIc, INVADES, SCoLDING, SCORNeD. After the anemic Day 1 (only four bingos—four!), I finally remembered how to score, and the bag remembered how to let me.

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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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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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