From the archives: Tournament logs

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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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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?)

Continued »

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Finding Bingo

Sunday, 9 December 2007 — 2:00am | Scrabble, Tournament logs

Every year, the Calgary Scrabble Group conducts a grand social experiment: a 12-round marathon tournament played end to end in the span of a day. (For comparison, the standard limitation for the number of games you can stuff in a day is 8, a ceiling that the most arduous of competitions dare not breach.) You need to be slightly crazy about the game to even consider playing in such a monstrosity—so naturally, I attended.

And it was fortunate that I did, as it turned out to be my most successful tournament in recent memory: I finished first in my division with a record of 8-4 (+377), worth a $200 cash prize; I posted the division’s highest winning score (492, $10), highest losing score (427, $10), greatest deficit overcome en route to a win (I was down by 99 points and two bingos in one game before I conducted a fortuitous rollback; $10) and highest total bingo count after 12 rounds (20 bingos, $10).

My bingo list (as always, lowercase denotes blanks and * denotes phonies): ObEYING, SeETHING, BITTIES*, ELATIONS, FAINTING, REMEDIED, sEDATED, TOADIES, OWNABLe, SKATERS, FIXAtES, CLOSURE, CHAMBERS, WEARIES, RELaTIoN, IMPENDS, CABiNETS, CARRIES, DUCTILE, LAtTICED. Nothing really strange—just the usual smattering of common prefixes and suffixes.

As it happens, I forgot to pack my camera, so there’s no photographic evidence. Ergo, here’s to a holistic postmortem.

Continued »

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Plagal makes perfect

Tuesday, 16 October 2007 — 5:36am | Jazz, Music, Pianism, Scrabble, Tournament logs

9-8 (+512). This is the third consecutive time I’ve finished the 17-round Western Canadian Scrabble Championship with a 9-8 record in Division 2—an indication of a personal plateau if I’ve ever seen one. Here’s the photographic evidence for your inspiration or mocking amusement, depending on how good you are.

Every year, the month of October hits me upside the head and I come to the sudden and unwelcome realization that I haven’t studied or practised in months. The fact that I’ve been letting my word knowledge atrophy is probably the biggest reason my rating has been hovering around the 1300 zone for years now, and cramming the week or the night or the morning before the tournament doesn’t tend to help—because after all, what should you cram? With this in mind, the preparation I did for the tournament amounted to a lot of sleep, a lot of tea, and several hours at a Yamaha grand.

Did it help?

Continued »

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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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