From the archives: Tournament logs

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Tuesday, 8 August 2006 — 7:15pm | Scrabble, Tournament logs

Scrabble is a metaphor for life. With the right (read: wrong) conjunction of bad luck and poor judgment, what you get is an inverse relationship between the passage of time and your degree of ambition. Take, for example, the progressive modesty of my objectives. Day One: Win the division. Day Two: Place in the top ten. Day Three: Break even in wins and losses.

Today – Day Four – the primary objective was to keep my rating above the 1200 mark, something that I didn’t consider a risk before the tile-tossing travails of the weekend. Whether or not I achieved this is still in doubt. As far as I’m aware, what happens is that for the purposes of rating calculations, the first two days of the tournament are considered separately from the last two, so the estimated rating changes (which appear to take all the rounds lumped together, without adjustment at the halfway point) may be a little off. It has me listed as landing at a regrettable 1216, but for a number of mathematical reasons that I won’t go into, the actual rating change will probably be even lower. I’m not in the clear yet.

But enough of the number-crunching. If you’ve unscrambled the title of this post, you already know how I did today. (For those just joining us, board photos are here.)

Round 22: I opened with ALEURoN, but lost my lead as soon as my opponent played ZESTErS. I lost a turn challenging it, and had to play catchup the whole time and struggle with the tiles. I came close, but she managed to collect the I, N and G required to stretch BOARD down to the nearest triple, making BOARDING, and then there was just no catching her. The lost tempo from the bad challenge was almost certainly a critical factor. A bad start, 359-410.

Round 23: I made some huge plays in the early turns – EAUX for 36, YELP for 48, OKE for 44, RAJEE for 36, one after another – but hit a major snag that resulted in my scoring only 17 points over four turns (two of them spent exchanging tiles). In the interim, my opponent caught up to me with SUNTANS. I rebounded with RAVINEs, but couldn’t shut the board down in time for her to play BUSTLING. I might have caught her were it not for our final racks. Mine was the ugly DIIGRUZ; hers, EEGIQ?. That meant there was no way I could stop her from doubling the Q somewhere, so it was already a lost cause, and just a matter of narrowing the spread. Another loss, 355-393.

Round 24: This was a rematch against my opponent from Round 4. She had an early bingo, INTENSE, to which I responded with a phony double-double, RECTILE*. She let it slide and hooked an E on top to make the valid ERECTILE, but no matter – I was keeping up in spite of having to dump some consonants twice in three turns. Despite her second bingo, STRANDeD, I made big plays every turn and stayed ahead right up to the final rack, where I held EFILUU? to her ADEOORR. It was basically unwinnable at this point, though I will probably simulate the position in Quackle later to find out for sure. I didn’t have any bingos handy, that’s for sure – the paired Us got in the way. So she surged ahead to a big finish, assisted by my challenging OREAD (because if it was unacceptable, challenging was my only shot at still winning), and I post my fifth consecutive loss, 338-381.

Round 25: I find the only possible bingo with the typically unfortunate AAEISST on my second turn – ATRESIAS through the R in CLERK – and I kept a lead until the bad draws started piling up in the midgame. At one point my opponent, whom I defeated earlier in Round 3, took a 7-point lead – but I quickly recovered, and drew both blanks near the end. With no bingo lanes available, and no desire on my part to open any, I burned both blanks on relatively small plays: VAs for 32, JOTs for 19. Luckily for me, the last S was still in the bag, so she couldn’t hook anything onto the available lane (tacking an S onto FANO and hitting the bottom-centre triple). The result was a low-scoring win, 327-291.

Round 26: Yep – it seems like I couldn’t get through an entire day without having a sure win handed to me on a platter, only to implode on my final rack thanks to a horribly miscalculated endgame. I fell behind with a series of weak plays in the first half of the game, but quickly recovered with two blank bingos, ANtHERS and INrOADS. The game was basically sewn up, but the final draws would tell a different story. I held BDEIPRS, with AEIOORTX unseen. (It turned out that the last tile in the bag was the O.) I suspected my opponent (another rematch, this time from Round 21) had the X, but she had two available spots: the open double in the bottom left to make XU and XU, and another one under the F in GOLFER. The XU play would have given her 36 points, and for some reason, I instinctively identified that as the bigger threat and blocked it by playing my P to make UP. So she goes ahead and plays EX under GOLFER for 37. Huge mistake on my part: I should have taken advantage of the double under the F, let her play off the X on XU, and still come out ahead. But I was very tight on time, and I couldn’t relax and do a thorough analysis of the position. Another move later, I can’t find a play with my remaining tiles (B, I, and S) worth over 14 points, so I stick the B and S on WE to make WEBS and GOLFERS for 20. She plays off her last tile, an I, for 8 points – and wins 367-372. Another one bites the dust.

Round 27: Finally, a game that was, in fact, not a possible indirect cause of hair loss and a diminished lifespan. I made big plays the whole game and already led by 84 points before my first bingo, PEOnIES for 74. Then I drew CDEINR? and saw INDICtER across two double word scores for 90 points, but wasn’t completely sure it was good, since the -ER suffixes tend to be rather inconsistent and tricky. And damnit, I wanted that second bingo. So I played DECRyING for 74, which was positionally safer anyway, though either play left some lanes open. I got stuck with bad one-pointers for the rest of the game, but all I needed to do was shut down the board and not worry too much about scoring, so I wasn’t too crippled. My opponent did not have a good time. But I sure did, 406-261.

Round 28: God, what a wonderful way to finish – for me, anyway. Now, it would have been nice if some of this luck had been sprinkled over my earlier games instead of being bunched up all at the end, but I’m not going to complain about no less than three consecutive bingos (DENtURES for 68, IMPACTER for 95, COnFESS for 78) followed by another bingo-sized play (QUOTE with the Q on a TLS and the word on a DWS for 68 points). No complaints whatsoever: I drew beautifully, my unfortunate opponent only got a bit of mileage off the Z, and I coasted to my highest score of the tournament – a triumphal victory, 512-312.

My final record: 12-16 (+78), ranked 84th of 116 players in my division. I am thoroughly displeased, but considering how many games that should have been sure wins given optimal play in the endgame, but fell short of that due to silly mistakes and a rusty vocabulary, this tournament was a telling and necessary kick in the rear.

Time management is a huge issue. I didn’t go overtime in any of my games, but I played almost every game with less than a minute or two left on the clock. On the upside, it looks like I’m using all my time, but the real story here is that I’m taking far too long in the early turns – tracking tiles on my own time, double-checking my scores, having trouble choosing between different potential bingos – and most of the endgames end up rushed, especially the ones where care and attention are absolutely necessary. This will probably just require me to play more often, as far as remedies go. In New Orleans, my problem was that I played much too impatiently. I’ve since swung a bit far in the other direction, though curiously, I’m missing too many bingos because I’m not looking hard enough.

Tomorrow is the best-of-five final between Jim Kramer and Geoff Thevenot, which will be taped for a future broadcast on ESPN. As in New Orleans, I will be watching it on closed-circuit television in a room surrounded by other Scrabble players calling out the plays they see, but I won’t have the opportunity to post about it until after I return to drab, Scrabble-challenged Edmonton.

Two other notes about the tournament results: Albert Hahn, who has ruled the roost at the Calgary club for as long as I’ve been playing the game, finished seventh in the top division. If you were at all familiar with the superstars whose names embroider the divisional roster, you would understand the scale of this feat. Looks like Alberta’s getting a boost in the state/province rankings.

The second note, which I just have to share, is about this remarkable oddity in Division 6: identical twins finished fourth and fifth with identical win/loss records. You couldn’t plan this sort of thing if you tried.

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Botched endgames, ahoy!

Monday, 7 August 2006 — 5:51pm | Scrabble, Tournament logs

Holy zyzzyva, this was a bad day.

Here are the pics, and here’s the scoop.

Round 15: I kept up for most of the game, and then I created an ill-advised opening without realizing it, playing HOG instead of HAG to prevent an S-hook. I’d forgotten that SHOG was good, and my opponent immediately took advantage of it to play ATTAINs. The next turn, he exchanged, and then – with the other blank – played SUNnING. With the board shutting down, and my tiles nowhere close to a bingo, it was over in a jiffy. 341-424.

Round 16: My opponent drew GIILS?? to start, and played SmILInG for 66. Now, an opening bingo is no big deal, but I was stuck with one-point dreck (and repeated vowels) galore, and I had to contend with a hundred-point deficit for pretty much the entire game. He shut the board down, and without any bingo-prone tiles to speak of, I posted my lowest score of the tournament and lost, 274-361.

Round 17: Finally, some proof that I can play this game when the draws are balanced and it all comes down to skill. With two bingos (nITERIE and URANIDE) and good use of the X and Z on my side, and playing off my opponent’s Q and J to nullify any advantage they conferred on her, it was smooth sailing to a 445-357 victory. It helped that I knew URANIDE and she didn’t.

Round 18: This was simultaneously the most stressful and exciting game I’ve played so far in this tournament, against a very evenly-matched opponent who has improved at the same snail’s pace as me since our last tournament meeting. She played a three-bingo game (GETTERS, OVERpAID and ELOINES*, which I didn’t even think to challenge because I confused it with ELOIGNS and expected her to know better), but I kept up the whole time with the help of the J, Z and Q, and even took the lead with BRANDING for 82. Coming off it, I drew AAEINT?, which is just about a sure thing as far as bingo racks go. But I didn’t know pALATINE through the L in ELOINES* and, for whatever reason, didn’t see AErATING hitting the G in the bottom right. I knew ENTAsIA, of course, but wasn’t sure BRANDING took an S (it does). So I fished away the A, and she blocked the triple-triple lane up top with CHEAT. Now I found myself staring at AEINTU? – still unaware that BRANDING took an S, which permitted AUNTIEs, and failing to see the three bingos through the G. So I played off CUE to finish with a final rack of AINRTU?. This permitted four bingos through the G, not to mention NUTRIAs with the S-hook. Somehow, I missed all of those, even though three of them were common words with -ING endings, and tried a phony: AURATING*. My opponent thought it was good, but expecting to lose anyway, challenged it off (after about five minutes of meticulous calculations). She blocked the lane with VINTAGE, and it was over. I lose 420-447. Poor word knowledge rears its ugly head, and eats it too. What a heartbreaker.

Round 19: This was another wild ride. Like the last game, I made great use of the tiles that I had to make big plays almost every turn, and even survived a few turns of trouble with low-point tiles. The lead kept changing hands: he surged ahead with BESpOKE, I later replied with DIARIST (after missing RESILED the turn before, since I didn’t know it), and he bounced back with FIRInGS. Then it boiled down to a prudent endgame. He held X and Q on his last rack, but only managed to get rid of the X, and I managed to go out with BRAVOS and feed off the rest of his tiles (INNQV) for a 34-point bonus. A close shave of a hard-earned win, 406-402.

Round 20: No chance. I played the best I could with what I had, squeezing every last drop out of the four-pointers (FLEAS for 39, BLEW for 47, ETHERS for 44), and I was still in it even after her second bingo (SEqUOIA on a triple). Now, it just so happened that the bag still contained the X, J, Q and one of the blanks. And it just so happened that after her bingo, she drew the encouraging DEOPRT? while I got stuck with the J, X and Q and almost no vowels to speak of. So she played her third bingo right on the heels of her second one (PRONaTED). I challenge it because the game is a lost cause anyway, and lose a turn. I played off the J and X, but not the Q, and the result was my biggest loss of the day, 348-457.

Round 21: I got off to a slow start, caught up with ARANEID on a double-double for 90 points, and took control of things. I didn’t close the board down, though, because I had a late blank, suspected my opponent held the other, and my lead was hardly a thunderous one. I spotted bUTTALS with the S hooked onto DOC, but I rejected it outright and crossed it out as a possibility, not knowing that it was quite valid. The situation, at the end of the game, was a tricky one: I led 322-278, I held EIIRTU?, my opponent held EGIRSS?, and the bag was empty. There were only two possible lanes – through the S in NULLS, or the T in TAJ. For some reason, I spotted sUITSIER* through the S in the bottom and played it right away. There really had to be no room for doubt, since it was the last play and she was certain to challenge. It wasn’t until afterwards that I realized that it was my own neologism for DRESSIER, and clearly not a real word at all. (The one valid bingo was UTILISER, which I didn’t even consider.) Naturally, she challenged it off. Now, with a rack like EGIRSS?, you can’t really miss. But it turns out there was only one possible bingo in this position. She found it (RESIGhTS through the T) and tried it as a guess. It was a good guess. The right move, in retrospect, was to block the T with a tiny play like TI. I misjudged the bottom lane as the bigger threat, and with two lanes open, thought I had to try a bingo to win. Terrible endgame judgment costs me again, and I lose, 322-360.

So I’m now in 83rd place with a record of 9-12, -166 – squarely in the bottom half and fully out of contention to place. What have we learned?

First of all, intermediary plays with the four-point tiles improved significantly today, and I’m able to keep apace without relying too heavily on bingos, even winning Round 19 in the face of drawing no blanks. I’m escaping deluges of one-point tiles by not giving up on searching for bingos just because my rack is replete with duplicate vowels, playing high-probability, non-stem words like NITERIE, ARANEID and DIARIST.

It would be easy for me to blame the tiles – I only drew three blanks in seven games – but the fact is that if you play off one blank in a bingo, you’re drawing seven new tiles and the chance of picking up the next blank is that much better. Turnover matters.

Word knowledge has proved to be a serious problem, and if I don’t fix it soon, I’m going to be stuck in sub-1300 purgatory for some time to come. I’m passing over too many bingos and lucrative hooks because I’m not sure about them, when prevailing board conditions deter me from taking too many risks. Unfortunately, this isn’t going to fix itself overnight. And something needs fixing overnight, pronto, or I’ll find myself condemned to sub-1200 hell for the first time in three years and be forced to drop down a division at the Calgary tournament in October. Not acceptable.

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Alphabet soup for the soul

Sunday, 6 August 2006 — 7:47pm | Scrabble, Tournament logs

Look, I moderated myself at the players’ reception, even though the wine was free. There’s no reason I should have been this addled.

Let’s review what happened today. As before, there are photographs of every game to accompany the commentary.

Round 8: It was an uphill battle as soon as my opponent opened with DESTINy for 68 and SHUTTING for 64. I replied with SHELTERs, but that meant he still held a one-bingo lead for the whole game. I fished off a few tiles in order to keep some openings available, but didn’t know the word that would have done the trick – INCREATE through the N in DESTINy. I exchanged a few nasty vowels, snuck away with a phony (ERMITE* for 35) and tried to stay in the game, but he just sat there calmly and took it, since he drew and controlled all four Ss and knew I wouldn’t have an opening. I only drew ?JZ among the power tiles this game, but it’s hard to blame the loss (and I did lose, 364-412) on bad luck. If you make big plays, you turn over more tiles, and you’re more liable to draw the juicy ones.

Round 9: Easily my worst game of the tournament so far. I opened with LEGAToS for 70, but I might as well have sat out the rest. Here’s how you can tell if you’re asleep at the wheel. In a fit of insanity, you play WOR* instead of the higher-scoring ROW on a triple only to have it challenged off (this being a division where everybody is expected to have known their threes perfectly for years). Then you let your opponent take your spot with DAMN for 36, and run away with AVIUM* for 44, which for some reason you choose not to challenge. You exchange racks like GLTTRUW while she plays REPLIED and AWAITERS, the latter of which you mistakenly challenge because at that point, the game is over anyway. You lose, 282-523. Yeah, she drew everything, but there’s no telling how else it could have gone had I actually been reasonably attentive while I held my early lead.

Round 10: My turn to draw everything. I still played suboptimally, no thanks to incomplete word knowledge, and broke DEIRTU? (which could have gone down with the D in any of the last three positions) because I didn’t know FRUITED, and I wasn’t looking nearly hard enough to see some of the obvious ones that I did know (OUTRIDE, QUIRTED, and so on). Thankfully, I managed to play fOUNDER the next turn. Another bingo (InFARES), and the rest of the game was just a matter of keeping my lead, challenging desperate plays on my opponent’s part (SORRIES*, which I knew wasn’t good, and an attempt to hook an S to make PONYS*), and shutting down the remaining lanes. In spite of some serious consonant trouble for both players by the game’s end, I think this one went well – with a little help from my blanks. 458-278.

Round 11: Ouch. Round 9 may have been a blowout loss sparked by an inexcusable mistake, but I think this one was the more frustrating one to sit through. A slow start, coupled with big plays on my opponent’s part (AIRHOlES for 61, and a few 30-point fillers), and it was a fight to catch up… only to end up stuck with low-point dreck. Get a rack like that and you can’t score, you can’t bingo, you can’t quite fish, and you can’t do anything. You can’t even exchange too often, lest your opponent shut down all the lanes before you can build up to a bingo. I managed to play AcETOSE near the end, but by then that was just saving face and keeping the difference under a hundred points. A nervewracking loss, 283-382.

Round 12: And the punishment continues. This time, it really wasn’t my fault for the most part, except for my losing two challenges. I tried UNLANED*, thinking that it might have something to do with inner-city roads, but even LANED* isn’t any good. And then I lost another turn challenging CAPTuRER, my rationale being that someone who captures is a captor. That one was tricky. Between CAPTuRER and AENeOUS, my opponent more than doubled her score in the last five turns, while I couldn’t do anything, having drawn nothing but JX to my opponent’s SSSSQZ??. 283-494.

Round 13: This game was liberating. It’s always nice to dump some crap (FLMUV) and draw to a bingo (DONAtES for 71), only to draw to another bingo (AILERONS for 68) as opposed to, say, a bunch of duplicate vowels. Timely exchanges, decent rack management, and only two significant blemishes: losing a turn trying to play DEFS* when I’d looked at the hooks on the new three-letter words just two nights ago, and not challenging a phony bingo (REAIRING* on a triple for 80) that put my opponent dangerously close. I didn’t even consider REAIRING* might be a phony until I was uploading the game photos, and at the time, it was too dangerous to challenge it when I wasn’t sure. It put him only 24 points behind, and losing a turn might have meant losing the game, so I took my chances with the slimmer margin and still wound up on top, 421-369.

Round 14: I can’t believe it took two full days for me to finally have a round that was genuinely interesting and hotly contested from start to finish. I missed the possible bingos in DEEIOS? early on when the board was wide open, and I was far enough behind that my first bingo (SQuINTED for 70) only put me ahead by 8 points. The lovelier find was JINGOIST for 84 two turns later. But I didn’t stay ahead for long, since my opponent found TENNeRS before I got a chance to shut down every lane, and from there to the end it all depended on careful mathematics and prudent endgame strategy. I locked it up as a sure win, which forced my opponent to try hooking CEES onto REFT to make REFTS* and tie up the game, which I challenged. Were it an acceptable word, I would have lost. But it’s not, so there. 388-349.

So I’m now at 58th place with a 7-7, +80 record, smack in the middle of the pack and four wins behind the leader. If there was a big lesson to be learned from today’s misadventures, it was that my vocabulary sucks, and I need to study. There’s no excuse for messing up on three-letter words and their hooks; I thought I was past that three or four years ago. Moreover, I need to search harder for bingos, because I prematurely gave up on bingo racks on several occasions. It’s also high time to study more heavily by probability, since most of my bingos are either based on six-letter stems or common prefixes and suffixes, and that simply won’t do.

Now it’s a test of endurance. I was sitting at a very similar 7-8, +256 record after Day Two of the 2004 NSC, albeit by way of a more erratic pathway, and the real nosedive came in the second half of the tournament. Let’s see if history can, uh, unrepeat itself this year.

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So long, Frank Lloyd Wright

Saturday, 5 August 2006 — 7:15pm | Scrabble, Tournament logs

First off, a word of thanks to whoever tipped Cartoon Brew about my previous post, and a warm welcome to all the Real Animators who have come to pay a visit. You guys inspire me. Moreover, it’s nice to get some heavy traffic, for a change, for a post not related to Harry Potter.

I don’t have much else to say about animation this week, though, because I am quite busy playing Scrabble at the luxurious Arizona Biltmore. I came expecting to stay in a hotel, and what I got instead was a monument of sorts to Frank Lloyd Wright. The gardens are decorated with Wright sprites, and the architecture is all Wright (pun very intended). There’s a soup and sandwich place called the Café Wright, a little shop called The Wright Stuff, and a fancy restaurant named – you guessed it – Wright’s. Unlike the National Scrabble Championship in New Orleans two years ago, I’m not taking time to see the surrounding area, or doing much of anything that doesn’t involve letters with points on them, but that’s okay. Like the Fairmont Banff Springs, the resort itself suffices as a tourist attraction.

So let’s talk Scrabble.

First, some links: you can follow my round-by-round progress at the tournament website, and I’m photographing every game I play and storing the snaps in this Facebook album. You’ll notice that the tournament is called the U.S. Scrabble Open now, but it’s really just the National Scrabble Championship under a different (and more accurate) moniker.

Prognosis after Day One: much better than New Orleans. I’m ranked 32nd out of 116 players in Division 4 thanks to a 4-3, +408 record, the second-highest spread in the four-win bracket. Let’s see how I got there. Again, check out the photo album to follow along with the commentary.

Round 1: What a great start. Two natural bingos (ENRICHER, AEROSAT) secured me a 120-point lead by the midgame, and then it was just a matter of shutting down the open lanes and still managing to average about 25 points per turn. I didn’t have a particular advantage in tiles, either; among the power tiles, I drew ?JQSS, and my opponent drew ?SSXZ. And I didn’t really use my blank, since I picked it up near the end. I won a challenge when my opponent tried PARFAIS* down the A-column, too. 433-272, and it’s full steam ahead.

Round 2: I had to fight against the tiles on an incredibly tight board, skipping a turn and exchanging on four separate occasions where I drew to too many vowels or too many consonants through little fault of my own. Thankfully, my opponent lost three challenges, since I wasn’t about to let her get away with INTACTS*, hooking GIAOURS onto BIG to make BIGG*, or OVE*. Word knowledge saved my hide – almost. I technically lost this one 301-312, but my opponent went two minutes over for a 20-point penalty, and I was only 14 seconds away from going over myself. 301-292. Way too close, and I’m evidently a lot more comfortable playing in the open.

Round 3: It’s not like I drew everything. I had ??QSX to my opponent’s JSSZ (and an unplayed S), but good positional playing overcame my letting two phonies go by without a challenge (VEIGH* and PERC*). After the triple-header of WARMEsT for 80, PLOY for 39 and NEXT for 40 near the beginning of the game, I maintained a commanding lead the whole way. It’s always a bit frustrating when you’re way ahead, you shut down the board, and then draw to a bingo rack. Luckily, it turned out that when I held DEELNR? as the game was winding down, there remained a lane that hardly looked open at all. I played LENDERs on a triple, parallel to AIMED to make AN, ID, ME, ER and EDs – and with another 97 points to my name, that sealed the deal. A huge win, 464-243.

Round 4: Among the power tiles, I only drew QSS this game, but I kept pace for most of the game until my opponent finally got rid of both blanks at once with BaNNeRS for a relatively meagre, but game-winning 66 points. Actually, I was still in it, but then she played NU to make PEND, and block off the bottom-centre TWS, right before I’d planned to play OCULI there for 33 points. It was basically an unwinnable game from that point on, and holding EIILU at the end, I was lucky to have the M open for MILIEU. A close and fighting loss, 355-363.

Round 5: I was already playing catchup before my opponent played EXPLAIN for 85 points to take a 90-point lead that I never managed to recover from. I couldn’t really open up without giving away some opportune spots, so she kept on scoring. My one bingo, INSTaTE, gave away the TWS in the top right corner, and a much safer play would have been LINTiEST off the L in PLOVER. I was almost back in the game when she found VARIoLES, and given what was left in the bag, I had no real way of catching her. My biggest loss of the day, 337-413. At least it wasn’t a blowout.

Round 6: I controlled the whole game. Sure, I played a phony without even considering that it might be unacceptable (momentarily confusing VACU* with the valid VATU). But armed with both blanks, drawing great tiles and playing both bingos on the board, my only complaint about this game was that I saw a valid and beautiful bingo (BIOMETEr on a triple) but didn’t play it, since I wasn’t sure it was good. Given that I was leading 311-152 at the time, I really could have afforded to take the risk, and make a serious stab at the 500 mark. Another big win, 417-253. It should have been bigger.

Round 7: Ouch. I challenged the double-blank bingo ROIlIeST and lost, falling behind by a 96-point deficit early on, and just couldn’t get my act together. Exchanging three times didn’t help either, except for temporary alleviating some serious vowel trouble. My opponent lost a turn for challenging JOWAR, but all it did was give me a chance to dump the Q and hope for a bingo-prone rack, which didn’t come. I got stuck with the V for the rest of the game, and lost 322-385.

It wasn’t a bad day, overall, and with 21 rounds to go, I’m still in contention the way I’ve been playing. The interesting thing about this division, which spans the 1200-1399 ratings bracket, is that word knowledge is really all over the map. There are players with strong vocabularies who are merely recovering from a slump, and there are those who simply aren’t comfortable enough with the fours and fives to fill the space between bingos with strong plays and keep the rack balanced.

I’m somewhere in between. Today I played one successful phony and got duped by two, but I also challenged six plays and was right about five of them. I’m playing my way out of bad tiles well enough to get out of trouble, if not always retake the lead. That’s really an essential skill in this game: making high-scoring plays and staying in the picture in the face of horrible misfortune. Most of the time, the frustration of bad luck and the elation of its goodly counterpart are direct consequences of strategy.

And there’s more where that came from. Onward!

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What a load of B.Sc.

Friday, 16 June 2006 — 4:44pm | Scrabble, Tournament logs

I now have a degree. Well, that was easy. In fact, it was easy to the point that I’m not sure it qualifies me for anything.

Note that I’m not making any claims about doing well… that’s a separate challenge entirely, and one that is caught in a balance of pride and shame (as opposed to accomplishment and failure, which run along a very different axis).

Not long ago, I lamented that my knowledge of the U of A Cheer Song was limited to its recitation by tone-deaf student politicians, but after hearing it played by a wind band, I have to say that I’m quite taken with its splendiferous bombast. As readers have no doubt discerned from the foci of this here gonzo-guest’s maverick wedding journalism, ceremonial music programmes are something I like to see done right. In this case, what did the trick was a dash of Gershwin and a slice of Williams (The Phantom Menace, but with “Duel of the Fates” taken a bit under tempo).

Convocation was otherwise a nonevent, far overshadowed by the opening of the first new Pixar feature in a year and a half. Cars is wonderful, Pixar is a perfect seven-for-seven, you should stay for the credits, and I’ll go into detail some other time… maybe. First, I’ll see it again.

So let’s talk Scrabble.

If you want to read an account of last weekend’s Calgary Summer Tournament from a player and division from which you might actually learn something, I recommend the two-part Division 1 account located here and here. If not, then I guess you’re stuck with me. And not only do I make mistakes, I have a photo album to prove it.

As Paul says in his journal, “Bad luck and bad decisions are a lethal mix. You can win playing poor and getting lucky, and you can overcome bad luck with good play.” So when you miss easy bingos, lose an obscene number of challenges, draw racks like LRSSS?? with no open lanes on the board, and throw IIIIO back in the bag only to have to toss IIV later (and still draw four more Is to play off in the endgame), you can pretty much consider yourself screwed.

Take Round 13, for instance, where I was saddled with dreck on a tight board for most of the game when I gave myself an improbable opening with GNU, and held EEIGNS?. Since DOGY was in the way down the centre column and the only letter that goes at the end of GNU is an S, any seven-letter word I found would have to have an S in the fifth position in order for me to play it.

As it happens, there are two. The one I didn’t see was GENESIs. The one I did see was GrEISEN, and I was delighted to see that my opponent courteously left the spot open for me to play it. And then I realized that I didn’t remember if the correct spelling was GRIESEN* or GREISEN. It was an epic battle between the I-before-E-except-after-C dictum that never really works, and the chance that the word might be of German origin.

In Scrabble, you’re so used to seeing everything uppercase that sometimes, what I try to do when figuring out if a word looks right is write it down lowercase and see if it looks familiar. I tried it here, and it only served to confuse, since I’d never seen either one written lowercase before. Since I’m not a geologist who deals with altered granitic rocks, I’ve never had to use the word in a proper, contextual sentence.

Needless to say, I played the wrong one, and since my opponent didn’t know either one (and had a precious lead to protect), she challenged it. At the end of the day I was at 7-7 (-202), which should give you a sense of how bad my losing margins were compared to my winning ones. I also posted my lowest bingo count in any tournament in years. School’s out; time to start studying.

Musicians take note: in one game, I played QUARTAL*, absolutely convinced it was an acceptable word, and it was challenged off the board by an opponent who knew her Qs. At the time I suspected it was a word from mathematics, but I was actually thinking of quartal harmonies, which are chords built on successive fourths. Jazzmen dump them faster than a sack of tea in Boston Harbor on account of their utility in adding flashy sixths and ninths to just about anything.

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