Game 1 - Travis Chaney (1708)
I started the tournament very optimistic that I could take out a few experts. Travis Chaney, a friendly guy from Arkansas, seemed like a perfect target. Early on I led by about 50, and then I failed to block a nice bingo lane through an E. It occurred to me that I probably should have cramped the lane and scored 15 on a TWS rather than scoring 21 and ignoring the lane, but instead I allowed him NOTARI(E)S 59 to get back in the game. Two turns later, he had BiSNAGA 74 to take an 80-point lead. I considered challenging but fortunately decided against it. Travis then blocked my possible bingos of OBLATION and LOBATION, both of which I saw through the B. I still could have played a bingo beginning with B, but unfortunately I didn't know the proper anagram, BOLTONIA. I know it now! I never could quite catch up, but caught a small break when Travis challenged my BLINTZ 28, allowing me to catch a bit of spread by going out on my next turn. Overall, I felt like I played pretty well other than the missed bingo, especially since I got no blanks and no esses. Final score 358-385. Me: JQZ, Opp: ??SSSSX. [0-1-0 -27]
Game 2 - Jim Geary (1942)
Although Jim Geary is one of the best players in the game today, I wasn't intimidated by playing him at table 5, away from the main crowd. Maybe I should have been. Jim opened with REPoRTS 72, to which I responded with ENTOILE(R)* 62. He said, "Um, hold," which I interpreted to mean, "Jeez, look at this idiot trying a phony high-probability 8 against the 9th highest-rated player in the country." After verifying I hadn't given him any triple-triples, he challenged it off. Jim bingoed again soon after that with ALERTE(S)T 59 to go up by a score of 131-8. I immediately missed PREgN(A)NT, but got CONV(E)RTs 74 on the next turn. For his 3rd bingo in his first 6 turns, Jim played ORANGIE(R) 72, allowing me a nice response of D(O)XY 57. Two turns later, Jim played yet another bingo, DALASIS 72, which I challenged. I didn't trust him not to try to run up the score with phony bingos... which he might have done, except that he didn't have to! DALASIS is one of those Type II bingos (3%ers) that I would have known had I realized earlier than last week that a Type II bingo could have two esses. This wouldn't be the last time this gap in my word knowledge would rear its ugly head. I did pull one trick out of my sleeve when I drew a challenge for the new word A(N)TIFOG 26. On my last turn, I foolishly played (E)Y* while looking at the board upside-down under extreme time pressure, but Jim didn't notice it before playing out. This game was never even close, and I lost 283-458. Me: ?XZ, Opp: ?SSSSJQ. [0-2-0 -202]
Game 3 - Ruth Sawyer (1081)
I had played Ruth in Las Vegas, and I knew she was no pushover. She opened with INVERTS 78, and I responded two turns later with SIERRAN(S)* 77. She held for a while, but let it go. I had played it because I remembered the definition "a mountain range", but that definition goes with SIERRA, a noun, not SIERRAN, an adjective. Whoops. As you can see, I need some serious work on my 8s. I scored well with a non-bingo WHIzZ 63, but it allowed her GLO(Z)E 45 to even the score. The board then became extremely tight, but I was able to score well with plays like EX 37, FLY 41, and WAT 29. I tried (A)UTOPARK* 80, thinking it might either be a system for automatically parking a car or a place where cars are parked. It turned out to be neither, and it came off the board. At this point I was up by 40 points and realized there was only a single consonant left (G) with 13 tiles unseen to me. The second blank was still out, so I decided to score as well as possible against consonants already on the board, while making sure to deprive her of any consonants to bingo through. While I scored 16 and 18 points, Ruth exchanged twice in a row, apparently unaware that the bag consisted entirely of vowels. I continued scoring while she tried AIAI*, which I challenged off. Racking up the spread points paid off, and I won 427-356. Me: ?SSXZ, Opp: ?SSJQ. [1-2-0 -131]
Game 4 - J.C. Green (837)
I opened my game against J.C. Green with VAGI 16, hoping he might not know it doesn't take an S. It paid off a few turns later when he tried DIODES/VAGIS*, which I challenged. Later J.C. also tried LUFT*. The funny thing about being familiar with many languages (in this case, German) is that words from that language look good when they're not. But I didn't remember LUFT* from my studies, so I challenged it off. There weren't really any places to bingo, though I had good enough tiles for it. After a few turns of fishing (yuck), I played OvARIES 65, making the blank a V to hook AGUE, forming VAGUE. That extended my lead to 137, and I started shutting the board down even tighter. J.C. tried QUOT* and FATIOUS*, both of which I challenged. He was not too happy with losing four turns on phonies. I won this one by a final score of 340-236. Me: ?SQXZ, Opp: ?SSSJ. [2-2-0 -27]
Game 5 - Adrian Mannella (1507)
Adrian initially pulled ahead with some nice scoring plays, but I evened things out on my 4th turn with AENeOUS 76. He soon responded with iNITIALS 61 to go up by 40. He continued to pound me with QI 43, GAP 27, and XU 38, while I exchanged GUUUW and tried desperately to open bingo lines while scoring 20ish. Eventually I got (R)EVILERS 86 in the only possible bingo spot, which happened to be a TWS line. That actually gave me a 6-point lead. While I scored with BEAU 23 and WOAD 33, he tried opening bingo lines with TON 11 and COL 5. I responded to COL with OY/COLY 30, and he said "oh" aloud, indicating he had forgotten that hook. With his final rack of BASTING, he didn't find anywhere to bingo and played (RE)BAIT 33 instead. About a minute later, he said "Awwww!!" quite loudly. I looked at the board and saw what he was exclaiming about... he could have bingoed out to win, but didn't see the spot for BASTING/(AR)B/(BEAU)S. It was a lucky break for me, and I won 436-411. Me: ?SS, Opp: ?SSJQXZ. [3-2-0 -2]
Game 6 - David Poder (1760)
The game against David Poder started out slow, with my opening play of VEG 14 followed by both of us exchanging. He then played (V)AU and I played (G)EE, thinking I was keeping the board relatively closed... also missing the bingo DEsI(G)NEE. His next play was a nice AORISTS/VAUS/GEES 76. I then missed another bingo, KINDlIE(R) through his R, and after his play of DOM(I)NANT 65 I was down by 134. By some miracle I found (T)HIONInE 72, even though I had no idea how I knew the word. Jesse Day later pointed out that I had probably learned it by reading Word Freak, which mentions the famous Adam Logan plays of THIONINE followed by ETHIONINE followed by METHIONINE. Still down by 90 after a few more turns, I felt I had to take a gamble by playing OFFED 2e, holding a C so I might be able to hook it on the TWS line on my next turn. Fortunately he didn't block the spot, and I played CRUX/COFFED 54. I got a string of power tiles, also playing LEZ 36 and JET 26, bringing me to within 20. I then found myself holding ?ABIORW, but nowhere to play RAInBOW. Instead of playing off a few tiles to open up a second bingo line (there was already a line ending with E), I played to score points, and in the end I wasn't able to score enough. It was a nail-biter, but I lost 385-396. Me: ??SJQXZ, Opp: SSS. [3-3-0 -13]
Game 7 - Cheryl Tyler (1680)
Cheryl Tyler opened with GUTTED 20, to which I was able to respond immediately with DE(T)AINEE 65. I held a 40-point lead when she tried DELUX*, which I challenged. She scored well with XU 24, ZA 41, and JAKE 30, while I was cursed with too many good one-point tiles at once. She crept ahead by about 30, and then after my play of HERON o1 35, she bingoed with OVERaRC(H) 95. After that the game was pretty much over, as I couldn't create a place to bingo, though I had excellent bingo racks. In the end I lost 282-389. Me: SS, Opp: ??SSJQXZ. [3-4-0 -124]
Game 8 - Aldo Cardia (1790)
I was extremely pleased to find myself across the board from Aldo Cardia, with whom I was familiar from the movie Word Wars. Although I hold Aldo in high regard, I continued in my tradition of not being intimidated by high-rated players. Aldo opened with QI 22 while I exchanged 6 from DDHNSVY. He then played FRITZ 42, to which I responded with AERIALS 62, evening the game. Aldo outscored me for a few turns in a row, but then I found NITRIlE 76 across a TWS line, using the F he had played to form FE. I wondered if maybe he had inadvertently opened the line by forgetting about FE. He got down GROUsES 80 to go up by 60, but I immediately responded with HULLOED 68. He then opened a triple line with KREEP 46, and I took it with (K)REWE 36. With an approximately even score and 9 tiles in the bag, Aldo simply outscored me to win, 397-426. Me: ?S, Opp: ?SSSJQXZ. [3-5-0 -153]
Game 9 - Jesse Day (1365)
Jesse Day and I had played in the 2005 NSC, where he crushed me in the last game of the worst afternoon of Scrabble I've ever experienced. I didn't want that to happen again, especially since I knew Jesse was definitely underrated at 1365. He took an early 100-point lead with LAWYERS 84, and continued to build it while I exchanged and played relatively low-scoring vowel dumps. Finally I found (T)READInG 80 to make it a 30-point game. With a relatively closed board, I took a risk by playing C(A)GEY 22 to balance my rack while getting a decent score. The risk backfired as he played OUT(E)ARNS 62, putting me down by 60. I responded with F(U)ZEE 42, and was relieved to see him exchange 5. Two turns later I held my breath as I held ?DELOTT, hoping he wouldn't block the S hook on FUZEE. I was very lucky he played PL(E)D 20 through the first E instead, allowing me to play sLOTTED 76 to go up by 50. This left 2 tiles in the bag, and I drew the amazingly horrible rack EEIIIUU. I figured Jesse could probably still win by simply scoring well with his consonants, since I was going to score virtually zero for the rest of the game. Instead, he played ON 14 on the TWS I had opened, fishing for a couple of bingos that didn't pan out. I took as many points as I could with (Q)I 12 and (P)IU 5, and Jesse fell just short while going a few seconds over time as well. I was very happy to pull out this win, 400-382. Me: ??QXZ, Opp: SSSSJ. [4-5-0 -135]
Game 10 - Chris Cree (1855)
Chris Cree is one of the game's true legends, and I was determined to beat the pants off him at his own tournament. I opened with COY 16, to which he responded with bEEFALO 64. I held for a little while, but let it go, coming right back with the non-bingo RELAX 78. Two turns later, Chris played STINGOS 79. Here's where my Type II deficiency cropped up again... I knew that I would have known this word had I studied words with two esses while learning Type II bingos. But I didn't recognize it, so I wrongly challenged it. I certainly didn't trust Chris Cree not to try phony bingos on me, but like Jim Geary earlier, he didn't have to. I scored well over the next few turns with OPAH 35, DEEM 29, and VARIA 32, while he seemed to have vowelitis. I stuck a few non-bingo-friendly letters out in the open with CUMIN 20, but Chris found a bingo anyway, (M)IDSTORy 72, a great find. He could have played the more obvious (M)ORTISeD, but I'm guessing that since he knew I wasn't afraid to challenge, he wisely chose the more obscure bingo. Luckily for me, I didn't challenge it. I kept on scoring with ZEES 39, VAR 24, and QI 22, but it wasn't enough to overcome his BENCH 40, GYP 36, and FAWN 32.
At the end of the game, Chris said (and I wrote this down so I wouldn't forget it), "Nicely done, Michael, and without a single damn letter. That's the first time today I've had both blanks. And I had all four esses, too." In case you hadn't noticed, poor drawing seemed to be a theme for me in this tournament, especially against experts, which is when I needed the tiles the most. That's why I decided to start recording my power tiles in this tournament report. I don't like to blame my losses on the tiles, but boy, having a few blanks and esses sure would have helped! The final score of this game was 353-432. Me: QXZ, Opp: ??SSSSJ. [4-6-0 -214]
Game 11 - Austin Bradley (1316)
When I sat down across from Austin Bradley, he appeared to be having a rough day. Our game started slowly, but on my 4th turn I found INDITES 72. He got (R)AINOUTS 77 two turns later, followed by SUQ 40 to go up by about 40. At this point, I made a doubly huge blunder. I somehow convinced myself that AFOOT could take an S, so I tried hooking FOOTS with an A, forming AFOOTS*. If that weren't bad enough, the word I hooked it with was ACTAE*, which I somehow got confused with ANTAE. After I played the double-phony ACTAE*/AFOOTS* 39, Austin sighed and said "hold", followed by "I guess it's good, I don't know"... but after verifying that it scored 39, he decided to challenge. Oops and double oops for me. A few turns later, though, I fished off a U from AEIORTU, figuring that with about 80% of the tiles left in the bag, I could either bingo with a 7, or get an 8 ending with an open N. Austin blocked one of the spots for a 7, but I drew an A from the bag and played AERATIO(N) 68 to even the game. At this point there were about 15 tiles left in the bag, with both blanks and JXZ remaining unseen. I knew big things were going to start happening. We both made some plays to score some points while keeping things closed, but there was a possible bingo line starting with a T (hooking HES to form HEST). Under time pressure with a rack of ?DEEORT, I missed both TEREDOs and TEtRODE. Austin then opened things up with (U)RIC 9, but his play shut down the T line. I searched frantically for nonexistent bingos, making two-tile plays for about 20 points, but after Austin dropped Z(I)RAM 48, the game was over. I went over by nearly two minutes, and Austin won the game 357-383. Me: ?SX, Opp: ?SSSJQZ. [4-7-0 -240]
Game 12 - Tom O'Laughlin (903)
After being so frazzled at the end of the previous game, I tried to settle down before facing Tom O'Laughlin. I pulled ahead by about 40 before getting MARLINE 70 to put me up by 110. My next rack was AEFKRST, and as soon as I saw it, I knew what I had to play. I prayed silently that Tom would not block the L from MARLINE, and my prayers were answered. He played elsewhere, and I played the new word FART(L)EKS 65. I know I was smiling broadly as I played it, and probably giggling too. I didn't mean to coffeehouse, but the word FARTLEK just makes me laugh! And I couldn't believe I was actually playing it in a tournament, mere days after I had learned it, no less! Tom challenged it, and had an incredulous look on his face when it came back as acceptable. I kept scoring 20-40 points over the next few turns, while Tom was clearly fishing for a bingo. Eventually I got RESINED 67, which put me ahead by 230 points. I kept getting the good tiles, scoring with HO(S)ER 48, FIZ/ZA 51, and Qi 21. Tom never did get his bingo, and I won 542-235. Me: ?SSSSJQXZ, Opp: ?. [5-7-0 +67]
Game 13 - Chris Patrick Morgan (1358)
I came back from lunch extremely refreshed, and ready to kick some more butt. Against Chris Patrick Morgan, I found ENTWINE 69 on my 2nd turn, but he responded with a solid CRABB(E)D 51. Two turns later he went up by 40 with ATONiES 70. I did my best to score and balance my rack, but just couldn't keep up with his JIVY 44, PAH 29, and WAIN 36. Down by 90, I finally got NeGATOR 64 to pull back within 30. With both blanks gone, Chris made a brilliant play of (E)XIST 12, leaving himself a juicy unblockable S hook on the h15 TWS square. I did my best to dampen it by playing DA(T)ED 15 through the T in EXIST, but on the next turn, Chris played ZEES/EXISTS 80, and I was toast. My rack then was AEILNOT, but there was noplace to play either 7, and the only available 8 had to go through a V. With no hope of winning, I chose to cut my losses with (V)ENTAIL 11. The final score was 333-424. Me: ?, Opp: ?SSSSJQXZ. [5-8-0 -24]
... Aargh! I just realized that the EXISTS hook wasn't completely unblockable! I could have played anything ending in D, parallel to EXIST on the right. For example, the simple AD i14 probably would have worked, because it would have forced him to find a word containing SD, of which there are only a few. Doh!
Game 14 - Cheryl Melvin (1251)
In Las Vegas in November, I had lost to Cheryl Melvin by sticking myself with the C under time pressure, allowing her to play off her tiles one by one and win by less than 10. I was determined not to let that happen again. The game was fairly even until Cheryl played AQUA 19, leaving the final A at l9. I almost missed it, but found ZORI/ZA 90, to put me ahead by 114. After that, I immediately went to work shutting the board down. Cheryl found good ways to score 20-30 points per turn, which kept her creeping up on me. I tried a phony SEVARD* 49 (which I somehow thought was an alternate spelling of SEWARD*, which is also a phony!), which she challenged. But at least I was still able to get down SAVERS 46. After she tried opening things up with LA(C)Y 17, I spent far too much time finding REc(L)EANS 64, and I found myself in time trouble again. Fortunately I was able to shut down every lane she opened, and I ended up winning 397-316. Me: ?SSSSXZ, Opp: ?JQ. [6-8-0 +57]
The Dallas Open was like no other Scrabble tournament I've ever competed in. The opportunity to go head-to-head with some of the best players in the game was incredible. It was absolutely worth it. I sure wish I could have gotten a few more power tiles when I was playing the experts, but the main lesson I'm taking away is that I just need to learn more words. (Thank you, Captain Obvious.) My eyes were opened especially by Chris Cree's plays of bEEFALO and (M)IDSTORy. If he can find plays like that, then I need to be able to do it too. Of course, I don't stand a chance of finding those kinds of plays unless I actually know the words.
I need to study 8s. I can't be playing ENTOILER* ever again. I need to be able to find plays through letters already on the board, because 7s aren't always hookable. I also need to get solid on the 5s. Not as in "Hmm, I think this might be good," or "Hmm, I think I've seen this before." Solid, as in "Yes, I'm going to play this 5 because I know it's good and it's the best play," and "No, that 5 is phony, please get that crap off my board." My next tournament is Seattle in May. I should definitely be able to master the 5s and a bunch more 7s and 8s before then. I'll let you know how it goes.