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Scrabbling for Mastery

a patzer's journey

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Phoenix 2006 Tournament Report
me again
boshvark
Here's a report of my tournament experience in the February 2006 Phoenix main event. I won the early bird, but I think these games are more interesting, so I didn't bother writing up an early bird report. Of particular interest is game 7, where I demonstrate exactly what not to do if you're trying to do well at Scrabble.



Game 1 - Ellis Wyer

Fresh from my breakout win in the early bird, I was naively ready to kick some big-time butt in the main event. First up was Ellis Wyer, a kindly lady wearing sunglasses. I opened with IMiTATE 72, followed soon by INERTIA(L) 68 and HORSE(M)AN 76, and I was up by 160 points. She came back with ERRATIC 76 to cut the lead in half. I started shutting the board down, and she tried BAYS 46 on the triple line forming ERRATICA*. I challenged it off. Later she played SAE forming ERRATICS and I wrongly challenged it. Who knew ERRATIC tooks an S? Not me, anyway. I thought I had closed all the bingo lines but that juicy one sat unused on the triple line for the whole game! Nevertheless I pulled out the win, 411-387. [1-0-0 +24]

Game 2 - Pat Diener

Pat was the top seed in the division, but I wasn't aware of that until later. I got an early start with AVIATES/AJEE 97, but she jumped ahead by 60 with THISTLY 83 followed by ZIG(G)ED 56. I got down the phony SALOPES* 64 to make it about even (for some reason I thought it was good). Next turn I was cursed with vowels and played OI(D)IA 6, and the following turn I was cursed with both blanks at once. This is a curse for me because I haven't yet trained my brain to search through the possibilities in an organized way. Instead, I shuffle and shuffle and shuffle and miss opportunities. With a rack of ??EMNNO, I needed a 7 with the S as the 6th or 7th letter. I spent about five minutes looking for MaNNOsE, and didn't find it. Instead I tried NOuMENs*, wrongly thinking it was another plural of the word whose plural is NOUMENA. It got challenged off. After playing off a few tiles, I had ??EIKNR with the S hook still open, but I was so frazzled and running short on time that I didn't find any of the 11 bingos ending in S. Finally on the next turn I bingoed out with NoIsIER 74, but it was not enough. I lost 399-410. [1-1-0 +13]

Game 3 - Nancy Scott

Nancy had beaten me in the early bird, so I was out for revenge. Too bad I didn't get it. I played FISSIOn 74 and TUTELAr 73, while she played (S)EQUIN 75 to make it a 20-point game. At that point I fell into the fishing trap, making many plays in a row for 10ish while drawing lots of duplicate tiles. By the time I even had a potential bingo, she had closed down the board and pulled ahead by 50 with plenty of 20- and 30-point plays. Whoops. I finally played SENTIMO 67, but it allowed her DEXY 55, and I couldn't catch up. Final score 407-428. [1-2-0 -6]

Game 4 - Phyllis Koselke

By this point I was pretty upset with myself for playing as if I hadn't learned anything in the past six months. I had a chance to redeem myself against Phyllis Koselke. She opened with POOVE, to which I responded with T(E)RTIALs 58, missing the double-doubles TuT(O)RIAL and LITT(O)RAl. Later, in a nice double-phony sequence, she tried (C)REWLErS* 78, which I challenged off before playing GUYERE* 38. I honestly thought that was good, and she didn't challenge, but she immediately bingoed in the same place with (C)REWLESs 78. Oops! As an even bigger oops, I also didn't challenge when she later hooked an S to make GUYERES*. I thought I had enough points to pull off a win, but I lost by 2 points in a nail-biter ending, 361-363. [1-3-0 -8]

Game 5 - Pamela Stubblefield

Pamela and I had played in the Nationals in August, where she absolutely trounced me while peppering me with banter. I was not going to let that happen this time (either one). I struck first with REESTI(N)G 63 to go up by 50, but she pulled even with LATEENS 76. I made a few large non-bingos to go up by 70, but then she got down QuART 79 to pull even again. With only 6 tiles left in the bag, I played (N)OVA to a TWS, which turned out to be the wrong move as it allowed her to play (A)SSURINg 74. I still could have eked out a win by sticking her with the Z. Her last three tiles were LOZ, and I scanned the board as quickly as I could for places to play AZO, ZOA, or LEZ. My time was running short, and I didn't see any spots for the Z... but I missed an open O. Almost immediately after making the wrong play somewhere else, I spotted ZO(O). A few seconds later Pamela saw it too. I rolled my eyes at myself as I made my out play, falling 40 points short. Chalk up another loss to crappy endgame play, 362-401. [1-4-0 -47]

Game 6 - Lee Brooks

With my record at 1-4, this was shaping up to be my worst tournament ever. But I tried to clear my head after each game, taking the day one rack at a time. My game against Lee Brooks started out much better, with a double-double EXT(EN)TS 60 followed soon by d(E)CRIERS 61 to go up by about 100. Nothing seemed to be going her way, as she exchanged a few times while I played UnARM(I)NG 72, which drew a challenge. Up by 150 points, I closed down the board entirely and finished with a 399-290 win. [2-4-0 +62]

Game 7 - Gary Smart

My game against Gary Smart went very well... until the end. I opened with FEELInG 78, and he got FIRmEST 79 to bring the game to within 30. I held a steady lead throughout the game, and sealed the win by playing SOILING 64 with only 8 in the bag... or so I thought. The unseen tiles to me were AEINQSTU, so I knew he was very likely to have a Q bingo if there were anywhere to play one. There wasn't, because the board was completely closed. He emptied the bag by playing off an A, hoping for a miracle. My rack was DENRRSV, and I knew he had INQUEST but nowhere to play it. There was an open T for me to play (T)RENDS without opening anything up, but for some reason I was worried about making sure I ditched the V. The board position was as shown in the diagram below. Can you find the worst possible move? I did. The play I made is by far the most boneheaded play of my Scrabble career, and I hope it remains so for a long, long time. I played REV, hooking HE to form HER, and putting the V above the bottom-middle TWS. I thought I was completely closing off the bottom area of the board by sticking the V there. I didn't even consider the bottom left TWS. Didn't even see it. Gary's eyes got wide and he quickly played QUINTES/HERE/ES 110 to go out and win. As he was counting his out play, I put down my clipboard and squeezed my head in my hands. This very moment was the absolute worst moment of my Scrabble career. And these words: "110 and out. Thank you." I had allowed him to erase a 94-point deficit on the last play to win by a score of 373-399. Chalk up yet another loss to crappy endgame play. [2-5-0 +36]



Game 8 - Sarah King

Sarah King sat down almost immediately after the previous game was over, but I excused myself for a few minutes, saying I needed to deal with some issues of rage. I went out to the courtyard, and punched the water in the fountain. My shirt smelled like chlorine for the rest of the day. After returning to the table, our game started relatively uneventfully. The first bingo attempt was my HOLSTeR 82, which got challenged off because I had formed a phony 3, BOL*. I got down SHORTLy 64 on the next play. I also tried FEEB*, and was shocked when it was challenged off. I had somehow gleaned it from OWL2, even though I'd been trying not to look at the new words. Sarah had an opportunity to block an open E, but chose to play elsewhere, which I could tell was a difficult decision. It was the only bingo line, and I pounced on it with T(E)ENIEST 59 to go up by 50. From there, I just had to keep the board closed. From my next to last rack I played MACA(Q)UE, which drew a challenge. I don't blame her for challenging it. Nearly every other word I played in this game was a phony. 358-271. [3-5-0 +123]

Game 9 - Bill Payne

The second day of the tournament started out with me facing Bill Payne. His son Joey had warned me to be careful, because Bill knows a lot more words than his rating might indicate. I opened by exchanging 5 junk tiles including the Q, while he got JERID 42. I then played a few vowel dumps, and kept drawing vowels while he pulled ahead by 70. Luckily I got PAEsANO 74, but he responded immediately with ISATINE 70, followed by WAXIER 69 to take a 120-point lead. At this point I felt the game was just about over, but I was determined not to give up. I eventually got nOBLEST 86, placing the blank N just to the left of the middle right TWS. Bill started to play HEM/NE/OM on the TWS, then decided that he would get a few extra points by placing the M on the TWS instead of the E. He had forgotten the blank was an N, not an M, so his play formed NM* instead of MM. I challenged it off. Bill also later tried BINGO(E)D*, which I challenged off because I knew that BIOGENS did not have an anagram (until OWL2). It was nice to challenge off a word that Scrabble players use all the time in normal conversation (and I myself have used a few times already in this tournament report). I don't know quite how it happened, but I just kept plugging away with plays for 20-30 until the deficit was gone. I pulled off the win, 387-368. [4-5-0 +142]

Game 10 - Kevin Schutz

Kevin responded immediately to my opening PONDER 24 with ID(O)LATRY 74 through the O. I soon got STALING 74, and I was actually in the game for a few turns after that. But then he played VIOLA(T)ES 61 while I got stuck with the vowels from hell. I exchanged and made dinky 12-point vowel dumps while he completely shut everything down. I never really had a chance to do anything, and he won 348-397. [4-6-0 +93]

Game 11 - Jane Geary

After having challenged Bill Payne's play of BINGOED* two games previously, I was astonished to see my opening rack of BDEIGNO against Jane Geary. I seriously considered playing the phony although I was 100% sure it was no good. I mostly just wanted to be able to say I bingoed with BINGOED*. But I didn't do it. Jane jumped to an early 110-point lead with a bingo-bango off the starting block, AERiALS 64 followed by RE(L)ATION 61. I promptly exchanged UUX from a rack of GINTUUX. I think that's the only time I've ever exchanged the X. That was pretty definitely not the right move, but I was blinded by my desperation for a bingo. I never actually got one, except the phony REMO(W)InG* 80, which stuck because Jane had a 44-point counterplay. Near the end, I actually missed TABORIN (what the heck is wrong with me?), but it would only have made the game a respectable loss instead of a blowout. The final score was 301-430. [4-7-0 -36]

Game 12 - Polly Dubois

In this game I felt like I started to pick up my game again. I was making fairly large plays while balancing my rack, and playing longer words as well. It also helped that Polly got almost every I throughout the second half of the game. The game was fairly close until I pulled ahead with dERANGE 68, followed later by MA(N)QuE 52, which actually should have scored 78. I'm amazed at how many boneheaded mistakes I made in this tournament, and cheating myself out of 26 points by incorrectly doubling instead of tripling on a TWS has to rank pretty high on the list. I guess some lessons have to be learned the hard way, and I learned a fair few lessons in this tournament. Fortunately this one didn't cost me the game. I won handily, 381-257. [5-7-0 +88]

Game 13 - Barbara Gray

Barbara Gray has the most beautiful set of tiles I have ever seen, and I enjoyed every opportunity I got to play on her board. The tiles are injection-molded white on black, with a little red heart on the white back of each tile. Very nice. I opened with CUEING 24, which I hoped would draw a challenge but only earned a hold. Later, dATELI(N)E 58 put me up by 50. With the board fairly closed, she tried S(TA)RTINgS* 68... a good find, but not good enough to survive a challenge. Once I knew she had the blank among other good tiles, I was very careful not to allow anything to open up at all. She never ended up bingoing, and I won the low-scoring defensive struggle, 311-248. Barbara remarked, "I think that's the only time I've ever lost when I had all the esses." [6-7-0 +151]

Game 14 - James Wait

Jim and I had a tie game in the early bird, and we both wanted the win this time. Early on, Jim played OLOGY, and I held DEEMRST. I laughed at myself for wanting to try METEROLOGY*, but I didn't go through with it. I got the first bingo, with a phony PARV(I)SAL* 63, which I thought was good. He got APlITES 85. The game was dead even and the board was quite closed when I got the winning shot, UNAIRED 72. This had the bonus effect of sticking him with the Q, although he sneakily tried QI*. The 407-319 win allowed me to reach a .500 record for the first time since game 2. [7-7-0 +239]

Game 15 - Nancee Mancel

In the early bird, I had gotten all the good tiles against Nancee, and she was not one bit happy about it. The tables turned in this game. I was fortunate to draw a challenge for VI(C)ED 38, but then I went and challenged her POINT(M)AN 74. I reaped the punishment by drawing vowel after vowel, while she played Q(U)AKIER 40, HAY 35, F(A)NO 35, AX 54, ZE(K) 36, and RE(BA)ND* 30. I drew both blanks at the end, and spent several minutes shuffling them around, not finding anything. Eventually I got DJEbeLS 79 to cut the deficit a bit, but not nearly enough. I went down in flames, 316-404. [7-8-0 +151]

Game 16 - Paul Phillips

I'll be honest, I was fairly scared of Paul Phillips when we first played in the early bird. Mostly I figured that a World Poker Tour champion would be able to decipher my every mannerism and know the exact contents of my rack. I read some Mike Caro to get some tips about reading people, but I was still nervous. But after having beaten Paul in the early bird, I was more relaxed. We both had several nice plays but no bingos until I got the extremely difficult-to-find STEARIN 72 on turn 9. Up by 20 with an empty bag in the endgame, I made a big mistake by allowing him to play HEAVE(N) 40 instead of blocking it off. I still had plenty of time left on the clock, and after searching for several minutes for a winning sequence, I found a nice play of VE(E)/AVE/RES for 17 to put me far enough ahead (I thought) to win. He surprised me by playing only one of his two remaining tiles for 14 instead of going out. The surprise combined with my clock running down caused me to panic, and I missed multiple places where I could have made a large enough single-tile play to win. Instead of a 9-point NA/AW to win, I played the 5-point HI, which allowed Paul to go out and tie the game. The tie held up after a recount, 352-352. Chalk up another blown win to crappy endgame play. [7-8-1 +151]

Game 17 - Phyllis Gelb

I got the first bingo in this one, ELISIOn 77, but before long Phyllis played SQUEAL(E)r 86 to tie things up. I got stuck fishing again near the end of the game, and it cost me. My last full rack was NEONATE with nowhere to play it, and she had the X to get enough points to squeak out the win, 341-345. Chalk up another loss to crappy endgame play. How many is that now? I've lost count. [7-9-1 +147]

Game 18 - Cathy Coking

Cathy and I were both having a pretty bad tournament. Fortunately for me, game 18 was a real turning point. That's kind of late for a turning point in a 20-game tournament, but it was my turning point nevertheless. I struck with FIRSTLY 75, followed immediately by AREAWI(S)E*, which got challenged off. I kept scoring highly until I also got INTERNE(D) 80, at which point I focused on shutting things down. The strategy worked, and I rolled to a 452-284 win. [8-9-1 +315]

Game 19 - Gigi Miller

I had faced Gigi for 1st place in the early bird, but neither of us was doing too hot in the main event. She got the ball rolling with a nice BL(O)CkAGE 70, and I had SEDILIA 70 a few turns later. SERMONS 74 put me ahead by 80, and after she challenged MOORY 40, the deal was basically sealed. Late in the game, I played TOEA one square shy of a TWS because I knew it didn't take an S. But then she hooked it with SONG/TOEAS* 36, and I doubted myself. I had the Q on my rack with one tile left in the bag, and I didn't want to lose the game due to crappy endgame challenging, so I let it go. As it turned out, she forgot to draw the last tile. I ditched the Q with QAT 29, and then she "went out" with TUI 10 and neutralized the clock. At that point I said, "I think there's one more tile in the bag." She started to pick up her tiles from TUI to try to make a different play, but I said, "I think you've already made your play." I felt a little bad for not having mentioned the remaining tile, but it gave me a chance to dump the remaining 7 points worth of tiles on my rack. The final score was 459-307. [9-9-1 +467]

Game 20 - Paul Phillips

In the king of the hill round, Paul Phillips and I faced each other again since we both had records of 9-9-1. Paul and I had become friendly and had learned a few things about each other's play. We both knew that I had stronger word knowledge, and I was hoping to use that as an advantage, either to get away with phonies or to get uncommon words challenged. I went first and within 10 seconds laid down DEALATE 70. Paul held for a while, but finally let it go and said, "If that's not good, I'm coming after you later." A few turns later he bingoed with UNAW(A)RES 63. I later played SKELM/KHI/EON/LYE 47, and Paul held again. I willed him to challenge, but no such luck. Two turns later I played HEXOSE/DUGS 78, and earned another hold. With a sigh (from both of us), Paul let that go as well. That put me up by 140, and I made sure not to open anything up for the rest of the game. The final score was 430-318, and the win gave me a winning record for the first time since Game 1. Just in time! [10-9-1 +579]

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