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Scrabble Tournament Blues

Board diagram, game two.I promised recently to write a succinct, scintillating report of my latest Scrabble tournament experience. Here it is. So much for succinct scintillation.

When I wrote about my November tournament—which I won—I knew that I’d have to do it again unless I was lucky enough to win my very next tournament. Otherwise it’s just selective braggadocio, right?

I didn’t win, so here it is. On the weekend of April 14-15, I played in the Bloomington, Minnesota “Spring Fling.” I was placed in division two (one division higher than in November), and seeded number 10 of 14 players. I finished just about where expected: in ninth place, with 6 wins, 7 losses and a cumulative spread of +24.

Here’s how it happened[1]

Game one
“I’m a Loser” from Beatles for Sale by the Beatles.

Loss 299-453 vs Carol D. — 0-1, -154
Bingos: (me) none; (opp) ENLIVEN, LAUDERS
Power tiles: (me) JQXS; (opp) ZSSS??

I played first and opened with JNANA[2] for 44 points. It was my last lead of the game. Carol answered with ENLIVEN for 68 to commence the killing.

Game two
“Shot With His Own Gun” from Trust by Elvis Costello.

Loss 412-416 vs Fran G. — 0-2, -158
Power tiles: (me) QXZS?; (opp) JSSS?

Fran played INJURE for 63, and what hurt more was my challenging his bingo WATERMEN. But the fatal injury was entirely self-inflicted. My last play was BLOAT for 25 points, leaving [GM] on my rack. Facing time pressure (I left four seconds on my clock), I chose this play over TOMB for 26, leaving [AGT].[3] Worse yet, BLOAT setup the 12-point out play, RIB. After TOMB, I believe that an 8-point out play is the best Fran could have found.

Board diagram, game two.

So I turned a 413-410 win into a 412-416 loss.

I probably should have asked for a recount after a four-point loss, but as it turns out my opponent would have picked up one point (he underscored INLACES).

Game three
“The Hard Way” from Celluloid Heroes by The Kinks.

Win 356-341 vs M.E.F. — 1-2, -143
Bingos: (me) GRITTIER; (opp) LIAISES
Power tiles: (me) XZS?; (opp) JQSSS?

M.E.’s 70-point play of LIAISES (E was a blank) was the nicest play of the game, but my 77-point GRITTIER helped me win a tough, hardscrabble game.

My opponent asked for a recount, and I picked up an additional two spread points when it was discovered she had over-scored one of her plays.

Game four
“Lady Doctor” from Howlin’ Wind by Graham Parker.

Loss 381-444 vs Mina L. — 1-3, -206
Power tiles: (me) SS?; (opp) JQXZSS?

I started with LEGGY (28 points) and paid a sexist compliment to my opponent, a Harvard-educated ENT surgeon.[4] She claimed to be unoffended, then countered with the phony ACRILINE* (perhaps she was rattled?). I challenged it off the board, then played WOOF (26) to keep with the sexist remarks theme. But Mina operated with cold, calculated precision the rest of the way, and left me in need of pain medication. Her play of OYEZ for 66 (using a blank as a Y) was quite nice.

Game five
“She Don’t Want Nobody Near” from Films About Ghosts by Counting Crows.

Win 365-344 vs Megan O. — 2-3, -185
Power tiles: (me) SSS; (opp) JQXZS??

It is hard to imagine the need for the word NEARLIER in the English language. I suppose the same rules that give us EARLIER and EARLIEST are also responsible for NEARLIER and NEARLIEST. In my copy of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, though, EARLIER and EARLIEST are listed as comparitives for EARLY, but NEARLIER and NEARLIEST are not listed for NEARLY. The same is true in my copy of Random House’s College Dictionary, and in the on-line version of the American Heritage Dictionary. So why is NEARLIER acceptable? Maybe it was found in the 1974 edition of Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of the English Language. I don’t know.

What I do know is that I nearly lost this game, and would have lost it had I not managed to play NEARLIER for 77 points (plus 8 for Megan’s unplayed tiles) as the last play of the game. I trailed by 64 points before making the play—near losses don’t get much nearlier than that.

Game six
“Sulk” from The Bends by Radiohead.

Loss 331-443 vs Sue H. — 2-4, -297
Bingos: (me) none; (opp) POUTIER, VIOLATES, BEATINGS
Power tiles: (me) JSS; (opp) QXZSS??

Sue opened with POUTIER for 63 and never trailed. I sullenly played a sad series of monosyllabic, low-scoring words; grousing about my bad luck all the way to a 112-point pasting.

Game seven
“Beaten To The Punch” from Get Happy!! by Elvis Costello.

Loss 337-431 vs Susan D. — 2-5, -391
Bingos: (me) ANTENNAE; (opp) OCARINA
Power tiles: (me) JZS?; (opp) QXSSS?

After struggling painfully through eight unproductive turns (average score: 15.8 points), I managed to play the 59-point “mingo,” ANTENNAE. Just when I thought I might be back in the game, Susan punched back with OCARINA for 71 and I was down 304-185. And she continued the assault, playing THUDS, BEANING, and FLAY in the course of a 94-point thrashing.

Game eight
“Uh Zoom Zip” from Ruby Vroom by Soul Coughing.

Loss 401-433 vs Harriet S. — 2-6, -423
Power tiles: (me) JXSS??; (opp) QZSS

I managed to get down three bingos, including the 96-point double-double HOLDERS, but couldn’t keep pace with Harriet’s two bingos and high-scoring layups: ZIP (34), QADI (37), ETCH (36), and KIF (43).

So I finished day one in dead last (14 of 14), with a 2-5 record and a -423 cumulative spread. I drew 13 of 32 S’s, and 6 of 16 blanks.

~ End of day one ~~~

Game nine
“Lucky Day Overture” from The Black Rider by Tom Waits.

Win 495-302 vs Steph S. — 3-6, -230
Power tiles: (me) JQXZSSS??; (opp) S

I drew first and exchanged three tiles from an unbalanced rack. The Scrabble gods took it from there, blessing me with an uninterrupted bounty of beautiful, idiot-proof racks.

What a difference a day makes.

Game ten
“Pretty Ugly Before” from Basement On a Hill by Elliott Smith.

Win 370-365 vs Janice K. — 4-6, -225
Bingos: (me) LATRINES; (opp) none
Power tiles: (me) JSS; (opp) QXZSS??

This was an ugly low-scoring affair most of the way. Janice did not bingo, but used blanks and high-pointers in two big plays (EXTRAS for 66 and ZEROS for 74) to build a small late lead. However, I managed to find the right play from my final rack of [AIOBDNT]. I played BONITA for 28—leaving a choice of two winning out plays—to pickup a slim but pretty victory.

My opponent asked for a recount, but we found no scoring errors.[5]

Game eleven
“The Ugly Things” from Surrender to the Rhythm by Brinsley Schwarz.

Win 415-265 vs Harmony K. — 5-6, -75
Bingos: (me) CURIOUS; (opp) RIGGLES*, TRAINERS
Power tiles: (me) JQXSS?; (opp) ZSS?

This was the ugliest 150-point win I’ve ever had. I let the phony RIGGLES* go for 71 early in the game. But I was able to ride three high-scoring early plays (FIQUE for 37, JAILS for 45, and HONK for 45) and the late 79-point bingo CURIOUS to a comfortable lead. Then I watched as my opponent struggled mightily with her late racks to go more than four minutes over time (-50 points).

Game twelve
“Mary’s Place” from The Rising by Bruce Springsteen.

Loss 402-406 vs Mary K. — 5-7, -99
Power tiles: (me) XZ??; (opp) JQSSSS

I scored pretty well, but not well enough. Not even my late 44-point phony, BOLDED*, was enough to overcome Mary’s methodical, efficient play. She would go on to a well-deserved first place finish.

Game thirteen
“Lucky Day” from The Black Rider by Tom Waits.

Win 472-349 vs Nadine J. — 6-7, +24
Power tiles: (me) JXZSS??; (opp) QSS

Day two ended like it began, with the Scrabble gods spilling buckets of good fortune on my head. My opponent Nadine took it all with her usual good humor and sportsmanship. MOTHERED for 92 was my high play for the tournament.

Some numbers:

              Avg          Power             Challenges
             Score  Bingos Tiles   S  Blanks   W   L    Exchanges
Me           387.4    21     61   22    13     2   1        7
Opponents    385.6    20     69   30    13     2   1        6



  1. I’ve failed once again to engage in any game analysis, or anything that shows evidence of an effort to learn something from a review of my performance. I have in this past week, however, started studying word lists for the first time since 2006. [^]
  2. JNANA:n pl. -S knowledge acquired through meditation. Just think hard about that for awhile and you will learn a useful new Scrabble word. [^]
  3. I saw TOMB, but didn’t have time to count either play. I picked BLOAT because I “felt like” it would score better than TOMB, and I completely failed to consider the comeback to it (time trouble!). GLOAM would have played as well—providing the same margin of victory as TOMB—but I did not see it (time trouble!). [^]
  4. So not exactly a “brain surgeon,” but close enough. [^]
  5. However, as I look at my scoresheet as I write this, I can see that I under-scored my out play of DUMPING by one. No blanks were involved, so it had to have been worth 13, but we scored it as 12. [^]

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