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Scrabble King-for-a-Day

Last weekend I played in my 42nd Scrabble tournament, a two-day WGPO[1] event held in Bloomington, Minnesota. I finished first in division three—my fifth career tournament win—with a record of 11-2 (+1123) and won $300. I picked up an additional $20 for “high win” in my division, scoring 528 points in game seven.

Below is a game-by-game tournament log that fails in every respect to convey anything interesting about the game of Scrabble. Trust me: I just read through it. I’m publishing it only because I can never get back the time I spent reading through scoresheets and feverishly writing this bland account. I’m not going to delete it now.

Some Scrabblers do manage to write up interesting tournament logs (check out the Badqoph Directory of Scrabble blogs). At least I think interesting tournament logs exist—I’ve never managed to read through one myself. I do know, though, that the better logs include lots of actual game analysis. I’ve done none of that here. To do so would require me to

  • keep a record all of the racks from which I made my plays, and
  • use a Scrabble analysis tool (Quackle) to evaluate my choices, and
  • think

I didn’t do any of this, which is why I don’t play in division one.[2] Unfortunately, I didn’t write a colorful, engaging account of my tournament experience either. Just a dry, rote recounting of a series of unremarkable games. There is however a nice graphic of my best game of the weekend to be found below.

Game one

Win 455-353 vs Kay B. — 1-0, +102
Power tiles: (me) JQSSS, (opp) XZS??

I was pitted against a player from my local club in game one on Saturday morning. I played first and chose to exchange one tile—an I—from a rack of [AEIILNT]. I drew an O, my opponent played LONG for 10 points, and I was able to play LEGATION through the G for 63 points. She then played GOX (33) and ZOA (38) while I got down VIBE through an I to score 18. After three turns apiece we were tied 81-81. The tide turned in my favor on turn four: I played DEMEANS (80) and she held [EIOULRT]. There was no place for her to play OUTLIER, and she tried OUTRILED*[3] to a D. It’s a phony, and I challenged it off the board and stayed right around +100 the rest of the way, winning 455-353.

Game two

Win 385-321 vs Brian W. — 2-0, +166
Bingos: (me) SAWLIKE; (opp) none
Power tiles: (me) JSS? (opp) QXZSS?

My second opponent opened our game with ZIN for 24 points and I countered with FIE (ZINE) for 27. The game got even less interesting from there. Only once in the game did my opponent play as many as five tiles from his rack, and this was on the last play of the game (he played CELERY to a Y). I did little better, but did manage to get down the bingo SAWLIKE. It was the difference in the game (I won by 64 points). The most interesting word I played was BORKED (from BORK, a verb defined as “To attack a candidate in the media”).

Game three

Win 376-292 vs Dawn G. — 3-0, +250
Bingos: (me) AROUSES; (opp) none
Power tiles: (me) JQXSSS? (opp) ZS?

I opened game three with AROUSES for 64 points (using a blank as an S). Despite the fact that I bogarted the power tiles, my opponent managed to chip away slowly at my lead, and after playing ZA for 44 points on her turn seven trailed by only 15. But I was able to play the Q, J, and X tiles for a total of 134 points in three consecutive late game turns (QIS, JINN and FLEXED) to win a by 84.

Game four

Win 352-320 vs Dave T. — 4-0, +282
Bingos: (me) ROOSTED; (opp) none
Power tiles: (me) JQXS (opp) ZSSS??

My opponent outdrew me, at least as measured by power tiles (he drew 3 S’s and both blanks). But I was able to ride the game’s only bingo (ROOSTED for 76) for my closest win of the tourney. For the second game in a row I made three consecutive late plays using the J, X and Q tiles. In this game, though, these plays netted me only 77 points (MOJO for 29, PAX for 36 and QI for 12[4]).

Game five

Loss 386-465 vs Mary B. — 4-1, +203
Power tiles: (me) JZSSS? (opp) QXS?

Not even my 74-point phony bingo OUTSPITS* could save me from my first loss of the tournament. I played the first bingo of the game, REEFERS (71), but my opponent played two very nice bingos of her own, NOVELIST (74) and CARRIED (89). More importantly, perhaps, was her play of MITY for 47 points. I challenged it unsuccessfully (it is an adjective meaning “infested with mites”), losing a turn and any real chance of getting back into the game.

So why not OUTSPITS*? What exactly will did Jason Schayot do in 1995 if he did not outspit his opponents?

Game six

Win 450-291 vs Mary A. — 5-1, +362
Bingos: (me) TROTTER, LATENCY, RENTIER; (opp) none
Power tiles: (me) JXZS?? (opp) QSSS

A weird game. I played first, but exchanged tiles twice in my first four turns and trailed 103-30 after five turns. In my next three turns I

  • used a blank to play my first bingo (TROTTER for 64)
  • exchanged all seven tiles
  • used a blank to play my second bingo (LATENCY for 68)

So, two low-scoring bingos and after eight turns I led 162-155. My luck got even better and over my next three turns. I played FAX for 56, got down another bingo (RENTIER for 70), and played DITZ for 54. Inexplicably, my opponent challenged my play of RENTIER. It’s an odd-looking word (it means “a person who lives on income from property or securities”) but very high probability[5] and quite familiar to most tournament players. This was just an example of how things were going for me in this tournament. My opponent is a better player than that (she was seeded second in the division, one seed ahead of me) and wouldn’t normally make this mistake.

Game seven

Win 414-356 vs Scott R. — 6-1, +420
Bingos: (me) EELIEST, CLOUDIER; (opp) none
Power tiles: (me) ZS? (opp) JQXSSS?

I was lucky to win this game. I played two early bingos, ZONA for 52, and then held on. My opponent drew seven of ten power tiles, but used three of them to play STANZAS through a Z for 48 points (two S’s and a blank as an A). It was a nice find, and maybe the best he could have done at that point with those tiles, but it wasn’t much of a return for [SS?]. I was stuck with a V and my opponent was able to “slow play” me at the end to pull within 58 points.

Game eight

Win 438-310 vs Melissa B. — 7-1, +548
Power tiles: (me) QXZSSS? (opp) JS?

Eighth and last game of day one and I was tired. I drew well enough (seven of ten power tiles, but only five E’s and all four U’s) and was able to survive my worst brain cramp of the tournament. Late in the game I stared at a rack of [EILNRST] for over eight minutes. I knew that LINTERS was the only seven in that rack, but there was nowhere to play it. But there was a big, fat, unfettered O sitting in the first column of the board. I knew there was a bingo there, but it took me eight minutes to see RETINOLS (a word that every tournament SCRABBLE player knows and sees played over-and-over again). Ugh. Not a brilliant way to end the day, but a win is a win.

~~ End of day one ~~~

Game nine

Win 528-350 vs Jeanmarie Y. — 8-1, +726
Power tiles: (me) ZSS?? (opp) JQXSS

I was matched up against the current division leader to start the day Sunday. She had finished day one undefeated—with eight wins—and I was one of two players a game behind her at 7-1.

Things started slowly for both of us. She opened with GLUM for 14 and I exchanged four tiles from a rack of [OFQTTV?]. It’s always nice to draw a blank out of the bag to start a game, but that rack wasn’t going anywhere. Two turns later (after I missed TEAPOYS) I was able to play my first of four bingos, ROASTED. Two turns after that, I played OUTLEADS and my opponent held before reluctantly accepting it. Later she would tell me that she was sure of OUTDEALS* but not OUTLEADS. The truth is that she had it backwards. A few turns later, I added BIO to the front of FILM, and she challenged unsuccessfully. I believe these two turns may have influenced her to my advantage in our rematch.

In any case, the game really stated to roll my way after the BIOFILM challenge, and I prevailed with the help of two late bingos for my high game of the tournament, 528-350.

Game ten

Loss 322-394 vs Dave L. — 8-2, +654
Bingos: (me) TINSELED; (opp) GOONIEST
Power tiles: (me) JXZSS? (opp) QSS?

From my best game to my worst. My opponent—the division’s top seed—came into to this game at 6-3 and in third place. He played GOONIEST on his second turn of the game and then methodically held me at bay with a series of nice, defensive plays. Well, I helped with that a bit.

On my eighth turn, trailing 259-182, I tried TINTABLE* but he wouldn’t have it. Now trailing 290-182, I played off a B and a T for 10 points, hoping to bingo on my next turn to close the widening gap. I thought I’d done it, too, when I played the ridiculous SENILED*. Why would I think this was a word? Because I knew that ENSILED and ENISLED[6] were good, and I knew that there was a third anagram of these words. I didn’t see LINSEED (probably because I needed the word to start with S in order to play it), and I remembered that this trio included some weird words (see above). So I convinced myself that SENILED* was good. My opponent, however, was in his right mind and challenged it off the board. He then played MEAT which gave me a place to play TINSELED for 62, but it was too little, too late. I dropped to 8-2 and back into second place.

Game eleven

Win 438-261 vs Barbara B. — 9-2, +831
Bingos: (me) OUTFILL*, ANTIRED; (opp) none
Power tiles: (me) JZS (opp) QXSSS??

I played OUTFILL* for 72 to open game eleven, and two turns later got down ANTIRED for 73. If my opponent had swatted the phony back at me, this game could have gone the other way. As it was, though, I coasted to an easy 177-point win despite drawing only three power tiles (no blanks and only one S). I did play nine of twelve E’s, however.

Game twelve

Win 450-322 vs Paul K. — 10-2, +959
Bingos: (me) RETAINS, SALIENT; (opp) SHOUTED
Power tiles: (me) QSS? (opp) JXZSS?

In game twelve I was matched up against one of my favorite opponents. It’s not that I dominate our series, but that he plays a style similar to my own that makes him a favorite. We both favor a wide-open game with little consideration given to defense. This is not a successful style of play, but it can be fun.

There was nothing impressive about our offense in this game. The three bingos played were all of the very high probability, ho-hum variety. The play that won the game for me was the phony FIGARO* (36) that I played late in the game at a time when I led by just 27 points. I wasn’t certain it was phony, but I suspected as much. My options were limited, though, and I thought it might be hard for my opponent to challenge. As it happened, he had a 26-point comeback play to keep the game close. He wasn’t sure that FIGARO* was phony and if he’d have lost the challenge I would’ve played again and possibly put the game out-of-reach. So he did not challenge, and my gamble paid off. The game was closer than the final score indicates: my out play of SALIENT was worth 86 points.

Game thirteen

Win 477-313 vs Jeanmarie Y. — 11-2, +1123
Bingos: (me) DEMOLATE*, DEVICES, RANGIEST; (opp) none
Power tiles: (me) QXSS?? (opp) JZSS

What should have been an exciting, for-all-the-marbles final was a disappointing letdown. My opponent had played brilliantly in the tournament and was all alone in first place with an 11-1 record. I was a game behind at 10-2, but because I had the better cumulative spread coming into the game (+959 to +428), all I needed to do was win to finish in first place. A closely-contested, well-played game would have been fun.

Alas it was not to be. I made a stinking heap of a play early in the game—the phony DEMOLATE* for 74 points—and my opponent made an even worse mistake in letting it go. She held the play; it was obvious that she didn’t like the word at all. But in our earlier game she had unsuccessfully challenged BIOFILM, and was sure that my bingo OUTLEADS was a phony (though she did not challenge it). That she was wrong in both cases, I think, did a number on her confidence. She gave me too much credit and let slip a word that she would normally have challenged. Worse yet, her indecision seemed to further erode her confidence and her game suffered. It certainly didn’t help her when I drew both blanks and played a pair of 80+ point mid-game bingos.

All would have been different if she had rejected the ugly DEMOLATE*. A win is still a win, but I wasn’t as happy with this one as I would’ve liked to be.


Some numbers:

              Avg          Power             Challenges
             Score  Bingos Tiles   S  Blanks   W   L    Exchanges
Me           420.8    27    66    26    13     2   1        9
Opponents    334.5     8    64    26    13     2   2        5


I was surprised to see how evenly the power tiles were distributed over the thirteen games. I felt like I drew very well, but at least in terms of the blanks, S’s and the high-pointers (JQXZ), this really wasn’t the case. In fact, given that I outbingoed my opponents 27-8, it’s likely that that I drew more than my share of all tiles over the course of the tournament. So the fact that I split the best tiles with my opponents may even mean that I drew a little less than my expected share. But distribution doesn’t mean everything. When and in what combinations these tiles were drawn is ultimately more important.


  1. WGPO is the Word Game Players’ Organization. [^]
  2. Except for a few one-division tournaments, I play mostly in divisions two and three. I’d have liked to play in this tournament’s division two, but my recent poor performances dictated otherwise. I was seeded third of fifteen players in division three. [^]
  3. The asterisk is a Scrabble-nerd convention used to identify phony words. It’s the scarlet punctuation mark of Scrabbledom. [^]
  4. It seems I under-counted this play. It should have scored 13. [^]
  5. RENTIER has two valid anagrams: REINTER and TERRINE. [^]
  6. ENISLE is a verb meaning “to isolate” (as in, I suppose, “We enisled Napoleon on Elba.”); ENSILE is a verb meaning to store in a silo (“Just to be sure, we ensiled him.”). [^]

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