I was foolish of me to even imagine that I would get any studying done while in London. So on the flight back I found myself reviewing fours until my head hurt, closing my eyes for a while, reviewing fours again, lather, rinse, repeat. Of course, I didn't get nearly as much studying done during the eight-hour flight as I would have liked, because I have trouble focusing while on a plane.
When we touched down, I tried to study during every free minute, while in line at customs, then immigration, while waiting for the shuttle to economy parking, while on the shuttle, etc. My friend Michelle commented that I was really into this Scrabble thing. She didn't realize how worried I was about going into a big tournament with very little studying, and no playing, a week before the event.
It was 9:00 PM by the the time I dropped Michelle off, and after a stop at Kinko's, 10:00 PM by the time I reached the Starbucks in Lionville, along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, just before it closed. The baristas were feeling generous, so I came away with a piece of pound cake in addition to a shot of espresso. But the caffeine couldn't stave off my fatigue, as my body thought it was past 3:00 AM. So I only got as far as the first travel plaza, barely 20 miles away.
The Plight of the Uninsured
The flip side of my body's being on London time was that at 5:00 AM, even with barely 6 hours of sleep, I was ready to drive again. The fact that the sun was already coming up, this far north, helped. I wanted to make it to the clinic when it opened at 9:00 AM, to try and beat the lines. Free clinics always have lines. Not having medical insurance, when I stopped at Kinko's I looked up a free clinic in Pittsburgh, to have someone check out the headache and muscle ache that had come on in London, plus the sore throat had worsed on the flight back.
I made good time and reached Pittsburgh shortly before 9:00, but I couldn't resist using the extra time to get a better photograph of a cool Starbucks down on the waterfront, and so by the time I got to the clinic it was past night and a few people were already waiting. I signed in and got my number, and then I had to go move my car from the Arby's lot, since I could tell I wouldn't be finished by the time Arby's opened at 10:00 AM, and a sign in the clinic depicted a car being towed as a warning to those who would park at Arby's. The one-way streets and the river frustrated me, and I ended up taking waaaay to long to park. By the time I returned to the clinic, my number had been called, which would have meant going to the end of the line, but the nurse must have been in a good mood, because she beckoned me back.
I guess it wouldn't be fair to call it a waste of time, that she found nothing to treat me for, but I couldn't help feel like I had wasted precious hours.
Rugrats by the Busload
It wasn't just the time spent at the clinic, but also the fact that I had missed my "window" in between the morning rush hour and lunch rush to visit two new Starbucks downtown. Or maybe I'm being too optimistic, and traffic would have been head past 7:00 AM no matter what. Regardless, I'm pretty sure that the traffic along Liberty Ave was made much worse by the rows of school buses parked alongside. Apparently some field trip for the kiddies. Young ones--young enough to warrant extra police to direct traffic. Which made it harder to play fast and loose with the parking. Point being, I wasted too much damn time downtown.
To top it off, my path I chose to visit the new Pittsburg Starbucks was suboptimal--no traveling salesman award for me--and I ended up doubling back and losing so much time that I had to leave one to the northeast, in Gibsonia, unvisited in order to ensure that I would reach Chicago in time, and having slept enough.
And though in the mood for spaghetti, I just didn't have time to hunt around for a restaurant, so gave Steak 'n Shake a try for the first time, because it was right next to the last Starbucks I visited on the way out of town. Not bad, but the fries are too thin, and I guess I prefer the ordinary style of burger the sourdough bread and steak didn't do it for me.
It was 3:00 PM by the time I left Kinko's, and I now had 18 1/2 hours to drive 480 miles, stop at one more Starbucks, sleep, and have a hearty breakfast at one of my favorite restaurants in Chicago. Plenty of time.
I considered taking state routes to avoid the turnpike and the tolls, but the distance was so great that I could not predict how much time I would lose. So I stuck to the turnpike and hoped to win some of that money back in the tournament.
Still, for me, spare time has a way of evaporating. First of all, it began to rain, and this slowed me down. Since I wasn't moving as fast as I wanted, and already feeling really tired at 4:00 PM, I pulled into a service area for some sleep, setting my alarm to give me enough time to reach the Starbucks in North Olmstead before it closed.
I reached the Starbucks before it closed, then started driving again, but not for very long before fatigue set it, and I pulled into a travel plaza and slept for a few hours. I started driving again, but I suffered from sleep inertia, according to the instructor in the defensive driving classes I've taken many times. I had to struggle to make it to the next travel plaza, which thankfully was not very far.
Apparently They Can Get Both of You
When I awoke again I had used nearly all the time alloted for sleeping but still didn't feel like I had rested enough. I started driving anyway, and I ended up having to resort to a caffeine pill. I generally try to avoid those, as they seem to have a more pronounced effect than simply drinking coffee. Regardless, after 15-30 I was feeling fine and dandy.
Perhaps the caffeine ramped me up just a bit too much, and I pushed the speed a little too far to stay ahead of a caravan of vehicles pacing me, because the next thing I new I was being pulled over by an Indiana trooper. The Malibu that I'd be trying to distance myself from pulled ahead of the patrol car. He had pulled us both over, a first for me. Which meant that I had to wait twice as long to resume my drive.
The officer seemed amused by my story, that I was just trying to get those cars to stop following me, but not amused enough to keep from writing me a ticket, a hefty 90 in a 65. Ouch! But the fine was only $113--I think in Texas it would have been much higher.
On the bright side, I can finally check Indiana off my list of states where I've yet to be pulled over.
New and Improved
I reached Chicago at 7:00, with just enough time to visit a new Starbucks at Morgan and Madison, and to confirm that the one at the Navy Pier was not a real Starbucks, but instead operated by Levy. A couple of security guards gave me the eye and questioned me as I wandered around the facility looking for Levy, whatever it was.
Almost 8:00 AM now, I made my way towards Toast, where I've had some excellent breakfasts. The same manager/hostess whom I had seen on each of my most recent visits to the restaurants was still there, with the same old sassy attitude, shorter hair, and a new and improved bustline, as she was more than happy to point out to me and a couple of other customers, two guys from central Pennsylvania, where they've probably never heard of breast augmentation. I think I overheard her comment that she could get away with her attitude because she had nice boobs. At least she's honest about it.
A waitress, not nearly as outgoing as the hostess, asked me if I was just in town for the weekend. I found it curious that she would assume I wasn't a local, as I didn't think there was anything about me that screamed out-of-towner. But when I asked her, she could explain why she thought that.
I arrived at the Oakton Community Center with time to spare, which meant that I had time to become anxious in anticipation of some tough competition. My rating put me in Division 3, and I did not feel confident about being in that division at all.
I used the spare time to try and call my aunt, who was putting me up for the weekend, but I couldn't get through. I found a table so I could do some reviewing, and before I knew it, the pairings were up.
I went straight to the roster, so I could see what my competition looked like, and boy, did it look tough. I was 19 in a field of 40, with the top rated player at 1475. I knew I would have an uphill battle. I could count on gaining some ratings points by winning a little more than 50% of my games, but what I really wanted was a win. After Jonesboro, I had developed a taste for it.
Pack It Up, Pack It In, Let Me Begin
In game 1, against Joyce Zmorzynski, I opened with FUR, rather than FIR, thinking it more defensive, and then drew two more Is for my effort. I exchange, while she plays the Q, the J, and the K in successive turns to jump to a hefty lead, and I begin to worry. She leaves the K hanging by the DWS, but I use play my A off the Q to set up a power-play for my X. It doesn't work, and I finally ditch the X and am rewarded with two Ss. I can't form a bingo rack, however. But I creep up, and when she exchanges I take a 2-point lead. But I'm playing defensively and sacrificing points. Then I get killed by consonants. I finally get a bingo rack, GENLER?, but I can't fit any of the bingos that I see. So I play GENTLER across the T for turnover and pull the Z which I convert for 53 points and the lead. In retrospect, I might have been able to fit GREENLET or REGENTAL, had I seen them, or perhaps one of the several 7-letter bingoes I didn't know, like ERELONG or GLEANER. She plays APOXIED* and it looks bogus, but if I challenge and lose, she probably goes out and gets 16 points from my rack. I choose to play for 22 points and a 39-point lead, and she goes out but can't catch up.
I try to rid myself of lustful feelings during tournament play (though they are fine during club play), but against Roberta Hendrickson, my second opponent, I took a second look at my IRONE?E rack, after first having automatically made the ? an S and seeing no bingo in IRONES + E (missing the common PIONEER and HEROINE), and noticed the open T. I began to perk up, and sure enough, I got an EREcTION! Though for only 58 points, it was a fairly weak one. I couldn't help it, and had to apologize for my juvenile chuckling. Unfazed, my opponent wasn't about to blow away like a tender leaf, and PLANTED herself down in my path to victory. I in turn SHAPED my impending victory on the TWS for 45. And not even halfway through the game, the four Us were out, and the As were going fast. She bingos again with AMORTISE, but I retain my lead with ADZ. But now only one A and one T left. But then I notice that one of the Us is open and along a TWS aisle, and I get really scared for having missed that. I can block it for 10 points, but I gamble and take the 27 elsewhere. I gamble again and take 24 points, for a 40-point lead, instead of blocking that U. I figure if she gets 40 points for the Q play I'm still in it. I luck out, though, and she only gets 12 for her Q play, and I win by 52. I realize later that I missed WAME, a four that hasn't yet cemented itself into my brain.
I took to tracking early, and it has worked out wonderfully for me, so I was pleased to find TRACKED for 76 against my third opponent, Beulah Cooper. Then I miss the obvious ERASION in ARSINE + O, dismissing it for not having a bingo, but found BARONIES instead. With a 62-point lead, I added iNSULTS to injury for 75 to all but insure a victory. Still, I want that fourth bingo, and with a strong lead, I drop an A from AAEDRLS to fish for a bingo, draw an R, but can't play LARDERS. Nuts. Meanwhile, she makes some strong plays, including GREBE that I don't know, but can't catch up to my 424. In all fairness, two blanks and three esses helped out quite a bit.
Three games now, and the lyrics grow louder. The lyrics from House of Pain's "Jump Around", that have begun to run through my mind incessantly. A victory anthem, perhaps?
ADHD Or ADD? Or Both?
As I sit down for my fourth game, against Dawn Gewecke, I notice, sitting at a table one row over and one row down, a girl that looks to be in my age range and possibly dateable. Then my opponent opens with FOEHN, a word I don't know, for 30, and seeing no vowels on my rack, I can almost hear Edward Burns' voice snapping at me to get my ADD under control and get back to business. But after a weak play, I NARROwS down her lead to negative 39. Oh, wait--that means I took the lead. Later finding myself with a vowel-heavy rack, I debate whether to risk hanging the U on the TWS with UVEAL, but I come to my senses and play VOE instead. Meanwhile, she's playing very quickly and I'm starting to feel time pressure as I lose the lead. But I stick my TOnGUES out at her speedy play for a 46-point lead at the halfway point and begin to feel more assured. I now find myself with a consonant-heavy rack, and I play CELT for two fewer points than PEC to turn over the extra consonant. No luck, however, and I end up with EBGMPTW. The obvious play puts the W on the DWS, but is MEW or PEW the better play? How do I even decide that? Anyway, I rack up some more good plays for a 100+ point lead, so I'm not worried, only irked at myself, when I miss ZED and risk being stuck with the Z. But she opens a space up for ZIT, and after I play it I notice I had ZIT elsewhere. I'm glad we are breaking for
because I definitely wasn't playing up to stuff during this last game.
On a more positive note, my 425 meant that my score had increased in each of the first four games. A good trend! I left Dawn a bit puzzled, though, as I was feverishly calculating before my out play to try and find enough points to be my previous score of 424. I couldn't possibly reach 500, and I had the game won, so she had no idea what all the calculations were for.
A Good Source of Calcium
I drove across the street to Happy Foods to pick up some lunch. As I walked inside, I looked at the Community Center across the street and wondered why I hadn't just walked. Of course it was because I had been on the phone with my cousin and on auto-pilot. But don't worry--I was completely attentive to the road as I drove my car all of 1/8 to 1/4 mile.
Yogurt, an apple, and a banana for my nutrients. But for my 4-0 start, I deserved a reward. Since I figured the cute cashier wouldn't oblige me, I had to settle for Barnum's Animal Crackers. The genuine article, not a cheap substitute. It had been a while since I had treated myself to this delicacy, but I felt I deserved it. A good source of calcium reads the box. Remember, only Barnum's. Accept no substitutes!
I returned to the Community Center to eat and sneak in some studying, and to see if Minneapolis was eating lunch in the room so I could try and make with the chit-chat. But she never showed, and poor Winter had to eat lunch all by himself.
Whaddayaknow, but my fifth opponent was none other than the current object of my affection. And she wasn't wearing a wedding band! I hoped that she wouldn't hold a thorough ass-kicking against me. I began cautiously, opting for VEG instead of the phony VEGED*. A V is generally considered defensive, but not defensive enough to block her PARTERS. Ouch! But a couple of strong plays and her passing brough me to within 23, and then DiVESTS gave me the lead. I increased my lead, and then I got away with the phony SNIFT*. Then I burn a lot of time looking for a bingo with a blank in my hand. I focus on one part of the board until I give up. I move onto a different part of the board, and think of SOFTNESS, but it won't fit there. I finally just play QuOTES for 28 points, and nearly go nuts when I realize that I could have played SOFTNESS over on the other side of the board. AAGHH! Still, she was never able to recover any ground, and I won handily. I then did my best to make small talk before moving on to my next game. I think I annoyed her, though, when I expressed frustration at having missed SOFTNESS in spite of having a sizeable lead.
I Came to Win
Six wins now, and the lyrics just got louder in my mind. I had to restrain myself from bobbing my head up and down. I understand why headphones aren't allowed, to prevent cheating, but I found myself wishing that I could jam to the actual song as I played.
Game 6 against Phyllis Koselke, and I'm second with AEOUMNR on my rack. She drops a T, and the only thing I see is AMOUNTER*, which I'm not willing to risk. ROUTEMAN and NEUROMA I wouldn't have known, but I should have seen ENAMOUR. We trade the lead back and forth until I jump ahead with the phony ASsuRANT*. Of course, There were six bingos in ?AAUNRS that I never would have seen. I'm unsure about PONE for 33 points, but I risk it anyway, despite that fact that I really wanted to play FAQIR. But style points won't win me the game. But now I'm in Q trouble, and her bingo has brought her within 7. Seven tiles left in the bag--just enough to exchange--and a blank still out. I choose to exchange, but I don't draw the blank. Now I'm worried that she will draw the blank and the Q! I assume that she is going to be able to play the Q and don't even bother to look for where, instead trying to figure out how to win the game in spite of her Q play. Thankfully, at the last minute, I look at around the board and realize that even with the blank there's only one place for her to play that Q, and I block! She's stuck, and I win by 31!!! A close one. Never assume.
Battle Me That's a Sin
I'm outside the auditorium eating my apple and jumping around when Wowo Nickens comes to get me for my seventh game. I play BLET without even considering BELT, so focused am I on the words I'd recently learned. I OVERDRAW, PUT ONE OF THE TILES ON MY RACK, AND AS A RESULT LOSE THE BLANK THAT I ALREADY HAD ON MY RACK. I've said it once, and I'll said it again. Putting one drawn tile on your rack during an overdraw should not entitle your opponent to choose from the entire rack. Thankfully, I drew back that blank a couple of turns later, and my frustration abated. I played AAHS for the 1st time ever, for 31 points. I exchange my CIITTW? for AEIILT?, but miss LAITIES (CILIATE and FILIATE I don't know). I still have a good bingo rack, but Wo-Wo manages to block my remaining aisle, and I have to abandon those plans. I'm down by 14 points going into the last turn, but my good rack allows me to go out and pick up a WPNS from her rack to win the game.
Seven games--my best opening ever!
Outside the hall, some girl walks up to me and hugs me. I start to think--wow, is this what seven games gets you, and then I recognize that it's an old friend from Dallas who had moved to Indianapolis and was in town with her boyfriend for a rat show. Yes, a rat show. We had planned on dinner after my games, and they had just arrived. Sarah had actually tried to watch me play my seventh game, but was told that spectators were not allowed. I can think of reasons why, but I seem to remember other tournaments in which spectators were allowed. Anyway, Sarah just hung out while I played my eight game, and her boyfriend Cody slept in the car. Sleeping anywhere you can--a man after my own heart!
When the Music Stops
Perhaps trying to extend my winning streak has me playing more conservatively, but in game 8 against Bob Blyler I play QAID for 18 points instead of trying to hold the Q for more points as I usually do. I am rewarded with an IOOOOLL rack. When I looked it up later on LeXpert, sure enough, no bingos. The rack screamed exchange, but with AL/LI/XI for 17 points, I figured I'd see what I could do with two other tiles. EOOOOLS. An improvement, so I think I was right to take the points. I almost have FOOTLOOSE, and I can almost hear Kenny Loggins singing in the background. Six degrees of Kevin Bacon anybody? Anyway, I take 10 points for BOO instead of 23 for NOSE/QAIDS to ditch a couple of Os, and I draw another one. I should have taken the 23 points. Then Bob plays EARLDOM to rack up 55-point lead while I'm pussyfooting around with a lousy rack. I decide to try and apply some time pressure by playing quickly. I sandbag him with the phone CLUTE* which he attempts to pluralize. Whatever it takes, man. Except for the correct play, which was w s VIREO. I play VIRIO to the TWS instead, and he challenges, and since I ended up losing by 22, that play really cost me. Thus endeth my streak, and suddenly the music in the head was fading fast.
Ah, nuts. I really wanted to win that game and go undefeated, at least for that first day.
But since I had Sarah waiting out for me I didn't spend too much time sulking and bitching about VIREO.
No Rushing on Rush Street
Sarah and Cody hadn't come up with any good ideas for dinner. They had asked some of the Scrabblers who, unimaginatively, if I may say so, suggested heading down the street where there were plenty of restaurants. Chain ones, probably. But I was in Chicago, dammit, and I wanted something more or less local, or in a hip part of town. Hence, the Big Bowl on Rush Street.
Granted, Big Bowl is not exactly a mom and pop place, but it was in a hip part of town, and there was an outside chance that Maria, the lovely waitress from the last time I went, would be there. A slim chance, for sure, considering the turnover at restaurants. But it's not like I have a wealth of opportunities to meet eligible women now that I'm spending so much time playing and studying Scrabble.
Rush Street was anything but. It was early yet, maybe 7:00 PM, and traffic was crawling. I wasn't sure how far up Big Bowl was, so we drove most the entire length of the street until I spotted the restaurant, and then we slowly wove our way through the streets looking for parking. That's Chicago for you. Finally Sarah hopped out of the car and told me that they would just pay for a parking space, and we headed back. But suddenly they spotted a space on Clark, and I told them to meet me at the restaurant and get us a table. I continued on and found a tiny spot on Lasalle. Thank goodness I can parallel park.
No Maria, but the soup was good, and Cody picked up the tab. He's been out of work before and knows how it is. During dinner, Sarah and Cody mentioned that they had overheard the other players discussing my record, perhaps with a little fear in their hearts. That suited me just fine--I'll take whatever psychological advantage I can get against anyone I might play the next day.
We parted ways, and I promised to try and drop by Indianapolis on the way back to Texas. I headed to my aunt's, where they had a pull-out couch ready for me. Much better than the back of my car for my tired bones. I chatted briefly with my aunt and uncle and hit the hay, my body still being ahead a few hours.
Anybody Want to Make it an Eight-Game Tournament?
I awoke early to see birds playing around a bird-house behind my aunt's condo. I couldn't remember the last time I had seen birds in a birdhouse and took this as a good sign. I had slept a good nine hours, perhaps the most I had slept during any of my previous six tournaments, and, after a stop a yet another new Starbucks in Chicago, I arrived at the community center feeling rested and confident.
I was in first place, as I had expected after leaving the previous evening, but a lady named Ellen Levine also had seven wins. So let's stop the tournament now, give me the money, and enjoy the Memorial Day Weekend. I don't think the others would be going for that idea, though.
In game nine against Fibber--I mean, Rita--McGee I realized I should have reviewed my 5-letter As one more time as I found myself unsure of whether ASTER was good. I thought maybe she had confused it with ASTIR, but I let it go (fortunately). And then I couldn't quite remember all my high-first-and-last fives, but took a chance on FERNY anyway because I needed the points to stay even. We were neck-and-neck from turns 6-8. I started to pull away, but it came down to the last few tiles. She got both blanks, and I got a Q that I couldn't do a thing with, and lost by 11. The only thing I can think I might have done differently would have been to infer that the Q was still out when she only played one tile and pass, but then she would have ended up with the Q and both blanks and surely scored at least 20.
So much for singing birds and hip-hop anthems. The sounds in my head were rather muted by this first defeat of the day.
It Gets Worse
With that loss, Maureen Kennerk, my tenth opponent, moves ahead of me in the standings, so I see this a a must-win game. I start off with a Q I can't play, and two Us quickly come out, but in spots where I can't use them. I hate to toss back the Q so early, preferring to try and score and deny my opponent the points. I manage to stay even, and even gain a lead after a power play, FEEL/OE/RE for 46 points, which also gets me an A and I out of the back. But I screw things up by challenging RECK and losing a turn. I lose my spot to play the Q, and now with an AEIORNQ rack, I decide it's time to exchange. And draw an AI for my trouble. I can't really say if I should have dropped the Q earlier, because things would have been different had I not lost that challenge. I finally get my bingo, IRONIEs, but I'm also forgetting whether simple words are good, like MON and VIGAS, which hurts me in score and rack balance. And while I'm thinking of how to block a Q play and stick her with it, I leave a bingo aisle open for her TENSORS, and that's the game.
No More Jumping Around
Out in the lobby I'm just walking along normally when I feel something pop in my ankle, and a sharp pain. I don't think I stepped wrong. There seemed to be no reason for it, except maybe that I'm getting old. But my mother chuckles whenever I mention that.
So I limp into the auditorium to find my next opponent, Harrell Naylor. While I wouldn't want to make light of his physical condition, I do notice the coincidence, that neither one of us is going to be running a marathon anytime soon.
Harrell is the third highest in the division, but only has three wins, so I have hopes of beating up on him and picking up some ratings points. At the same time, I've just lost my first two games, and I'm thinking back to an early tournament in which Tracy Nguyen went 5-1 or 6-0 the first day and then tanked all her games the second day. I'm desperate to avoid that fate.
Harrell seemed to play a little slowly, and while other players might have gone easy on him for that reason, I decide early on to try and apply time pressure. A completely wasted tactic. While he took a while to lay the tiles down, he wasn't taking much time at all in coming up with good plays, to slowly but surely build up a healthy lead. But both blanks are still out, so I have hope. But after an exchange that allows me to come within 22 points, he busts out with both blanks for a bingo, and I'm sunk.
0-3 for the day, and I'm feeling as low as I was feeling high the previous day. And my ankle hurts.
My next game was against Patricia Hiller, who had beaten up on me at my first big tournament, Lampasas. But I knew I was much better now, and I was desperate for a win. She came and found me outside talking to my mother, and my limp was obvious as I followed her back in.
In this game, I tried my questionable tactic of passing up a sure bingo, AERIEST, to play EX for 18 points and kill the DWS above the X, figuring that with SATIRE left in my rack my odds of drawing another bingo were high. And I drew a blank. All in all, I would rather have drawn another tile and saved the blank for later, because I couldn't hit the double-double and only played SATIREs for 81.
I ended up winning by over 100, but I played a poor end game. I sacrificed points looking for a third bingo and trying to set myself up with a low-probability hook, NU. And I learned later that her SITA* was a phony.
I notice that prior to this one, I went five games with no bingos. I won the first two, but I lost the last three. I tend to value strong intermediate plays over bingos, but clearly not having bingoed had an effect.
No Animal Crackers For You!
My performance so far on day two was lousy, and so I could not in good conscience treat myself to animal crackers. So I just ate the sandwich my aunt prepared for me and hoped to run into that girl to find out if she would be playing at club in Minneapolis on Tuesday, which might be reason enough for me to go.
Unusual Games and Animals
My performance so far on day two was lousy, and so I could not in good conscience treat myself to animal crackers. So I just ate the sandwich my aunt prepared for me and hoped to run into that girl to find out if she would be playing at club in Minneapolis on Tuesday, which might be reason enough for me to go.
In game 13, against Gail Linn, I chickened out and played CALVE for 24 instead of CLEAVE for 30. Two common words, yet I was unsure about the latter, and Gail was unsure about the former, commenting several times that she didn't know that word. I've played numerous players who comment out loud that they don't know a word and then don't challenge. I think it's a mistake to telegraph this lack of confidence to your opponent. She plays a cool word off my V, VROOM. I'm about to risk playing VROOMS/STANGER when I come to my senses and see the obvious STRANGE. Then I play LINIEST/CALVES, and this time she decides to challenge. Of course it's good. So I'm up 175 after my next play, but she cuts that lead with STRANGED*/AIRHEAD, which I want to challenge. But I let the phony go and take 29 points. Later she bingos again, and I start to worry, though I've still got a 97-point lead. But when I find what is probably my best bingo to date, PLATYPUS for 107, the game is over. Well, not quite yet. I've still got a 28-point BANJO play coming, and it looks like she's about to ruin it, but what she actually does it add an O in the right place to boost my BANJO score to 51. Finally score, 556, my highest scoring tournament game ever, and what ends up being the high-game for the division!
In game 14 against Robert Nellis, I open with a bingo for the first time in more games than I can remember. Before settling on DEFILeR, I run though a variety of others, like FIELDeR and FIDdLER and REFILeD, but I can't find out than doesn't hang the E between the DWSs. Despite seeing that I have all these other bingos, my opponent choose to challenge and of course loses his turn, and I'm off to a 102-point lead after my second play. Later on, I gamble that he lacks confidence in his challenges and play YOGHI*, which I don't know for certain is phony, as I have not yet gotten to my 5-letter Ys. But I have my doubts. So when I lays an S to hit the TWS, I challenge and sandbag him. I almost feel sorry for him, but I'm still pissed at having lost the first three games this morning and looking to take it out on everyone I play next. I beat him by 108.
Meanwhile, my body is telling me that the one cup of coffee from this morning isn't enough, not after getting my body used to some 10 cups a day in London and Pittsburgh. But I can't drink that swill in the break room. I just can't.
Later on, in the restroom, I get this strange urge to yell "AAGHH" as I pass a guy at the urinal. I don't know why. Maybe I'm just looking to take out my frustration on anybody, on or off the Scrabble board. But thankfully, I developed a sense of impulse-control sometime during my upbringing, which has doubtlessly saved me from many a beat-down. I hear that some people who suffer brain injuries lose this ability to control impulses, and I think that life must be rough for them.
They finally post the prize schedule, and I am stunned that divison 3 pays a whopping $700 for 1st place. I had not imagined that the prize money would be so good. I curse myself even more for having lost those first three games, which could very well cost me the tournament.
Big Pimpin'... NOT!
So I throw myself into game 15, against Daiva Markelis, with renewed fervor and determination. But no luck. I only draw the J and the Z, and I think I did well to hold her to 71 points. At one point in the game, I played CRUEL, and through it an accurate description of what the fates were doing to me. Tori Amos's song of the same name started running through my mind. Maybe some music would help me during my next game. I certainly need some kind of help. A feel great bitterness and resentment, because I can still win the tournament, but I need to catch a freakin' break.
The Freakin' Break
My final game was against Ellen Levine, who had started off in second place but wasn't doing as well today. I needed a win, and a big win, in order to move into the top bracket for the final day's four games, which would be a mini round-robin in that bracket, and then king-of-the-hill. And finally, after a crappy day, I got some luck when I needed it. The premium draw was even, 5-5, but I was able to turn my 2 blanks and 1 S into GETTERs and LOLlIES, which she challenges, and also to draw a natural TAWNIER immediately thereafter. I might have scored higher with TINWARE, but I couldn't remember that anagram. Still I win by 144. Possibly enough to push me back up into the top bracket, but I was hungry and didn't stick around to find out. As a result, the next 15 hours were frought with anxiety.
Love is Never Having to Pay for a Meal
Being unemployed and homeless sucks, but one of the advantages is that friends and family take pity and buy you meals. So it was Sunday night with my uncle. On the way back I stopped at the third of four new Starbucks in Chicago, not too far from my aunt's condo, and in a cool old building in Uptown. Then I picked up my uncle and we went to a Colombian restaurant, El Llano, where the traditional platter, "la bandeja paisa", was excellent.
For External Use Only!
We returned to the condo, and my uncle noticed my limping and suggested I soak my ankle in hot water with some salts. I just wanted to sleep, so instead he offered me some Ben-Gay. Now men, for the love of God, heed my words. Make certain that you have washed your hands after applying the lotion and before urinating. Otherwise, you could be in for an unpleasant experience.
The final morning of the tournament, I had to fish around my duffle bag for a while before I found a pair of socks without any holes. Holes in your socks = holes in your game, and I couldn't afford any holes this morning.
I finished off the leftover cornbread and then went to visit the last new Starbucks in the area, all the while wondering if I had made it into the top bracket, which would give me a chance to beat the people ahead of me.
Oh My God--I Killed Kenny!
I arrived at the Oakton Community Center and immediately rushed--as fast as I could managed with my sore ankle--to see the standings. I was fourth. Not great, but in the top group, which meant I would get a crack at the #1 player in the division, but also the 39th (out of 40), who had managed to creep up in the standings. But first up was Ken Sherlock, who directs a club in the area. He opened strong with FLOUR, but I responded in kind to FJORD a path to victory. I took an early lead, and chilled him to the bone, with FROSTIER across the R, never having seen the FORTIES in STORIE + F. But chatty Kenny was there to point that out to me, as well as several other plays later on the in the game. Yet another tactic I would not recommend, pointing out plays to your opponent before the game has ended. When I played SPARTaN, for example, for the simple reason that I could not see how to hook any of the gazillion other bingos in that rack, Ken went nuts trying to figure out why I had played that particular word instead of the other more common bingos. He convinced himself (out loud) that I was trying to draw a challenge, when I wasn't even sure the word was good. His one bingo URALITEs was not enough to even come close, and then when I played CAUTIONS through the C, that was all she wrote. But with three esses, a blank, and the JQZ, I agreed with Ken that he got a tough break.
Thank Goodness for Impulse Control
Next up was the #1 player in the division, the 1475-rated Kit Morehead. She was not a small woman, so I am grateful to myself for having resisted, for three whole days, the urge to crack wise about her name. I'm sure I wouldn't have come up with anything she hadn't heard before anyway.
I opened with AZOTH for 42, and for the rest of the game wondered if it took an S. Once again I lost a valuable tile to an overdraw, but thankfully it was the S and not the blank. Not being sure, I passed up SHOpPER, but thankfully found PASTURe elsewhere a turn or two later, but for fewer points, only 72. Despite my mistakes, I maintained a lead, though not an overwhelming one. She scared the bejeezers out of me when she found ANTISERA towards the end to come within 30. But I managed to preserve my lead and win it, but by all rights I should have lost. I couldn't remember if DOR was good, and I risked DERRING, to have it challenged off the board.
I felt confident going into game 3 of the day against a player almost at the bottom of the division. She didn't draw all that much better than me, but she whupped up on me pretty good anyhow. I knew it was a bad sign when I opened with a strong WHIRR, only to see her come back with 63 points for OUTRACED. A few turns later, I decided to gamble on FALLON and lost. Meanwhile, I'm PICTURING a lost as she finds this great nine, and is now up 149 points. It's not nearly enough when I play DESTAINS and she challenges. To make matters worse, for my spread, I get stuck with the Q. This game was a disaster. I saw $250, the difference between 1st and second place, evaporate before my eyes, and now I would have to fight for second place. Have gotten killed on the spread didn't help.
Andy Yates, whom I never played, now passed me up and would play Kit Morehead for 1st place, while I played Ken Sherlock again to try and eke out a second place.
I needed a win, a big win, and was in full gambling mode. Of course, I missed TOENAIL and ELATION and opened with LO instead, and by all rights I should have given up the game right their. But I made up for it, I think, by sneaking GAPIEST* past Ken. But for only 66 points, we were neck and neck at turn 7. Several strong intermediate plays by me, and weak plays by Ken, meant that when he bingoed for 77 a few turns later, I managed to maintain an 8-point lead, which I slowly expanded by scoring no fewer than 22 points from turn 9 through 16, an average of 30 points per play. This was my saving grace, and despite his having drawn two blanks, three esses, the QX, I managed an 81-point victory. I remain convinced that strong intermediate plays can counteract bingos. Oh, the fact that he burned ??SS on one bingo, SAVINGS, helped me.
Well, I got my second place, but I couldn't help thinking that 1st place, and another much-needed $250, could have been mine for the taking had I made one fewer mistake here or there.
My high-game earned me a copy of Upwords. Yay.
I caught up with Minneapolis to make sure that if I drove all the way out there to play in club on Tuesday night, that she would be there. She said she would be there for the first game, and that was good enough for me.
My Scrabble work done, I went back to the condo for lunch and to go see "The Matrix Reloaded" with my cousin. It had been waiting to see it since the day it opened, the day I left for London. I had waited to see it upon returning from London, preferring to spend any spare time studying.
After the movie, we went back to the condo, and I pretty much passed out as soon as my head hit the pillow. It had been a long day.
I Drove 400 Miles and I Didn't Even Get a Lousy T-Shirt
I was up and out well before 5:00 AM the next morning in order to try and visit five more Starbucks in the greater Chicagoland area, from as far south as Homer Township to as far north as McHenry, before traffic got too heavy. The distances were just too great, and I didn't beat the rush hour, but I did manage to avoid the heavy traffic. Still, by the time I got into Wisconsin, it was past noon, and I had to abandon my plans to visit Starbucks in greater Milwaukee and Appleton. Instead, I headed straight to Monona, outside Madison, and from there to Rochester, MN, where I discovered that the Starbucks there was FAKE!!! A business alliance, contrary to what I had been told when I had called the previous year. At least I didn't go too far out of my way, but I did end up missing the first game at the Minneapolis club.
But the club plays four games so the trip wasn't wasted. Well... I couldn't help but feel disappointed that I had driven 400 miles and couldn't get Minneapolis to meet me for coffee after Scrabble or lunch the next day. I understand about having to get up early for work and all, but still... 400 miles! What's a guy have to do???
Well, that's the story of my life when it comes to girls, so I just put it out of my mind and sat down to some Scrabble against fresh opponents. I find that playing in clubs other than my usual ones, I learn plenty of new words, like SILVERN, which I'd never seen played by any of the Texas players.
Well, that about wraps up the Scrabble portion of my journey. I took another five days getting back to Texas, working my way through the mid-west, plenty more Starbucks, some more Scrabble games in Indianapolis, and three more speeding tickets. All in all, a good trip.