Be Careful What You Ask For...

October 24, 2003

My Convincing Sales Pitch

According to the online ratings calculator, my rating after Baltimore would be 1454. Even with variations for other players' ratings, I was sure to be above 1400, and this got me thinking. I had already noticed the director of the Stamford tournament to see if he could fit me in. I called him back and told him I still wanted to go, but only if I could play in Division 2. I did not want a repeat of Lafayette, where I was brackted according to a published rating of 1305 when my rating was in fact 1374, which would have placed me in a higher bracket.

They say that you should be careful of what you ask for, because you might just get it. Never have theses words rung more true. I contacted Howard Greenspan about a week before the Stamford tournament about being allowed in, thinking I would be in Division 3. But after I calculated my rating based on my performance in Baltimore, I determined that I would be in the 1400s, even with inaccuracy. So I called Howard back and asked to play in Division 2, and after doing some checking he was able to get me in. Part of it was ambition, and part of it was that I didn't want a repeat of Lafayette, a round-robin tournament where my actual rating was about 70 points higher, and dropped after my 7-6 performance.

My imagination immediately began to run away with me, calculating my new rating if I won even 7 of 14 games with an average rating of 1650 for my opponents.

I Hate All of You!

At the suggestion of another player, I took the Garden State Parkway to the Tappan Zee instead of the NJ Turnpinke to I-95. For all I know traffic could have been worse on I-95, but it was for sure ridiculous on the GSP. North of Route 22, where the GSP once again became a toll road, the traffic worsened. I was deeply offended. Back in Texas, I expected that if I had to pay a toll, I would at least get lighter traffic. As I crawled along, trying to make use of the time by reviewing some words while keeping the car in my lane, I began to hate everybody on the road. Later I remember a recent post on CGP about Kenyans delayed entering Malaysia because of immunizations, and occurred to me that it might not be so bad if I missed the first game in this Swiss-pairing tournament, because I might be able to make up the game with easier competition. In fact, since I expected to be at the bottom of the group, my first game was likely to be against once of the top players, and I would probably lose it anyway.

Traffic lightened, and I arrived in Stamford just after 7:30. I couldn't figure out how to get into the Holiday Inn Select, however, and so I lost about 10 minutes going in circles unable to make a u-turn. Visions of Chevy Chase in that European vacation movie came to mind.

First Impressions

Taking another step towards become a ratings-obsessed fiend, the first thing I did upon entering the ballroom was to look for a list of the players in the division. I was pleased to see no only such a list (which had been lacking at several previous tournaments), but also that it included ratings! I immediately calculated the average rating for division 2, 1530. That was a little disappointing, because I had calculated that with a mean rating of 1650 I could jump to a mid-1500 rating by winning 7 games out of 14. Of course, if I did well, the mean rating of my opponents might be higher than 1530.

I had expected to be dead last, but #36 Steve Sidorsky had a published rating of 1332. I wondered if he had won some recent tournaments to be allowed to play Division 2.

I could tell this was a prime event, as I immediately saw Joel Sherman, Joey Mallick, Marlon (not Harlon), and later on, Chris Cree, the first Texan I had seen at tournament since moving up to the northeast.

Pairings went up right at 8:00, and Howie called everybody to attention for announcements, trying to get everything moving as quickly as possible. I finally got to see what the master of CGP Sherrie St. John looks like. As she made her announcements, she spotted me and welcome me to the tournament, adding that I was a celebrity. Well, I don't know about that, but maybe if people say it enough times it will become true.

My first impressions were that this was the most organized tournament I'd seen since Reno, though you can't really compare the two for the size difference. Assigned boards is one of the best ideas ever for larger tournaments with all the players in the same room. One thing I didn't like was the repeated insistence on using the calculators to fill out the scorecards (not to keep score). I refused on general principle, having been a math whiz as a kid and perfectly capable of arithmetic.

So Close, and Yet Nowhere

My next-to-bottom seeding forced a top seed on me early, #3 Frank Romano. I actually succeeded in keeping the board tight as had occurred to me earlier in the week. It looked to me like he drew a blank early, or it might have been an S, because he exchanged on his second turn. It seemed that I was frustrating his attempts to bingo, and meanwhile I was racking up a good lead. Towards the end of the game, I draw a blank, but the board was tight. I ended up with ZEATIN? on my rack, and I'm considering trying to hook the S to HYPER when Frank beats me to it, with JIGgERS. With 4 tiles left in the back, I hold for a long, long time trying to decide if I can still win. Of course, I could play through his letters, but I miss sANITIZE and don't know the other six bingos through the I or G. So I play ZAyIN for 46, hoping to draw the final S, but he's already got it, and that probably made the difference. I lose by 12. Immediately look up HYPERS*, and of course it's no good.

I had no chance at all in game two against Mark Goodman. My luck was better in game 3 against Stefan Rau. I started strong with mAGENTA and a double-double, COINERS (through the E). But Stefan started off strong with FREAK for 34, immediately adding IER for another 45 points. I wondered if he had screwed up and gotten lucky to pull the IER, but later I I figured he probably had two of the three tiles and gambled on drawing the third. I drew half the power tiles, so I can't complain about the draw, but after he pulled away with REINVITE/R for 95, I was never able to catch up.

Three losses to open--the first time I think this had happened in all my tournaments.

Thankfully I have a cousin 30 miles away in Yorktown Heights, so I didn't have to brave the 30-something degree low in my car. I did, however, have to negotiated dark, windy state roads through the back woods of CT and NY while trying to keep up with a suburban going way too fast. I decided it was safer to be able to see his taillights. I was grateful for my new laptop, because otherwise I would have gotten hopelessly lost en route to my cousin's.

October 25

My Wi Fi Addiction

I woke up to something I hadn't seen in a long time--frost on my winshield. The drive back to Stamford during the daylight was better--I didn't feel like I was going to wreck at any moment. I bought some groceries at the A&P for the sole reason of getting cash back without incurring an ATM fee. Down the street, I spotted The Parkway Diner. It was right across the street from Starbucks, and I was amused to find that I picked up the Wi Fi signal, just barely.

I took the breakfast across the street so I could have a more stable connection, and I got so distracted trying to post up my log that I ended up arriving a bit late for the first game, but announcements were still in progress so my clock hadn't been started.

In the three years that I was with a computer, the world had changed. High speed wireless Internet via Wi Fi was now pervasive, and legal downloading of music via iTunes and other services was taking off. While online at Starbucks on Thursday night, I decided to download iTunes. The first song I bought was R.E.M.'s "Bad Day". I'd have to say now that this was a mistake, and that I jinxed myself. I looked at the board when I got to the hotel, and I was the only player in my division with three losses.


I figured that after my first day, I was due for some luck. My opening rack against Richard Reiben was included the blank, and I had hopes that my luck was changing. But my hope soon turned to dismay as I proceeded to draw DEEEKR, EEEEKQ, SEEEQW, EEEIQG, and IIIEFQ. I didn't exchange because in the meanwhile, Richard played TRILLING and opened a TWS that I took, and then DOORwAYS to open another TWS that I took. Finally, when I was about to tack QIR onto FA, he blocked it, and I had to exchange, to draw into a double-double SHINiER for 94. But I was still down by 60, and even with the 53-point X play I wasn't able to catch up.

0-4. I had never been worse than 0-2, and I was stunned.

Against Terry Kang I opened with EEIOTTT and played TOTE for 8 and a TEI leave. Pretty good, right? Well, I proceeded to draw 5-vowel racks for the next six turns. I never saw anything that even looked close to a bingo.

I was in a state of disbelief at 0-5. I never would have imagined I could do that poorly. My opponents weren't even rated that highly. I had beaten 1500s and 1600s plenty of times, not to mention 1400s.

Finally, Some Relief

In game 6 I almost screwed up and played DEARIES, but I saw READIES. I was thinking that my luck was finally turning until Mark Berg counted with ZED for 44. But two turns later, holding DEFIILT, Mark plays WAVY! What were the odds I'd get the Y I needed!!! My racks turned to crap, and Mark started catching up, and scared me at the end trying to bingo out with ELOGiAE*, but of course I had to challenge it off and was able to preserve my lead.

Finally a victory! Never have I been so relieved (except maybe when that girl ended up not being pregnant). But 1-5 with 8 games to go. 7-7 would be tough.


During lunch, I asked Sherrie Saint John how things were looking with regards fitting me into the Falmouth tournament. She said there was a possibility, but then joked that after this tournament I might not qualify for division 2. Joking or not, I was determined to at least preserve a 1400 rating.

When I retrieved my scorecard after lunch I noticed that I had miscalculated my spread for game six. Oops! After my game, I sheepishly used a calculator, feeling a slight twinge of shame as I did so.

I drew 9 power tiles against Alan Kraus, and I think he did well to keep the spread under a hundred--50 if you count the 40 points he lost for going over time. Of course, after he spent five minutes on his first turn looking for a bingo, I immediately started to put him on time, deferring tracking and setting up my play and adding up my score on his time.

When it rains, it pours. Fortunately, it was pouring for Marie Puma, as I drew almost as well as against Alan, except with better timing, for a 219-point win.

It Couldn't Last

I was on a streak, but I lost to Shahid Malik because of TRACKING, TRACKING, TRACKING!!! I mistracked and gave him 28 points on his next-to-last turn, allowing him to win by 2. Aaaagh!!!

Barbara Revkin annoyed me because, despite drawing both blanks to bingo with each, and then a natural, and then some other power tiles for big plays and a near hundred-point lead towards the end of the game, she was acting all nervous like there was actually some chance that she might lose. I was thinking, like, "chill out lady--you've got the game in the bag."

3-7, with four games to go, and tough road ahead if I was to break even.

Being a Celebrity

I drove to Norwalk to visit a new Starbucks and meet a fan of my site Nicole who had offered me a few Starbucks shirts. In exchange, I bought her dinner at a local steakhouse. I felt relieve to finally be able to pay for meals instead of mooching off my family and friends. Upon learning that I had to drive back to Yorktown Heights for the night, she offered to let me sleep on her couch in Bridgeport, which was closer, so I called my cousin and told him I'd made other plans. I guess that's another perk of being a "celebrity".


I returned to the hotel for the speed tournament. Having played plenty of speed chess, I figured I had a decent chance, and it would be good to win anything after the way the main tournament was going. If you haven't played in a speed Scrabble tournament, the rules are interesting. Each player receives 3 1/2 minutes + additional time based on rating. I received 4:25. Rounds are played in groups of four players--the two participants not playing keep score for the two that are playing. There is no tracking. Each second over time costs 1 point, up to a maximum spread of 250.

I had an easy time of it in my first game against an older lady, who, if I remember correctly, was playing in her first tournament ever. In my next game, I thought I was winning, but after a couple of bingos, including the phoney MOLDAGE*, my opponent grabbed a healthy lead. With so little time, I was focused on my plays and not giving much consideration to her plays. Another factor was that to find out the score, a player had to ask the scorekeepers. This made it more difficult to gague my plays according to the score and tiles remaining. I won my third and close games, but not by much, to place second. Spread didn't matter, though, because Terry Kang was undefeated. Actually, spread did matter, because I was #3 going into the fourth round, meaning that I did not have a chance to play Terry. I got to see all four of her games, and she played phonies viciously--WONDLES*, VOLK*, PITE*, GRRD* (a great R dump). Ah, well--I won $20 off my $10 entry fee, and I had never played speed before, so I can't complain.

I rushed to Bridgeport and slept soundly, aided by the Benadryl I had to take to offset the effect of Nicole's cat. My phone didn't set it's clock back and hour during the night, so my alarm went off an hour early. I looked at the VCR and say the correct time and tried to get back to sleep, but I guess I was anxious about the day's games, so I just got up.

October 26

Since I got up an hour early, I took US-1, known around these parts as the Boston Post Road, instead of I-95, looking along the way for someplace to eat. I decided I just wanted something like, like a bagel sandwich, and stopped in a the Upper Crust Bagel Company in Darien (pronounced kinda like Maryanne). I was hoping for a true fried egg on my bagel, but, like most bagel shops, this one used a microwave. Occasionally I'll run into a bagel shop, typically a deli though, that actually fries the eggs. Lousy for the arteries, but damn if they don't taste better that way.

As I drove into Stamford along E. Main Street, I spotted something unexpect, groups of what appeared to be day laborers, seemingly of the illegal variety, waiting for work. Perhaps they were just fired from Wal-Mart's cleaning contractors. I'm used to seeing these groups along different parts of Houston, and I guess there's no reason not to expect the same type of thing all over the country.

I had type for coffee and Internet at the very unsual Starbucks adjoining the Stamford Public Library. I got to read Sherrie's report on CGP, in which she makes mention of my typing away on my laptop at lunch, and teasing me with the prospects of attending the Falmouth tournament. So now I write about her writing about me. It's like when the news media reports on itself. I also punched my 3-7 numbers into the ratings calculator and was relieved to discover it still kept me above 1400 (assuming I didn't tank all four games).

Keeping the board tight benefitted me in game 11, as Diana Grosman ended up with both blanks but could not fit a bingo. Her low-scoring plays to try and bingo helped me win 304-289. Too bad they weren't giving a prize for low win.

What goes around came around in my rematch with Marie Puma as she played the JQXZ all for double or triple points. My security blANKET kept me in the game, but CCIIRUV is a deadly ending rack on any board, let alone a tight one.

An amusing moment occurred in my game against Gregg Foster. First, failing to find any of the copious bingos in EIONNR?, I fished, only to draw a B. I knew IRONES+B had no bingo, and I was cursing myself for fishing. Then Gregg misplays JUOLE, but I failed to notice. But it's good I didn't challenge, because I found BOUNCIER, which was the only thing that would fit. After my SeAWARD, he just couldn't catch up. After the game Sherrie pointed out I had just beaten her husband. I hoped that she wouldn't punish me by keeping me out of Falmouth.

I opened my final game against Judy Steward with CHIEFER, figuring that it I was going to gamble, best to do it early. She challenged and lost, giving me another play for a 110-pt lead. I figured since she was in the 1600s that about made us even. I kept the board as closed as possibly, and even though she drew both blanks, when I blocked the final bingo aisle with a lucky draw, NAILERS, it was over.

6-8 wasn't great, but at least my rating should stay around 1450, allowing me to stay in division 2 and build from there.

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