You Mean the First Game Isn't Optional?

November 15, 2003

Big Nick's

I drove down to Philly on Saturday to get some practice for Sunday's tournament. An informal club run by Mitchell Brook meets at a bar called Big Nick's. I learned the venue is only temporary, because some players do not like the bar scene. I find this disappointing. There are enough clubs meeting in libraries and IHOPs. It's nice to have a change of scenery. And besides, Mitchell's mom plays there too--what could be more wholesome than that?

The bar does not serve food, but the pizza place a couple of doors down makes a mean calzone.

I got four games in and then left to meet a girl who had a personal ad on Craig's List. After spending an hour with the girl, I wished I had stayed at Big Nick's for a few more games.

November 16

Oops! I Did It Again

I gave myself plenty of time to have breakfast and drive to Philly from Princeton. As I pulled out of the Driveway of Death, so called (by me) because it exits up an incline and onto a road with barely any view of the oncoming cars, I heard a slow, acoustic tune on "Morning Edition" that sounded oddly familiar. It was the final lyric, "I'm not that innocent" that clinched it--a Brittney Spears hit from a few years back, sung by an artist maybe three times her age, Richard Thompson. Little did I know at the time how prophetic the song would turn out to be.

It was 10:30 when I arrived at a Starbucks about 10 blocks from the tournament site. I worked on my writing, thinking I had a couple of hours to kill.

About noon I left the Starbucks and drove into Center City to rephotograph a couple of Starbucks. I stopped for some fruit, thinking we wouldn't get a break since the tournament started at 1:00, after lunch. When I arrived at 42nd and Locust I felt a momentary panic because I couldn't remember the name of the building, and nothing that looked suitable for a Scrabble club seemed obvious to meet. But Matt had the foresight to post signs, and I easily found the room. As I scooted on up their, in no big hurry, Marty Fialkow gives me this astonished look, exclaiming "What happened to you???". I replied--"It doesn't start 'til 1:00", and it was then I discovered that the tournament had begun at noon, and that Matt was about to give my place away to another player!

I literally walked in in the nick of time, as Ronnie and Terry Kang were about to start their game. Had they started, I would have lost my place. But Matt stopped them and let me set up with Terry. Matt was displeased, to say the least, replying that it made no sense to him when I told him I had been sitting at Starbucks, thinking the tournament was a 1:00. Ronnie was also disappointed that she wouldn't get to play, especially since she had been about to start a game. Missed it by seconds.

I was equally disappointed, having missed my first game for the second week in a row, and in a round-robin, where missing a game doesn't get you paired with an easier player, and also because once again I was paired with a player at the bottom of the division, meaning that I had forfeited what could have been an easy game.

Physically Present Perhaps, But Not Mentally

I was distracted, convinced that the NSA web site had said the tournament started a one. But this isn't why I lost the first game. It's because I let Terry get away with GENIALS*. It looked phoney, but I was unsure and thought I could still win. But the end tiles didn't work out. I had two minor moral victory, though. First, after she challenged off NILLO*, I threw out another combination, NOIL, and she challenged. Hah! Towards the end of the game, she played a Y to make LAY/YA for 27 points instead of the 34 points for VINEY/YID that I then took with my Y. But Terry seems to be fairly unemotional when playing and did not give me the satisfaction of hearing her grouse about the 7 points she missed.

I lost my next game against top seed Jim Kille because of an awful, awful move early in the game. Holding CGILNOV and seeing no plays that scored any points or balanced my rack, I exchanged and drew EIODN?, and the Q! I was loathe to exchange again, but that's what I should have done instead of playing QAID for 14. I was hoping he wouldn't have the S to hit the DWS. Not only did he have the S, but he had ZIGS/QAIDS for a whopping 58. I should have dumped (QOD?). My one, not-quite-redeeming moment was my out sequence, holding AIIOUFJ, and having tracked properly, I worked it out so I could play JIAO and then FUJI. But I fell four points short.

Conspiracy Theory

For lunch I went over to Hoagie House at Matt's suggestion. He had a flyer or coupon or something like that. I'm not sure if I got discount or not, because I was more preoccupied with getting over to Kinko's so I could verify that the tournament listing on the NSA web site had in fact specified 1:00 as the start time. I was soooo convinced, and that convincton turned to utter befuddlement when I discovered that the listing specified noon, plain as day, as the start time. Criminy! Clearly there was a conspirary in place to keep players not from the East Coast from advancing too quickly. I wondered how they pulled it off? Did they someone detect that I was logging onto the site and change the text? And who was involved? Hmmm...

He Finally Arrives!

After lunch I was able to put the insidious conspirary, and my three losses, out of my mind and arrive, mentally, so to speak. I finally got to put a green sticker (green means go!) up on the board after blowing away Nancy Hanley with a good draw and a couple of good bingos, sNARLED and UNARMING/N. During the game, there was a lot of commotion in the room. First there was Chatty Kathy exclaming how she had put "it" in the wrong place. Then there was an expert, who I'll leave anonymous so as not to ruffle his dreds, who continually, and quite audibly, commented on his game.

My next opponent, Dorcas Alexander, featured in the famous "Women of Scrabble" issue (you guess which magazine), had been away from competitive Scrabble for some time. Her absence had apparently not diminished her skills, as she was doing quite well in the tournament. I took an early lead with the 103-point double-double PARENTS, which win me the high bingo prize. But Dorcas came back exchanged and was rewarded with SIlICATE. She wasted no time in putting the pressure on, bingoing again with PRANCED. I felt the need to take risks, so I hung DRY next to the TWS column, hoping she would neither have the remaining S nor know DRYS. I still wonder if most 1400-1500 level players would know the word. Towards the end of the game, she dropped a G on the TWS aisle, and I immediately rushed to see what I could play. A few months ago, I surely would have played something there, even for 12 or 15 points, just to block it. But now I realized the wanted me to drop a letter in the corner to give her a hook for a bingo. I held back. The next turn, with the game almost over, I couldn't pass up the 30-points for WAGER. Sure enough, she dropped down a bingo, RELiSHER, but I was suspicious, and I challenged it off. In retrospect, it worked out in my favor that I opened up the bingo aisle, because otherwise should probably would have seen the S hook on OHM and played HELpERS a turn sooner. It was surely the extra turn that helped me eke out the 20-point win.

I was proud of my high-bingo for sure, but what I was most proud of was resisting the urge to make fun of Dorcas' name. That would have been horridly juvenile, and we can't have people accusing Winter of being juvenile.

I'd beaten #6 and #4 in the group, it was time for #2, and the games were getting tougher. I was out of the running for first or second. I still had hopes of third or fourth, but my true position was that of spoiler in game 5 against Carole Denton. The game was close throughout, and hard-fought, with a roughly even draw. At the end it came down to my drawing the Z, and her not tracking well enough to prevent me for playing it for 38. I was particularly pleased by drawing the magical rack, SATINE?, and then taking the time to find a play, uRINATES that did not open a triple-triple line. As we finished the game, the two ladies in the #2 and #3 position were eagerly awaiting the outcome, to see if Carole would remain in first place. I felt for her, as I had one or two times been in the position of being knocked out of first by someone who wasn't in the running.

Grrr... (like Marge from The Simpsons)

I freely admit the mistakes that cost me the first three games (including the forfeit), but in the final KOTH round against Mike Miller, I truly had no chance. His first two turns were bingos, EUlOGIA and IRATELY. And just to show me he was serious, a few turns later he laid down CASTLE. There was no way to come back from that without good tiles, and I was out of luck.

Still, I came away with a discount coupon for a future Philly tournament for my high-bingo, and I learned a new word, as Matt applauded my perigrinations when handing me the prize.

Like Kurosawa I Make Mad Films

It was early yet, so I stuck around Philly to see what the city had to offer in the way of strip clubs, and I discovered setups that I had never before encountered, at Cafe Risque and at Show n Tel (or something like that). A Cafe Risque, the stage was in the middle of the bar, and too far for the patrons to tip the dancers. So after a stage dance, each dancer walked around the bar to collect tips. I didn't like this. I stayed away from the bar. Show n Tel was actually a book/video store, with a show bar that was closed on Sunday, but also a type of modeling studio. It was interesting that to get in, you had to obtain a $2 bill to insert into the turnstile. I wondered just how often they had to run to the bank for $2 bills.

Delilah's was more like what I was used to in Texas, but still in the northeast the dancers seem to be more restrained that in Texas or California. Perhaps some freaky shit goes on in the champagne room, but throw some cold water on me if I ever even think of paying $300+ for a bottle of champaign. I'll stick to water and coffee, thank you.

On the way to Delilah's, a couple of girls in a gas-guzzling SUV motioned for me to lower my window. I was pretty sure they weren't impressed by my rented Ford Focus, so I wondered what they wanted. Directions, to some nightclub. I motioned for them to pull over and located the street on my handy laptop on the seat next to me. The thought of going to the club myself occurred to me, but of course that would have been perceived as creepy. The Ford Focus, mind you, not the stalking itself.

I headed back to Princeton, and vowed that I would camp out in front of tournament venue next Saturday, and be on time for my first game no matter what!

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