Two, Three, Or Maybe Four Steps Back

November 23, 2003


I drove up to Maine on Saturday to visit four new Starbucks, and all day long I was filled with dread, worried that I had misread the tournament listing, and that it was in fact on Saturday, not Sunday. But once I got back to Boston and looked up the listing at Kinko's, I was relieved that it was indeed on Sunday.

I did not manage to make it all the way to Queens Saturday night, so the morning was also filled with some dread over what could go wrong to make me late to the tournament.

But despite a momentary panic after getting off at the wrong exit because my mapping program had misplotted the hotel, I got back on track and arrived with almost an hour to spare.

Winter Notices Things

The first thing I noticed was the car with the SCRABBLE license plate--I wondered if it belonged to Joel.

The next thing I noticed, as I chatted with Woody about how I could have had a rating above 1500 if I hadn't forfeited two games in the past two tournaments, was a mystery man pointing out that, since the opponents that I forfeited against were rated a few hundred points below me, I wouldn't have gained that many points anyway. But wait--that's no mystery man with the moustache! That's the new and improved Joel Sherman. I wondered if he grew the facial hair as a lucky charm against Aldo, one of the best park players playing in his first tournament. Or maybe he was studying so much he didn't have time to shave.

His name may be Woody, but if I'm ever lost in the woods, I'll look elsewhere for leadership. I followed him on an expedition around the hotel to find the restroom. Later I noticed that the hallway immediately to the right of the tournament room led directly to those same restrooms.

I went back out to the car to get my laptop and folder, and I noticed the momentous arrival of Aldo, of Word Freak fame. Then I noticed Shea Stadium across the freeway. I had known it was in Queens, but not exactly where. I took a photo, and then I asked myself, "Why?" Glad I didn't waste any film.

Noticing that I was #3 in a group of 20, I quickly looked up the rating of the last player in the group. Aaagh!!! 990. Quick--what was the average rating? 1167--AAGHH!!! And the rating of my first three speed opponents--1162--AAAAAAAAGGGGGGHHHHHH!!! I'd have to win all three games for sure, or lose lots of points. At least with this speed pairing system there was a good chance that in games 4-6 the average rating of my opponents would be higher, because presumably they would be the winners of the other groups.

Pride Goeth

Having arrived in time to play my first game, I wanted to climb on a table and proclaim, "Watch out all youse punks--I ain't forfeiting no games today!". It's a good thing I didn't, because my fears about being near the top of the division were realized within my first three games. 1163-rated Bob Becker managed to stay even with me, and it, ironically, was a good rack that was my undoing. Holding ANTRES? and with no available hooks, I took a chance on IDLINGS/TREASoN*, and it came off the board. I lost by 30. The missed turn, plus the two tiles left in the bag that I didn't get, one of which could have been the Y that he played for 26 points, might have made the difference.

During the game, both us us had to pick up our racks every time we turned the board, because the table was too slender. It was an okay room otherwise, and the hotel was easy enough to find (if you ignored the stupid mapping program).

I beat Art Kreda handily, but I didn't really have a good feeling about the game. Though he was rated 1326, he has making some really simple plays. I got the feeling he wasn't really trying. For example, after playing LOUR for 7, he played RETAIN for 14. The board was so open that I wondered why he didn't exchange his other two tiles and keep ETAIN, or ETAN. Of course I couldn't see his rack, but I never felt challenged during the game. Meanwhile, I was playing words like BLAIN and VOLVA, hoping he would challenge, but all he did was hold, several times, including CRUSTINg/N, which seemed like a common word to me.

Meanwhile, the tournament was turning in a real trip. I tripped Ann Sanfedele twice, and then one of the other experts. And later, Joel, I think, tripped over a cord. I hope Woody took out insurance for the event.


My third game against #18, 999-rated Denise Mankhe, was, of the 250+ tournament games I've played this year, the one in which timing made the most difference. I drew nine power tiles. She drew an S and the K. Yet, the only time she scored less that 19 points was on her out play, and the two challenges she lost. She averaged 31.2 points per play. To open, she played REROLLED/L. I I not played the CLEFT, she would have had very few bingo opportunities with that rack. I then drew the blank on my second turn, but with IOUTVZ. I played VIZOR for 34, which she challenged, and then DUVET for 30, and I took the lead. But she came back with CHINK for 36, POET for 30, JAGUAR for 42, CHINKY for 34, and some 26-point play. Meanwhile, after DUVET, I drew another blank, but with JVETL. The board was not very bingo-friendly, so I used one blank for a meager 37 points for JEOn, and drew QVTLLI to go with my other blank. I could have exchanged, but instead I played TITI for 16, and then using my other blank for QUALe for 66. I think I did the right thing, because I scored 119 points over those three turns. If I had exchanged and managed to find a bingo that scored, say, 70 points, I would still have had to score more than 37 on my third turn to come out ahead. The game was close up until the end, when she beat me to the TWS, scoring 38 for NOGGED off a PA hook that I had been looking at intently. I doubted that a 999 would know such a word, so I challenged, and lost. I got the turn back when she played GISM*, and I actually caught up and led by one. But once again timing came into play. She had both Ms in her final rack for MAIMS for 30, and I couldn't compete with my one-point tiles. Game over. There is no questioning that the timing was almost completely in her favor, but to be honest, I might have won if I had not challenged NOGGED, or if I had seen RESAWN where she play NOGGED.

I will say one thing, though. Denise had a really cool board, decorated with pieces of an atlas of the U.S. This definitely appealed to a traveler like moi.

This was turning into a disaster! Even if I won the rest of my games, 5-2 might still lose me ratings points with such a low average rating. In fact, I think this was the lowest average rating of the seven groups I had played in since moving to the northeast.

After getting lost inside the parking garage, I drove down Roosevelt until traffic became too heavy. I had been looking for a grocery store, but one look at the local residents told me a South American restaurant was to be found somewhere in the vicinity. I quickly stumbled across theTio Julio Restaurant. The rice and beans were different than those prepared in Panama and Colombia, but they were excellent nonetheless.

I started off well after lunch, killing Sal Campo by almost 200 points. Poor guy exchanged three times, and it seemed like he couldn't get a break.

Meanwhile, Aldo was in first place after four games. I was very curious to find out how he would fare in his first tournament.

Ken Rubin gave me a start early on by laying down OUTFEAR*. But I had started studying OUT words before leaving Houston. It had been a couple of months, but I still had some memory. I began running through them in my mind. I wasn't at all sure, but I decided to challenge, and it came off. Then I took the spot and played BEAKeRS for 82. It was a close game, meriting a recount. Both our scores went up by 1 point, but I still lost, by 3. It was painful. I regretted having tried JILTY*, and I don't even know what I was thinking with MEER*.

Towards the end of the game, Ken, trying to find a bingo, wrote down his rack in plain view. I told him that he shouldn't let his opponent see this, and he quickly picked up the paper and said "Oh!". Then he gave me this look, like maybe he was indignant that I would have been looking. I hope that upon further reflection he realizes that it was his mistake, and that I was merely taking advantage of it. While I would never look at my opponents rack when coming back from a challenge computer, for example, if he chooses to make notes that I can see, I'm more than happy to use the information, just as if he had tried to play a bingo but realized it didn't fit and picked the tiles back up.

Another painfully close loss, this time to Charlene White by 6 points, and I could see my rating plummeting like the proverbial stone. When are they going to take spread into account when computing ratings???


My opponent in the final round had a board so huge that, in combination with the exceptionally slender tables, forced us to keep our racks slightly to the side. I got used to it pretty quickly as my attention turned to the impending disaster. After passing on his opening move, he played CORNERs. A few turns later, TALLIES, and I figured it was all over but the crying. But after a slow start, I was able to score at least 20 per turn, and then I started drawing all the high-point tiles. Unfortunately, whereever I could play the Q and Z for bonus points, my opponent had a counterplay. When it came to the X, almost at the end of the game, I went ahead and played AXE for 26 instead of X, so that he would not score with AXE himself. Then I proceeded to draw into JLLORST. If I had I only kept the E, oh, what could have been. There was a tile in the bag, but my opponent was sure to draw it, unless he screwed up and played a phony. So I could only dream of the bingo that never was. And then I noticed the possible S hook on CORNERs that had been sitting there for the entire game. And I knew my opponent had either the other S, or the blank. But he didn't take the spot, and when I lay down JOLTS/SCORNERs for 45, he damn near flipped out. He challenged, commenting that he had to. I pointed out that he would have won anyway, as I was still down by 18 points, and he could surely go out first with the blank and S in his rack. He damn near flipped out again, saying that he had thought my JOLTS was a bingo! The word judge came over. The answer--acceptable. Then my opponent really flipped out, got up, and and banged his scorepad on something, producing a loud whacking sound. I was amazed. It was the first time one of my opponents had reacted like that. He proceeded to apologize repeatedly for the rest of the game, confessing that he was taking it too seriously, and later I overheard him commenting to an acquaintance that he needed to "come down" a bit.

And I thought I took the game seriously.

So there it was, my 23rd tournament, and only the second time that I had lost more than one game more than I won. But the first time wasn't so bad because I was at the bottom of the group and still gained ratings points. This time, it really hurt. I figured I would be knocked down into that cesspool of sub-1400 wannabes. Could I look at myself in the mirror again?

Is This What Sherrie Would Call "Color"?

Outside in the hallway one of the experts, an older lady, was on her phone and uttered the F word. I was shocked! What's the world coming to, when even older ladies have gutter mouths.

Someone named Tom Kelly, who somehow knew who I was, came up and talked to me about my Starbucks project. Then Ginger White came up and asked him if he was ready to go, and I said, "Oh, is this your husband?" Both of them broke up laughing, in that "oh heavens, no!" type of way.


Every now and again I will think back on Charles M. Schultz. I remember walking into a Starbucks in Atlanta and having two ladies tell me he had died. He truly was a master of his art. I remember a series of strips in which one of the characters--Lucy, I think--referred to Snoopy as "fuzzy-face". Snoopy, of course, reacted with indignation. Anyway, as I waited for the awards, Joel Sherman asked me if I had worked out my new rating yet. I hadn't, because I wasn't online, but in fact I was scared to see just how many points I lost. I'm sure I dropped below 1400. I complained about how I had been so close to the 1500 I needed to play up to the expert division, and he told me I needed more seasoning. What am I, roast beef in the oven? He also gave me advice about learning to play against all types of players, from experts down to intermediates. This seems to make sense, that experts would play a different type of game, but I don't think I'm at the point yet to be able to detect style of play.

As Woody read the out the non-cash prizes, I was expecting to win high loss in my division, but that punk Ken Rubin beat me out in the last round. But I got the high non-bingo and took Ann Sanfadele's beefcake calendar of past champions. Who knew Scrabble players (and playerettes) could be so sexy?

Amazingly, 999-rated Denise Mankhen went undefeated. I still think she had great timing in my game, but she must know what she's doing to go undefeated. Who is this lady???

Crossed the Queens-Midtown tunnel and parked on E. 35th to find the nearest Starbucks with Wi Fi, just in case card decided to work. Found a bunch of networks just sitting out there on the street, and was able to connected, but the connection was not reliable or fast enough. So I drove a few blocks to a Starbucks. It was closed, but even parked out in front I was able to get a good, fast, connection. How cool is that?

November 24

Upon arriving at work Monday morning, one of the first things I did was to calculate my new rating online. I was so relieved that it would only drop to about 1421. Whew! I am not a sub 1400-loser after all. But I still suck for being under 1950, and I'm stupid, for not knowing INERRANT (according to experts on CGP).

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