December 14, 2003
The Sound of Music
After six long years, Sarah McLachlan finally released another studio album on November 4, 2003. Being a longtime fan, I bought the CD immediately listened to it thoroughly. Despite a marriage, child, and the wildly successful Lilith Fair, her new album had a rather somber tone, with tracks titled "Fallen", "Stupid", "Drifting", "Train Wreck", and "Dirty Little Secret". Can it really be a coincidence that not long after listening to these songs over and over, I began to falter? Does the music we hear not have a suggestive quality?
The Usual Pre-Tournament Bravado
I left Princeton shortly after 9:00 AM, giving my self plenty of time to reach Philadelphia, and was pleased do discover the road south was not bad at all. Northbound on I-95, traffic was slowed by a pair of snowplows escorted by states troopers. This must have been thoroughly frustrating to drivers because there simply wasn't enough snow on the road to warrant plowing.
I left Starbucks a bit after 11:00 and headed to the tournament site (the nature of which I'm still unclear about (a church?)) so that Matt wouldn't have cause to shame me yet again. Relatively few people had arrived, and Matt was in crisis mode, figuring out who would make it and who would not, adjusting the divisions accordingly. My club-mates from Jersey, Scott and Lynda, had canceled, which surprised me, because they weather wasn't nearly that bad. The Baltimore group had also canceled, which was a disappointment, because I was looking forward to convincing Matt to including me in an extra-large top division so that I could kick Marlon's ass.
Shane from Central Jersey suggested they might be using the weather as an excuse to stay home and watch Saddam Hussein's perp walk, but I just though they were wimps, the lot of them. I drove eight hours to Shelton, CT, in conditions that were an order of magnitude worse than the light flurries of the morning. Eight hours!!! Where's the dedication to Scrabble if you can't risk a little life and limb every now and again.
As I waited for things to develop, a couple of division B players were bumped up. Curses! That meant that I would not get my revenge on Mark Miller, and also that the average rating for the group would drop, thus cutting the maximum number of rating points I could gain.
But I Digress...
As play was about to begin, a player announced that Saddam Hussein had been captured. "Whoop-de-doo," I thought (insert facetious circling of the index finger). The U.S. has so thorough botched the occupation of Iraq that Saddam's capture will scarcely make a difference. What they should have done, had they the spine, was to evacuate the entire population from the country, thus enabling reconstruction to proceed unimpeded. Where would the Iraq people have gone? Why, to the communities and homes of the generous citizens of the coalition countries. Between the U.S., the UK, and Australia (especially), twenty-three million Iraqi's could easily be absorbed for a time. What middle or upper-class American family, with their oversized suburban houses and country mansions, would not be eager to serve as a host to one or more Iraqi families?
My first opponent of the day was Alan Kraus. He opened with DECLARE, leaving no place to play UGLIEST or GLUIEST, had I seen them. So I played GUL and drew into BOGGIEST, which he challenged, allowing me to take the lead with KAYO. But he later found ENCASHED through an S, taking the most available bingo line. I held several no-gos during the remainder or the game, and the downside to bingo racks is that they typically include 1-point tiles that cannot otherwise score well. Without the bingo, I just couldn't squeeze out enough points, and lost by 13.
I almost had top seed Mark Berg in a close fought battle that came down to the end game. Things fell into place early for him, with 69 points from X and Z plays. I decided to try a gamble and burn an S for 16 points with OUTGAS, hoping to draw the challenge. It worked, and the tenour of the game began to change. But I could only find a 58-point bingo with EEIONT? through the L, while he got 76 for SaLAMIS to take a 13 point lead. From that point on, it was agonizingly close, played down to mere seconds on our clocks during the end game. After he gambled on NAPER* and I challenged it off, I was able to go out first, pick up 8 points from his rack, and win by 3, or so I thought. We recounted, and I had overstated my score for IMPS by 4 points, and so I ended up losing by 1. What a heartbreaker!
I wish I could have just one tournament without a game that is a complete train wreck. I know it must be possible, otherwise I wouldn't be seeing players winning undefeated. But it never happens to me. Nancy Hanley opened with DESTINE, and I hate to challenge an opening bingo, so I (thankfully) let it go. Holding GELATIO, I was about to give up when it occurred to me to try GELATION. It was the only bingo I could have played, not knowing OSTALGIES or LATIGOES. But what's more amazing is that after taking all that time to find the bingo, I transposed the I and the O and the play came off. From that point, the rest of the game was a complete disaster, a 206-point rout. Everything went her way, but I don't have the comfort of blaming it all on the tiles because I realize that had I played the bingo correctly, the entire game could have gone differently.
After Shelton, I had convinced myself that I had the word knowledge to move up into the expert division, but was kept from doing so by stupid non-vocabulary related mistakes. But in my fourth game in Philadelphia, I was shocked back to the reality of how poor my word knowledge really is. After Shahid Malik tacked JETTOnS onto my opening FLOUR, I decided he had misspelled JETONS and challenged. I should have simply played JAGGED. I evened the game out with a natural ABALONE and later had to chance to gain a sizable lead with UNITIES, but I didn't think YUP took an S. Shahid either knew his stuff, or was more willing to gambly (probably the former), and shocked me by playing HUNTErS/YUPS. How stupid could I be? Later, my confidence faltered again, and I gave up 22 points by playing MATINEES instead of risking ETAMINES. It was demoralizing, the way I was outplayed.
Best I could do now was 3-4, and I was grateful ratings wouldn't be posted until January, otherwise I'd be back in division 3.
I finally won a game, against Marty Fialkow, but I drew well, and he had little to work with, so I took little satisfaction. Except for knowing ATINGLE, and finding a hook to to AD and D.
My game against Woody Chen was more of a battle. Without bingos I was able to pull away by 60 points. He came back with a clever and unusual move, making the blank a Q for ESqUIRE. I was trying to fit EIOGMN? somewhere, but I missed SMIdGEON. Fortunately, I drew the last remaing power tile, the Q, and the board, for once, was replete with places to play it. And the additional factor in my favor was that Woody has misadded my score by 10 points.
The Cruelty of the Gods
The tournament was already a loss, but I had an opportunity to salvage a small measure of satisfaction by exacting revenge against Terry Kang who had beaten me twice. I was looking forward to challenging her notorious phonies off the board. The board became tight immediately, as she opened with ZORI and I played ER/EX/XI above it. This configuration seemed to frustrate Terry, and she spent over five minutes deciding to finally exchange. I suspected a blank or an S. The way my luck had been that day, probably a blank. So I did everything I could to keep the board as tight as possible. Five turns later she exchanged again, to no avail, and was audibly frustrated that she was not getting her bingo. I knew it was only a matter of time, but after 9 turns I had amassed a 92-point lead--good enough to fend off the inevitable bingo. She found it, with the S hook that I could not block, LUNKS/DASHIkI. I have to give her credit for finding the bingo. But after what happened next, it cannot be a coincidence that just prior, I held the no-go OUTRAGE. For chance turned on me in the most cruel of manners. Her bingo hung the I on the triple column, but I held nothing but one-point tiles and could not reach the TWS. So I took the DWS spot for 8 points, hoping to at least make the column harder to play off. But in this most cruel twist, Terry drew the other blank, and a great rack, TANGL?R, and was able to play TANGLIeR through the I to take a 57-point lead. I was in disbelief--I had been able to taste victory, and it been snatched from me. Terry was down to only a few minutes on her clock, and there were enough intermediate-point tiles, plus the Q and J, for me to come back. But I got nothing but 1-point tiles and the D, and there was just no way to score with those tiles.
It just wasn't fair. I had played a good game, making it difficult for her to find a bingo and racking up a sizeable lead. For her to draw into a great rack after her bingo, and then to draw the remainder of the good tiles--that's just wrong. That's why Scrabble is a cruel, cruel game. Rewards for crafty play are far from guaranteed.
But for that final loss I would have recovered about ten of those precious ratings points. Instead I was cast further down towards the depths, precariously close to division 3. The pressure in these depths is suffocating. Once again, I cannot breath. Once again I find myself in a box from which there is no hope of escape. Only this time, instead of the blows coming in a few days as in Reno, they come week after week, like a death by a thousand cuts.
I have lost my way. Whereas before my sails were full, speeding me towards the land of the elite, I now find myself in a windless sea, lacking impulse, and drifting towards the shores of mediocrity. The hour grows late. Little opportunity remains to achieve my objective. Twenty-two games at Parsippany and seven in Bayside. More if I can spare the expense for Farmington or Los Gatos, and then Rome. And then the clock runs out. If I have not reached 1600 by then, whatever shall become of me.