One Tournament At a Time
April 24, 2004
A Disappointing Start
Scott Adams wrote that "all people are idiots". Ever emblematic of of this statement, I managed to arrive late at the Berlin Baptist Church despite having made it a point to get up at the obscene hour of 6:35 AM. Shudder. I had plotted the address. I had calculated the distance from the Starbucks to the church. I had accounted for traffic. None of this preparation mattered, however, because when I pulled out of the Starbucks on Route 73 in Marlton I proceeded to head the wrong way, towards Philadelphia, not realizing my error until I saw the signs for the bridge and let loose a stream of expletives. All the speed and spare time in the world won't help you if you're heading the wrong way. I seems I can never underestimate my ability to come up with new ways to arrive late.
Yoli, who has helping out Herb, Margaret and Betty, handed me my scorecard, and I wasn't pleased with my placement, #5. But I had no time inspect the rest of the field, as my first opponent was waiting for me. As a result, I started my first game thinking about my possibilities for gain or loss instead of simply winning the game. After the game, I went outside and saw that, like in Atlantic City, the players were listed on the poster in alphabetical order, not ratings order. How annoying. I was further annoyed, and rather envious, to see that former intermediate players like Kraus and Kang and Kretschman had passed me up and were in the top group, where I felt I belonged. Oh, let's not even talk about Kretschman, who jumped from a rating in the 1100s in December to over 1600 about three months later. One the one hand, this is proof positive that such a leap is entirely possible. On the other hand, it makes me feel wholly inadequate for my failure to accomplish the same.
I further felt that I should have won that first game, against the mysterious Barbara Ginglesperger. Mysterious because for some reason I was expecting a women several decades her senior. No mystery though, in that I was cheated. I played well. I think I made the right decisions. After I opened with MELON and she exchanged, I gave up an S to eliminate the hook with YES. Later, I drew into a bingo, AEIPRST, but only after resisting my impulse to score and deciding to exchange. I was using a lot of time relative to Barbara, and I used more still deciding where to play the bingo. I could have played through an N for 74, but that would have left a TWS counterplay, so I just took 70 points elsewhere. As it turned out, the 42 Barbara scored for CHAW would have been 48 for CHEW had I played through the N. However, while I was busy debating how to use the C she had placed on the triple line, whether to open a dangerous bingo line with TEACH, or play CHEAT instead, which placed the E above the TLS with the X still unseen. While I was debating, Barbara was finding SPEEDILY through my PASTIER. And then she got the X play. No matter what I did, it wasn't working out. She got JOTTED for 54, placing the J on the triple column, and the best I could do was TAJ. I was struggling to keep up with what I was given. She exchanged again, and with so many tiles gone she surely had a blank. I had to give up points to keep from opening up any lines. Finally she opened one up with TAV. She must have had one, or two, blanks. I made the logical move. Holding the last E and O, I played VIED, calculating that forcing her to use a blank as an E or O would reduce her bingo chances, or her chances of scoring with the Q. Further, that I had more points to come with OMIT along the triple line, or OBI/BA/IVIED or OMIT/MA/IVIED, or BIZ up in the other corner of the board, and good chances to go out first. But the tiles played out in the worst way. She played WIZ, I played OMIT, and she ended up holding both Us and both blanks to bingo out with UNCURed, while I drew the last tile in the bag, the Q. It just wasn't fair. For her to have both Us and both blanks and then have me draw the Q. It was impossible. It was so unfair. So angry.
Meanwhile, Next to the Bathroom
I was pleased to see a water fountain next to the bathroom. I was displeased that the water fountain did not work.
Things worked out better again Bunny Gorchov. Don't know where I saw EBONIZEd, but I started off with 107 and cruised. Then towards the end I was able to hook NEROLIS and then win a challenge for knowing AKEE is the only one of the group (AGEE, AKEE, AJEE, ALEE, AWEE) that takes an S.
Meanwhile, tempers flared at the aspiring table as two players as one player protested--something about the other player doing something on her time. Yoli went over to cool things down. The players finished, but it was clear they were still dissatisfied as they filled out scorecards, and Yoli stood nearby watching, eyes peeled in their direction.
I tried the water fountain again. The water fountain still did not work. I was still displeased.
The Game From Hell
Next I had my third encounter with The Evil Outdrawer. I started trembling before the game had even begun. She opened with PEAVE*, and I challenged it off. Little relief, because my rack was ugly. FONTS, leaving HZ. She played APE, and my only good Z play was an awful, awful one, giving up either the OZONE counterplay or ZONED. She played AYE, leaving the two possibilities, the N for OPEN on the DWS, and the front hook for APE, A second letter, down to the DWS. But my racks were ugly, ugly, ugly, and turn after turn I couldn't touch the golden spots. She couldn't either, and this served to keep me on edge, my anxiety building. Finally I got an N, but the best I could do is NIB. She gets the other spot with GATED--not a lot of points, thankfully. I have the J, but both my good spots for JUG or JAG leave an A hook to a triple aisle. I had to take it. I got a reprieve, and the best she can do is ARCO. Then I screw up big time, though I don't realize it til later. I hooked FED to GATED, thinking it doesn't have a hook, forgetting the obvious S. I forgot about the spot, though, when she playing DARLInGS, and I started to think doom, that once again she had beaten me to the blank. She always beat me to the blank. Three games, and she had drawn five blanks, with one more to go. I could only score 24 off the triple she opened, giving me a mere 20-point lead. Dangerous. My trembling intensified. I grumbled when I got the Q. Had to take the 12-point QAT. My next rack was awful, IIUUDPT. 30 points for QUIP, but the dangerous S hook in the triple column. What could I do? I needed to score to keep a lead, and I couldn't score otherwise with those tiles. The only way I could win was if I got a break, and so I had to play it. I nearly cried when I drew EEID. Awful. She didn't have the S, thankfully. At least not then. After GUID, I finally had some promising tiles, EEEILRT, but the bag was getting light, and I went for turnover with ELITE. Finally, a blank! I didn't even notice the other tiles at first, because she quickly hooked SOILERS* to QUID for a potential 90. Now here I screwed up. I held, of course, and then decided that, as this would give her a 54-point lead, I would not be able to catch up. Had I looked at my tiles before challenging, I would have seen that I had HOVEREd in my rack (unsure of HOVERER). I should have further noticed that the bag had only seven tiles, which meant I would have gone out with my bingo to win. Instead, I challenged off the play, and then I saw HOVEREd, which placed the D in the triple column. Even with my 80 points for hovered, the 26 points left in the bag plus her bingo, if she found one, would give her the win. I could play HOVER for 51 and leave myself blank, hoping that if she found the bingo I could score enough with my blank and the B and K left in the bag to win. I agonized over that decision. My trembling was uncontrollable. I counted and recounted the tiles in the bag, each time having to restart again and again because my hands were shaking so much I kept dropping tiles. Finally, I left it to the wind and played the bingo. I got lucky. She missed her real bingos and tried RESOILS*. I challenged it off again, and finally I was safe, able to play KENNEL for 40. She pointed out that I had missed RISSOLE and the triple-triple SOLDIERS, and I shook further at how close I had come to losing. Had I been facing a stronger player, I would have lost, and I would have deserved it. Without question, that game moved to the top of my list of most uncomfortable games ever.
The Old Switcheroo
Bad challenges led to my undoing against Celia Thompson, my challenging BURRER/CLONER, and my trying to play DONATEE*. I'll blame it on the fact that Louis next to me accidentally switched my pen with his. His was also Bic Round Stic, but a fine point, while I only use the medium point. Louis didn't seem to understand what the difference was, and Celia didn't seem to care. In fact, because the playing room was so small and cramped, there were three boards set up at our table, and I think I was annoying Joe Geibler next to me as I rummaged around looking for my true pen. Finally I just went to my backpack and retrieve another one. After the game, I surreptitiously switched pens with Louis, figuring if he hadn't noticed the difference before, he wouldn't notice now.
In the lunchroom, I overheard one of the rumbling rowdies from earlier tell a clubmate how she called her opponent a bitch. I was shocked, simply shocked by such nastiness! I had thought our Scrabbling community was supposed to be loving and nurturing.
Back outside the restroom, another gentleman tried to use the water fountain. The water fountain still did not work. I had not expected the water fountain to work. Yet I was still disappointed.
Inside the bathroom, I washed my hands. I noticed that the soap felt funny. I turned the bottle around. The bottle contained styling gel. What an odd place for styling gel. It was okay. There was another bottle of soap on the sink. The bottle contained soap. I rewashed my hands with the soap.
I returned to the playing room just seconds too early. Marty was reading a poem about Scrabble. Not sure if the world really need poems about Scrabble.
Unequitable blank distribution continued against Louis Sabin, but thankfully I built up enough of a lead, after challenging off his OUTLEAN*, that he did not catch me with his ReASoNS. I had made that top triple line hard to play, with WOOD, but it's hard to keep an opponent with two blanks from bingoing. Crappy tiles allowed him to nearly catch me, and had he not been stuck with the Q, I might very well have lost.
KOTH pairings were called out for the intermediate group first. We sat down to play, and then Yoli started calling out pairings for the aspirings. Besides being cramped, the room was loud, and the racket was pronounced. I asked Arline if it was okay to start, and she agreed. Perhaps it was the distraction of the racket that allowed me to get away with YOWZA* for 48. I continued to score well, but Arline was able to catch up with two naturals TESTIER and TOADLIKE. In the week preceding the tournament, I had begun revising my list of fours, graying out the ones that I felt had been cemented in my long-term memory. Additionally, I began italicizing the fours that do not take an S. HOLP stuck in my mind, and this knowledge allowed me to break away once again, picking up 23 for HOLP, winning the HOLPS* challenge, and another 37 for OX. I proceeded to close up the board, and I think I heard Arline express some surprise, like, "okayyy" as I played VOE for 6, RANG for 13, and then DOG for 4. Giving up points like that was risky, but I managed to prevent a bingo and retain a small lead to win.
Meanwhile, in the expert room, Herb was commanding quiet, but so loudly that his voice echoed through our room. Yoli tried to tighten the curtain between our two rooms, but nothing could keep out that booming voice.
I drew nearly everything against Arline the second time around, to win handily. Towards the end, the game got silly, with my trying sLATTIEST* and bLATTIEST*, and her trying ASTERIAE*. And I let her get away with JUNS* because I just wanted to seal the victory. Earlier, she had let me get away with BLAWIEST* because it allowed her to play UNTITLEd. Phony city. And throughout the game, she kept holding--TROP, CHAO, GINK, and TOST.
Second place, and I was as eager for my money as I was to find out how many ratings points I gained. My recent car purchase had left me near broke until the next week's paycheck. So I really appreciated that a coworker offered to take the check in exchange for cash, because it would have taken time for me to mail it to Bank of America for deposit, and I saw a hearty Colombian meal in my immediate future. Jeez--it had been about six months since I had really cared about the prize money.
I was also awarded a trophy. I didn't really care about the trophy, having won more than enough of those when in school. I'd rather have had a few extra bucks. But I guess some people must like them. I wondered how much I could get at the local pawn shop.
I stopped back at Starbucks and punched in the numbers. About 20 points gained. Far from spectacular. But then I thought--you know, while I still haven't had the killer tournament I've been wanting, my modest gains in three successive tournaments have added up, making it that much easier for me to cross the 1500 threshold in Stamford and thus position myself for a division 1 placement at some tournament in May, and from there reach for 1600.