A Shift in Priorities
June 4, 2004
Having failed to qualify for Division 1 at the Nationals, and having finished most recent programming contract three weeks prior, I headed to Indianapolis with the hopes that I'd be well-positioned to win cash, not gain rating. My traveling budget kept taking hits, like a nail in my tire, a broken Wi-Fi card, and a lost wallet. I needed that green. Baby boy needed to get paid. The tournament was different also in that I was traveling not by myself, but rather with my schmoopie, whom I had met in person for the first time on the day before the tournament.
We pulled into the Kessler Krest Baptist Church right at 7:00, and Jim, being new to directing and not aware of my reputation, was starting to get worried I wouldn't show. Another player mentioned that she would have paid me not to show, so she could have played in Division 1, and that got my gears spinning. Remembering that at one of the Bayside tournaments two players had switched positions, I told her I'd be happy to play at the top of Division 2, because I needed the cash. Because Jim was directing only his second tournament, I checked with Adrian Minnella, a more-experienced director, first, whether this was allowed in the rules, and he replied that it was up to the director. After Jim finished his announcements, I proposed the idea to him, and he seemed to agree. But then we noticed that I was not the bottom player in the group, but #7, and so switching would have involved bringing in a third person, and I didn't want to make it so complicated.
After getting over the distraction of trying to switch divisions, I realized that I had been at the church before, the previous year when I passed through Indianapolis and played in their club. I lamented that I had not recognized the name on sight, because it was another sign of my impending senility.
Blew Off the Burner Kind of Dusty
I'd showered that morning, so my butt wasn't crusty, but I'd not played in two weeks, so my skills were quite rusty, and I started off awful, my game stinky and musty. I missed the E hook to my opponents opening KING and gave up 27 extra points! That could have been the game, because I, aided by two blanks and all the eses, only lost by 14. My only consolation was that my opponent, #2 Mike Paxson, claimed to have been once in the 1800s.
I made another transition to a more patient and deliberate method of playing during my second my game against Steve Oliger. I could have gone out to win by 1, but a recount might have reversed the result. Taking a cue from a game in Reno against Nathan Benedict, I started to recount the game. But Nathan had had about 18 minutes on his clock--I had less than six. I got nervous and couldn't count fast enough, and after about four turns I gave up and decided to see if Steve would be stuck with the V and if I could play my U and N separately for more points. I found one spot where he could have played PAVE which I could block with PANE, and then go out with SOU/UT for 11 points instead of 6. I desperately scanned the board to make sure he couldn't go out with the V, because if I was wrong, I'd lose the game. I made my decision and played PANE. Steve played VEX/VA*, and I nearly jumped out of my skin. Shame on that that tricky Oliger trying to scare me like that!
It was another close one against The Anomaly, Matthew Collins. I felt a greater degree of confidence when I opened with ZAX and got two power tiles out of the way at least. But he bingoed on his second turn, and then it was back and forth for the next 14 turns, and eked it out by a mere 19 points. Very satisfying, after Hudson. And being #7 in the field, I was anything but displeased to be 2-1 after three games. And furthermore, to have a schmoopie waiting for me at the back table when I finished. I'd been longing to have a cheerleader like that since wunderkind Josh Jacobson brought his girlfriend to the Arlington tournament.
After getting up early and visiting two of four new Starbucks around Indianapolis, I decided to forgo the other two and arrive for my first game on time for once. I didn't really expect to win money, but my 2-1 record had me in fourth place, and I had already gotten #1, #2, and #5 out of the way. If I could beat #3, I might be in good shape.
I lost, but only by 12 points, which only made it more irritating, because one extra power tile, a blank, or even a bit less luck on her side, like her 45-point KERB counterplay to my 24-point AUDILE, and I could have won. At least the leader, who had been 3-0, lost his 4th game, helping to even out the field a bit more. After ending up in Division 1, I pretty much started off with no expectations of placing. But after going 2-1 and beating Oliger, I suddenly thought I might be able to get a third place.
Against Bill Brown I paid dearly for having forgotten PIKA, which I challenged to lose the momentum on an extremely tight board. Then he happened to draw into a natural off one of the few open spots, ESCORTED, and then immediately another bingo, FOUNDInG, and it was all downhill from there, culminating in a particularly painful situation in which he overdrew, I gave him back the C and Q, throwing the E, which I needed into the bag. I didn't draw the E, ending up instead with AIOOUN?, and he hooked SQUEG to FOUNDING for 88. I had to challenge of course, but I wrote down SQUEG instead of FOUNDINGS* and went up to the computer. Had I not know about the rule change, or had a human judge been taking the challenge, I would have added FOUNDINGS* to the challenge, but because I play so many tournaments and knew about the rule change, there was no point in even proceeding. It was over. As a final insult, after the game I learned that the SPIKA*/LOOMS that he had scored 41 with was phony.
My next game was an example of one of those in which playing the bingo would have been the wrong move, although it wasn't a hard decision. Not only did I risk being stuck with the Q, but if my opponent had the X, he could have had a minimum 51-point counterplay off the triple he had just opened. My 19-point lead was nothing considering all the scoring tiles left in the bag, QXBFGVV. So it was definitely the right decision to block the triple, taking 22 points, and keeping my U and blank in case I drew the Q. The game could have gone either way after my opponent blocked my out play, but thankfully I saw the 36-point VINOS/AS, and he challenged. Figuring the game over, I mentioned that "It's good", forgetting that my opponent was known for having a temper. He replied that it was pretty obnoxious to say things like that, and I didn't risk irritating him further by trying to explain it off.
Because Schmoopie had driven me to Indy, I was carless, and so Steve Oliger was kind enough to let me tag along for lunch. I repaid the favor by steering him away from the fast food and towards the grocery store. I'll call that my good deed for the day.
I had assumed that, after the first seven RR rounds, that the next three would be paired on performance. I was disappointed to learn that Jim, who had had to leave for a few hours, had pre-paired rounds 8 and 9, and that the bottom four players had much tougher draws than the top four players. I felt like I was getting the shaft.
I face Connie again, and she opened with TOILAGE*? Who did she think she was playing with, somebody that hadn't been studying high-probability sevens for months? A couple of turns later I played SOPRANI, and she challenged? Who did she think she was playing with, somebody that hadn't been studying high-probability sevens for months? I won one more challenge, ALOT*, and as a result I won handily despite her having drawn both blanks again. That felt good. I will confess that I had to give up points and exchange my first rack because I wasn't sure which of my tiles would turn her AEIOGLT into bingo. That's a skill I've not progressed very far on, finding bingos in my opponents' racks, especially eights.
Just Getting It Over With
I thought Mike Paxson was trying to get another one past me with the 93-point CLUNKED, and so I challenged, and I was never able to recover. The cruelest part of that game was that, when I finally drew a blank and bingoed, and immediately drew the other blank... but only five tiles to go with it. Aaaargh!
Meanwhile, drama erupted on the other side of the room, just what every new director wants. I couldn't hear what happened, and I don't know who was in the wrong, if anybody, but I could certainly hear Mr. Temper expressing just a bit of an attitude. Why can't we all just get along?
I called Schmoopie to come get me in about an hour, because I was already in a sour mood and I knew I'd not want to stick around any longer than necessary.
The drama continued into the final round. I faced The Anomaly once more, and just as we were about to start one of the players involved in the dispute earlier asked if we could play on the other player's board, because she would not let him use it for his game. Geez!
So we switched boards and go down to it, and I knew I was in trouble right away when he opened with BIoPSES*. Even though I challenged it off, with that blank it was only a matter of time. It only took him two turns to get down his bingo, but in the meanwhile I had been scoring along the DWS diagonal, and the 38-point VERY got me back into the lead. I quickly lost ground and struggled, though, until NEGROID got me back into the game. My best play of the game, however, was to clean up my AEIIUV? rack with the 32-point EXUVIA. It was risky, because it left a glaring hook with an L still unseen, and SATINE still in the bag, but since I held the second blank I felt it was worth the risk for the points. Fortunately, he didn't have the bingo, and I was able to block the final line to seal the victory.
I was disappointed that I didn't win money, to be sure, but I really wasn't expecting it in such a strong field. 5-5 would get me some ratings points, and I tried to be content with that, but I had basically put my ratings quest on hold until Nationals, where I'd be playing in Division 3. Since I expected to be in the high 1500s by then, the NSC would not be a good opportunity to gain any points. I was going for the cash!