The Power of the Recount


August 15, 2004

Having failed to qualify for Division 1 at the NSC, my plan changed from scoring a win against one of the top guns and boosting my rating to winning Division 3 and then taking a break from Scrabble while I used those $2500 to travel. The outcome was, how shall we say... disappointing. Post-NSC, I went into a funk, and the only things keeping me from rushing to redeem myself was that there were no tournaments scheduled for that following weekend and the fact that I wouldn't have been able to justify the cost of traveling anyway.

No, while still in between jobs, I had to use what remained from my last (and brief) assignment to make some headway on my other major passion, my Starbucks project, and clear out as much of California as I could before I ran out of money, had to start a job, or ran into some other emergency (pronounced with a hard "g").

But California has a pretty active tournament scene, and it appeared the timing for a one-day tournament in Oakland would work out. Back in Houston the previous Saturday, my mother had encouraged me to stay another night and relax, but I wanted to leave as quickly as possible. And it's good I did, because as always I lost time here and there and rushed to try and meet my quota of Starbucks before rushing up to Oakland on Sunday morning.

As usual, I cut it as close as I could, desperately trying to reach directors John Green or Bruce while I drove up to confirm the absolute final time to register so I could visit as many new Starbucks as possible. So close that I stopped at one new store in downtown Oakland just miles from the tournament venue (and just minutes from the deadline). Telegraph Avenue in Oakland is a heavily trafficked arterial, and so I couldn't just race up the 40 blocks. Nevertheless I managed to pull in front of It's Your Move, a game store, just before 1:14. A lady passing by said "$340 ticket if the sherriff catches you", because the space in front of the store was not technically defined as a parking space, insofar as the arbitrary boundaries set by the oppressive hand of government are defined. I thought, "Man, the sherriff can just suck my dick." Still, I hurried up to register and move the car.

Oh, that's John Green! I recognized him from the Reno tournament, but I hadn't realized that was him!

I had about 13 minutes before 1:30, and Starbucks never rests, so I rushed off to visit one more store, in nearby Emeryville. I'd take the time penalty if I had to. At Alcatraz and San Pablo, I politely eased my car towards onto San Pablo, waiting for a car to cross. A stupid lady glared an looked at me, thinking I was going to cut in front of her. I am always amazed by the stupidity of these people whose first instinct is to express hostility towards the other driver instead of the logical thing, which would be to veer away from an oncoming car to avoid being hit. Scowling isn't going to stop a car from hitting you if its driver isn't paying attention.

Despite stupid drivers, I wans't but about 10 minutes late. John was in the middle of pairings, and a kid named Chris Ofstad had just started looking for me, so I was okay. Until I started playing, that is. I had been put at the top of the C division, and he was at the bottom, and proceeded to outdraw the heck out of me. I had feared that moment for a long time, when I'd have to play one of those scholastic players, because I can't stand losing to a kid. At least it wasn't Sam Rosin or Katie DeVanney, who are younger still--I don't think I could survive a loss to one fo them. Anyway, Chris built a quick lead with JUPES - 44, AH - 32, FAX - 39, and ALIUnDE - 6. I struggled to keep up without power tiles, even chancing HALON* for a few extra points and turnover. It worked, because I picked up the other blank for the redemptive LOMEINs, redemptive because I had missed the word in two previous tournament games and vowed that I would cut off a testicle if I ever missed it again. But just as I came within 5, Chris was off and running again, in the end drawing the Q and the decisive Z, and winning by 3.

I was disappointed, but neither angry nor demoralized. Instead, I resolved to win the remainder of my games and that cash!

My next four opponents were in order of strength, which was fine with me. Get the hard ones out of the way earlier, starting with Mary Aline Stevens. This time around I got a slightly better draw and, with my phony REDErIVE* was able to win modestly.

Bennett Jacobstein had played me hard at B.A.T., so I was on the lookout for a tough game. But he stumbled on his first move with GIRLIEST*, which I knew was phony because of the annotation that I had done to my list of 5s, looking for verb, ajective, and plural inflections. I was glad I was seeing that benefit from all that studying that had not manifested itseld durting the NSC. His EIIGLRT still smacked of good tiles, so I immediately tried to close up my opening PROAS. I was sure FEH takes an S, but I played it anyway, hoping Bennett wouldn't know. I can't be sure if he did or if he didn't but he never tried to hook the S. Instead he seemed to struggled to find a bingo to catch up quickly to the lead I'd built up with my opening play, my extra turn FEH, and RAJ for 34. I kept the board tight, taking one risk, hanging OXY under the TWS line for 34 points. It was risky, but it worked out, as I got OPErANT down and the board was just too tight for Bennett to catch up.

I groaned when my fourth opponent got snippy with me before we had even started our game. I sat and wrote while I waited for him, and when he came and got me I asked if he had a board. He replied that no, but if I got up we could find one, in a tone of voice that seemed a little condescending. I needed to kick his ass. I almost blew it, though, with a critical mistake. Only seven turns into the game, and down by 93, I let my time dwindle to under 8 minutes trying to find a bingo in IOUTT?? that didn't open a triple line because a big counterplay would make it really tough to catch up with nearly all the power tiles gone. OUTsITs would have done it, and I thought of the word, but I wasn't sure. So I played TOUrIsT and got off really easy--just a 4-point RUT to block the T. But for the rest of the game I just had to throw stuff out there, and I know I made suboptimal plays that cost me points. In the end, it was not taking enough time that was my opponent's undoing, as he saw immediately after the game ended that a different sequence would have won the game. Whew!

Holding AEULSQ? against Alan Whitman, and with a tied game, I got greedy and went for QUALESt* instead of SQUEALs, in part because if it was challenged off, I'd still have a big Q play and get to keep the S and blank. It was no good, but Alan couldn't block the SQUEALs, and then the tiles tended to favor me. Add in his challenge of GLOST and his phony IODES* (which I tried to play within the first few months in the game), and I got my biggest spread boost of the game, putting me ahead of Chris for first and second place.

Recount was the operative word in my rematch with Chris. Though I had hopes I would get the same type of draw he did in our first game and blow him out. Despite my hopes, it occurred to me to wonder right as the game was starting whether I should play to win first place outright, or to keep the spread low and preserve my chance at second place if I lost. I asked John what the spreads of the 3rd and 4th place players, Alan and Evan, were, but he was busy with challenges. He never got back to me, but it didn't matter because once I saw my opening rack, AERSST?, I decided I would play to win. Later in the game, I drew the second blank. But it followed a period of wacky post-bingo dreck during which Chris had a chance to nearly catch up. Wackiest was my brain-dead play of BALOON*. I would not even had realized it was misspelled had Chris not held. When he did, I realized my error, but I did not react. After he let it go, I was thinking two things--A, it can't possibly not been in the top 4000 and thus must be phony; and B, please let Chris try to tack an S to it. And he did, SIZED for 39, and I jumped at the chance to challenge it off. Almost as wacky was when I drew the second blank... and flipped it over--Chris noticed. At that point, he knew I had the blank, and I knew he still had a Z and S. So I had been trying to play to avoid a big Z counterplay for him, and now he was trying to avoid my bingoing. It culminated when I had to pass up TODDIEs because it would set up a 72-point ZEDS for him if he had an E, and there were too many out for me to take that chance. So I picked it up, and I could almost see the disappointment in the poor kid's face. I finally got that second bingo down for a 62-point lead with very few tiles left in the back. But I got some serious post-bingo dreck that all but nullfied my ability to score in the endgame, while Chris was able to gain 42 points on me in three turns. He was getting close, but we were out of tiles and I was sure I would win... until we checked the scores. They didn't match, and we had to go back to the very beginning and readd. In the process, I lost about 15 points. At that point, losing became a distinct possibility given the dreck I was holding. To make matters worse, my tracking was off. So I had to throw up my hands and hope he couldn't go out, but he did, and it looked like an 8-point win. Given that we had recounted our first game, a three-point game, and found not a single error, I was this close to giving it up. But I thought, and sighed, and thought "Fuck it, I need the extra money. So we went for the recount, and it was agonizing. But the key came when I discovered that when we had readded my second bingo, we had dropped 10 points. Then some extra points for Chris came off. Final tally, a 5-point win for me!

Man, was I relieved. Not just because I needed the extra money, but also because I didn't want to lose to a sub-1400 kid twice. I guess I was happy about the money, but the first price was only $55 because third place was also paid out. I wished only the top two had been paid out like in Ginger's one-day tournaments. On the other hand, Evan, who won third, seemed rather pleased.

I gave Jason Katz-Brown a ride a few blocks down to the BART station and tried to use my mutant powers to leech off some of his amazing Scrabble skill.

As I headed to my next new Starbucks in Alameda I got a treat as Snoop Dogg started kicking a little something for the Gs on 92.7. Yeah! Given my budgetary constraints I definitely had my mind on my money and my money on my mind.

When I arrived at the Alameda store I realized I had absconded with the key to the restroom at It's Your Move, forgetting it was in my back pocket. Oops! I ended up slipping it under their door in the wee hours of the morning.

With all the Starbucks-related activity, plus the knowledge that I must have lost points at the NSC, my obession with computing my rating had diminished somewhat. It wasn't until the Oakland results were posted in a CGP post indicating NSC ratings were up (estimated) that I bothered to workout my new rating. For the third time I had climbed into the 1520s, and this made me feel a little better, reassured that I was at least a solid 1500s player. Still I couldn't let that 1600 elude my grasp for two long, or I'd never live down the shame.



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