Almost 1600 (Again!)

August 28, 2004

Though my win in Oakland helped ease the sting of my disappointing performance at the NSC, it was only six games against five opponents, and furthermore I was at the top of the field. I needed a big win against a large, strong field.

It was at one of the Bayside tournaments, I think, that Rich Baker mentioned the possibility of 9 continuous days of games of tournament Scrabble if he could organize a second early bird for the Thursday preceding his tournament, and get someone else to organize a tournament for Wednesday. I was salivating. That scenario never materialized, but when I noticed a tournament in Farmington conveniently slotted before the start of Atlantic City, the urge to play four tournaments, 55 games, in a 10-day span (with a 2-day break) started to worm its way into my mind.

I was still in California, and my original plan had been to either head back to Houston from the northern part of the state, or, if I had the gas money to make it to the Pacific Northwest, to work my way back home from there. I didn't really expect to be able to make it across the country to New Jersey. But my final paycheck from two weeks I worked was larger than I expected, and then I scored another couple of bills unexpectedly, and suddenly the trip started to look possible. I held off making a decision until after finishing up in Seattle and Vancouver, but I contacted the directors of Atlantic City to find out if playing was still a possibility; the trip would only be worthwhile if I could play all the tournaments and thus have a better chance of winning back my gas money and entry fees.

It's hard to say when I made the decision to stake all my remaining funds on those tournaments. Maybe I had already made the decision as soon as I noticed Farmington, and I was just fooling myself into thinking that I would actually go back to Houston if I didn't have the gas money. Because as long as I had a few bucks available on my credit card and made the trip in about two days (a tough proposition) I could swing it, because most pay-at-the-pump gas stations only charge $1 that day, and it takes a 2-3 days for the actual amount to show up. Yes, there would be an over-limit penalty, but I'm pretty good at deferring the consequences as long as possible.

Once I decided to go, I had planned on leaving on Monday, right after an interview with a local TV news outlet in Seattle. But then I was offered the round-trip ferry fare to Vancouver Island by the operator of a coffee-related web site. I hadn't been to Vancouver Island in four years, and I had planned to skip the seven new stores for the moment to save the $80 (plus gas). But I couldn't pass up free passage.

Even after making a compromise and skipping one store in Courtenay which would have cost me at least 2 1/2 hours, I didn't reach the mainland as soon as I hoped because I just missed the ferry and had to wait for the next scheduled one at 5:45, which ended up being delayed anyway. It was around 11:00 by the time I settled into a rest area along I-5 north of Seattle. My plan was to get up around 5:00 to beat the traffic through the city. Actually, I wasn't even going through the city, but rather taking I-405 through the east side (of the lake), but that highway backed up something awful because of all the IT business clustered around Microsoft in Redmond.

When I woke up at 5:35 I could see enough traffic passing by that I knew I had overslept, and sure enough I got heavy traffic in several areas along I-5 and I-405. I lost a whole hour in Kirkland when I suddenly remembered that the Brown Bag Cafe made a good buttermilk biscuit. I remembered seconds after having passed up the correct exit, but I figured I'd only lose a few minutes turning around from the next one. Wrong. My mapping program misplotted the store, and the upshot was that by the time I finally left the Seattle area after napping in Issaqua, it was almost 11:00 AM. That was pacific, so 2:00 PM eastern. Which meant 2 days and 19 hours to drive 2340 miles plus a few extra miles and the time required to visit as many of 22 new Starbucks along the way. Heck, sometimes it took me a day just to visit 22 Starbucks!

So the pressure was on, and in the end, after the cross-country journey, I finally reached the first rest area on I-94 in Michigan around 2:00 in the morning. Maybe. I didn't write it down, and as sleep deprived as I was my memory was for shit. Anyway, when I woke up it wasn't quite light out yet because I was at the western part of the eastern time zone. But I didn't feel like crap, so I figured I'd start driving and reached into my bag for that magic yellow pill. Despite the darkness, I still made better time than the previous night, with the darkness and the rain. But sleep inertia wasn't wearing off, and I think I actually fell asleep for a fraction of a second, because my mind started dreaming. It generally scares me when I fall asleep while driving. To make matters worse, it started raining. Calculating I still had some time spare to pulled into another rest area set my alarm for about forty minutes. Thirty minutes later I started driving again. It was still raining lightly, but I had no more time to spare if I was to visit two new Starbucks in Ann Arbor. As close as Ann Arbor was to Farmington, only 30 miles, if I missed them, I wouldn't be able to backtrack because I needed to press on towards Atlantic City.

As I drove, I continued what I had been doing since leaving Issaqua, quizzing myself on the high-probability sevens using LeXpert. I had tried various means of studying while driving in the past, from merely browsing words in LeXpert to see what stuck, to mentally quizzing myself on stems, to actually writing down sequences of words, my usual study method, which required long flat stretches of road. But I discovered LeXpert in quiz mode to be the best, and safest, way to study while driving because I only needed my hands briefly to press ALT-Y for verify, then either ALT-D for delete or ALT-N for next, and occasionally to hit the save button. One effect of doing this while driving, I think, is that I focus on some words for a longer period of time, due to the necessity of dealing with situations on the road, as as such they are more likely to stay in my permanent memory. I hope.

I began to worry that I wouldn't arrive in time, and I wanted to make sure Carol didn't drop me. But I never seem to manage to copy the tournament information from the calendar onto my laptop, and so I didn't have her phone #. So I called 411, and, while no Carol Ravichandran was listed, her hustband M G. The voice on the answering machine didn't quite sound like Carol, so after leaving a message I decided I needed to call Schmoopie, despite the early hour, and have her look up the number for me--it was the same. That's what schmoopies are for. I also had her look up the # to the library, but I had to wait until 9:00 for it to open.

I reached Ann Arbor shortly after 8:30. I visted one new store downtown very quickly, but it took time to work my way towards the second store (which was actually just a relocation from elsewhere in the shopping center, and the rules specify I have to revisit), and on top of that their was a line. So it was about 9:18 when I got on the freeway, which, thankfully, was just a minute from that second Starbucks. I blazed as fast as I could, but thirty miles was still thirty miles, and I didn't arrive until about 9:40 to find everything set up, but my clock not yet started.

As wound up as I was after my ordeal in just reaching the tournament (despite having been through similar many times before), it was a great break to open with sNOWMAN against the #1 in the field Richard Lauder. Moreso because making the play allowed me the time luxury of going to the toilet immediately, something I'd never done in the middle of a tournament game. I guess there's a first time for everything. I gave up I guess a minute or two of time, but it was worth it to avoid being uncomfortable for the rest of the game. Feeling much better, I proceeded to get an amazing run of tiles and just destroy the guy.

After the game, I wasted no time in asking Carol how many games before the brake. Only three, thank heavens! I had not had time to eat anything, but so far the previous night's late breakfast, the milk in the latte, the sugar in the Tradewinds tea, and the caffeine was holding me together. Then I went back to the car to retrieve everything I'd left in my rush to get to the board. When I returned, Carol was, just like last time, bouncing around the room, and I tried to avoid bumping into her as I took bounced around the room plugging in my various electronics and looking for my next opponent.

That opponent must remain nameless because I don't want to diss her, but I can't help but recount the shock I experienced when she, holding SATINE plus a blank, played SEITANs. I knew there was no way I was going to block a bingo with that rack, so I just played quickly to block that spot as she had run low on time, missing the G in the corner. She took the spot, and, to my further amazement, upon a second look, I realized she had not played GrANITES, but rather GrATINES*. That mistake I understood a little better, as I expect many people haven't studied which words don't take an S. But in the spirit of honest, I made a huge blunder myself. After I blocked the G with GLOB, giving her ANESTrI hooked to the B, I couldn't play the TWS so I thought I blocked it with XI, because TS* isn't good. I was stunned later when she played VETS/XIS for 63 to come within 25 points. Thankfully, she ended up drawing the Q, and that was the deciding factor.

In game three I just plain outdrew Mason Shambach, opening with a blank on my rack for the third time, and I supposed it was just additional luck that my FLAUNtER blocked his OUTWARD, putting him on the defensive for the rest of the game. I drew both blanks this time, the second at the last possible moment to bingo, managing to hook sLATING to Is and DEL. I do take credit for taking advantage of my lead to play off an L from the non-playing RELENTS and try to draw into something that hooked to a Y. I drew the best possible letter, A, and once Mason failed to block the spot, he was all but sunk.

I wasn't nearly at my record of days without a shower, but I was still feeling a little ripe. When I lifted my arms to draw tiles, there was a definitive odor, and I hoped that no one else could sense it. I tried to keep my distance from people for the duration, and I was glad that we weren't packed tightly like in the Oakland tournament.

I left quickly after my third game because the Farmington Community Library had started closing at 5:00, putting time pressure on the tournament, forcing Carol to limit lunch to 30 minutes and skip an awards ceremony. But ever-efficient Carol managed to keep things on schedule.

Across the street, I discovered the Dagwood Deli where I had lunched in December had closed, or moved! Fortunately, there was a bagel shop in the same shopping center, where I ran into a pair of Scrabblers who had also driven pretty far for the tournament, from Ottawa, because one had just finished school and had one-week break, and Farmington was the only tournament they could find. Now that's dedication!

My rematch against Jeff Fiszbein, Mr. OUTSHAKE*, came down to 7 points, and so I was truly regretting having challenged his opening TECHY. That could have made the difference. Well, I didn't really expect to win all my games, being at the bottom of the group with two 1600+ players, both of whom had reached 1700 at one point, in the field. I nearly got back in the game, though with my biggest play in a while, the double-double ROQUEts for 115, but he followed it with UNWArPED for 92 to pull far ahead. But I had a good run, XI for 41, BALK for 40, ZONED for 39, and ALIGNERS for 70. It's almost more disappointing to still loose after such a great near-comeback than it is to never have had a chance at all.

While we played, a player at the table next to hours kept referring to his opponents plays as "that crap". "Get that crap off the board." "How much did you get for that crap?" I guess that's what they call a Scrabble "personality".

Before our rematch from Indianapolis, Frank Lee warned me that he had special powers, and that if I beat him I'd suffer diarrhea. I replied that I'd already been suffering for the past couple of days because of all the coffee I'd needed to keep me going plus too much milk in the lattes for my digestion to handle. That game had several highlights. My finding UNCAGING, then his playing EXUViaTE for 98, but giving me back the triple, EXUVIATES/STAY for 84. So basically he burned both blanks for a net 14 points. But then, while my racks didn't exactly fizzle, he had a better run and nearly came back. After a recount, it was still a one-point game!

My racks weren't very good against Connie Breitbeil, but I was saved when she frittered away four turns, scoring only 17 points, while I scored 111, and in the end she still couldn't get that bingo down with her second blank.

It couldn't have worked out better if she had planned it. David Stokoes and I, now separated only by spread, had been paired for the last round since the beginning. I really wanted to beat him, because I strongly suspected I'd finally cross over 1600 if I did. And the extra money would be very helpful. I opened with BReEZED and hoped that it would be indicative of the game, and I certainly got off to a good start, picking up a 50-point X play shortly thereafter. But after some fumbling, David finally got down TOLANES to come within 30 with the game nearly over. I couldn't play the TWS he opened, and he was able to outscore me in the endgame to win by 15. That hurt. I was almost tasting the 1600! Later I discovered I would have been 1609! AARRGHH!

I took my $10 second-place profit and left right away, not because I was upset--I was fairly pleased with my performance, but because I needed reach Atlantic City by 3:00 PM the next day for the next phase of my 10-day Scrabblethon. But first, there were new Starbucks to visit!

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