My Own Private White Whale

September 3, 2004

It was tiles, not fatigue, that got me in the disastrous Early Bird at Parsipanny. Still, with four games to go, until 11:00 PM, and my having slept maybe 3 hours at best, I used what time remained after the dinner break between the Early Bird and the Main Event to try and sleep in the parking lot.

I guess I slept some, and I think I continued to sleep, through most of the first game, against an apparent neurotic who flipped out when I took my tiles up after overdrawing and started mixing them up. It looked like she was reaching to flip three over after I had exposed a couple, including an S, and I wanted to protect it, so I dipped my hand below the table to set them out one by one. Of course the rule specifies the tiles never go below the table, but, with both Matt Hopkins and Joel Sherman observing I don't think there was a need for her to shriek "What is he doing!!!", as if I was going to cheat right in front of them all. After having Joel Sherman emphasize the rule multiple times, I was more cognizant, and a couple of later games, and the following week in Brownsville, TN, I observed other players doing this and told them--politely--about the rule.

Or maybe I'm being a little harsh because I'm upset that she closed the board up perfectly after building up a lead, which I let her when I failed to block the one easy bingo line on the board, early in the game, letting her play IMAGINED through an I. I could have played TITTY, but I played off a Y for 17 instead, hoping to draw an R for TATTIER or ATTRITE. I should have played TITTY for 16 and the turnover, but I didn't want to leave myself AEI. I tried to rationalize keeping AERTTT, but after explaining the situation to one of the top experts, it seems plainly obvious that it was just stupid to keep three Ts.

I spent half my game against Lynne Mitchnick cursing myself for having missed a bingo I assumed had to be in AIDLRST + an E to play through. But DILATERS and LARDIEST did not fit, nor would REDTAILS had I thought of it, so it turns out I didn't have anything anyway. I ended up pulling it out with QUIFf, a word I don't think I'd ever seen played in my 21 months. I guess Lynne hadn't either, because she held for quite a while as I prayed for two things--that she would challenge, and that the remaining tile in the bag was an E so I could play my V. It was, and I did.

Meanwhile, The Hated One had two wins, and I grew increasingly desirous that he lose. I daresay I was almost as focused on his performance as on mine.

Steve Sikorski seems to enjoy the game much more than I do. I beat him by one or two hundred points in New Orleans, but he didn't seem to hate me, though we had interesting conversation before the game about how he didn't mind losing if the opponent's attitude was okay. His happy-go-luck attitude continued on into the game, as I overdrew on my first draw and he just picked one tile without looking at any. Despite being outdrawn, I thought I had him when I got lucky and didn't pull the Q after a last-minute bingo, ENSNArE. I'm so used to drawing the Q after a late bingo that I almost couldn't believe it didn't end up in my rack, and I thought I had the game won at that point. But 52 points for OX and then 45 for FEZ put him beyond reach--talk about a last-minute surprise!

Outside on the tally board, the top half still was wanting for wins, and I eagerly awaited the result of The Hated One's 3rd game. I had to begin my final game of the night against Karen Wilson Moss (the middle name is pronounced in a sort of Mickey Mouse voice), and I found myself unable to concentrate as I kept glancing over at the other game. I just went through the motions with a certain degree of confidence as I played TONNERS and rEADIES within my first five moves. I should have given that second bingo additional consideration though, because several turns later Karen extended it to BREADIEST. I had no idea if it was good, and I could play for 25 to maintain a 50-point lead, so I let it go. I would learn later, from Joel, that BREADY doesn't compare in Scrabble.

That game really hurt, because I had had such good tiles and should have been able to maintain my lead. I was kept from despair solely by the fact the the top half of the draw continued to suck wind, and that The Hated One finally lost a game, to the lower-seeded Jamie Ryan that had started off with a bang, 4-0!

I was extremely tired, but I knew I wouldn't sleep as well if I didn't get another win under my belt. Circumstance provided me with the opportunity, because Celia Thompson had a wedding on Sunday evening and needed to reschedule four games. Rich was being extremely nice in accomodating here, juggling myriad matches on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, including several of mine. I figured I could take Celia, even as tired as I was, and I did, thanks to a couple of challenges (GLOWN*, FUCE*) and naturals, ROILIEST and TERNIONS.

It was a great relief to win that game in advance, because, no matter what happened, I couldn't go 0-8 on Sunday.

Later that night, I remembered to look up LAVER, which I had considered playing against Karen, but had been unsure. Had I played it, I would have picked up more points and gone out first, enough to win! AARRGHH!!! It was frustrating that, while I had been focusing on high-probability sevens, my fives were slipping.

September 4

In the morning I was disappointed to find out the bagel shop in Denville from December had closed. Same thing happened to the Deli in Farmington where I had had lunch. Goddamnmed Republicans ruining the economy and causing all these businesses to fail!

Across the street at the Main Place Deli, the restroom was so small I had to contort like a circus performer in order to get certain body parts over to sink for washing.

After breakfast I went into the hotel and heard some ragtime music. I assumed it was coming from loudspeakers, but it was actually coming from a piano in the corner. Apprently one of our Scrabble player had skills beyond just anagramming.

I'd slept fine near the hotel in the parking lot of some company that manufactured cans, but my win against Cecilia the previous night had cut down on the time available to catch up, and I was still dragging. I went back out to the parking lot of the hotel and move my car next to some woods that provided shade from the morning sun. Next to the tree I saw a woodland creature I'd never seen before. A chipmunk, perhaps? I set my alarm for 9:55. At 9:55 my alarm went off, and I felt something on my chest. I opened my eyes and what did I see but the chipmunk standing firm on my chest and staring at me. Then it began to talk, not in a cute voice like what I remember from Alvin and the Chipmunks, but a deep, scary gorilla voice. It told me I was a loser for having made so many mistakes the night before, and then its little paw swelled to a huge size, like that huge hand that Hellboy has, and wham!!! It pound me right on my chest, knocking the wind out of me, and then scampered off as I gasped. I interpreted the event as an omen.

I spent much of my sleepless time the after the first night's games cursing myself for my mistakes, and vowing to do better the next day. And I think the first three moves of my first game were the correct ones (we'll see if Maven bears that out), but when I finally did make a glaring mistake, it turned out not to be a "Scrabble" mistake, but a simple spelling one. I misspelled EIGTH*. Funny how it looks so obvious now. Funnier still, I had the other H in my rack! But I got the turn back when Pam Grazette challenged HIGHT, so I figured those mistakes canceled each other out. But nothing canceled out the two turns I lost exchanging -IOBGLQ and then immediately -IIIORY. By the time I had a bingo opportunity the board was very tight and all I had was VAGARIEs, which I missed, while Pam drew into the pedestrian ETEsIAN.

I finally got more or less decent tiles, against Arline Silverman. In the end, with a win assured, I got aggressive for spread and "blocked" the only Q spot, gambling that it wouldn't be one of the last two tiles in the bag. Actually, it's interesting, because I didn't really block it--I just set it up so that if she play SUQ, I would place my S on the DWS and come down with SCAM for 42 points. Actually, I couldn't remember if I had really set it up that way or if I had only realized it after the fact, but given my performance thus far I needed to puff up my ego any way I could.

Next up was Kang! Terry, and that game was important, because second to The Hated One, she had the best record in the top half. At that point I was still expecting that the universe would sort itself out and that the players in the bottom half would start losing and the top half would start winning, and accordingly I was considering those in the top half to be the most threatening.

Meanwhile, The Hated One was 7-1, and the only thing that kept me from slitting my wrists was that most of the top half was still doing rather poorly. But with eight games over, I was starting to think that it was some of the lower-rated players like Steve Sikorski, in second place, that were going to be contenders. I had pretty much already given up on first place, resigned to the fact that the hated one had clearly made a pact with the devil to win any tournament in which I participated.

For lunch I just picked up groceries across the street from Starbucks so I could spend time catching up on writing and analyzing my games. I ran through my first five moves in my game against Pam, and each of my moves was in the top 3. My sixth move was dropping IIIORY, and Maven kept IR?, but I preferred, and still do, increasing my odds of drawing an S. My next move ZED, was Maven's top pick. Next was the mistake, EIGTH* (Maven's best was the correct EIGHTH). I wasn't sure if the process made me feel better that I had been making good plays or more pissed off that I had lost despite making good plays.

As I returned to the hotel, Pat Benatar's "Shadows of the Night" was playing on the radio, and I marveled at how accurately the lyrics reflected how the tournament was going so far.

I had an exciting game against Louis Berney in which I had took a 100-point lead after a cool bingo, SAUcIER, but had it cut by two late bingos that had me sweating. But I found the winning play, the 52-point JORUM which allowed me to go out first an win it.

Cecilia Le was second in the field, and often seen in the company of one Rod McNeil. I had to assume, then, that she had picked up a word now and again. Still, she had started of the event worse than me, but was starting to make a comeback, and thus I considered the game critical.

After my phony FAULTER*, Cecilia wasted no time in demonstrating that she did in fact know some words with SARtORII, a play that earned her a pat on the back from Joel Sherman himself. I was rather jealous. Cecilia then proceeded to draw almost everything else, but a very late 104-point HEAVIEST gave me a chance to pull it out. Enough of a chance that Cecilia started to worry, to the point that she asked a player looking over her shoulder to move because he was making her nervous. But she hadn't any reason to worry. Her second blank yielded MILDEwED while I was stuck with AOUUW. Game over.

After my 3-point game with Kevin McCarthy, Joel Sherman gave us a rare treat by analyzing the endgame. He found a winning move for Kevin, and a cold chill ran down my spine, as well as no small measure of relief.

Outside, I supplemented my meager food budget with a granola bar and Hershey's kisses provided by Rich, I guess. Really, I don't understand this thing about people going hungry in America. Food is available everywhere, if you have neither pride nor conscience.

Meanwhile, the hated one lost his second game. Yes!!!

In a scene worthy of a Word Freak film, Joel Sherman walked around the room with a small stuffed dog on his head. I am unqualified to evaluate the significance of this occurrence. Further hijinks as Diane Firstman started issuing commands to the dog, and Joel obliged, to the irritation of one of the experts. He was probably losing.

After ten rounds, I got my first killer draw of the tournament against Jamie Ryan, in our first ever to do the dance of the numbered tiles. Before we started, he said he hoped it would be a good one, meaning that neither player got blown out. He must have jinxed himself.

Scott Kitchen dashed my hopes of finally evening my record when he busted out with a great find, QUOTiDIAN for 107! I had just played ATOmIES myself, and it was only the third turn, so the game was entirely salvageable. But I needed to draw some tiles, and I would go on to draw only one more power tile, an S, for the rest of game. I couldn't work with that. Well, maybe, had QUOTIDIAN, freakishly enough, not taken a goddamned S! Scott scored 30, putting him 43 points ahead, too far ahead to catch given the tiles left in the bag and the layout of the board. I had no choice but to challenge.

The Hated One lost a third game, and I would have been ecstatic except for the fact that, had I beaten Scott--wait, let me rephrase--had I not gotten screwed by freakish circumstance--I would have been within two games, striking distance!

With twelve games out of the way (13 for me), it was harder and harder to say that it was still early. Fact was that moving from 5-7 into the money even with 13 games to go (1 already in the bag) was looking unlikely, and it was looking more likely that I'd be limping back to Houston broke and demoralized.

As I stood outside and looked at the tally board and fingered the cyanide caplet I had in my jeans picket, Rich called out to me. He was still trying to juggle games in the schedule around to accommodate Celia Thompson, and somehow my playing Mary Alice Lyons off the schedule would help. I was extremely sleep-deprived and longing to go out to the parking lot to pass out, but I felt that if I played then and won, I might get an additional psychological boost from having two secret wins in the bank. Mary Alice was agreeable and set up her board. I knew she would be tougher than Celia, and having a future loss on my record would negate my win against Celia, so it was a risk, but one I was willing to take, and needed to take.

My opening FLAX, and then our plays to the lower right-hand corner made the board very bingo-unfriendly, and I was able to build up a lead while Mary Alice fiddled with her blank. There was nothing I could do about BI, however, and she was able to play TiNKLES. Thankfully, my STARTED happened to line up, there were no other hooks available, and I regained my lead. But then my racks turned clunky, and it started going downhill after she scored 33 for EYELETS and then 50 for QUAI, creating some tension by slotting that Q along the TWS line. I had to play my Z for 26, OUZO, in order to block the Q, but that still left a 31-point Z play hanging out there, and all I needed was an N to go with my two Is (EIIUYDS). Play YE for 28 and a crappy leave hoping to draw an N, or play TEEID for 21, using up the TWS and improving my chances to draw the J or an intermediate-point tile? Tough decision. I went for TEIID and sighed relief as Mary Alice couldn't take the Z. And she had the P, too--ZAP or ZIP would have been a 37-point play, and probably the game. But clearly not the I or A, so she played PUNTING and took the Z out of play. Frankly, I was relieved, because the way my racks were going I didn't think I'd get the spot. After SAUNA for 23, I drew AOOOUYG, which reminded me of Matt Hopkins. But I was not in the mood to be amused, as that rack looked to sink me. Can't remember if there were seven tiles in the bag, but with a mere 13-point lead, it was too risky to lose a turn exchanging and leave a TWS in the corner open, so I took the 19-points for OY and drew the J, my possible saviour. No place to reall score with it, though, until Mary Alice set me up for a 31-point JUGA, and with no place to bingo with her AEDLMR?, I had the game. Whew! That was some serious relief I experienced as I headed back out to the car and promptly fell asleep, secure in the knowledge that despite a losing record I had two secret games in the bag.

September 5

I sleep straight through until about 4:30 in the morning without getting up, which meant I didn't have any water, so a dehydration headache started to come on, with maybe a bit of caffeine withdrawal thrown in for good measure. I drank as much water as I could before going back to sleep, but when I awoke 3 1/2 hours later my headache was worse. I quickly drank a lot of water and decided to just get up and get some coffee.

The fresh squeezed orange juice at the Key Food Marketplace in Denville was expensive! At $2.59, a pint cost more than twice Wal-Mart's fresh brand, and that Wal-Mart brand tasted okay, much better than Tropicana, Dole, Minute Maid, etc. Expensive or not, I had a craving. I offset the expense by sticking to yogurt and a leftover banana, plus the granola bar and kisses I expected back at the hotel. I also figured to save the rest of the juice for the next day. But in keeping with my clumsy nature, the rest of the juice didn't last long before I spilled it. Great.

I arrived at the Sheraton to discover yet more schedule juggling--I'd be swapping rounds 15 and 17, playing Ann Raymond and David Johnson out of sequence. I noticed Rich was clutching his back, doubtlessly as a result of the way he was bending over backwards to accomodate Celia.

Lack of confidence cost me some spread against Edward Stewart. I knew he wasn't going out with OHNSVVY in his rack, and that I could dink out my AEOU, but when I saw that he had HOY for 32 points I freaked and focused on blocking it, which I couldn't. So I played SOU for 3 so I could go out with my AE, when I should have played XU/NU for 11 and then scored as much with my AEO as possible.

Meanwhile, The Hated One had lost his fourth in a row, and my heart was filled with hope that the tide might be turning!

Next I had to face the leader, Bob Becker, who, despite being in the bottom half had managed to move into first place. I didn't consider myself to be competing directly with him, as I'd already given up on first place. But I hoped that beating him, besides improving my record, could give me a psychological boost against other opponents. Well, for once the tiles fell my way during a critical game for a 69-point win and I broke Bob's winning streak. Not only that, but as would become evident during the course of the second half, I started Bob on a slide from which he would never recover. I couldn't help but derive perverse satisfaction for having stopped him cold. If I went home empty-handed, I'd have that at least.

I thought, if I could just draw the same against The Hated One the tournament wouldn't be a total loss. Just beating him would make it almost worthwhile, though I still really needed to win back at least some of the money I'd invested.

I was also thinking that if I could just pick up this one more game, out of order, against Ann Raymond, I'd still be okay. I had an early decision to make when she played ANODiSE*. I was suspicious, but I wasn't 100% sure, and it slotted the E on the TWS column, giving me the 48-point REWAX and the lead. So she would only net 18 points and burn her blank, or I could risk a challenge and potentially be down another 30-40 points if she had a good triple play. It was early, so I let it go. But for the rest of the game I only drew a couple of eses, while she got the J, Q, and Z to win by 3. But not only did she outdraw me on power tiles, she also drew 18 of the 26 intermediate-point tiles. If I could have just drawn one more of those, that would have been the three points right there. Stupid ANODISE*.

Meanwhile, behind me, a player in a lower division lets out some type of loud growl-like noise. I'm not sure if it was an expression of some bodily function or it was some type of growl of frustration. Regardless, the directors had to strongly encourage him to feel free to go outside when he needed to... whatever it was he did.

On the tally board, I saw that The Hated One had finally snapped his losing streak, which meant that I was four games away from him instead of two! I was to face him in two games, and I had really wanted to be in a position to catch him.

Because I'd played my 16th round in advance, I had a good long lunch break to think about my predicament. On the way back, I spotted Ira Cohen walking back to the hotel. I thought maybe he was just out walking for health, so I wasn't sure if I should offer a ride. On the other hand, if I passed him up and he noticed, he might think I just didn't want to offer a ride. Is that neurotic of me to even consider things that deeply?

Back at the tally board, I saw that my win against Bob Becker had started a slide, and he had lost three in a row to move into third place. Both he and The Hated One had 11 games, and had I won that last game against Ann Raymond I really could have been in a position to challenge. My first opponent, the #18 seed, was in first with 12 wins, and I had no idea when she beat me that she would go on to do so well. To think it could have all been so different if I had followed my instincts and gone for the TITTY.

I got a second killer draw against David Johnson, for my biggest win ever, 270 points!

Meanwhile Celia Thompson made an appearance in the dress she was wearing to the wedding that was the reason for all the schedule juggling and got plenty of hoots and whistles from the other players (the male ones, I presume).

Violent Imagery

And then it was time to face The Hated One. Of course I was nervous, but anxious to. I had had an entire summer to think about what I wanted to do to him. I wanted to beat him more than anything, except maybe getting with that girl I had seen at the Starbucks during lunch. But seriously, I had a raging hard-on for this guy. I wanted to go American History X on his ass. I wanted to pound him so badly he would regret every having entered the tournament. Regret ever having started playing Scrabble even. Heck, regret ever having been born, and cursing Alfred M. Butts for having invented Scrabble and having been born. I wanted him to run from the table, go find Butts' grave and spit on it. As I approached the table, I could feel my inner psychopath wanting to cut loose.

Given what I was feeling, it is coincidental almost to the point of being scary that The Hated One opened with FRIG. Later analysis revealed that Maven concurred with my first two moves, but my third was a mistake that allowed my opponent 32 points. I got lucky and got 33 back, though. Then he effectively lost a turn to 6 points while I scored 32 with CHEWY, so when he bingoed with pARTITE I wasn't so far behind. But then he pulled the 52-point AX, and I felt the anger starting to swell. 38 points for TROOZ calmed me down a bit, and then I actually drew a blank. Amazing!!! DICIEsT for 87 got me back into the lead! He tied it up with his comeback, and from that point on I just had to squeeze as much out of my tiles as I could and pray for the last S--I got it, and so went the game! Finally!!!

Having beaten The Hated One, and having already won my 20th round game, I could put myself in a strong position by winning the 19th game. But it was against #3, Heather McCall, who also happened to be Matt Graham's girlfriend. I could guess that just on this basis, from playing him, that she would know some words. I have to admit SERFdOM was a good find. Thankfully, I came back with the pedestrian ANISOLE, and, though I scored modestly for the rest of the game, she couldn't get any more big plays down and I chalked up another win.

Though I was finished for the day, having played my 20th-round game against Celia Thompson in advance, I couldn't leave because I knew I'd be unable to sleep for wondering about the standings. So anxious was I that even chased down a player who had not posted her 19th-round results. Once the results were up, I asked Rich about some of the pairings, and I learned that the two leaders would be playing stronger opponents #2 and #7, while I would face #20, Carla Chase. When I commented that this should give me a slight advantage, Rich warned me not to underestimate her.

Meanwhile, some lower-division player was representing his country poorly by walking around with his pedal-pushers (or maybe nickers) tucked into calf-high maple leaf-emblazoned socks. Another player told me he was strange. Like I couldn't have guessed from the socks. On the other hand, perhaps I'm the last person that should be commenting about fashion.

As the time for the 20th-round games to end approached, it took all my will-power to keep from breaking protocol and going over to The Hated One's table to see how the game was progressing. So I sat on my hands and waited. And waited. And waited. Rats! He won again!

Additionally, Mary Alice Lyons had beaten the leader Jessica Mercantate, and this had two effects. First, it tightened up the top of the field such that, with five games to go, it was anybody's tournament. Second, I was pushed down to fourth place. Still, my improved performance on that third day had revived my spirits, and I was once more targeting the top spot.

Results in, I was about ready to go find a gas station where I could heat up my leftover spaghetti, when I Ira Cohen happened by and asked for a ride back to his place. It worked out for me, because Ira and Tina, while on their super road trip, sought out hotels with a kitchen. I too my meal back to the after-hours playing room to study and wait for a practice game. A player from the lower divisions entered, and it was obvious he was looking for a game, but I didn't want to waste my time playing him. Nor did I want to be rude and explain that I needed some stronger practice, so I was glad when he took the hint and left.

I continued to wait for a practice game when Jodi called. I recounted to her my tale of the strange woodland creature that attacked me, and I remembered I needed to look it up. Sure enough, the first page when I googled "chipmunk" was "Chipmunk World", and though it was a programming site, it had some small photos. I knew it! It was a chipmunk!

Around 9:00 I pooped out and went back to my car. For some reason there was a security guard with bright flashing yellow lights on his van. The lights would be annoying whenever he passed by my car even if he didn't hassle me, so I decided to see what else I could find. Down a side street from the hotel there was a company that made cans, and there was a pickup, plus plenty of semis, in the parking lot, and down at the far end it was pitch black. Having learned from numerous run-ins with police earlier in the summer, I took the precaution of driving around the parking lot and making sure there weren't any "No Trespassing" signs.

Shortly before 2:00 AM I woke up restless, so I went back to the hotel to see if anybody was still playing. The after-hours room was locked, and the bar was closing (no players in there), so I just sat down near the fireplace to study. A young lady, a Jewish emigre from Russia, came by and asked to use my Internet connection. I told her I wasn't sure if I could get a connection, but I popped in my card and discovered that the 30 minutes of free Internet offered by the Sheraton's Wi-Fi provider could be renewed over and over by simply filling out the short survey again and again. I had assumed they would track my laptop somehow, but they didn't.

The girl, Paulina, checked her e-mail, and somebody had sent her an article about a bombing in Israel, which she proceeded to read out loud very slowly, in a slurred voice. I guessed the beer in her hand wasn't just for show. I continued to look at my word list, and after a couple of minutes she said she would leave me alone to continue studying and left. It occurred to me then that maybe she had just wanted to get my attention and felt ignored.

September 6

I woke up shortly before 7:00 and set my alarm for 8:40, giving me just enough time to give Ira a ride back to the hotel, if I got up in time. He had offered to let me have breakfast at the hotel, not realizing that I couldn't possible steal the hotel's food. While I didn't mind "stealing" the use of the parking lot, sneaking in for breakfast was different. But it's hard to explain this to people without making it seem like you are accusing them of being dishonest. I was able to achieve a measure of truth in my response by explaining that I couldn't schedule a time to meet because I needed to sleep until I woke up naturally.

When I woke again just about a quarter of 8:00, I wanted to sleep still some more, but for some reason GONEV* popped into my mind, and I couldn't remember whether it was good or not. The uncertainty prevented me from sleeping, so I just got up and went for coffee and groceries and a shave and drove around looking for a bagel shop that was open. By the time I finished and headed back to the hotel and called Ira, he had already started walking to the hotel, so I conveniently avoided the breakfast issue.

As I hung by a thread in fourth place, and supposedly with the advantage of playing an opponent towards the bottom of the field, I stumbled early as Carla Chase drew an early EqUATES. Then I screwed up made a parallel play to try and score and balance my rack without thinking that I needed to keep more bingo lines open. The board quickly turned into a ladder to hell. All the bingo lines disappeared before I could get a deecent rack, and that was the game.

Since it quickly because almost a forgone conclusion that I would lose that game, my attention drifted to other things, namely the heated discussion behind me. One player had called a director over to report an alleged impropriety when drawing tiles. When the director question the alleged perpetrator, his response was to repeatly exclaim "I don't know what his problem is! I'm not a cheater!" in a tone that could not help but make the situation worse. I'd played in around fifty tournaments without outbursts revolving around accusations of cheating, and at Parsippany I'd witness two. Earlier in the weekend there had been another accusation, and when the director repeatly asked the player for a specific detail about her actions she would not answer directly but instead kept protesting. Sounds to me like we really need those electronic boards with automatic tile dispensers.

Remarkably I managed to retain fourth place, but that relief was short-lived, because Bob Becker proceeded to return the outdrawing I had done to him and blow me away by 101. Most annoying was that when I was bold and took a risk by challenging off his 6-point DOLER*, fortune did not favor me, and despite two glaring tiles that were screaming out "Bingo through me! Bingo through me!" their little Scrabble voices, my AAEUIPS proved wholly ineffective. I expect many players would have let a 6-point play go.

However, two of the top three had also lost, a relief, but The Hated One had moved up to first place, and several of the players that had been at 12 passed me up. My spread was still good despite the 101-point lost, but I needed to win games to recover my position, and I just couldn't do it with tiles like I'd seen so far that morning.

Flight of the Phoenix

I died many deaths in my rematch with Cecelia Le before finally coming to life again like the phoenix, or Jesus, depending on your preference of bad metaphor. My heart stopped when she played TRePANS to take the last bingo line. Then I breathed a sigh of guarded relief as I retook the lead with ONERIEr, guarded because the Q was still unseen. I died again when I drew EIODSSQ to empty the bag! Once more a ray of hope when I saw the I could play SUQ, and despair when I saw that she could block it. I walked away and then sat back down and sunk my head, not wanting to look at the board. I knew she would find the block, but still I didn't want to clue her in. When I finally looked at the board again, I saw that I had two places for SUQ, and then I knew I had the game won!

I didn't have long to enjoy my victory before an analysis of the standings catapulted me onto a turbulent sea of conflicting emotions. Terry Kang, who could have been my savior, instead failed in her mission to beat The Hated One. His victory put him out of reach, and so in a dramatic turnaround it was in my best interests for him to win his next to games and beat the players I was competing with for second. I pulled at my pseudo-fro as I tried to decide what I wanted more--to win second, or for The Hated One to be knocked out of first. AARRGHH!

My frustration was such that I fully expected the worst from my rematch with Terry. After failing to beat The Hated One, it would only be fitting for her to hammer the final nail in my coffin and send me home penniless. But she surprised me. Twice even. First, when she challenged QUATE. Later, when I asked her how she, who studies Q bingos, could make that mistake, she pointed out that QUATE is not a bingo. I suppose this is true. Second, she failed to draw a single blank. Perhaps I had been overzealous in my fatalism.

Despite my two wins, event were spiralling out of my control. First, The Hated One had advanced beyond my reach, Mary Alice Lyons, who had been two games ahead of me, won her penultimate game to ensure that I could not knock her from second.

In a CGP post, Joey Mallick wrote that "you know you're doing badly... when you lose 5 out of 5 challenges in nearly half the number of games." Well, let me tell you that losing five challenges in the same game is much worse. Jessica Mercantate, who actually could have taken second with a final win, learned this the hard way, as she challenge INTREAT and CHERT and had VOIDERS/SOAKINGS*, DIETERS/AHS*, and ASTRIDE/SOAKINGS challenged off. Granted, I got the better draw, but losing that many challenges pretty much strips a player of any excuses for having lost.

So I managed to win third place, and $200. Added to the $30 I had won in Farmington, the total was exactly $5 more than I had paid in entry fees for all four events. 3000 miles I had drive, to win a mere $5 and lose 7 ratings points. Ugh. On the bright side, I won one of those new Hasbro prototype tournament boards that I had failed to win in New Orleans.

I guess it was also nice to see a bunch of east coast players that I had not expected to see so soon after New Orleans. If I were less cold and distant, that is. As it was, I was just crunching numbers trying to figure out if the trip had been worth it.

It was a bit out of my way, but I didn't have any pressing appointments, so I gave Rich and Nathan Benedict a ride over to Newark. I wanted to ask for gas money, but I figured the free leftover cookies Rich had given me was payment enough.

I dropped off the two and turned around, headed to Gillette, NJ, to resume my Starbucks travels.

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