Be Grateful of Good Tiles or They'll Be Taken Away

September 10, 2004

After my third-place win in Parsippany only garnered me enough prize money to just cover my entry fees, I managed to adjust my plans to visit Jodi to allow me to try for some more money in Brownsville, TN, where I expected that the field couldn't possibly be stronger than in Parsippany. I left New Jersey after the tournament on Monday and visited Starbucks in Delaware, Maryland, Washington, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee before finally reaching Jackson, 25 miles from Brownsville, on Friday afternoon.

As I hung out at Kinko's online and caught up on various tasks, I began to worry that the nasal congestion that had been plaguing me for several hours was not allergies but in fact some bug that had finally caught me after having avoided getting sick during my month on the road. I usually got sick early into my trips, so after several weeks had passed I was hoping I'd be okay. Bad timing it would be, if I was going to be hit by a bug right before the tournament.

Though a full meal would set back my attempt to get back on my $10/day food budget, it might also help ease the stress on my body, speed recovery, and perhaps even help me win a few extra games, so I headed across the street to Jason's Deli, a chain I hadn't seen since leaving Texas a month earlier, or maybe Arizona a couple of days later. The store directory printed on the back of the menu listed locations in the Carolinas, but I hadn't seen them. Make no mistake--the food wasn't anywhere near as good as the hearty meal I'd had the previous day at Stax's Original Restaurant in Greenville, SC, but it still filled me up and removed hunger from the list of stresses my body would have to deal with during the two-day competition.

Though I still had hoped that it would just be allergies, there was a Wal-Mart conveniently located across the street where I restocked my supply of cold tablets. After finding a suitable generic with a good mix of active ingredients, I decided some vitamins might help. As I stood in front of the display, I couldn't help but think of Matt Graham. Next to the vitamins, and tucked away in a corner, as one would expect from conservative Wal-Mart, were the contraceptives and personal lubricants. I spotted that new K-Y Warming Lotion that had caught my eye a few weeks earlier at a Target. I had been curious about the "gentle warming sensation", but not enough to pay the nearly nine-dollar price. At the Wal-Mart, though, they had two smaller sizes cheap enough to warrant spending a few bucks, all in the name of science of course. At the checkout registers, when the cute teenage cashier asked me how I was doing, it was without thinking that I replied with the double-entendre, "maybe this stuff will make me feel better". I think she gave me a "look" that indicated she'd have a funny story to tell her friends over (underage) drinks that night.

I might have surprised Roy Naylor and Mike Muller with my all-too-rare hour-early arrival, and then I was surprised myself when I noticed only six folders for Division 1. Crap! My first thought was "not much prize money", and then I thought back to the previous year and remembered more players. I had been hoping Andy Yates, from St. Louis, at least, would show up. Mike said somebody I knew would be showing up, or at least someone who knew me--one Gregg Speicher from McKinney, TX. I couldn't remember the name and assumed it was someone I had met at one of the Texas tournaments, maybe Mid-Cities from a few months earlier.

My early arrival gave me time to prepare by looking up my opponent's ratings, so as to gague what kind of phoney's I could get away with. I looked up Harrell Naylor's rating first because that was one of two names I recognized, and when I saw 1154 I said "this can't be right!" So then I looked up David Moersdorf's--1453. Okay. Jimmy Upton--1300. Comparable to Parsippany or Atlantic City. Noreen Kenny--1268. Hmm. Gregg Speicher--1262. I was seeing a pattern there. And finally, Harrell. Whoa--talk about a serious ratings disparity. It would be really easy for me to drop any of the points I might have recovered after Parsippany. On the other hand, I was thinking I should win handily, but with only six players, I didn't expect much in the way of prize money.

I outdrew the heck of out Harrell Naylor, so it didn't make a difference except for spread, but we had a situation come up I'd never seen before. After playing SUQ to leave myself MANG and a spot to go out, I forgot to draw the last tile in the bag, a D. Harrell then played QAID and forgot to check the bag, and I played MANGE and indicated I was out. Then, when I saw the tiles on his rack, I was expecting another D and realized it was still in the bag. I called Roy over, and he consulted with Jack Howe, playing in the tournament but also a director, and they decided I would get the D, with no penalty, and the game would continue. Harrell played EDH for 27, and I gave up some spread.

Another irregularity against Gregg Speicher, whom I recognized, when he arrived, from one of the clubs in Dallas, Richard's. He had driven from Dallas, and I had to respect that desire to Scrabble. I still had to spank him, though, to the point that he ran low on time and goofed when drawing. He doesn't remember, which is understandable, but I'm sure his hand went back in the bag after he had pulled out tiles, presumably because he had felt that he had too many. I called the director over, and because I was sure that Gregg had not looked at any of the tiles before putting his hand back in the bag, Roy assessed no penalty. I was up by a whole mess o' points and so wasn't in the mood to be punitive. Though Gregg, he was prepared to treat it as an overdraw and felt he deserved some penalty, and then proceeded to play DOPE.

As I was drawing some killer tiles against Noreen Kenny, I wasn't thinking, "gee, what great tiles!" No, I was wondering where the heck those tiles had been back in Atlantic City, and grumbling that I was using up my luck before getting to the harder players.

My draw against Jimmy Upton was the only one in which I didn't draw more than my share of power tiles, but really good timing, an early 89-point ADMIRING, then Jimmy's challenging my UNCLOtHE, allowing me to follow up with the 58-point AXED, and then finally DEARIES lining up above Jimmy's THRIVErS, all led to a whopping 268-point victory and my highest tournament score ever, 558, surpassing my previous high from '03's Chicagoland by 2 points!

However, UNCLOtHE was a dangerous play. ECHeLON was the play, but I missed it, for the second time. I wondered what it would take for me to recognize words like ECHELON.

But that 640 spread, more than twice the next highest, meant nothing unless I could beat David Moersdorf, also at 4-0. He had beaten me the previous year in Brownsville when I was in the 1200s and he was 1640, and then again in Rome when I was in the 1400s and he 1505 and drew everything. Now he was 1453 and I a solid 1500s player--if the draw was at all even I was due for a win.

Ever on the lookout for the trappings of life that homedwellers take for granted, I immediately spotted the shower in the bathroom. I asked if I could use it, and Roy didn't see a problem with it.

Still I had to admit that it felt good to wail on the field for once!

I headed down to the interstate and decided to get some sleep before continuing on to Memphis, where I had a new Starbucks to visit in the morning.

I stopped at the Amoco and bought a couple bucks worth of gas so I could use the restroom, and I was stunned to see that they had Tradewinds tea! Not only that, but some fruit punch, a valencia orange drink, and unsweet tea, three varieties I had seen before. But not the extra sweet tea, which was my thing! Still, the regular sweet tea still had that essential Tradewinds flavor, so I had to buy a bottle. I wanted to buy it later so it would still be cold, so I asked the attendant when the shop closed, and she asked "why". I told her I wanted to buy some tea before they closed, and asked again when they closed, and she again asked why and finally said in about an hour. I don't know if she was suspicious of me about something or just mental.

I went ahead and bought a bottle, and I was immediately torn between downing it right away, knowing it would affect my sleep. I ended up compromising by taking a couple of swigs.

September 11

My anxiety over playing David Moersdorf showed up in at least one dream, in which I found myself somehow down to a little over a minute left on my clock with the game maybe half over. I couldn't remember if I had forgotten to hit my clock, or if I had spent some time away from the board, like in the restroom, but either way I was under serious pressure even with my good tiles. I hoped that the good tiles part of the dream would come true, not the time trouble.

I speeded down to Cordova, outside Memphis, for a quick Starbucks visit and to grab some victuals. On the way, NPR's Morning Edition began and reminded me that it was the anniversary of September 11. But sometimes I forget my birthday too.

At the Wal-Mart the other day I had discovered that they did in fact have Power Bars, but not in the food center. They were actually in the pharmacy section, near the vitamins. They were cheaper than anywhere else, 96 cents, and even cheaper still in a four-pack, but they didn't carry the cholocate/peanut butter flavor I liked, only separate chocolate and peanut butter flavors. But I figured, what the heck, for that kind of savings (about 40 cents), I can try the peanut butter. And it end up being a-okay. The moral of the story--don't be afraid to try new flavors. Unless it's Pepsi or Coca-Cola introducing them, because we all know how those ended up.

I wasn't in any hurry to get started, but everyone arrived early, so Roy said to go ahead, and I sat down to face David Moersdorf. My opening rack of EFLLNPR seemed my worst of the tournament, and when I played FELL (missing PELF) to drawn IDNPRVX, I started thinking "Here we go again." But then David gave me the 55-point X play and I felt a bit of hope. Then I drew CDMNPRV and though "Here we go again." Regardless of what Maven likes to keep, I prefer to improve my chances to draw a blank or an S, so I dumped them all and was blessed with fortune EOUNRT? for several bingo opportunities. At that point, with more than a bingo lead, I started to think about closing up the board even though it was early still. However, my play for the next three turns was dictated by scoring opportunities I couldn't pass up, 30 for PONY, 42 for WHEEP, and then AERIEST that just fell into my lap. From that point, I managed to close up the remaining bingo spots, aided by an extra turn resulting David's attempted RELISTER*, and it was all over for a 153-point win and a +793 spread after five games.

But with a mere one-game lead over David, I wasn't prepared to relax, not until I extended that lead to two games.

Game six began the second round robin, and once more Harrell Naylor at the bottom of the field. I got FIDGETEd/I right away, and Harrell immediately began to make small plays to either create openings or fish, and I started blocking and running up the score as best I could. By the time I got down SCANNER/MOLES and led by 211 points, I was litereally thinking I was getting a walk-over, and almost feeling sorry for my opponent. Then he hooked WANIEST to MOLE, and I was stunned. Here I was feeling smug and I had completely missed an obvious hook that I could have blocked! And then, as I focused on my mistake, I forgot about the Q. Luckily, there were two places to play it, but I shouldn't have overlooked it.

Greg Speicher had beaten David, giving me a two-game lead, but then he proceeded to outdraw me, though the spread was kept to 63 in part because he held both blanks and two eses on the same rack for STRokES. Would have been closer if he hadn't had the last N (I was holding two in my rack) when I gambled on hanging AZO next to the TWS column. Or if, when I played QUAD near the end to leave myself the S hook, I could have gotten a bingo or bigger play. If, if, if. Oh, well, I knew my luck couldn't last forever, but it would have been night to win eight games in a row and break my longest streak.

I was outblanked for the second time in a row agaisnt Noreen Kenny, and I found myself wishing for the draws I had been grumbling about earlier. My most interesting play of the game was HAPLOID, off her opening HAVEN. I have no idea where I saw the word, but it scored two more than PODIA with the possible risk of an S hook. I was hoping it would be one of those -OID words that didn't take an S, or that it was not even good, just something I had made up. So when she played BOTS I challenged, though in retrospect I should looked at the play more closely and seen JUDO for 44. But again, I was fixated on one aspect of the game. Bad!

While I served myself the fried chicken, corn on the cob, ranch beans, and not-quite-sweetened-enough tea, I awaited the results of David's game with trepidation. He was playing Harrell, who had not yet won a game. I hoped this game would break the streak, but David won again, and caught up to me at 6 games, though his spread couldn't touch mine. But spread wouldn't matter if I didn't win more games, and I had Greg and Noreen breathing down my neck at 5 games.

I always seem to suffer more from nerves when I have a top position to defend than when I'm struggling to crawl my way up. As 1:30 approached, the butterflies in my stomach intensified to the point of genuine discomfort.

I guess my stomach was prophesizing, because I was outblanked for the third time in a row as Jimmy Upton got his revenge. Well, not quite, because he only won by 80, which hardly makes up for the 268-point pounding. What was most annoying about that game is that I left myself ENR, ENRT, EINT, EICNT, ANT, RETINA, and ETN for the first seven turns but either had no bingo, or my bingos (TREEING, INEXACT) wouldn't play. Furthermore, the highly bingoish nature of my racks caused me to spent time looking for something, and I after seven turns I was almost at five minutes.

Just in the nick of time, I got my draw back in my critical rematch with David, allowing him only the Q. Still, he played me hard, and even with everything, the outcome was in doubt until about the last three turns, and I only won by 58.

Meanwhile, Gregg Speicher was on a tear and had gotten himself to 7 games, and he could have saved me from having to play David again, but didn't have enough spread points. That hurt--I would very much rather have played Gregg.

Well, I can't say that after the draw I had against David in our second game, that he wasn't due. And he didn't even draw everything--the draw was even, but he just happened to get down his bingo first on a tight board, and then benefitted from a couple of mistakes. First, I was stunned to learn that, even after a second opinion, WHIN is an acceptable word because it is not, and never has been, on my list of fours. Even after I revised the list earlier in the year, going back to the source, LeXpert, I overlooked it, and I quite possibly lost the game because of that. Transcription errors, that's what they are, and I've discovered many in my lists over time, like INTERLY* instead of INERTLY. I guess it could be worse, transcription errors during teleportation, resulting in misplaced limbs and such.

As I tried to finish up my log while waiting for the awards, some tot came up behind me and started looking at what I was typing. I angled the computer away from him, but he didn't take the hint and proceeded to tell me ho wmuch he loved Scrabble, and then to point out the members of his family. I didn't think he would pick up on my clearing my throat, so I just had to outright say that I was trying to write and didn't like people looking over my shoulder. He shuffled off.

Well, at least made some profit, $25 above my entry fee of $50, and I didn't even have to detour much and waste gas. With my Oakland winnings, I was still in the black in Scrabble for the long road trip.

But as I left Brownsville, I sank into a funk. I considered aborting my trip to meet Jodi in St. Louis, because when I got into a funk I just wanted to be alone. I was also having doubts about playing Atlanta, thinking maybe I needed a break and some time to recharge before Lafayette.

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