Meeting Expectations, if Not Hopes

September 25, 2004

As I ate the hojaldres that my grandmother had gotten up extra early to prepare for me on the morning of the tournament, my father came out of the bedroom and asked if I was still going. I assumed he was thinking of the problems with my mother, and I thought that it wasn't even occurring to him that I'd want to get as far as possible from the drama at home. He was actually referring to the weather, hurricane Jean, and I then thought that he still didn't know me very well, to even imagine that anything short of global catastrophe would keep me from Scrabble.

I started to worry a bit as, not even out of Houston yet, I ran into some heavy rain, and then again some miles beyond the city limits. But then the weather cleared and I made good time the rest of the way to Lafayette. On the way, I heard the radio report that Jean was looking to indeed hit Florida. Sure, it was a tough break to get hit by yet another hurricane this season, but I was still glad it wasn't approaching Louisiana. Better you than me, buddy.

I wondered if my transmission problems affected my gas mileage, so as soon as I pulled off the freeway I looked for (relatively) cheap gas and filled up the tank. Thirty miles to the gallon over the 231-miles distance, even at 80 MPH. Excellent!

After letting Rhonda know I had arrived and then running to the local grocery store for an overpriced Power Bar (as items at local markets often are), I was still able to park right next to the Woodsmen of the World Hall thanks to my compact Honda Civic. As I squeezed between two gas-guzzling suburbans I scoffed at those who had to park allll the way down the street and sweat in the hot and humid air because of their larger vehicles.

Turnout seemed pretty low, and I knew right away that I would be in the top division. This improved my chances to reach 1600 but at the same time made it more difficult to win money, and I was torn between the two. With some revenue coming in for advertising on my web site, I wasn't destitute, but at the same time if I didn't win any money I'd be nearly broke until that check arrived, and that's never comfortable when anything could happen during the drive back to Houston. Regardless, I was glad that top dogs like Iffy and Darrell Day (although perhaps due to unfortunate circumstances) were not around, because that meant that if I could get lucky and beat people like Steve Glass and Caesar Jaramillo I might snag a prize.

Things got off to a sour start against Kathy St. John as I had to dump my first rack and then witness her bingo with GALATIA*. The word was out of my probability range, but thankfully my decision was made easy by finding AEROLITE through it. As I wondered whether it would take an S or not Kathy came back with DELETioN, and I knew I was in for an uphill battle. I eventually tied it up by taking a chance to balance my rack with a phony of my own, QUIRE/CLAME* (either that or exchange again), and then RADIANS. But what killed me was that, on our very tight board, I only drew 6 of 25 intermediate-point tiles. Given that, I just didn't hold enough points in my racks to keep up her level of scoring.

I was outblanked again, this time by Mary Rhoades, but fortunately I was able to build up enough of a lead and tighten up the board so that when she finally got TzARiNA along a line I couldn't block, I still had enough of a lead to where I would probably have won even without bingoing out with FRAILEST. My key play, I think, was to dump my AOGGNNR rack at a critical moment, just when Mary had managed to gain significant ground. She was then able to come within two points, but I drew good enough tiles to bingo a couple of turns later (after missing ACINOSE--I knew that rack looked familar!).

I knew going into my game against top seed Steve Glass that I would need luck to beat him... and I got some luck, in the form of both blanks and some other good tiles. What I lacked, however, was the courage to challenge BESMART*. Quashing that bingo, his first of three, and killing that line with my own S might have made all the difference. Instead, I got thoroughly whomped by the ANECDOTE and ANTIDRUG that followed, to the tune of 167 points, eliminating the gains I had made against Mary.

There was nothing noteworthy about my game against Carol Drake except for my double-double ARCHIVED through her opening CHUNK, which also happened to be the high point, and only good moment, of an otherwise garden-variety outdrawing. No, actually, it was a particularly cruel outdrawing, because a T and an R hung out there on triple lines for much of the game as I screamed, to no avail, at the tile gods to give me some bingo tiles.

Against #4 Caesar Jaramillo I drew excellent tiles, just like against Steve, but this time around I didn't screw it up. Well, not completely at least. I started off great, with LANATED, but then I challenged his DECILES that I didn't recognize from my list of high-prob sevens, even though I remembered CENTILE. But then I was able to pull far enoigh ahead with JANEs/TOPEE for 60 and later ZITS for 52 that I could start closing up the board. Or so I thought. I nearly died of fright when I realized I had miscount the number of rows and that a bingo could be hooked to BI. Thankfully, I was not forced to pay for that mistake, and I chalked up a win.

Excellent tiles against Helen Joffe allowed me to redeem the day, not just because I evened out, but also because I had already played the top four and beaten two, which meant that my first three games on Sunday should theoretically be easier.

I headed down to Kinko's to get online, and I was amused to discover that I could pick up the T-Mobile signal from sinde the Chick-fil next door. So I didn't have to feel like a major mooch for hanging out in the Kinko's without using their services. A cheapskate, yes, for bringing my can of soda inside the Chick-fil-a and hiding it behind my laptop. And come to think of it, I doubt I'll be bragging the boys in the Scrabble locker room about how I was hanging out at Chick-fil-a anyhow. I mean, if it were one of those cool Chick-fil-a locations where the teenage girls hang out, now that would be something to brag about. But all I saw around me were garden-variety Louisianans.

Never able to get enough Scrabble, I tired myself out on ISC and headed up the street to the Wal-Mart Supercenter. I immediately noticed the cop in the parking lot and parked well away from him. After a while, he left, be he wasn't what I needed to worry about. No, it was the ass-weevils who decided that Saturday night was a good night to clean the parking lot. Not only was sleep made impossible by Pedro with the leaf blower, but Crazy Joe in the sweeper seemed to get off on driving full speed towards my car (and others) and then veering away.

And I was already pissed off upon arriving at the Wal-Mart to discover that was the location of the new Starbucks... that would not opening until the following Friday! I had not doubt somebody at Starbucks had planned the store's opening a week after the tournament just to frustrate me. So I moved over to the Krispy Kreme parking lot until several pickups decided to park nearby. Pickups in Louisiana mean rednecks, and rednecks on a Saturday night can't be trusted to leave a sleeping guy alone. So I kept moving, eventually ending up at the TA Travel Center off the highway, where my only disturbance was some guy asking for money when I went into the bathroom. He was asking the wrong guy, as my unemployed car-sleeping self wasn't very sympathetic.

September 26

My first game of the day, against Dave Zimmerman, went down to the wire and left me nervous and exhausted. If I played NAZI for 13 to ensure I didn't get stuck with the Q, he could come back with MaG for 31, and I would have to go out with my remaining EEIS, seemingly impossible, to win. So when less than two minutes to go I finally saw that SEGO for 5 points allowed me to go out with AZINE to win. I didn't have time to work out if he could block with his DGMRTT?, so I just had to hope for the best, and thankfully I squeaked by.

My game against Jerry Dynes was the third I had won despite being double blanked. I was glad to have won, but I was pissed and worried, knowing that I wasn't strong enough to keep winning blankless.

In between rounds I was commenting to Mary something about winning, but still wanting some blanks. She said she had stopped keeping tracking of those tiles because she found it frustrating. Well, she was right--it is frustrating. Nevertheless I can't seem to stop myself. But I'm not alone. Steve commented during our game that he had all his stats for the year, and knew what his blank percentage was over seven tournaments. It was less than 40%, which might legitimately explain why his rating is down.

Anyway, I I was right that I couldn't keep winning blankless. Before our game, Matt Dewaelsche told me he had heard thing about my ability. Well, it doesn't matter how good you are, if you can't draw a blank you're going to lose eventually. And for the third time I was outblanked, and this time I couldn't overcome the disadvantage of drawing only the J and the Z. In the end, my last chance was to play off my U, leaving myself EIMN, in the hopes of drawing into a bingo. But of course I drew the Q.

After the game, Matt commented that he had drawn all the blanks that day--that it was like magic. This prompted Kathy St. John next to us to remark that it didn't seem very magical to her, and her opponent Mary Rhoades had to agree. Of course I share their sentiments, but I was more involved in grumbling to myself about how it wasn't bad enough that I ended at the bottom of a strong field--couldn't I at least draw my share of good tiles?

While we waited for the first KOTH pairing I noticed that I was in sixth place. Dammit! If I had had a chance in that last game I could have ended up in 4th place and in position to place. From sixth place reaching third would be tough even if I managed to win the next two.

But Caesar paid me back in spades for my earlier win. He exchanged all seven to draw into ADDAXES and then immediately SHRIVEL, as my hopes of placing did the same. I might have pulled it out if I had found the correct bingo in AEIORT? instead of the phony vIATORE (needs the S), but after a couple of turns of blocking... waitaminute. AARRGHH!!! I realized after that when he blocked my LO by playing NO, I could have played AIRIEsT right under IN and LO, but I gave up too soon! The bingo would have prevented his 59-point SNACK as well. Oh, that was clearly my biggest mistake of the tournament. Not knowing VIATORES requires the S is one thing, but not even bothering to try and fit the bingo--that's bush league.

As an added irritation, there was a player on the board with a 1-9 record, and I suffered her only win. I hate being the one sucker that couldn't beat the pushover.

I usually don't point out specific mistakes an opponent makes, but Mary's erroneous ERROR is just too frustrating to keep to myself. She played ERROR forgetting about the T hook on the TWS column. I had a T, and a blank, and an S, and an N, and a V--really good bingo possibilities there... if I hadn't drawn two other Ts when I played ZAG to try and create another hook for myself. What was worse, there was only one T left unseen, and Mary just happened to pick it up and was able to block the line. I was left wondering if she would even have seen TERROR if I hadn't complained about the situation vocally. Thankfully, I was able to bingo anyway along the ZAG that I had created--otherwise, I would have left Lafayette in a mad fury.

But at 6-5 I figured I had done okay in the expert division. Later, I discovered that because of the exceptionally low-rated players in Division A field in Brown I had lost significant ratings points despite a 7-4 record. As such, my 6-5 in Lafayette was important because it got me back into the 1500s. And my confidence was boosted by scoring a couple of wins against 1600s, and even by my loss to Steve glass, because if he could mistakenly play BESMART*, then he was vulnerable, and next time I'd be more prepared to win.

When I arrived back in Houston, I had a hearty dinner and went immediately to bed. Scrabble wormed its way into several my dreams that night. Just like in real life, I dreamed that I was debating whether to travel to Tunica, MS, for the tournament there. I had also noticed a one-day in Indianapolis on the tournament calendar, and this tournament was manifested in a dream in which I had already arrived in the midwest with a week to go before the tournament, and I, as in real life, was trying to get the director to push back the deadline so I'd have as long as possible to commit. Somehow I ended up in a tournament, but it was an unusual in that it took place outside, on a long stone stairwell gradually leading up to someplace. My opponent and myself had managed to grab steps that allowed us to sit "comfortably", but some of the other players ended up in the bushes with the Scrabble board on the concrete. How very strange.

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