Like Raindrops in the Amazon

Sunday, October 24

No Such Thing As Spare Time

After eight days of visiting Starbucks and friends along an wildly indirect route from Houston to a new job in Maryland, I finally reached exit 87 along I-70, which would have taken me to Elkridge to start my new job. I continued along I-70 towards Philadelphia, and thus the Starbucks portion of my journey ended and the Scrabble portion began. 25 miles later, at the interchange from I-695 to I-95 northbound, my triumphant return to northeast Scrabble trip was almost sidetracked before it began. So engrossed was I in trying to find the bingo(s) in BDEILRT that I almost didn't react quickly enough when I saw traffic backed up on 95. I wasn't in danger of a collision, mind you--that wasn't the problem. No, it was that I almost missed the chance to swerve onto the shoulder (thank heavens the ramp had one) and start backing up to get back on 695.

Other cars had the same idea. The first, and closest to the start of the ramp, managed to get onto 695 with no problem, leaving a minivan between me and freedom. As I mentally urged the lady to back up faster another car swerved onto the shoulder between us and just sat there. The driver seemed unsure of what to do, and I started waving at her to pass me, increasingly worried that the traffic would back up all the way to the start of the ramp and block me in. She failed to take several gaps in the cars that I, even in my underpowered Civic, would have jumped at, but she finally got out of my way.

I started to reverse back down the ramp as fast as I could, and the minivan was still in my way. I was clearly looking at the driver, yet she started point a finger at me indicating for me to wait. What was her problem, I thought! Did she think I couldn't see her??? Why was she looking at me instead of back at the road? Well, before I could motion for her to speed up another car pulled up behind her and stopped, so we both had to wait.

After much mental cursing I finally made it onto 695 and then took the first exit to US-40 which was moving fine. After a few miles I cut back over to I-95 and successfully bypassed the delay. Whether or not I would have been better off staying on the interstate I'll never know, but I'll wonder for eternity.

My cushion of spare time had disappeared, and I focused on making up time, so it wasn't until 70 miles later in Delaware that I remembered BDEILRT. Nope, I didn't know it, and I had to give up and hit the Verify button to reveal DRIBLET. I then remembered that I had associated that word with Doug Riblet, so I would at least recognize it if played against me, even if I couldn't unscramble the letters.

I made up enough time to stop at a new Starbucks at Broad and Jackson and then work my way over to the Parent-Infant Center, where I discovered I hadn't worried so much about my delays because a problem on the NJ Turnpike (surprise, surprise) was delaying players coming from points north. It wasn't but about 10 minutes, though, before almost everybody had arrived, except one player who was taking an unauthorized tour of Philadelphia and another, who, ironically, lived just a few miles away. Matt commanded us to play Scrabble, and so we did.

The Triumphant Return!

Well, most players did, including my opponent Martha Bedford, visiting from Texas. My triumphant return to east-coast Scrabble was not to manifest itself during that first game, and I did little more than go through the motions. Other than the 14-point EFT on the 10th turn, Martha, Martha, Martha! seemed to have great racks throughout, playing four unremarkable bingos (GATHeRER, BREATHED, CLAUSES, STyLING), 46 points for EX, an average of 25 points on her other turns, and allowing me only the J and the Z. A 155-point loss was not how I envisioned I would start my renewed struggle for 1600.

I wasn't the only one in a similar situation--Kevin McCarthy ended up towards the top of the next group, hurting his chances to hit 1400, and undeservedly so because he actually had a higher rating that had not yet been published. I expected to skip the last week in October and hopefully carry a higher rating into Matt's next tournament, in just two weeks, thus avoiding the problem, but I still hoped for a day when new ratings would be posted online within the week so that players playing consecutive weeks wouldn't be saddled with the burden of playing in a lower division.

Meanwhile, I grew impatient as I waited for Jeff Jacobson and Terry Kang to finish their recount (after having first gone out for a smoke... grrr). I can't say what they were smoking, but there was a lot of giggling going at their table. I went over to check on their progress and heard a player I had not met emphatically state "168!", prompting Marty Fialkow to compliment him on the play. It was a triple-triple, UN_ERFED, and I had to think about what the blank was, finally looking at the original word, AMASSEd, when Terry blurted out UN-DERF-ED (accent on DERF). I was like, what the heck??? Then Marty stated the proper pronounciation of the word and it all became clear. At least I got a chuckle out of an otherwise miserable tournament.

Terry started just like Martha had, with a blank bingo (FLOATErS) from the TWS down to my MODEST, and my mood quickly soured. I was able to recover some ground with WIDDY for 29 and EX for 38, but when I opened up a TWS with POGY, my attempt to balance my OODGLNP rack, she came back with a 36-point HAH and I was down by 50 again. After my 25-point KENDO I ended up with and EEIOOUL and no open R, so I had to exchange and feared I'd be down a full bingo. Thankfully Terry exchanged too and I was able to play off WAN for 24 and draw the second blank. I suffered through several no-gos, but I was still able to even up the score after Terry played off TUI for 3 points. I suspected a bingo was coming, so I hung the Z on the triple row with the 46-point ZINS, hoping that either she would take the spot and unbalance her rack, or she would play her bingo and leave me the Z. Well, she did indeed take the spot with ZING, and it did unbalance her rack, because she exchanged, but she then drew into AMOSITE. My QUEEREr wouldn't play as a bingo, but thankfully it played through the E she had hung in the triple column and I scored 75 anyway to take the lead. It all came down to the end tiles, and the only thing that saved me from going down with my EIIOUSV was that the board configuration did not allow her to score and go out with her better tiles, AEIIGLRRV. Despite winning, I went away from that game sure that I could have played a better end game, but even letting my time get down under a minute I couldn't see a killer play.

Against Stan Williams I had exactly one chance to come back, but it would have required exposing my blank to risk BRITTLeS, and I had no idea if the word was good. So I took the 24 points for BRITT and had no further chances to bingo for the rest of the game and ended up stuck with both blanks! Should I have risked it when it was still early in the game?

As I sat down to play Marty Fialkow, I suddenly developed the urge to sing. Marty encouraged me to control my urge, but perhaps it was a sign, because all the tiles pretty much fell my way. I do take credit, however, for squeezing out some more spread by suckering him into a challenge with STALING. I dare say that was the highlight of my tournament, getting to use a more obscure anagram that I had picked up just days earlier.

My two losses had me in a dour mood, and I confess that I was a little mean to Terry, who is sensitive. She was slow to get up so I could sit and face Mark Miller, who had pummeled her, and I snidely asked if she hadn't gotten enough. Yeah, I can be a stinker, can't I. But I got my just desserts.

Enter the Luckster!

I had recovered 133 spread points, but my hopes for a second place prize or a few ratings points were quickly quashed. Quashed, I say!!! Now, it's just a fact of Scrabble that there will be gains in which your opponent gets bingo after bingo. In my experience, this might happen once during a long tournament. So for me to suffer through two such games in a seven-game tournament was just wrong. But just like against Martha, bingos were just falling out of the bag for Mark Miller, like raindrops in the Amazon. COeNURI first, then INERTIAE two turns later, then SCOOPED two turns later followed by DIMMEST. AARGGHH!

Mark Miller--hmmm... that sounds just like a comic-book name, and it's fitting, because in the darkness of the night, Mark Miller sheds his civilian identity and prowls the night as a nefarious villain, The Luckster! His power--to turn an opponents tiles to poison with a mere gaze.

The one good thing about that game was that I confirmed that my instincts were correct to pass up a bingo, a tactic I've read numerous times is iffy. But in this case, I was down 159 points, and the only bingo I could see, ENtHRONE, would have slotted the E right about a TWS. I would have scored 70, and I had to assume a 30-50-point counterplay. HONE, on the other hand, scored thirty, kept NR?, and did not have the potential of such a deadly counterplay. And sure enough, Maven bears this out.

I drew most of the tiles against Chris Economos, but I still didn't have an easy time of it. Thought I jumped to an early lead with the 41-point FAX, Chris got down a bingo first, TRIdENT, surge ahead. I wasn't too worried, because I already held the other blank, but the board was all but closed up. I took a chance by hanging YUP next to a DWS, hoping that either she didn't have the final S or she wouldn't know YUPS. I remembered (incorrectly) that Chris has been in the 1600s, so it was the former that I was hanging my hopes on. I got lucky and was able to play the spot for 35, and I almost got the challenge. I love those funky-ass 3s and 4s that defy expectation by taking an S, like YUPS, POWS, and FLEWS.

After the game, I wondered again if there was a good way to assess which words different levels of players could be expected to know.

Despite going blankless I managed to attenuate my ratings loss as well as extract a small measure of revenge against Stan, who lost by a tiny margin, to his great frustration, because he couldn't manage to go out with a couple of common tiles, like an R and I (lost my scoresheet).

I had feared a significant ratings loss, enough to affect my placement in November's tournaments, but thankfully it was only eight points, which I recovered only two weeks later.

The tournament finished right on time, which meant I had plenty of time to kill before my interview for an Internet radio show. I should have left immediately and trusted that I would find clear reception when the show called, but instead I waited until after the interview to leave. It was, of course, delayed, and ran long, and as such I arrived late for my first day at work the next day. So what else is new. But the blame has to be shared, by three or four stupid gas stations in Chester that didn't have public bathrooms. Grrr...

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