Ten Minus Four Equals Six
Saturday, November 27
For once, I wasn't the one waited on. I arrived coolly at 9:17, let Carol know, and rushed off to grab a bagel sandwich.
Last time in Farmington I had been surprised to see a pair of new players from Ottawa--this time it was Gary Moss who seemed out of place. I knew he lived in California and had business, or at least tournaments, in upstate New York, but I hadn't know he had a Michigan connection. I think he said he was a close personal friend of Michael Moore, or maybe I just imagined that in my sleep-deprived state.
9:30 came and went, and players who had paid had still not showed up. Carol, needless to say, was frustrated. I guess she made a decision to cut the players because she started writing names on the grids. Suddenly another player came up and reported that three players were coming in a car. From Canada! Those pesky Canadians! "Pesky"--that's not exactly how Carol put it. The exactly language she used was a bit stronger.
My first game started off strong. FINIAL (thanks to Lynda Cleary at her club), then KEELING, CAVORT, and GASP to go up 169-92 with a relatively closed board. I wanted to close it up some more, but I started getting all these bingos that wouldn't play--LOONIES, RERISEN, SEALANT--and I became fixated on getting another bingo down instead of simply scoring. Meanwhile, Elaine Glowniak, doubtless itching for redemption after our last outing (or am I the only one who thinks in those terms), was quickly catching up with intermediate and high-point tiles--ZAG, YAY, FOP, JOB, WOW. On top of that, I had to ditch the Q twice--I couldn't even play the QAT when I had it. I think my first mistake was too play LOO for 11, leaving EINS. My thinking was that with a G to play off, and a hook for an S in the sixth position, my tiles had to yield a bingo. I should have played off my S for 20 points instead. After that first critical choice, I didn't have very many options for the next few turns. Then Elaine played REUNITeR. That's when I made my real critical mistake, which was not just to challenge, but to challenge without counting the tiles. Had I realized there would only be seven in the bag after Elaine took hers, and holding SATINE+Q, letting the bingo go would have been the move. But I lost the challenge, and with no opportunity to ditch the Q, the game.
I can't say that the tiles weren't falling my way, though. I got an another early bingo, BEATING, this time against Gary Moss, but he held the golden rack, SATIRE+?, and came back right away with a double-double. Then I got the biggest shock of my life since discovering that there are men out there who dress like women. Gary played OXES, and I was 100% sure it was no good as I challenged and lost. Fortunately, I got really lucky and a couple of turns later drew into CROUPIER to take the lead. Gary immediately cut to almost nothing with a 39-point play, but, much to his frustration, another bingo fell out of the bag onto my rack, DAILIES. Gary once again cut the lead with TOQUETs, but I had just enough of the intermediate-point tiles and places to play them to maintain my lead through the endgame.
Next up was Kit Morehead, whom I had not faced since she had tought me never to forget ANTISERA/RATANIES/SEATRAIN at the '03 ArdenCup. This time she was cheered on by her boyfriend, but to not avail. For the third game in a row I was blessed with manna from heaven. OUTPACE to open, then DENIERS. For the latter, I tried to play a little mindgame with Kit, laying down REDINES* first and staring at it to try and see if I could get a challenge when I played the real word. Didn't work, but I figure it was worth a try. Next I got down a double-double LIGATED to lead by 148, and I was feeling extremely confident. A couple turns later, she got down MuRIATED, but I was far enough ahead that I didn't sweat it. But she followed it up with the 72-point AQUAE to cut my lead to 24, and I started to worry. Then she scored 40 with HAWS to cut my lead to 12--with one blank, the X, and the Z unseen, it was anybody's game! I jumped back into the lead with NARCEINS (missing the more certain CRANNIES) and almost got a challenge, but Kit decided to go for the gold and played RUBIX* for 69 (which turned into 51 a few turns later when I recounted). I was almost certain that I had not seen RUBIX* when I studied the 5-letter Rs... but I wasn't certain enough. So I let it go, and as a result I spent the rest of the game on the edge of my seat. Thankfully, I pulled the Z and another S, and those enabled me to retain a lead.
Of course I looked up RUBIX* immediately, and promptly beat my head against the wall. I coulda won by an extra 60-80 points. Of course as I went to lunch, it occurred to me that by thinking of the tournament primarily in terms of my competition with Avrin, every win was progress regardless of my actual record, and spread didn't really matter.
I had already gone to that Red Apple or Big Apple place for breakfast, so I caved and went to one of those coney places. I like hot dogs--I really do--but I swear every time I get to Detroit and see coney island places left and write I feel like I'm losing the taste for them.
For the first time during the tournament, I did not start off strong, and my game against Carolyn Easter was tough, especially after I lost a turn by trying EVENTED*. After rESTAGED for 92 I was in good shape, but an inability to play the triple I had opened allowed her to come within bingo range. Had she had one more vowel to go with her blank at the end, she could have bingoed out along the lane I didn't have a chance to block. A narrow escape!
3-1, and I was hardly concerned about the spread. I was more concerned with catching Paul and gaining rating than winning the tournament. I thought about how my goals varied from tournament to tournament. Sometimes it was cash, sometimes it was rating, and now a different reason entirely, and one that mattered only in my mind.
I went out to the bathroom and passed Carolyn in the hall. She looked familiar, but even though I had just been sitting across from here for some 30 minutes, I was not sure of who she was. Had I not know I was suffering the effects of sleep deprivation I would have been concerned for my sanity.
Alert! Alert! Alert! Scrabble cutie in the house!
After four hard-fought games that could have gone either way, game five was all Stephen Knapp. I couldn't pick up a blank or S on a board that cried out for them. The worst part? That I burned a lot of time trying to score and block while holding on to the second H for a 45-or-more-point SH/H???? play that might have tied it, and just when I drew into HOURI he bingoed along that line. What a waste of my commanding knowledge of five-letter H words.
Unlike in Stamford, where bad draw followed bad draw, my drubbing was followed by my thoroughly outdrawing Connie Breitbeil. The best part of the game was that when I held AIONNT?, instead of playing the obvious bingo right away, I thought about it for a while and came up with ANTlION, a word that I had missed each of the three or four times I had gotten to the anagram in LeXpert. Connie mentioned she didn't know it, but she didn't challenge. Actually, no, that wasn't really the best part--the best part was when I played GROPER, a word near and dear to my heart.
My final game, against Frank Lee, was not a blowout, but in the end it came down to tiles. My racks were consistently ugly, starting with CHPUTWY, but I started off well, making the best move (or second-best, depending on where one should slot the W). I continued to make either the best move most of the time, given my word knowledge, but I stayed behind until Frank played CLOY for 9 and set me up for a 30-point ZINC to take a slight lead. Then I started another round of slipping behind, but this time around my plays were well short of optimal. The Q was unseen, and all Us were gone. I held REVOLTS, and that was the final T. I had to assume with so many tiles gone that Frank had one of the two blanks, so opening a line with a 42-point TROVE at 8A seemed dangerous. Then I saw a safer play, VOTE for almost as many points, and then when I noticed WON takes an S for VOTES/WET/HAE/WONS and 41 points. If I drew the Q the game would likely be over, but I lucked out, for the moment, and when Frank exchanged, to allow me to keep a 21-point lead, I started to think I might win. I saw a 26-point play with only two tiles. VIM/IN/MA took one of the few remaining hot spots and put me up by 47--if I could just avoid the Q the game seemed in the bag. But it appeared, and my hopes disappeared.
Still, four wins put me closer to Avrin, and with that knowledge I was able to leave Farmington without the frustration that usual accompanies a close loss.
The next day, as I drove, I came to the conclusion that challenging REUNITERS in game one was even more stupid than I had originally imagined. Had I counted the tiles, not only would have concluded that 14 meant a good chance I would't be able to exchange my Q, but that I might have been able to win by sticking Elaine with it. But because of my stupid challenge, I never got the chance.
A couple of days later, when I analyzed the game and discovered my play during the second half was worse than during the first half, I had to wonder why. Why the sudden shift like that?