The Soul Controller (or the Killer Tournament)

Saturday, January 8, 2005

"It's been a long, long... a long time coming..."

Risky Business

Funny thing is, I almost didn't play the event, for two unrelated reasons. First, after my performance in Farmington and resulting 1599 rating, I feared that playing in a Division B that included players in the 1100s, 1200s, and 1300s would result in a big ratings loss if I had a bad tournament. I was not blind to the fact that my request made pairings a little harder for Ginger, but given that this was a fairly unique situation, being right at 1599, and that I'd been seriously struggling to reach 1600 for over a year, I decided I was justified like Timberlake in asking Ginger to keep me apprised of whether I'd make it into Division A.

The second reason was that when I flew back from Europe I was exhausted, facing an upcoming deadline at work that I had all-but-decided to skip Bayside even if I did make the top division. Upon checking my e-mail, however, Ginger, as promised, had sent me the probably breakdown of the top two divisions. Assuming no one rated higher entered, and the top division was kept at ten players, I'd make it in as #10. And the ratings of the others were so high, several 1700+ players, that when I punched the numbers into the ratings calculator I saw that only three wins would get me over 1600. That was just too tempting too pass up, and I started to feel that burning sensation, and it started to override my fatigue.

Perhaps to Ginger's chagrin, I pushed my decision as far as I could, until 2:45 PM on Friday, and when I finally called Ginger back and found out Sal Piro was out and I was locked into Division A. That settled it--I was going.

So I backed away from my cubicle, a little concerned that I hadn't gotten nearly enough work done as I should have, but more concerned that I'd drive up to Bayside only to tank because I was too tired. It was bad enough that I hadn't studied nearly as much as I should have in the three weeks since Farmington, primarily because I spent nearly two weeks of that time traveling. I felt that made playing a risk, and that the safe approach would be to wait a few weeks and really hit the word lists. It was too late to do anything about that--best I could do was catch up on my sleep. I napped for a few hours then got a little more work done, kind of, while eating my leftovers, and then I set off for Bayside.

Get Woody, Volume II

The drive, in multiple parts because of the jet lag, was fairly uneventful except when I stopped at a Wawa in Philadelphia, went into the bathroom, and overheard a police officer who kept making a trilling sound and then looked in the mirror and said "you are a handsome devil!"

After an initial few hours of sleep at one of the Maryland service areas, I got the bulk of my sleep on the New Jersey Turnpike. The flip side of the jet lag was that, by around 7:00 AM when I started driving again, my body thought it was 1:00 PM, and I didn't struggle with the sleep inertia that usual plagues me if I try to drive that early. After a stop at a new Starbucks in Staten Island, the fourth, and then for a pretty good bagel sandwich from the Bagel Bistro on Victory, I reached the Starbucks just down the street from the Adria Conference Center with plenty of time to spare.

Technically speaking, would it be considered ironic that, in one of the rare instances in which I would have arrived very early for a tournament, that I was detoured at the last moment? Hmmm... no, I don't think that fits the propery definition of irony. Anyway, after checking my e-mail and catching up on CGP, the latter which included a hilarous and possibly incendiary post by David Koenig that made me burst out laughing loud enough to catch the attention of several other customers, I returned to my car to notice that I had missed a call--who the heck was calling me at 9:00 on a Saturday morning??

I called back, and as soon as I heard Woody's voice I guessed that he needed transporation. Right. He had missed a bus, or it was running late, or something like that, and was some 50 blocks west. I told him I'd call back and did some quick thinking. The Adria was close, so I rushed there, sprang out of my car and told Ginger I was going to pick up Woody, and then rushed back 60 blocks, gunning the engine at every light. The blocks went by quickly, and by 9:17, I think, Woody had hopped into my car, and by 9:27 we reached the Adria, and I told Woody to let Ginger know I was parking. Three minutes to spare--ah, plenty of time.

One Game at a Time

First up was Frank Romano (secret owner of Romano's Macaroni Grill), and I hoped that my victory in Stamford, and a few on ISC, would give me a slight psychological advantage, in that he had to know that I the very minimum knew something about how to play the game. Things went sour early on when, rather than ditching my Q for a 15-point QUOD, I decided to take 20-points for JOE, opening a S-hook, because I had an S and hoped for a 60+ point Q play. I took a risk, and Frank too advantage, with DAMSELS, and it looked bad as my racks fizzled for the next five turns, requiring an exchange. Then I drew a blank and got down BRIDaLS to come within 23 and I drew the other blank--I sensed a win. Then Frank got the 52-point EX, and it would be tough even with a bingo. Fortunately for me, Frank's racks seemed to fizzled and I outscored him to the point where a bingo would win. With all eses gone, I set up one line with COW and then opened a second line, and at the last moment got down RATINGs to pull far enough ahead to win!

One down, one to go.

Verna Berg ALaRMED me with an opening bingo, and I immediately thought it was going to be one of those games. Then I saw 46 for EJECTS, and it didn't look so bad. Then I made a tough play, giving up the X for 19 points in order to balance my rack, and I stumbled across 57 points for YAWPED and got back in the game. Then GRADINE a couple of turns later, and I was in control. A couple of crap racks and exchanges allowed Verna to get closed, but I maintained a slight lead, and then I pulled the second blank for StEELING to seal my victory.

Two down, two to go.

Next was Mike Ecsedy, who had handed me my head at Stamford with a vicious outdrawing. Thus I felt no sympathy whatsoever when I opened with DESEX, then AERATiON to open a triple, then an S for AERATIONS/STAW for 41 for a commanding lead. The board shut down quickly, and Mike had little chance as I cruised towards my third victory.

Besides the win, another good thing about the game was that I remembered the word ECLAT. Nothing particularly important about that word, except that I hadn't reviewed the 5-letter Es in a long time, and I was happy that my recall had not completely faded.

Yes! I had reached my goal of three games, and a 1600 rating, and in the first three games! I could hardly believe it. My goal accomplished, I asked Ginger if I could go home, and she said I had to keep winning. I didn't expect it--I was sure I was in for a loss.

Flying Higher Still

Immediately upon starting my new assignment in Elkridge I began playing at the Chevy Chase club, where Bob Linn (and, occasionally Stefan Fatsis) plays. It was over a month before I actually got to play Bob Linn for the first time, but some good tiles, and a mistake in creating an opening, on his part allowed me to win. I presume that got me some respect because Bob offered to help me improve my game and get to the expert level. I was, of course, very flattered that he deemed my potential worthy of his attention. One of the techniques he taught me a couple of weeks later was to keep track of the number of tiles in the bag. His rationale for this was to avoid alerting your opponent that there were few tiles in the bag, just in case he happened to forget and, for example, emptied the bag at the wrong moment or left himself with a great rack but only six tiles. This made perfect sense to me, and I started practicing the technique, but the one problem I had with it was that, just as with tracking, I made mistakes.

I made one such mistake against David Stone, and it almost cost me the fourth game. Early on I misadded and went from 64 to 76 instead of 56 and thus was off by 20 tiles for the rest of the game. So when the bag got down to seven tiles, including the Q, I didn't even think to check it as I played what I thought was a very clever four-hook bingo in a tight spot, UnEASeS to take an almost unbeatable lead of 102. But just almost, because I drew the remaining seven tiles, 34 points for David if he managed to bingo with the highly probably AIULNRT and 12+ minutes on his clock. A sixty-nine point bingo would have given him the victory, but thankfully there was nothing, and I breathed a sigh of relief when he gave up and played off a few tiles. Upon analysis, David had only one bingo that would have played, and it wouldn't have scored the 69 he needed. But still, emptying the bag like that could have been very costly.

With a 4-0 record, I started to look past simply having broken 1600 and dream of how high I could go. I was not yet thinking about winning the tournament--that just seemed like a ridiculous fantasy.

Chatting with Ira Freehof during lunch, I got an answer to a question I'd been wondering about for a few years. When I visited the Starbucks in Newport, RI, I drove down a highway that had the center strip painted red, white, and blue. Ira revealed that the striped was maintained those colors yearlong because the highway passed through Bristol, the site of the country's oldest Fourth of July parade.

Since rating was my goal, and I did not in my wildest dreams expect to win, or even place, I was not bothering to check the tally board, not even upon winning my fourth game and going to lunch, except to note that Stu Goldman, the top seed and my fifth opponent, had actually lost a game. When I returned from lunch I noticed I was actually the only 4-0 player, and I started having wild fantasies of earning really high rating and winning the tournament. If I could just get past Stu, who had lost two games and thus could be beaten.

I have to admit that after that fifth game I was a little giddy with delight, even despite the jet lag (my body was thinking it was almost 9:00 PM, not that late, but with some accumulated sleep deprivation). Not only was I 5-0, but I had beaten #1 Stu Goldman and earned my first win against a genuine Scrabble legend. Unlike my previous, and only full-length game against a legend, Joel Sherman, I did not screw up my first opportunity bingo, playing STREaMS on my third turn to get myself in the game. While three eses on my opening rack weren't the greatest, at least Stu didn't get any, being afforded only the J and a blank, too late, and I managed to maintain my lead and lock it down towards the end with a 56-point FOX. I will take credit for having held that X for a few turns to avoid giving Stu a counterplay and then setting up the big X play on the hopes that Stu would either not be able to block it, or, if he bingoed with his blank, I'd still get a big counter to keep my lead. Analysis pending, I think I took full advantage of the good draw I was given.

I couldn't say I hadn't gotten my share of the tiles in prior games, so I didn't blame tiles for my loss to David Lieberfarb. I might still been able to pull it out if I had seen that TOOTH took an S to hook my ARMINGS, but I was too focused on the open E. SMEARING didn't play and I finally gave up on bingoing. With the Q and blank, David was able to score enough in the endgame to win it, and I was left to wonder if I would have pulled those tiles had I managed to find that bingo.

Oh, well, I had not really expected to go 7-0, that would have been ridiculous.

After the game I was surprised to find David Stone also at 5-0, with about 20 fewer spread points, because he had not played a tournament in about two years. He was actually a threat to win.

But I had hope that I might actually win that sixth game, as I had already played the toughest opponents, and faced #9 Tom Kelly, who I almost beat at a Parsippany event. A weak opening TOUR, leaving OUR, didn't give me hope, and when Tom exchanged I expected a bingo to come down at any moment. But it didn't come for a while, and I managed to build up enough of a lead that when he finally got down LEGaTION he only passed me by 5 points. A couple of turns later, I pulled away with GIRASOLE, and then a few turns later Tom surprised me by challenging BOTANiZE, and a win was assured. I had never actually seed BOTANIZE, but I inferred it was a good variant of the high-probability BOTANISE (BOTANIES/NIOBATES/OBEISANT).

Even though I was assured the win, David Stone, at five games, could have passed me with a high-enough spread over Stu Goldman, so I had to worry about that game too. I peeked at their scores, trying not to be noticed, and saw that it was closed. With at least fifty points over Tom, I was sure I was good, and with a final spread of 145 I knew I was in. Didn't matter, David had lost, so I could still have won the tournament regardless.

Oh, but that sixth game did matter, though I didn't realize it at the time. David Stone was trying to ballpark estimate my new rating. I was sure that seven games might push me over 1700, but not six. I figured at least 1660, but I wasn't interested in computations because I'd get online down the streets right after the awards and get a reasonably accurate estimate.

After the intial elation, I started feeling the jet lag big time. Almost 11:00 PM Paris time, and I still needed to make it as far as Philadelphia so I could replendish my supply of Tradewinds tea.

Holy crap!!! I noticed it once people started cleaning up, but I had almost left the charger for my phone! That would have been bad.

As I waited for the awards I expressed my genuine concerns to some of the other players that I was going to end up overrated. I really didn't think my skill level was sufficient to sustain a mid-1600s rating, and I had a lot of catching up to do in terms of word knowledge if I was going to hang with the competition I'd be facing.

After the awards, I gave Woody a ride back, but first stopped at the Starbucks to get online, and I could hardly contain my shock to see an estimated rating of 1703!!! Holy shit! Unbelievable! I immediately started thinking of Division 1 in AC and Danbury, but also worried about an error in the computation. Until I got that crosstable back I'd be holding my breath for sure.

January 9

The next day, I was still in a state of disbelief, and I had to calculate that new rating again just to make sure I had not mistyped one of the ratings.

Dispatched messages to the Atlantic City and Danbury directors about Division 1 placement if I could get the crosstable back in time.

January 10

Saw an Atlantic City reminder on CGP that stated they would be using the January 1 ratings list. Grrr...

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