Then as I headed to Starbucks I passed a true bagel shop, Bagelman. I grumbled, because I expected the bagels to be better from a place that made them fresh. I was right--the Windmill's sandwich was mediocre at best.
I was running a bit late, but I guess they hadn't started yet because Larry Sherman and Heidi Kujac, among others, were still sitting in the lobby. Heidi seemed overly interested in what I wrote about her in my log, and she insisted that I include the fact that her rating got up to 1513! I won't reveal the details of what I got in return, but let's just say that The Merchant of Venice was fresh in my mind.
Snap Back to Reality
Howie Greenspan drew both blanks against me like in Bayside, and this time I couldn't fend him off. I'm nowhere near good enough to consistently beat players who outblank me.
But this is where I think I really lost the game...
The next day, Howie, Kenji, another player, and me all agreed that ITS was a really bad move. Heck, at the time I played it, I thought it was a weak move, but I couldn't think of anything better. Why do we make moves we know to be bad???
Anyway, Howie tried to be tactful and find at least a couple of reasons why the move wasn't completely horrible. Kenji, as you can imagine, made no such attempt to be sympathetic.
My first against Rita Norr is a classic example of an unwinnable game. Not! Even though she followed DELATES with ENATIOn, then ROUSERS two turns later followed by HAZIER for 74, it was a mistake on my part that got the whole ball rolling.
Had I found the 39-point play, I would have blocked her 25-point play, and she probably would not have been able to score and balance her rack at the same time.
On the bright side, at least I got to play VERONICa.
Mars or Venus or Saturn or whomever was on my side as I played Danny Goldman. Though he drew both blanks, he underestimated me and tried to play NONLOgIC--I slapped it off without hesitation. The extra turn turned out extremely valuable, as I won by a mere 23. But what was most unusual about the game was a rules situation that came up for the first time (for me). At the very end, Danny slapped EUlOGIA down on the board and hit the clock, at 0:00, so quickly that the tiles weren't in their slots, he dislodged an H already on the board, he miscalled the score, he didn't write down the blank, and in fact he did not even call the blank. Of course I called Sherrie over, and she went back to confer with the others. She ruled to deduct the time penalty, and she seemed very relieved that the 10 points did not affect the outcome--I would have won either way.
After the game, I ran into Danny in the bathroom and expressed my surprise that he had tried the phony. He admitted that he figured that since it was my first big tournament in Division 1 that he could "push [me] around". He was wrong. Of course, some of my later opponents did succeed in doing just that.
Danny was #3, and so I was surprised that he was not in the 1900s, given that Joe Edley was above 2000 and Matt Graham was almost 2000. Danny explained that there are very few 1900 players left--all the others had been deflated he said.
Oh There Goes Gravity
A visit to a new Starbucks in New Fairfield during lunch left me only enough time to grab a pepperoni roll and speed back. I should have grabbed two. Oh, who am I kidding--it wasn't hunger that contributed to my next two losses.
After being outblanked twice before lunch, my game against Joanne Cohen looked much better when I opened with MICROnS. I maintained good lead for six turns, and then she got down WEIRdIE. I still led by 26, though, but what killed me was when I exchanged DGPTTSV. In restrospect, given the configuration of the board and the dearth of intermediate-point tiles remaining, I should have discounted bingoing and kept the P at least, if not the V too. For the rest of the game, excluding another exchange, I averaged 11 points a turn, and I ended up losing by 1 after a recount.
I was then blown out again, by Jeremy Frank this time, and unlike against Rita, this time I never even had a chance to give up equity. No, Jeremy started with rEWROTE followed by EXERT for 59. Then, as I held a U for three turns and prayed for the A I needed for a big Q play, he got down QUANTILE for 122, and it was all over. So quickly, in fact, that my mind started to wander, about how the last time I'd had luck like this was Stamford, another big tournament. I'd done really well in all the intervening events, and it was irksome that I couldn't do better at the big events.
Upon simming the game, I started to think I might be reaching the point at which I can no longer treat Maven as an unerring god. After rEWROTE, Maven likes PA at 6B, but I think an AEIOP leave, plus letting my opponent have the TWS, is ridiculous.
I showed the sim results to Jeremy as Bob Linn looked on, and neither of them seemed to agree that PA is the best move.
Next up was the wunderkind Jason Katz-Brown. I was glad I'd dropped by the Manhattan club's Sunday a few weeks earlier, because my first win over Jason gave me some confidence going into the tournament game. I came out swinging with cEASING, and then I freaked his funk by laying down OUtSWORE but taking it back in favor of a 34-point SWORE. I didn't want to give up a 30-point (at least) counterplay for a 60-point bingo. Plus, Jason's knowing I had the bingo put him on the defensive and made him burn a lot of time. And I bingoed next turn anyway, GUNBoAT to go up by 138. Jason soon bingoed, as I expected, SEDULITY, but I just had too much of a lead, and when I bingoed yet again, FORECAST, that was it!
After the game, Jason mentioned that he had considered opening with JARLED*. I told him he would have gotten away with it, as I hadn't studied many sixes yet. Jason replied that he knew that, but he just couldn't bring himself to play the phony. I thought back to Edley's comment about my giving away probability points, and to even earlier musings about the possibility of some player trying to exploit the information about my word knowledge from my log.
A Near Boner
I almost blew my game against Marjorie Schoenboom, and it's a good thing I didn't because I would have gone nuts later when I found the play with Maven. Midway through a tied game I'm struggled to figure out what to do with my EIUURSS rack. I actually had US down on the board but picked it up, I think because it gave Marjorie a counterplay, and considered exchanging. But when put the US back on my rack, towards the left, it just so happened that I had already arranged RIES towards the right, as the leave I wanted, and left the other U in the middle, and suddenly the bingo jumped out at me!!! I was stunned that I had almost missed it, but it was the game-winning play, as with both blanks, all eses, the Z and the X gone and Marjorie was unable to recover.
The psychology student and her professor that were supposed to meet me in Hartford so Bill could get footage of us backed out, so Bill and I just went to dinner downtown at the Ecuadorian restaurant I'd discovered the previous year, Mitad del Mundo II, and then I called up my cousin and took him up on his offer of staying the night.
At the house I met their current exchange student, a high school student from Serbia-Montenegro, and even hotter than the German exchange student I'd met in 2002. Unfortunately, because of my Scrabble schedule, I was unable to put the moves on the girl--oh, the sacrifices I make for Scrabble.
The Streak Continues!
A good night's sleep in an actual bed, Scrabble dreams, and a tasty bagel sandwich from Bagelman while importing more songs into iTunes had me in a feeling good going into the third day.
My mood was disturbed just a bit though, when I showed Howie my simulation of that critical move from our game, and he and a couple of other experts concurred that my ITS was a really weak play. Howie tried to be nice at least and say the play wasn't that bad--Kenji, as you might expect, felt no need to conceal his true feelings about the play.
I managed to put that past failure behind me and focus on dispatching Steve Oliger, in our first meeting since Indianapolis of all places. I hit first with HETAIRAS, but then I struggled with duplicate Is for four turns while I watched Steve follow SINCERE with GREENINg. SINCERE left an R hook on the triple, and so I took a gamble and created another line with WINE, because all the Ts and eses were out and I hoped Steve wouldn't know the other hook. After the game Steve claimed that he knew all the fives--whether true or not, he did point out something important that I should have realized, that there was a greater chance that my opponent will know fives that are hooks, so I probably shouldn't taken a chance hanging WINE out there, but I got a break and an extra turn to drawn that D when Steve tried to hook SINCERE with RYAL*. I challenged it off without hesitation, and I wondered when my opponents would learn that just because I'm not Joe Edley doesn't mean I'm going to let phony fours get past me. Of course, after the game, Larry Sherman leaned over and pointed out that I had let Steve get away with TOS*. Oops.
I extended my winning streak to four games and had my most exciting game of the tournament against Dominic Grillo. He opened with WIELDeD for 80, and I hit the double-double PRALINES for 90. He played TAJ for 26, I OXO for 40, and then he took the lead with SOLVENTS. I cut the lean to only 19 with VEENA for 27, though after the game Mark Przybyszewski pointed out I could have played VENUE for a better leave, ATS. I explained the reason was simple. The reason is simple--I don't study words already in my vocabulary, so my mind gravitates to the incommon ones. I got lucky with with UTS leave and scored with QUARTOS to lead by 44, but Dominic came right back with MOIETY for 45. I managed to out score for the next three turns while Domic tried to set up a bingo, and then I surprised him with TORULAE to seal my victory. I'd gotten really lucky, because when I opted to balance my rack by ditching the HB and leaving AEOLT, I happened to draw the R, one of the few bingo-prone consonants remaining.
But hey, in a field like Danbury, I'll take luck like that anytime.
The Streak Ends!
My winning streak came to an end against Kenji who won handily with words like ISOcHOR, HABITANT, ENNEAD, and COUVADE. ISO--there's another prefix to add to my neverending list of prefixes to study.
Meanwhile, Joel Sherman was still undefeated. I mentioned that I had won four in a row. I was hoping for a smile or word of congratulation. Silly me. Still, I was impressed with his performance, and I wanted to touch him and see if could steal some of that mojo. Four out of five scientists agree that Joel Sherman mojo has twice the potency of regular mojo.
Passed on lunch with Bob and some others to go heat up my leftovers and continue importing, writing, and simulating, and studying. At 7-6, I was not precluding a 10-10 record, which would be great for me, and though the likelihood of any words I learned during the tournament coming up were slim, every little bit helps.
Outside, I looked at the results that showed me in 10th place after 12 rounds. I wanted to take that paper and keep it, because I figured 10th was as good as it was going to get. And I turned out to be right.
I discovered I had lost my knife, which I had used to stir coffee the previous day, so I had to get medieval on my steak and eat it with my hands. Grrr... me caveman!
I returned a few minutes late, but as I expected the action had not yet started. I walked to the back to get my scorecard, and just as I passed Debbie Stegman and Diane Firstman (aka Steg & First) they started laughing. I was afraid to stop. I got my card and turned around to see Debbie on the floor, so hard was she cracking up. I stood there and looked at Dominic Grillo, but he seemed just as puzzled as me. Then Bob Linn started laughing too. I genuinely thought there was something amiss about my clothing or body parts. Couldn't have been my fly--that's why I wear my shirt untucked. What was it? I looked feverishly about my person. Then Diane whispered to me to look over at the other table--one of the player's shirts had a pattern almost identical to another player's tile bag. Okay, kind of funny, but not rolling on the floor funny.
It was my first game against Joel Horn, and once more I never had a chance. When I finally caught up with ZOOID for 50 he playing CRIMpING for 95, and unless I drew the other blank and bingoed while there was still an open line, I was toast. Well, butter me up, cuz he got that other blank too.
Whaddayaknow, repeat pairings had started and it was Joel again. I told him I better get some fucking blanks this time.
I did, but it could have gone the other way if Joel had paid more attention, or if I had hesitated when I played GLADIES*/WEBS. I knew GLADIEST was, as the other Joel would say, "good as gold", but I wasn't sure about GLADIES*. If I was going to play it without being sure, I had to appear completely sure. So I started counting up my score in one spot, 81 but opening the triple-triple, and in another, 68, and I waited to let the fact that I had a bingo set in Joel's mind. I wanted him to just accept it as a given that my play would be good when I played the tiles. Then I lay down the tiles and announced my score as I was doing so, before hitting the clock. I didn't want to be accused of fast-bagging, so I grabbed the bag, but in a normal manner, and then I think I either heard Joel announce my total score, or saw him start to write, and then I pulled out tiles. Then Joel turned the board around and said something, and figured it must be a phony, though he didn't seem sure. He at first said that my calling out the score before hitting the clock had distracted him, and that he considered that fast-bagging, and he called for the director. Several times. When no one showed up after about a minute, he said it wasn't worth the hassle and accepted it. I then proceeded to draw one blank, then another, and it was clear that Joel regretted having let the word get past him.
After the game, Matt Graham said that Joel was right, that I shouldn't have called the score first. His opponent, Larry Sherman, engrossed in his own game, told Matt to shush and Joel and I to go elsewhere if we were going to discuss it.
Later, in the break room, I got confirmation from Sherrie that, though she would have given me a warning the first time, announcing the score before hitting the clock is a penalizable offense. Something to keep in mind. [NOTE: This is not correct. See the end of this log for details.]
The Fall Begins
During the break, Mitch Brook alerted me to the fact that there was a performance prize, and that we two were in contention for it. It hadn't even occurred to me that there even was such a prize, as all I cared about was winning at least 8 games. Well, that's not true--when I saw that I was in 10th place I started to eye that 4th place slot, ridiculous though it might have been to aspire so high. But the performance prize--now that seemed well within reach. Little could I have imagined what would happen next.
I had long since gotten used to the fact that there would be blowouts and unwinnable games, and in the 17 games I'd played through day three I didn't feel that I'd gotten more than my share of those, so I'd gotten over the blowouts pretty quickly. But #17 pissed me off more than any game in a long time, and I didn't expect to get over it anytime soon. With a close endgame and 9 tiles in the bag, my opponent made a horrible, horrible play. She played REMOVED for 30, and this gave her a 2/3 chance of drawing the Q. Not only that, but her play blocked the last remaining U, with all Ts gone and only one A left. Furthermore, she slotted the D three spaces away from a TWS, leaving open the possibility of QAID for 42. Her play was horrible on so many levels, and yet she got luck and drew ZAGS for a 41 play. And I, I had to block the possible QAID, and I drew the Q. I might have screwed up that endgame, but it was really going to depend on the Q regardless.
She led by 19 points, I held EEIIOBC, and the tile pool contained AGHLMNQZSS. I had to block QAID. I could do it with two tiles with BE or BO, scoring 16, leaving one tile in the bag and reducing the odds that I might draw the Q, but if I left myself two EIIOC or EEIIC, I knew would have trouble in the endgame unless I just got lucky. So I decided to take the extra points for ICED.
Later during simulation, I discovered that recent studying had actually backfired. I played FEUDER*, thinking I had seen in among the thousands of words I'd looked at in the week prior. But it was actually FEUDIST that I had seen.
Those last two losses had pissed me off, and I didn't feel like putting in any more studying that night just for the next day's three games. I needed a break, so I decided to see Constantine, a movie I'd been eagerly anticipating, and possibility DC's return to movie prominence after Batman and Robin killed that franchise and Marvel stepped up to the forefront with Blade and X-Men.
My first choice was a theater closer to my cousin's in Yorktown Heights, but I couldn't make in time for the 7:00 PM show so I picked the Loews in Danbury where the movie was supposed to start at 8:00, giving me time for dinner. I arrived just after 8:00, and when I entered the auditorium I got this feeling that it was a ghetto cinema. That's what I call movie theaters, no matter where in the city, or what the race of the other patrons, whether black, white, or whatever, where people can't seem to shut the fuck up.
After waiting five minutes for the auditorium to go dark. I grew increasingly impatient as they ran commercial after commercial, and then a series of uninteresting trailers. By the time the movie actually started, it was 8:28!!! And then, when the lights went down, that's when the people next to me started talking, and also some people behind me, and also some people far off to my left. I could hardly believe it. Right when the movie started. I think the guy next to me had said something to a couple, and then I said something, and the guy just looked at me. With a crazy look. The couple next to me was arguing about money--I think the girl wanted to buy concessions and didn't have money, and the guy was complaining about how they'd sat there for 30 minutes and just when the movie started she decided to get up. A legitimate complaint.
I had no choice but to ask for a refund. If I got a manager, I'd have to point out several groups of people, at least one of which I wasn't completely sure about. And I was sure that, without the presence of a cop or an usher right there, these people would just start talking again. So basically I wasted an hour of my life I'll never get back, 28 minutes waiting for the movie, and 15 each way getting to the theater.
So I just went back to my cousin's and got more sleep, for all the good it ended up doing me during the next day's games.
Oh Why Couldn't I Have Been Snowed In???
It looked bad as I slogged through the deep snow to my car to start it and let it warm while I showered. But after my cousin shoveled a path out to the street for me, I had not trouble at all getting out to the primary roads, which had been plowed, and the freeway moved smoothly. I was relieved--I had been worried about the snow and even considered sleeping out in the parking lot of the hotel again to avoid getting stuck, but the lure of a warm bed was too strong.
During the drive I heard on NPR that Hunter S. Thompson had died, shot himself. I past comment by another player had put Thompson squarely in the back of my mind as I went through my "adventures", and if I ever experienced only a tenth of Thompson's fame/notoriety I'd be doing great, so long as I avoided his eventual fate.
Steve Oliger exacted his revenge in an game unremarkable except for the fact that I was so frustrated that my attempt to create an opening, which required an admittedly constant-heavy GSTV? leave, yielded an XR, requiring an exchange, that I gave up "probability points" by showing the X to Steve. Well, he was apparently in the same boat, because he showed me the JV that he was dumping throwing in. Except, he ended up getting the better of it, because a few turns later he played VOX for 59, with the X and V I had thrown in!!! I would have been better off it had eaten the X like I originally wanted to do, but I didn't have any hot sauce.
After the game, Paul Avrin came up to me and asked how I was doing, if I was simulating the game I just played. I asked if he knew that FETATES* was a phony, and the news seemed to surprise him. Furthermore, he did not know the good word in those letters, and expressed so much surprise at FEATEST that it seemed like he'd never heard of word before. I considered it an important piece of information as I continued to try and gauge the general word knowledge of the competition at the expert level.
I made my best play of the tournament against Danny Goldman in round 19, but I still lost. I caught him completely by surprise with RAYAH/AGA/YEH for 59 points on my next-to-last turn, but my ability to score had been so limited since Danny passed me with his second bingo, INERTIAL, that he had build up a 72 point lead that I couldn't surmount. It must have been all his pre-game stretching that made the difference.
Later I discovered I had let him get away with COM*, a three that I myself had tried to play in recent weeks--that cost me the game right there. All that pride in knowing my fours, and I'm letting phony threes get past me!
After that loss, I was definitely out of the performance money, and that really sucked. I know that, coming into the tournament, I thought I'd be happy to boost my rating or keep it even, or even not lose too much, but once Mitch made me aware that I was in contention, I started thinking about it, and then I proceeded to lose the next fives games.
My last chance to ensure a ratings increase was against Diane Fontana. But she, too, decided to prey on my inexperience in the expert division with a vicious phoney, and I wasn't able to recover.
So there it was, I lost the final five games and remained at 8 wins. As far as I could remember, that was my worst collapse ever. I was much more used to pulling out of a disaster in the final few games, when I was paired with others doing poorly. This was a new experience, and I'm not yet sure if it sucks worse that losing the first five games or not. Of course, I had still won the eight games that I needed to win, but still losing the last five would take the wind out of anyone's sales. Had I not started looking past my the minimum and towards the performance prize, I wouldn't have felt so bad.
Later, it would occur to me that I lost every single game after my phony against Joel Horn. Hmmm... did he perhaps take a page from my musings about voodoo?
I confess that I did derive satisfaction from the fact that, despite having lost my last four games, I was still ahead of a certain unnamed player. I wanted to win my last game, of course, but almost as much did I hope that at a minimum said player would not pass me in the final results.
I continued the painful process of simulating the games I lost, and of discovering what a truly awful player I am. Given some of the mistakes I was making, it's a miracle I'm not back in the 1200s.
During the day at work, I kept feeling these flashes of anger at myself for having made such stupid mistakes, and I had repeated urges to hit the wall, or the door, or whatever. But thankfully, experiences early in my career had tought me certain standards of behaviour that needed to be observed in the workplace. You don't hit walls, and you don't ask random coworkers for a hug.
When I posted my log, I received several e-mails from players confused about my reporting that announcing the score before hitting the clock was a rules violation. This is, of course, not correct--one is required to announce the score before hitting the clock. What I think I did was to announce the score as I was laying down the tiles, but I can't be sure. Nor am I sure if I described the scenario to Sherrie accurately.