Squandered Gifts

April 22, 2005


Given the remoteness of Maine, and the uber-remoteness of Bangor, it was imperative that I visit the new Starbucks there while in New England. If I didn't, I would likely have to wait another year before returning to the state, and that was assuming I'd still be working on the east coast and attending BAT. But, in my usual manner, I'd lost time here and there on the road from Maryland, and even an hour having dinner and working on my web site at the Starbucks in Amherst. When I finally calculated when I would arrive in Bangor, I realized it would be about 2:00 AM. I'd have to leave about 7:00 AM to reach Westport in time for the Early Bird, which meant a scant 4-5 hours of sleep at best. My immediate instinct was to give up on a couple of tournament games, and so I e-mailed Sherrie to say I might forfeit the first couple of games.

As I drove east on the Mass. Pike I had a change of heart. Even if I skipped one or two games and got some extra sleep, I'd still be feeling rushed all day, and I'd probably be distracted, and I might end up doing poorly in the early bird, and that disappointment might carry over into the main event and affect my play there. So in an uncharacteristic moment of weakness, I gave in to the headache and congestion I'd been suffering from for a day and a half and decided that extra sleep was more important. Of course, that left the ever-present worry in the back of my mind that the store might close before I had a chance to visit, or even that Bangor itself might be destroyed. Maine is, after all, where author Stephen King is fronm, and strange things often happen in his novels.

Though I had ostensibly made my decision, as I made good time on I-90 and then I-95, I had repeated impulses to just go for it and drive the extra 210 miles (round-trip). I resisted the urges, and I stopped at the second service area in Maine.

I was far enough north that when I awoke at 5:45 it was already light out. I didn't feel so bad and once again had the urge to go on ahead and drive to Bangor, but I resisted and forced myself back to sleep, hoping to get a couple more hours.

At 7:15 the sun was hitting my face and warming up the car (from a low around freezing), and I felt I'd slept enough even though the numbers didn't add up. So I got a move on, and I thought at least I'd had plenty of time to rephotograph some Maine stores, get a good breakfast, and still arrive in Westford with time to spare. But the state of Maine had other plans for me.

At some point they had redesignated the stretch I-95 past Portland as I-295, and turned what used to be the bypass, I-495, into I-95. I did not realize this, because my map read differently, and I drove well out of my way before I realized the exits didn't seem to make sense. I had to cut across on a state road to get back to my real destination, the Starbucks in Topsham.

Winter, Dreaded Corporate Spy!

I wasn't done getting lost, though. A barista at the Topsham Starbucks had told me of a bagel place on Pleasant Street, but I confused it with Pleasant Hill Rd. This time, though, it was obvious from the rural nature of the road that I wasn't gonna find no bagels down amongst the farms, and I worked my way back up to the correct road as the clock ticked down. Finally, there it was, Mister Bagel!

I sat and worked on my journal while waiting to order, and then while I waited for my bagel sandwich. After a few minutes one of the employees came up and asked what I was doing. I said "working on my journal, why do you ask?" She said she thought I was looking at the menu board and taking notes. That pissed me off. It was bad enough every cop in the country looked at me with suspicion, but to had a lowly bagel shop worker get accusatory? That was too much. Suddently, it made sense what I had seen earlier, one of the other employees whispering to another and glancing back at me. At the time I had thought, don't be so paranoid, she's not looking at you. But that goes to prove the old adage--just because you're paranoid doesn't mean their not after you.

When I got my bagel sandwich I gave that lady a piece of my mind, telling her it was insulting and ridiculous to have accused me of copying their menu board, because if that's what I really wanted to do I would have done it in secret, with a notepad, or with a digital camera. I'll never go to Mister Bagel again!

Pulling the Rug Out

Down in Portland I went into town to rephotograph a Starbucks. Dude! Another mister bagel, across from the Northgate Plaza Starbucks! Now I can boycott an entire chain instead of just that one restaurant.

While I was there I checked my e-mail and had one from John Chew, saying forfeiting games would give my opponents too much of an advantage and that they might drop me if I wasn't in time. WTF??? I had explicitly put my phone # in the e-mail and asked her to call me. How many times do players just not show up without giving any notice? I go to the trouble of e-mailing the night before and I don't even get the courtesy of a phone call? Jeez, John could have called me in the time it took to compose and send that e-mail. If I hadn't stopped to check my e-mail and showed up right and 12:00 and found myself dropped, after having skipped the Bangor store, I would have been really pissed. No excuse for not making a phone call. I would think, after the Marlon incident in Stamford, that Sherrie at least would recognize the value of taking a minute to call and clear things up.

Then Bryan Adams' "Everything I Do..." came on the radio and soothed my nerves. But then I couldn't find my shorts in the back of my car and got frazzled again. It was getting warmer and I wanted to limit the amount of sweat soaking into my one good pair of jeans (all others had holes in the crotch). I thought about just driving down in my underwear, but then I remembered the toll plazas and changed into my pajama bottoms instead. Last thing I needed was to have some toll booth attendant accuse me of flashing her and end up some cold-as-fuck Maine jail.

I arrived at the Westford Regency Inn...

...right at 12:45 and rushed into the Conference Center to find that registration had not started! AARRGHH!!! I skipped that Starbucks and performed unhygienic maneuvers in the car all for nothing!

The Early Bird Loses the Momentum

They finally paired, and I saw that the famed Rahn McKweon was my group--dangerous!!! But first up was wunderkind Eric Kinderman, except that he wasn't a kid. His second play, RACIALS*, seemed phony, but I saw a 24-point KAURI through it, and, more importantly, the possibility of putting him in time trouble, as he had already burned about seven minutes in two turns. I managed to find my bingo, TARRiER, and other good-scoring plays quickly enough to keep the pressure on, and it worked. After the game he admitted he had missed the GREE hook for QAID the first time around and exchanged instead (he kept the Q, interesting). That mistake helped me out, because I made one of my own, challenging TAXITE. I just figured I would have seen TAXITES in my study of high-prob sevens.

That win gave me confidence, and I started thinking about going 5-0. Little could I have imagined what would come next.

Simulation will surely reveal mistakes, but from where I was sitting my racks told all there was to say about my game against Carl Durdan. AGLORRR - ROAR 8, EGLLNNR - LONGER 16, AIIUHLN - GHI 7, AEIULNP - PURI 12, AEOLMNV - VENOM 20, AAIIULT - AALII 12, AEEEUTV - UVEA 20, EEEOTYY - EYE 32, EOGMTTY - MY 22, EOGTTT? - YETT 21, OBGGTX? - BOX 38, GGSTT?? - GUT 6, DFGST?? exchg DFG, OFNST?? IF, and then finally the bingo along the BOX line I'd set up, aROyNTS, to bring me within 8 points. But Carl scored 25, and the last two tiles, AG, yielded me only 10 points.

Later simulation did reveal mistakes, but not that many of them. I only gave up 2.9 equity points per turn, and of 16 turns, 8 of my plays simmed the best. So does that justify blaming the tiles?

Third game, against Judy Horn, and I was still left wanting for easy racks. Nevertheless, I might have won had I done what I knew I should have done, in this position.

Judy had just exchanged two, and I of course saw the POWER hook. But I led a mere 11 points, and that was a nothing lead with two eses and a blank unseen. Even though the board was almost closed, those eses could be used to score, and I feared that if I blocked with NU for 3 points I'd let her catch up. So I looked at the tile pool, BCDFGIKNOQRSSTUU?, noticed that it lacked any As or Es, and thought what are the odds? I played RE/RYA for 10 and watched in dismay as she came down with SqUINTS. AARRGHH!!! And after all that, I still only lost by 11. AARRGHH!!!

After our game, Rahn McKeown said his luck had been pretty bad up to that point. So why did it have to change against me? My chances looked pretty good after Rahn challenged my 41-point WETLY/YOW, and I followed with 34 for PUJA. Rahn said he didn't remember seeing WETLIER*, which implies he's studying sevens but not fives--something to rememebr. I extended my lead to 48, and then Rahn fished, intentionally (he claimed later) setting up a big score if I could hook his AY with a six-letter words. But there are no six-letter words in AIKLNRS, and so I just went for what I thought was my best play, VAKIL for 22, since I couldn't block the most obvious bingo line for more than a few points.

Rahn played RESIDUAL for 72, but I cam eback with FILO for 33 to retake a 26-point lead. I held IRONES + N, but the A was one space too far for RAISONNE. I could have gone ahead and blown my good tiles with a variety of sixes that all scored 27 on that glaring triple line, but I thought playing off ON for 18 and keeping EINRS was better. Then Rahn hit that triple with BRAVER for 44. My MERINOS doesn't play, and that same A is in the wrong spot for the three eights I know, but MENO for 22 evens the game. Then Rahn hits with GENITORS for 60, taking the last bingo line.

Nothing spectacular in my game against Michael Ecsedy. I did try to play a little quicker so I could go get some food, but it's hard to say that made a difference.

1-4, and what stood out in my mind most was that I never had an easy time of it. My racks always seemed to be clunky at best. All five of my opponents bingoed first, and in general it seems bingoing first offers an advantage.

I left immediately in search of food, hoping to clear my head and cast off the crappy luck that had plagued me. I headed first to Joanne's Kitchen down the street, which I had discovered during the previous BAT, but it was closed. So I headed down to Weymouth to a new Starbucks, and then just drove in the direction of restaurants (according to Streets and Trips). I spotted some Italian place called Polcari's. True, the hostesses were cute dressed up like Italian gangsters from the 20s or 30s, but the spaghetti was mediocre.

I had been so pissed about the Rahn game that I moved it to the top of my list to sim. As I took my takeout to a nearby Starbucks I got to the VAKIL play and discovered it simmed the worst. Best was KILN--I had considered that spot but decided against it because I figured RAHN had an S and would hook KIN on the triple. I don't care what Maven says--with two eses and blanks unseen, that move is too dangerous.

I actually played ISC during the break, unusual for me, hoping to break my losing streak, and I was sure I would win when, I held the last blank and AEIO and set up AMU to the triple. But what happens? I draw another A and E, and magnets has the V to block even a low-scoring EAsE. I tell her that's the way my whole early bird went. I can tell she's real sympathetic.

I returned to my car and noticed that I had been parked in a handicapped space. What??? The icon on the gravel was painted yellow, not blue! I've traveled all over, and handicapped spaces are always in blue. What's up with that? That could have been a several-hundred dollar ticket because of bad signage!

Back in the playing room, Sherrie included me in her usual shout-outs and bid me be "on time" for registration. Why? Why? Why? I'd already played in the early bird, so she knew I was there. Grrr...

Squandered Gifts

Of course I had to go into my game against Jason Katz-Brown assuming I would lose, but drawing the blank after my opening play gave me hope, which was immediately quashed as Jason played TRIENNIA followed by GANGLIAE*. After the game, Jason chastised me for letting the phony go.

Given that I have no understanding of the genetive case in Latin, it's hard to see why on earth I'd challenge that play, especially since it opened up a TWS, and that I had a bingo that put me within 25. Not I stand by that decision. My big mistake came later, after I had been given a gift, the 75-point SQUIB to take a 40-point lead. Jason had the blank, but he was low on time, and bingo lines were limited (see above position). But I exhibited a classic case of choking. Jason held, EIOCDT?, It was obvious he either had to make his blank an S, which would have put the bingo in the range of sevens I've studied, or that it had to end in an R. The correct play would have been SEE/DUGS, but for inexplicable reason I played LENSE/DUGS, giving him an E to play through. He went over time, but he still found the winning play, and I had no one to blame but myself.

Thanks to Jason's dastardly deviousness, I promptly created a list of 7s and 8s ending in AE. Unfortunately, creating a list and committing it to memory are two separate things entirely. But at least now there's half a chance that if somebody plays some freaky-ass -AE word against me I'll remember seeing it on the list, or at least have a fuzzy idea that I didn't see it.

When I opened with FEATHER and then immediately drew the blank, I started to think I'd cruise against Mike Wolfberg. But things went downhill fast. First, the rest of my tiles were IIUCLR. Then Mike played INSISTER, opening the triple while I held that junk. I debated between exchanging and blocking with URIC for 18, leaving a miserable IIL?. I played, and sure enough drew another I. Turns out I had missed RIdiCULE, and for the rest of the game I'd struggled with that blank trying to bingo but not seeing anything (missed MOORAGe too) while Wolfberg consistently outscored me and then got down DENIALS to blow the game wide open.

By contrast, I was sure Tangredi had me once he followed my ERADIATE with a 53-point EX. That was reminiscent of our first game, in Danbury, when he seemed to have an answer for all my plays right to the end when only bingoing out saved me. I was sure I would lose up until the very end, and in this position I was sure that playing the Q would lose me the game. Maven favors playing off Q, but I saw too many counterplays. I think my tactic of holding back the Q was the right one, though I could have done a bit better. I played ODE at E11, but I should have plade ODEON.

Then Frank played off his D (useful for a counter to ROQUE at 15L) and his S. And I had drawn the M, which made ROQUE seem a much stronger play. Frank's reply caught me by surprise, SWAT/GIANTS/ROQUET at 11M for 34, and he took a 13-point lead. Fortunately for me, TOKED paralleled his play rather nicely, and scored 40, and Frank had no more answers.

Cecilia Le asked how I was doing, and I answered with a profound statement, "Well, I guess 1-2 is better than 0-3." That's my philosophy background talking right there.

Finding a place to sleep was easy in the remote suburb of Westford. During the night drizzle turned to rain, and as I lay there in the back of my car I actually felt sorry for those poor players up in their hotel rooms, unable to hear the pitter-patter of the raindrops splashing on the window just inches from my face.

April 23


After giving it some thought, I decided to throw John and Sherrie a bone and arrive on time for my first game of the day, which meant not heading down to visit some new Starbucks, but getting a breakfast at Paul's Cafe down the street instead. I ordered a bagel sandwich and looked for orange juice. Their Nantucket Nectar flavors were of the frou-frou type, fruit combinations. Their OJ was a local brand, Hood, and even though from concentrate, it wasn't bad. The sandwich, however, left much to be desired. It came with home fries, which were neither the best nor the worst I'd ever tasted, but the problem was the bagel, obviously store-bought. That's why I like sandwiches from real bagel shops, because freshly-made bagels are the best!

I headed over to the Starbucks in Chelmsford to finish my breakfast and get online, fully intending to be back at the Regency with time to spare. But when I went up to the counter for coffee, I was blessed with a spectacular sight, a strawberry blonde in pigtails who was just bursting at the seams of her Starbucks uniform. I couldn't get her out of my mind, and even though she was out of sight from where I was sitting I could still hear her oh-so-cute accent and the funny way she greeted customers. I was consumed with passion and wanted nothing more than to hang out at the store all day and wait for an opportunity to make contact. I fantasized about being wealthy and just offering her thousands to drop everything and fly away with me, but of course that type of extravagance is beyond the ken of someone who sleeps in his car and washes in bathrooms.

The clock ticked closer to 9:00, and I kept coming up with reasons to stand up and glance at the lovely. I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth, and by way of reminded, my phone alarm decided to go off just then. It was an embarrasing phone moment, as the alarm got louder and louder and just kept ringing (as alarms are wont to do), until I finally had to put the toothbrush down and rush outside to turn it off and apologize to some nearby customers who had been looking around wondering what the noise was.

The clock ticked on, and I continued to wait for the barista to go on a break. Finally it was getting time I really had to leave. I went up to the front to ask for some ice in my water, hoping to engage in chit-chat, but she was towards the back, eating something slushy out of a Starbucks cup. Damn, just watching her dip that spoon in the cup and put it to her lips was tantalizing! I had to force myself away from the counter and out the door before I started to look creepy.

"I Love It When a Plan Comes Together"

I returned to the playing room to find that my plan had worked. There was another player I wanted to cozy up to, and I had noticed she hadn't been doing so well, so when I filled out my tally sleep in my final game I put that Frank had won so that I'd end up with 0 wins and hopefully paired with her. Frank had detected the error and notified John, who was looking for me to initial the slip with the correction. But as I suspected, he wasn't going to redo the pairings, and I got an hour to work my magic. Problem was, I'm never sure if you're supposed to beat a girl you're interested in. Does that work against you, because her ego is hurt, or does it work in your favor, because females are naturally attracted to successful men.

I played NOEL, bringing my score to 339. My opponent played AZO, taking her score to 333. Given the tile pool, ACGINQRR, I can't conceive of not assuming that my opponent has the N. Even a modest 15-point play might be enough to win, so I blocked the only way I saw, with OW. Simming to the end puts WANES on top by 11.4 equity points. WANES scored 24 but if the Q was the last tile in the bag, then my opponent might have had ACING for 43, to lead by 13. If the Q was in the bag, QURSH for 36 would put me ahead by 23 for the win. If the Q was not in the bag, then my opponent would get stuck with it, and I still would have won. Hmm, looks like OW was the weaker move after all.


But next up was a tough opponent, Amit Chakrabarti. Despite his high rating, I chose MARIA to counter his opening AURUM in the hopes that he would try to hook an S. I'll never know if Amit would have tried it, because he played RESEATED down from the R and effectively killed that line. Then he went on to score 33 for BENNI and 41 for KHAF for an 83-point lead. Against a weaker opponent I might have played more conservatively and held back my blank for a bingo I was sure of, but against someone of Amit's calibre I needed to be bold, so I threw JOTTIeST* down there and crossed my fingers. Amit didn't even hold, and I was back in the game. I then made a mistake and was too quick to play off my Q for 33-points when I should have played PIXY at 15A for 48 instead. Besides blowing 15 points, I let Amit score off that triple, 27 for CLOY. Stupid, stupid, stupid. But my mistake worked in my favore, and I got another break when Amit tried to play BuTANOIC*. The word looked like a good possibility, and had I seen a chance to win I probably would have let it go, but with no more blanks, the J, Q, and X gone, and limited bingo lines, I felt I had to challenge. It came off the board.

My tiles weren't the most conducive to my taking advantage of Amit's mistake, however--Maven says PHI is my best play in this position, for all of eight points.

Given his tiles, I expected Amit to bingo soon. The likeliest spot was hooking KA, but I couldn't block it, so I chose FIG in case he came up with a real word ending in C, or could hook the G with his A. Instead of exchanging, I purposefully kept the X for a counterplay to his bingo. It worked, and I responded to his BONITAs with HEX for 51 to keep within 21.

Missing PIXY was the my worst mistake, but despite that, I might have won had I found the right play here.

My GMNSVVZ looked pretty unplayable, and I exchanged, but I actually had a play that scored reasonably well, and that took the spot that Amit would later use to win the game. Another gift squandered!

I let a third game slip through my fingers, this time against Loyd Mills. Even with no bingos (used the blank for 48 points, QUiNTE) I had a lead going into this position.

But my lead was small, only 11 points, and I was torn between blocking and scoring. And I thought, what are the odds? Wait--hadn't I had that exact same thought against Judy Horn? And what happened then? And did I learn???

Outside, I related my tale to Jason K-B, because I'd lost in a similar fashion to him. You think after that recent experience I'd learn. But noooooo.

2-5, one of my worst starts in recent memory. And a shock, given that I started off much better in Danbury and had learn much new wordz since then.

FINALLY NOTICED KEONIG towards the top . son of abitch crap, missed exit, longer route I went over to the Exxon to "buy some gas" (read: heat up my crappy leftover spaghetti) and back to the playing room. I detected a wireless The famed Mike Baron. He might have been hurting in this tournament, but I had no illusions that I'd have an easy time of it. And I didn't. Well, actually, at first I seemed to have an easy time of it--an easier time actually than all my previous games. Most amazingly bad luckick game, little equity The he played RIG for 10 points and I immediately became suspicious, and I let my worry about a bingo affect my play, and I choked. Actually, I was worried about two things. I only led by 27, and I saw a potential 25-30 point play hooking EX and hitting the DWS. I could have made a play that both scored Luck could have saved me from my mistake. I held an H, and Mike's bingo had set up a potential 44-point play, but I had no 4s ending in H in my rack. Nevertheless, POH for 23 put me within 7 points, but Mike was able to score 26 with EBB/DOGE, and I was really regretting not having played that E for the extra 7 points, even if it did offer an easier bingo line. At this point in the game its obvious I have to open it up, but my LUTEA at 9C is awful, and the game spirals downward from there as Mike has an answer to all of my openings. for the rest of the game Mike had the superior tiles. Mike was right to be worried about setting up RESH, as both Hs were unseen. I had on, but no fours pBVDY crappy slices big dig tunnel The River 92.5, independent, not ClearChannel, evil destroy big corporation NWIGHBOHOODSW WITHOUT sindewalks, narrower streets amibtions 4 ganrder breakfast dashed low on gas!!!

April 24

7:42, crap! I'm going to be pushing it! Couldn't roll 'til my window defogged

I had wanted a good breakfast, but I had no time to look, so I was glad to spot Stella's, just down from the Starbucks, where I got another bagel sandwich. It was no better than the one I got from Paul's, but still quick and easy to eat in a hurry.

8:12 when I left the Quincy store with 45 miles to drive , how lon g back to 93 make difference bluehouse dave's true story Once again proving that I am willing to park where no man has parked before.

As bad as the tournament had been, I'd yet to encounter and out-and-out blowout. I should have expected it was bound to happen. And to think I was feeling good when my opening gamble worked. Needing to win all four games, I played a word I was sure was phony, MURETIC*, and Arnie Horowitz let it go. But perhaps the reason was he had BUNDLES. It opened a triple line, but I missed GIBING, and I don't know TINGEING, so I played GIB. First mistake. Arnie scored 54 with JEW. My highest scoring play was INTO (EEG). Arnie scored again with DRAPED for 33. I had no spectacular plays with my AEEOOGH, so I picked HOAGIE. Then I made my second big mistake. Arnie played DOTER, and I confused it with DOLER*, which I had challenged off in an earlier event. So I lost my turn, and Arnie got down ZETA at L1 for 56. This set me up for a 68-point Q play, if I'd had an N or a T. ENSILES for 86 to go up by 138, and I completely fell apart. In this position, LUFF was in fact the worst play, so unbelievably bad that the only possible explanation is that I didn't even bother to look at the board for better plays. And I didn't. As the game continued, I kept missing plays to the ER at H7, plays which would have not only scored, but also opened new bingo lines that I desperately needed. And assuming that Arnie didn't draw both blanks right after ENISLES, the additional turnover of playing six tiles might have yielded me one of them. shook a basic tenet of my faith in my inevitable NSC victory, that while I may forget words learned from lists, once I see them over the board they enter my permanent memory and are never forgotten. Assuming that, if I played enough games I'd eventually have perfect word knowledge. But if it's possible for me to actually forget words, then I'm in really trouble. Against David Mallick (possible relation to Joey?), I had the better draw, but not necessarily an easier time of it. He opened with AUK and I exchanged my -BRVDGTW. He underlayed MAE, which made my AEECCDN seem difficult to play, so I picked CECA/AA. David exchanged, leaving me clear lines for my AEEBDN?, but I couldn't see (or didn't know) any of the myriad bingos (off AA, or through the C or E). So I played off BANED for 29 and promptly drew AEIOU, which I of course threw back again. Thankfully David seemed to be having a rough time of it too, playing OLIO for 11 and then UVEA for 8. Because of this, I suspected he was nurturing a rack and I decided to pass on the bingo I saw in this position to avoid opening the triple-triple. trickiest endgame of the tournament, and Sinna won it with a brilliant out-in-2 combination so powerful that even a 75-point TZARS (leaving HY) would lose the game by During the wait for the king-of-the-hill I went out to see if I could move my car. So low on gas was the tank that it took me several tries to get it to start, my closest call ever. Perhaps it was because it was at an angle and the gas was tilted away from the engine? Only 10.68 gallons, so it couldn't have been empty. But by far the most worstest thing was the fact that I coulda beaten Jason K-B, I coulda beaten Amit, and I coulda beaten Lloyd Mills, heavyweights all three.

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