Experthood in Question

April 30, 2005

After my disastrous 6-14 at BAT, I was left with mixed emotions. Part of me wanted to take a break, and part of me wanted to get my rating back into the 1700s ASAP. I was getting tired of all the traveling, to the extent that when my dev lead discouraged me from taking Monday and Tuesday off for Pigeon Forge, I was not disappointed but relieved.

I had noticed New Hartford on the schedule a month or more before the event, but thoughts of a stronger field at Pigeon Forge pushed the event out of my mind. I noticed it again when I checked the schedule after BAT, and I decided it actually worked out better for me because I had plenty of new Starbucks to visit in that direct, while none at all around Pigeon Forge. Because of the movie, my focus in 2005 was supposed to be Starbucks, not Scrabble. Nevertheless, as soon as my rating slipped below 1700 I started to jones for ratings points. Thankfully, when I called Don Drumm I found out the field in New Hartford would be plenty strong enough for me to regain what I had lost. If I won games.

At the Baltimore club on the Thursday before the event I had a run of good tiles and won all three games, even beating Peter Armstrong for the first time. I left hopeful that my run of bad tiles from BAT (and Tuesday night club) had changed.

Despite my need to regain my precious ratings points, I had no choice but to go into the first day of the event exhausted, because I had eleven or twelve new Starbucks to visit in Ontario, plus one outside Buffalo and another two outside Rochester, and from the perspective of time and gas money it was imperative that I visit as many of them as possible while in the area. I'd been getting pulled in two directions like that for over a year, and it was starting to drain on me. But what could I do--I had to keep my job, and I couldn't let my Starbucks get out of control lest it become an impossible task. It's like a single mom juggling a job and three kids. Well... no, not really.

After some twelve hours in Canada, I reached the dark parking lot of the Starbucks in Geneseo, NY, around 5:00 in the morning. As luck would have it, the lights came on just as I was about lay in the back of my car, and I don't think I really slept. At 6:35 I bought my coffee and some victuals, and then some more food at the Wegman's next door, and at 6:50 I started the 147-mile drive to New Hartford. I was reminded of the previous year's drive from Rochester to Saratoga Springs, though I wasn't cutting it nearly as close this time. Too bad--that was kinda fun, my heart racing, the danger of getting pulled over, arriving to find my clock started against Rod MacNeil. Ah, the memories!

Meanwhile, 89.9 WIRT in Rochester was providing a good soundtrack for a frenetic driving. Appropriately enough, shortly after entering I-390, a green sports car passed me doing 100 MPH. As we approached the junction with the Thruway, I attempted to will the driver to head east and block for me, but my Jedi mind powers failed me, and he continued north towards Rochester. Still it never no mattered, for I made good time all the way east and even picked up another speed demon to follow. I reached New Hartford in time to pay Don, set up a board, and go back out to the car to close my eyes. I didn't sleep, but I did start to drift off into dream several times, and I felt much better.

10:00??? Don Drumm said we would start close to on time, at 10:00. Was that the start time? Crap--had I realized that instead of 9:30, I would have had time to visit a store in a mall in Victor that didn't open 'til 8:00 AM. I skipped it because 104 miles in 90 minutes was going to be cutting it close, and Don said he wouldn't put the names on the chart 'til all players were present.

Nothing particularly interesting about the venue, just a large room behind St. Thomas Roman Catholic Church, except for one thing, an honest-to-goodness Wurlitzer!

It was back and forth against Charmaine Wolfe as we traded leads for most of the game. I struck first with QUOTE for 38, but she countered with PLAGuED. Three turns later I got down MATUREd and followed with VITAE for 43 along the DIP that she had slotted next to the triple column (surprisingly, with all eses and four Ts unseen). She regained the lead with SOUNDLY, but then I regained it with WINGLESS (unsure of WIGLESS). Charmaine came within 4 with SWARM for 42, and I could have blown it there if I had played WHEET* instead of WHEEN. I'm starting to think that fading knowledge of fives is almost more dangerous than no knowledge at all.

It was back to crap again against David Goodman. My opening GLUG (ILS) yielded IIICJLS. I resist ed the urge to try and save the J for a big score and played JIG for 12. I drew another I for IIICLSV and play VICE for 15 (missing CIVIE for 12), fervently hoping that a third time would be a charm. Nope--IIOLNQS forced the exchange. Meanwhile, David was off and running, 123-39. My exchange yielded PENSION, and that put me back in the game, but David continued his great draws and pulled OUTSIZE, slotted next to the triple, just as I found myself with a clunky ADHNRRV.

The one thing of note is that I changed my strategy and decided not to gamble to win. Instead I figured since David was getting lucky I'd cut my losses, and I started playing defensive, to cut the spread.

In earlier tournaments I would have taken HAT for 25 and left the S open, but instead I played LAVISH for 24 to block the line. The turnover actually yielded a blank, and I got SANiTATE at 5N to come within 41. I could have cut David's lead even more with QAT at 1A FOR 34, but with the second blank unseen I feared that glaring bingo hook along the triple row, so I played TEN to block the triple in the O column and ended up stuck with QAT for 12 next turn, a big waste. My shift in strategy and attempt to cut down on the spread seemed to be failing, and little did I know, so early in the tournament, that spread would not end up being a factor, so I might as well have gone for the win.

My difficulties continued as I watched my opponent's opening exchange yield ITErATE while my dumping IIIULT (T) yield CDLPTTV. And after my VELDT, she played INSNARES to lead by 121. For the rest of the game my tiles weren't as awful as against David, but they were difficult, like my first chance at a bingo's being UNCLOSE, a word I saw but wasn't sure about. I did manage to get PROLINES down, but the problem was she never scored fewer than 19 and in fact averaged 29.5 points per turn. I would have had to bingo every other turn to keep up with that, and none of my racks after PROLINES allowed for that.

At the very end, she gave me my one chance to win by emptying the bag with a tile pool of ?EEEIUCDNNRTTV. She was up by 112, but if I had bingoed for 71 and caught her with 26... oh, never mind, I wouldn't have won, and anyway I don't live live in the World of If. Her play pissed me off because even though she was towards the top of the field she ended up doing poorly in the tournament, probably because of mistakes like that? So why couldn't my rack have had a bingo when she made the mistake of emptying the bag? And why did she, after losing her first two games, have to draw like gangbusters against me!

I got the tiles, finally, against #1 Jamie McClure, but I blew it in the end game. Despite a good find, DINOSAUR, a 55-point X play, and both blanks, I couldn't find the right endgame combination to win it. There is more than one.

Botching that endgame against the top player only served to drive home the fact that even though I was playing in the top division most of the time, I simple wasn't as good as these people, and that wasn't a pleasant feeling.

After that painful loss, it was good (for my sanity and self-esteem) that I didn't blow the good tiles I got against undefeated Lou Cornelis, another top player.

Joel Horn drew both blanks right off the bat, ATReSIAs, but he spent a lot of time on that bingo, and as the board quickly tightened up he quickly started running low on time. He burned a lot of time on the first position...

...and finally blocked that A hook in the A column with TORA. This gave me JIN for 30, to come within 27, and I held the D. TORSADE/ROASTED would not play, and Maven likes DO/DJIN (leaving AERST), but Joel had just exchanged 4, and I feared giving him an easy hook. Joel was down to around 5 minutes, and my strategy was not to bingo, but to keep the board tight and push Joel over time.

We continued along that diagonal until I played CANE and blocked it, to go up by 20. Joel exchanged again, and I felt confident, but there was one crucial factor that I had not accounted for. Though I had not forgotten that final S, I had not thought far ahead enough prevent Joel from setting up a high-scoring S play along a triple. My play of CANE was actually detrimental, because when Joel played TAW, I could not block the S play I knew was coming. I could have played TAWER for 9, but after his exchange Joel had drawn the X and managed to score 27 and 33 to take the lead. If I played TAWER for 9, and Joel managed to score even modestly through the E, I'd lose. So I went for the points with QUIZ. As it turned out, Joel had the worst possible tile (for me), the K, and I couldn't catch the 46 he scored with RISK.

Still not sure if I should have tried to bingo with the tiles I had after JIN (AEODRST, AENNRST, AEECNRT, EEIBGRT) or simply stuck to my strategy of keeping the board tight, but with a bit more forethought to the ways in which I could lose.

I was back to hopelessness against John Lodinsky, in a game that was looking good until he scored 104 with OUTsIZED just as my racks began to fizzle. After a couple of Q exchanges, I was out two bingos, and it was hopeless.

I headed to Panera, a location for free Wi-Fi listed by I didn't stay long, because my laptop's power adaptor was not working. I didn't know if it was the Panera outlets or the adaptor, but it didn't work in my car either, and that was just all I needed. On top of going 2-5, I wouldn't even be able to continue to write about it or analyze my games!

It was early, yet, around 7:00 or 8:00 I think, but I was beyond exhausted, so I drove no farther than the back of the parking lot. Actually, Kevin McCarthy had earlier generously offered to split a room. Spending the money unnecessarily was only part of the reason I declined--I'd say the determining factor was that it's just so much easier to crawl into the back of my car, cushion and blankets and a pillow there waiting for me. There's always some kind of delay associated with checking into a hotel room or hotel, or even staying at a friend's for free, and as hard as I push myself on these trips every minute of extra sleep is precious.

A few hours later, the Panera had closed and most of the cars disappeared from that part of the lot, so I moved over to where the Blockbuster was. Later still, I awoke, and through the fogged windows it looked like the parking lot was empty. A momentary panic came over me, because New Hartford is a small town, and in small towns the cops tend to not have anything better to do than ride through shopping center parking lots looking for trouble. As I drove out I noticed there was actually a few cars still, and that the Blockbuster did not actually close 'til 1:30, but I figured it was time to look elsewhere. Plus, I had a mighty thirst. I lucked out, and there was a Wal-Mart Supercenter less than a minute down the street.

Wal-Mart sells iPods???

May 1

I awoke at 6:30 and set my alarm for 8:30. But I wanted to get up earlier to try and find a good breakfast, so I employed my "nap timer". A strong dose of caffeine, in this case a DoubleShot from Starbucks, consumed immediately before going back to sleep. Once the caffeine worked its way into my system, it would wake me up in about an hour or less, but without the discomfort that an alarm causes.

My technique didn't work though, for a couple of reasons. One, I forgot to eat something before downing the drink to so slow the absorption of caffeine into my system. Two, I was very congested, and this made it hard to fall asleep, so the caffeine kicked in before I could drift off.

Oh, well, I thought, and decided to use the extra time to replenish my medicine cabinet (a pouch in my duffel bag). Nearly all my allergy pills had run out, but Wal-Mart offered a shelfful of goodies: clemastine fumarate 1.34 mg - antihistamine; pseudoephedrine hydrochloride 30mg - nasal decongestant; loratadine 10 mg - antihistamine; phenylephrine hydrochloride 10mg - nasal decongestant; pseudoephedrine hydrochloride 30 mg - nasal decongestant; diphenhydramine hydrochloride 25 mg - antihistamine; guaifenesin 200 mg - expectorant (don't know what that is, but it sounds good).

And for those times that coffee is not available or not convenient... caffeine 200 mg

Back at the church, I was relieved to discover my power adaptor was still working after all. That was a great relief, because I had a lot of the previous day's pain to get down in writing yet.

BTW, if you need your tournament advertised, be sure to have Kevin McCarthy do it.

Oh, and the next time you see Don Drumm, be sure to have a wreath with you and ask him about his Franklin joke.

For the third game in a row I was outblanked, this time by Heather Drumm, who sighed and complained as she played MouNTED, that she probably had something better. I felt so bad for her, truly felt her pain. I scored well for a couple of turns, and I could have taken the lead, but I missed the seven in EIGRSST. At the same time, I was feeling rather proud of myself because I actually found a nine, through the AN, with my EIGRSST, and grumbling at the same time because it wouldn't play. A couple of turns later I finally bingoed with ARRESTS to come close. But later, I came up with a brilliant set up only to blow it. I played for a few points to set up a 50-point X play, figured that if Heather blocked she would open the triple for me. She did, and I scored 39, but I could have scored 42 and ditched an I. Instead I got stuck with three Is in the endgame and they killed me.

I beat John Morse in a unremarkable game, though it was one of those in which he drew most of the power tiles, seven, and yet timing was on my side, though just barely. It took a Q stick to eke out a win by 26.

Judy Horn was next, and I stumbled immediately with a silly phony, TARLtANS through her BLIND to try get the double-double when I had plenty of real bingos to choose from. I didn't think she would challenge, and I was wrong. Then she blocked my ANTBeARS, and I settled for what was the worst of the possibilities for 60 points. Nevertheless, I came back, in part thanks to NARGILEH, and once again I eked out the win, by 21, thanks to the Q stick.

Lunch was once again provided, and as I waited for the staff to set out the trays I lamented my earlier loss that morning. Then I spoke to another player who wasn't doing so hot, and really had more important worries--Scrabble was more or less a distraction. I'd like to say something inspirational, like his situation put my 4-6 record into perspective. But no, that just wouldn't be me. But it did make me wonder how I would handle a similar situation should I end up getting sick in the future, as is a distinct possibility given my genetic makeup and my lifestyle.

The chicken was pretty darn good. Wish they hadn't run out of green beans, though, so I could at least have felt like I was trying to eat healthy.

It was back to boards for the final two games, and just when I had hope of 6-6, I fell victim to the curse of the scrub. In this case, my opponent had been away from the game for some time and was 1-9. So of course he got a great draw. Yes, I made mistakes, but I play not significantly worse or better than any of my other games, but he drew three bingos, DEBASERS, then STRUDEL, and finally cOTTONS, and I just couldn't compete.

We were rematched for the KOTH round, and this time I prevailed, but it hardly mattered. 5-7 wasn't going to cut it, and my rating dropped yet again.

As usual, I sped off to lose myself in a new Starbucks. As I analyzed my games, I discovered several turns in which a six would have been the right play. Neo-conservatives keep saying that only perverts and degenerates study sixes, but I may have to risk the scorn of the party and turn my attention towards that list, thought it will doubtlessly take time away from sevens and eights.

Average Equity Loss Per Turn

5.8, 7.6, 7.9, 4 - 6.2, 10.8, 6.1, 9.1, 6.9, 6.8, 8.7, 8.4, 5.2

More Confessional