What Do You Get When You Mix Sunz of Man and Barenaked Ladies?



June 17, 2005

A Tale Told...

The night before I had attended the Baltimore club. I played Oliguria first, and by the third turn the game was over, with Steve leading 268-45. I just shook my head and thought, "I'm going to make this guy cry in Stamford." But really, I was a little relieved that I was getting slaughtered at club instead of tournament. It was a more positive attitude I felt, and one that could contribute to success.

Anyway, I also played Joanne Cohen, and two days prior, Marcia McPhee and John van Pelt. Throw Bob Linn, my partner against Marsh and JVP, in the mix, and that was a lot of practice against potential Stamford opponents. Excluding Sherman and Graham, the field contained a goodly number of players I felt I could beat. In fact, I didn't just feel confident--I felt like I something inside me had awakened, a power of enhanced perceptions, and the ability to be more aware of what was going on around me.

Steve, from around York, was planning to leave at noon. Diana, Florence, and Joanne were planning to leave from Baltimore at 9:00. Me, from even farther south in Elkridge, planned to leave at 2:00. Still, I hoped to beat them. I left at 2:07, actually, to make it more of a challenge, with a 235 mile drive to go. Easy right? At worst, six hours put me in the playing room at 8:07, at an average of forty miles an hour.

Well, the delays started mounting immediately. It took 20 minutes to cross the Harbor Tunnel, just 10 miles away. Then I got pulled over, for the first time in Maryland, by a cop who talked funny and had an odd look about him, something wrong with his eye. I did not point that out to him. I was exceedingly polite, carefully pointing out that I needed to reach into my backpack for my license, then into my glove comparment for my registration. When I uncovered the steak knife, I calmly pointed out that it was just for eating. The cop pointed to my laptop and stated that in Maryland it's illegal to have a video screen in view of the driver (news to me) and ordered me shut it. I though it best not to argue. The upshot is that I charmed the heck out of the cop, and he was doubtlessly impressed by my diligence in studying and Scrabble prowess, and he let me go with his blessing, once again proving that I am the luckiest motherfucker around.

Excluding traffic conditions of course. A slowdown around mile 100 due to an accident. A stalled car in Delaware in one of the middle lanes, and the very lane that I had chosen!

As I neared the vicinity of Philadelphia, I was able to pick up WHYY, home to Fresh Air. Terry Gross was interviewing the author of a book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Reception was spotty, though, and I kept missing words and sentences. I was anxious for traffic to speed up so I could hear better, but it just crawled on. I had a strong feeling that there was something about the interview that was relevant, very relevant. I became convinced that the traffic slowdown was part of a plot by The Man to keep that crucial information away from me.

As I neared one of the accidents, a small truck illegally used the median to make a u-turn. From the expression on the driver's face, my new found awareness told me that he was acting out of necessity, to avoid the possibility of seeing blood or death at the accident scene, fainting, and losing control of the truck. This all stemmed from an embarassing incident in his 9th-grade biology class that he has never quite gotten past, and probably never will.

Farther (not further) ahead, I passed under Beaver Road and noticed that the sign was misspelled--it read "Deaver Rd" instead. In a flash, the truth came to me. The person charged with programming the computer to paint the sign had received a call at a just the moment when he was typing in name of the road. The call was from an agency specializing in international adoptions. His attempt to adopt a child from Uganda had fallen through, because the birth mother of the child had won the Ugandan lottery and decided that she could afford to raise the child. There was more, but it was too fuzzy. I needed to actually touch to sign to bring the details into focus, like Jedi Master Quinlan Vos.

After two hours, I had driven just 80 miles to the start of the New Jersey Turnpike. Delays continued to mount, to the point where I had to abandon any hope of a pre-tournament massage, and furthermore I wasn't even sure I'd be able to stop at the new Starbucks in The Westchester (a shopping mall, rather pretentiously named). The mall was just off the interstate, and it wasn't quite 7:30 when I spotted the exit, so I couldn't resist pulling off. The exit ramp led directly to the entrance to the parking garage, but parking took a while too find, as did running up four flights of stairs (assumed the elevator would be slower), and finally, waiting for the barista to find change for my $20.

Bleeding Equity

Howie spotted me before I spotted him (or else I would have ducked), and he declared that (relatively speaking) I was early. 7:59, plenty of time to spare, a good four minutes before my clock could have been started. But really, I was way early--there were no player numbers, no pairings--this was unusual for an event Sherrie had a hand in. Clearly, somebody's skullduggery to delay the event so as to have more time to study had worked.

Matt Graham came over and asked if he can check his e-mail. I explained that sure, if I could get a signal. I hadn't even finished explaining when Matt was offering me a few bucks. I told him the money wasn't necessary. Apparently Matt did not realize that, being one of the gods, I, as a lowly peon, was obligated to satisfy any of his desires on demand.

Given how poorly I started off, in terms of equity loss, the eventual outcome is even more unbelievable. I gave up a whopping 800 equity points in the first six games, and it's amazing I managed to start off 2-1, and then 4-2. Against Jan Dixon, my game fell apart from the word go. She opened with AGA, and I promptly missed the front R hook and made a weak play that set her up for 44. Then, I couldn't see anywhere to score with my EEDSTVZ, so I played ADZE, hoping to score with my S. Nope, she beat me to it, with OBIAS for 32, while I played QAT for 20. So far my two power tiles had yielded a net 34 points. It only went downhill from there, and at the end, as a final insult, Jan played PELON to set me up for what I thought would be a 30-point INSANE. I figured since she was running low on time she might not have tracked, but no, she was totally setting me up because PELON doesn't take an S. Now that's novice-abuse if ever saw it!

It was my first game against Jan, and I played like a yump. I left convinced that any chance I ever had of a seduction was pretty much shot, because all female players know that a man's performance over the board is directly correlated to his performance in the bedroom (or the back of a car). Later, when I did my usual sneak into the women's bathroom thing to record conversations for secretgirltalk.com, I overheard Jan chuckling at my performance with some of the other players. How emasculative!

Next was Paul Avrin, and after a sound drubbing in Danbury, and then a close loss the previous week Bayside, I felt I was due. After grumbling at having to exchanging my opening ODQRRTT, I pulled both blanks (and missed some J bingos) and started to feel confident. But after spending a lot of time trying to find the best bingo, rEsLATE ended up giving Paul the unlikely OXTER for 60 and a 10-point lead! But then, my rack-balancing GUV (OLNST) yielded RETINOLS to recover a healthy lead. I couldn't stop Paul's AEINRST bingo, but I continued to score, and then, with one of the two final eses on his rack, Paul took a gamble with ELD in the upper right corner. I held that final S, for RERIGS, and despite Paul's 34 for KA and 37 for DAZE I managed to stay ahead thanks to the Q and two places to score with it.

I think I left Paul a bit traumatized. He kept looking at the board, while Joel Sherman urged him to finish up and clear the board for the next game. Finally Paul signed the tally slip, and as I proudly walked over to turn it in I heard the screeching of nails on wood and looked back to see Joel and Dan Wachtell physically removing Paul from the table.

I beat Louis-not-Lois Schecter to go 2-1, an excellent start for last in the field, but I can hardly take any pride given how poorly I played. I gave up over 200 equity points, the most in the tournament, and I a critical mistake in the endgame--I played without knowing how many tiles were in the bag!!!

The game looked pretty good for me until midway. Even after Louis-not-Lois took the lead with UNCRAtES, I retook it with REDOING. Then he scored well with PLOWING, and I made a questionable play, MY (instead of MIRY at 4K). Despite the vowel-heavy EIUS? leave, I drew into a bingo, but the only place to play it was to risk PLOWINGS*. My logic was that if I didn't risk it, and Louis-not-Lois did, and it was good, I wasn't going to be able to bingo on that board and would lose. So I tried it, lose my turn, and after Louis-not-Lois's BURKE I was down 41. GLUT at N11 was kind of a desperation play, and of course Louis-not-Lois blocked it with NIT. I gave up on a bingo (missing one through the E at O4, twice), and came within 22 with PEA at H13 for 27. Louis-not-Lois blocked with RETIA for 5, and that gave me my best chance to catch up. That's when I neglected to check the bag and played SIMA for 24 to discover, to my shock, that I was left with only five tiles! I hoped to push Louis-not-Lois over time, so I played quickly, EH for 26, then EF for 9. I was sure I had lost, but with my time almost gone I saw Jo/LOo at 6B to win. I came soooo close to missing that, that I felt truly foolish, and that despite my 2-1 I was playing really bad.

My plan for Westchester canceled, so I decided to take McCarthy up on his room offer. He suggested taking one car, but I had to photograph at least one store in morning, maybe more, plus get a bagel sandwich, plus hang out at Starbucks until the last possible moment and then arrive at my board just before my clock is started.

I was following Kevin and Rob up I-95, when suddenly he took the next exit and then got back on 95 south. My first thought was that he was screwing with me. But I thought I was the only one who pranked around like that. Less than a minute later he had called to explain, that Rob had left his bag back in his car. I figured out Rob's scheme immediately.

See when Kevin offered to let Rob stay at his place, Rob naturally assumed, as any healthy red-blooded male would, that Kevin was inviting him into his bed. When Kevin made it clear that his offer of lodging was strictly munifisarian, Rob started thinking about other ways to get close. His solution, to leave his bag in the hopes that Kevin would let him borrow some undies. But Kevin was having none of that. Even he had been in a mood to share, he couldn't, because he belongs to a sect of the Republican party that strictly prohibits the sharing of undergarments on the basis of some obscure Biblical reference.

June 18

Morning Monkey Business

I had written in my log, set up some simulations, and chatted with Rob and Kevin for much too long, about such salient topics as who had broken up with his girlfriend the most times, and how far in advance one should plan for nookie in Reno. It had been close to 1:30 before we all finally went to bed. Barely six hours later, I found myself unable to sleep anymore, due to tournament anxiety, and also hunger.

I beat Robinsky to the shower, packed up my things, checked Sherrie's log, wondered how the previous night's excitement had occurred, and then rushed off to shoot a couple of stores and find a bagel sandwich.

As I walked out to the car, I had the melody from Tori Amos' "Sleeps with Butterflies" running through my head, when it abruptly changed to the Wu-Tang Clan's "Triumph". How does that happen?

Right at the intersection of Kevin's street and the main road was Bagel King, where I met the queen of my heart, an Eastern European girl with the cutest accent. I had assumed the place's name was a take-off of Burger King, but after learning the place had been around for 42 years, I wondered--did Burger King have much of a presence in the 60s?

An NPR report about a Napoleon Dynamite festival made me wistful. In the past, I would have immediately called Jodi, the world's biggest Napoleon Dynamite fan, to make sure she knew.

As I approached the Holiday Inn I spotted Jan walking along the sidewalk in front, on the phone. I turned on my mobile phone scanner and pointed the antenna in her direction. Yep, just like I thought--she was still going on and on about "that silly little punk, thinking he can play in the expert division."

In the playing room, I lost a not-insigificant portion of my hearing when Kevin walked in and wished everyone a good morning.

Katie DeVanney demonstrated remarkable memory skills when she was able to recite the legal smoking age in all 50 states.


My third dance with Joel Sherman was, as usual, a disaster. Just sitting opposite him threw me off balance. He opened with OROIDE. FAUVE (ENV) was the correct response, but I missed it and played FAVE instead. A couple of turns later, I convinced myself, because on Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem, that UNLEaVE* was good. I should have calculated that it would have to be in the top 5000 bingos, which I'd seen. Meanwhile, Joel was off and running with SIENNAS, then TIDEWAYS, and three turns later, GrEATEN, all before I managed to get down CLOTuRE. The one thing I did right was to admit the game was lost and focus on keep his spread down. I managed to hold him to 103 points, and this spread would become very relevant, though I couldn't have foreseen that.

Once again I managed to put Joel Horn into time trouble, but for the last half of the a close game I was dealing with serious troubles of my own, seriously clunky racks: OUBGVYZ, UUBPPVY, UDGLPVX, DDDPVX?, DDDMVX?, and DDRSVX? before drawing an E and an O led to my win. Exchanging seemed to risky given how close the scores were, and I could have made better plays. I'm amazed I managed to hold Joel off without managing to draw those needed vowels.

When I finally played POXED, Joel muttered "what were you waiting for". Well, he was holding AAEHRW, and I couldn't be completely sure that he wouldn't manage to slot the H or W on the TLS and then hit the DWS when I opened up those lines. Yes, it seemed extremely unlikely, but at the level I was playing, I wasn't taking anything for granted.

Out in the hall, a player complained about the fact that only three places were being paid, presumably because first prize was frontloaded. I didn't care--I wasn't playing for money.

I had my best play up to that point against Marjorie Schoneboom, VEINIEsT/VOX double-double for 121, prompting her to comment that it would be almost impossible for me to lose. I knew better. With a blank, Q, J, and three eses unseen, a 100-point lead was nothing. After playing the obvious GOOD (EUV) off her BEY, the board looked like this.

Instead of scoring off the P with my AEIUGNV, I played DEN at 01 to block. I figured Marjorie would play the P, and she did, with OPERA, and then I played VIRGA at 14F. She played QAT at G9, and the board was almost dead. I played RUM at 15J to prevent a six coming off the A (though I would have played ARMURE had I known it), and then I sat back with my SATIRE+E and waited for Marjorie to open it up for me. I cruised for the rest of the game, continuing to block, for a 190-point win.

Nevertheless, I am left wondering if I should have passed up the points that I did. Since Maven would never make those moves, simulation is useless.

After that third game, I finally had time to deal with the ramifications of the venti coffee I had downed. Because of that, I arrived late for lunch and missed quite a spectable. Holy crap! Who knew Scrabble was a water sport??? Inspired by Kevin's antics, I considered grabbing one of the other cuties and throwing her into the pool, but I decided she would probably not find it nearly as amusing. Kevin has a certain charm about him that I will never have.

Lunch seemed worse than in previous years, and I could only bear to grab a small sandwich and hope that I wouldn't get too hungry before dinner.

Afterwards, my new disciple Jim Kille showed off his modified Mercury Cougar / motel. I beamed with pride at having inspired him. It was a small step towards my eventual goal of bringing about the demise of the hotel industry.

One Step Back, Three Huge Steps Forward!

It seemed I had developed a pattern, that of losing the first game of each session and then winning the rest. But that seventh game, against Randy Greenspan was painfully close, a loss by a mere 4 points. Later simulation would make it more painful still, because while my play had improved in games five and six, when I only gave up about 6 points of equity per turn, I gave up 12 against Randy. A better play on just one turn would have won me the game!

My next game, against John van Pelt, was equally close, 5 points, but I came out on the winning end instead, and because he went over time, of all things. Whew! I was glad my strategy of pushing my opponents' clock whenever I could had finally paid off. Actually, it might have paid off in earlier games against opponents that didn't go over time but instead made suboptimal plays--I guess that's impossible to know.

I faced Fontana for the second time, and with a yearning to avenge my loss in Danbury. After she played SPILLED to go up 57, I cursed the four Ns on my rack, the inevitable result of having played KEG for 27 to leave LNNN (because duplicates attract more of the same). After the exchange I cursed again because STRINGER opened the triple-triple, and Fontana had just played off LULU for 8 points. I was fully expecting the triple-triple, but I got off easy, only 27 points, and then I pulled a blank for a bango, REElING to take a bingo lead. Diane seemed flustered as she played PATIO for 7 points, and when I slotted the J for 36, I'm sure she felt she was really in trouble. My TOXINE was a horrible, horrible play, but I was up so far that it hardly mattered. At the very end, with the game won, but spread seeming more and more relevant, I had an interesting decision to make.

Eight tiles remaining in the bag, and my first thought was that if I played my bingo, I might get stuck with the Q and allow Diane to maximize the value of her tiles. She had just played HAT at E2, so I figured she had the S (from AEUCLQSY), and I saw the possibility of SQUEAL. I finally decided to let her have it if she had it, but otherwise to stick her with the Q, so I passed. She played off the Y, and I played REsIDUES to pick up 36 points from her rack and win by 170.

Later, I would decide that the correct course of action would have been to A) find all the bingos, including the ones that blocked the TWS at H1 and B) calculate the outcome with each of tiles in the bag if I went played instead of passing. I guess the reason I didn't is simply that I don't have that level of patience and discipline yet.

After the game, Fontana pointed out the RESTRING I hadn't been sure of. I was a little groused and pointed out that my word knowledge just wasn't going to be at the same level as the rest of the field. Though I'd been playing for 2 1/2 years, I'd only been studying bingos heavily for 12-18 months, and even though I'd managed to learn a goodly number, developing confidence in the words would only come with more experience.

My wins against van Pelt and Schoneboom (Fontes pairs one round back, right?) had earned me a date with destiny, and his name was Matt Graham. The third of the "four gods" that I had met in tournament (excluding a speed game against Edley).

I could have used a break, but Matt was ready to go. I told him to go ahead splash water on his face while I set up some simulations to divert the focus from my anxiety. Matt returned, and we got down to it.

It took me a while to find the right opening play with my AIHLLTX, but in the end it ended up being time well spent. Matt held LAITH for almost two minutes, while I sweated and cursed myself, convince I had confused it with LAICH. He let it go, and the magnitude of my relief can hardly be overstated, but at the same time a tension was introduced, a fear that Matt would try to hook an S, and that I'd have to decide whether to challenge.

Matt responded with NIB at 9G, and I had to assume he was holding an S, but making the most of my X was more important. I chose AXION (EL). Maven prefers OX, and I considered it, but a recent post by Joel Sherman had caused me to shift my play away from 3-vowel, 2-consonant leaves like AEILN. Matt then passed me with SPITZ, but I found the only seven in AEEOLN?, probably my best bingo find of the tournament. I extended my lead over the next couple of turns (M - E4 BONE, W - 12L QAID, M - 4C VIBE, W - 11J ID, M - E10 YE) before having to agonize over whether to take the extra points for CRIMP at 12A and risk opening the triple, the R line, and the I line. The extra points served me well, as Matt's INVERTOR only resulted in a 5-point lead, which I immediately wiped out with 39 for CRAW. Matt was stuck with a crappy rack, 2 Us I think I heard him say later, and only scored 23 for ROUTE. I'm rather proud of VOUGED, and even more so of what happened next.

Matt finally turned his attention to LAITH, and he layed down JUDGES. I don't think he had even finished playing the tiles before I had already leaned forward, and I did everything I could to telegraph my intention to challenge. Why would I do that? For the simple reason that I had no fucking idea if LAITH was good, or if it took an S, and JUDGES would have given Matt the lead and additional turnover that might have yielded the last blank, and I didn't want to have to choose between losing a turn and losing the game. Jesus Christ, man, if fucking 1900+ Matt Graham wasn't sure of the word, I shouldn't really be expected to feel bad for not having been sure myself. Anyway, Matt later admitted that he had given away his uncertainty by holding for two minutes, and that I had given off a vibe that said I was thinking of challenging, and for that reason he decided not to make the play, and instead played JUGS at 12G.

I'm surprised that Matt let me "bluff" him, given that the guy, from what I understand, loves to gamble and plays poker. I would think that players at the expert level would know better than telegraph their intent to challenge. Using that logic, Matt should have figured out that I didn't want him to play the word.

FUNGI (AOS) was not my best response (FUGIO), but it still scored 4 more points than Matt had with JUGS, and this clearly affected him. Maybe it prompted him to take a risk with WEET at K5, or maybe that was the best play given his tiles. I don't know. But my rack was excellent, AOHLSTY, and I was easily able to block the line with TOY. Matt came back with FUR, and I responded with MASH. Interestingly, a sim to the end ranks the 34-point MASH 12 equity points ahead of the 63-point bingo cHIASMAL (which I didn't know anyway). I'm not sure why. I guess keeping AL? is worth the 29-point difference.

As the possibility that I would actually win seemed to get stronger, I became more and more nervous. But it helped that Matt was clearly worried, and getting desperate, though given he was down by 72-points, gambling with ARK pretty much the only to win the game. But I had that second blank, and that was the game.

Holy crap! Simulation revealed that I only gave up about 22 points of equity over 13 turns!!! As near as I can remember that is my best-played game since I started simming! Maybe ever!

Matt sat and analyzed the game for a while, as Stefan and Mike Eldeiry look on. I stuck around because I want to hear what he had to say, but also because I wanted to enjoy the moment. When I first started playing tournaments I noticed that the expert players would be gathered around boards analyzing games, and I yearned to be part of that group. Well, I had finally reached the position where top players like Stefan Rau were interested in my games--win or lose, that was something!

What I was not yet feeling, however, was the elation over having beaten Matt Graham. Maybe it was hunger. Maybe it was a growing sense of dread about who I'd be facing in the morning, and the very real possibility of crashing and losing all four games.

A Time to Unwind

Jim Kille came over and said a group was going over to a Peruvian restaurant suggested by Alan Kraus. Jim didn't want to go with the crowd, and he talked me into waiting until 7:00. Meanwhile, Matt asked again about checking his e-mail, and I said that I'd heard the rooms had Wi-Fi and that we could go up there. Again he offered me a couple of bucks, and I told him it wasn't necessary. I started to wonder if Matt could conceive of just doing favors for people for free.

Back at the results poster, players were gathered, intently looking at the W/L stickers because results had not yet been posted, and trying to work out who was in 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. I kept discovering, to my mild disappointment, that there were more people at 7-3 than I had initially thought, like Jan Dixon, Joe Weinike, and come-from-behind Marsh McPhee. After taking in an overview of the standings, Joel Sherman commented that even at 6-4 he had a couple of hundred spread points over us highest 7-3 players, and he said "you guys are dead meat!" I had no doubt that Joel could deliver on his promise.

I walked with Jim to the Fiesta Restaurant, and we were joined by Marsh and JVP on the way. The place was packed with Scrabblers, and we took a table next to four of them. The meal was excellent, but I was made a bit uncomfortable when certain players at the other table started discussing some of the "ugly" players at the tournament. I didn't think it was a very appropriate mature nice respectable kind topic of conversation.

Jim and I returned to the hotel, and on the way I pretty much decided that I didn't want to wait for the speed tournament. Even though I kept telling everybody that there was absolutely no chance that I could win the event, there was a glint of hope in the back of my mind, and a strong desire not to get blown away, and I decided extra rest would do me good. Nevertheless, when I spotted Matt, Dan, Rob, Mark Miller, and someone else in a game of Texas Hold'em, I started to inquire about joining. Dan wasn't taking any more buy-ins, however, because they would soon quit for the speed tournament. It was just as well, and I got a key from Kevin and headed back to his place.

On the way, I called my parents to recount the day's success and check in on how my mother was feeling. Then I got to looking at the Fairfield Weekly and noticed a couple of $40 massage coupons. One place was really close to Kevin's so I decided to drop by. The masseuse was very pretty, but she seemed to lack an understanding of customer service. She started in on a shiatsu massage, and when I told her I wanted a Swedish massage, with oil, and pointed to the bottle of oil on the counter next to the table, she looked at me with something akin to horror, like I had asked for something disgusting and perverted. Seriously, she looked distressed at the prospect of touching either the lotion or the oil--what the heck??? She went out of the room, where I could hear some discussion in Korean. I assumed the manager or owner was telling her that the customer is always right, but when she returned she still did not reach for a while. After a few minutes, I decided I might as well quit while I was only out forty bucks and at least avoid a tip. When I said to stop, she surprised me by offering me my money back.

Since I had already driven out of my way, I figured I might as well give this other place with a $40 coupon, Hott Sunn, a try. I called first to make sure they did offer a Swedish massage. The girl there was not as cute, but cute enough, and much more concerned with customer service. She was also Korean, and with limited English, and as such did not understand my attempts to explain that the words in the name of the place, "Hott" and "Sunn", were mispelled. And after the massage, when I led her outside, pulled out a screwdriver, and offered to fix the sign, I think I totally confused the poor girl.

Right as I pulled in front of Kevin's place I noticed him calling me. He and Rob had started to get worried. It felt kinda good to have a surrogate mom again, like back when I rented a room from an older lady (who I hope is not reading me refer to her as "older") in Princeton.

Not chatting, writing, or simming this time--I went straight to bed (aka the couch). As I lay there, anticipation and hope started to mix in with the anxiety and dread that had been building. I started to think I might actually have a shot. As a result, it seemed appropriate to put the dog to rest.

June 19

The Big Day

As I expected, shortly after 7:30 I found myself unable to sleep. I tried. I even set my alarm, for 8:40, and made an effort to fall back asleep, but I just couldn't.

The night had been cool, but the day would be warm, and as such it would be risky to leave my leftovers in the car until after the tournament. I preferred not to eat lunch food for breakfast, but I didn't want to waste it, so I used Kevin's microwave to heat it and headed off for Stamford, knife and fork in hand.

I guess I wasn't awake yet, because despite having taken the correct exit several times before, I took the wrong exit into Stamford and found myself rather puzzled, driving along a street I didn't recognize. But all roads lead downtown, so it wasn't a problem.

After picking up my coffee and washing my precious knife and fork in the Starbucks bathroom, I returned to my car, and there it occurred to me that I was not yet feeling the butterflies in my stomach. At the same time, the realization kick started something, and I began to feel a hint of nerves coming on.

It was 9:13 when I finished taking the photograph of the Fiesta Restaurant--where had the time gone? 9:25 by the time I got into the hotel and saw the standings. I had already known them, but it felt good, and scary, to see my name up in third place. Then the nerves started to hit, and I hoped to distract myself with some tunes, some new Shakira tracks I had iTuned days earlier.

The night before, I had gotten into a discussing with Jan Dixon about who was better, Joel Sherman or Matt Graham. I ended up proposing a bet, my champion Joel versus her champion Matt to see who would end up higher. I had $60 in my pocket, but that was too much action for Jan--she accepted $20. She must have recounted the story to Matt, and, surprise, surprise, he wanted to get in on the action, either upping the bet, or proposing a separate bet, Joel to win the tournament. I got him to give me 50/30 odds. I immediately suspected I should have gotten better odds, but what the heck. Joel could win it.


As soon as I sat down to face Rose Kreiswirth, the nerves started. Drawing the J and a blank on my opening rack helped, though. I opened with HEMIN, leaving J?. Maven favors JIN, but I hate that play--why would I want to give up 8 points, an easy D or N hook, and burn a power tile when I can score 28 and keep the good stuff. To bingo sooner? Yes, I agree that's a good principle, in general, but it was the start of the game and the board was wide open. If I scored without the J, then later with the J, and then later bingoed, I saw the potential for more points in the long run. Remember, Joel had some 200 spread points on me.

Rose played KIBE for 20, and I scored 24 with MOW (JEW?). Interestingly, Maven prefers MEW by a hair. I can only guess it's because the O goes well with the J. In general, everybody knows the E is favored over the O, but perhaps in this case it was worth a bit more thought.

Rose scored 22 with CATTY. Based on the amount of time she had spent on her opening exchange and next two turns, I had already starting thinking about putting her in time trouble, so I quickly play DEW (JSC?) for 27 to go up 37 without using the J, blank, or S I had just picked up. I started feeling more positive about a win. I missed the bingo in EOBCJS? and play off JOY for 26, and then I cought a big break. I layed down CELEB, thought about it a bit, and tacked on an S, leaving S?. Rose challenged, and my heart stopped. I was sure CELEB was good. Even though I'd never seen it played, I'd studied that list of 5-letter Cs many many times in 2 1/2 years, and I was sure the word was good. But I had no idea if it took an S, so in retrospect playing the S was risky. Nevertheless, it worked out in my favor. After winning the challenge, I had AUDNRS?, and after failing to find anything off the T and DWS, I picked the spot that seemed most defensive.

Rose set herself up for a bingo with OLD, but I had pulled the X for a 54 point play, so after her ARSINEs I stayed 100 points ahead. I was really getting killer tiles. Even the ordinarilly awful rack of AAIIIOF yielded OIDIA for 17, and then I drew the S and Q. Victory was pretty much assured, but I still hoped to run up the spread. After NAIF at K10, things really got wild. I drew the U to go with my Q, and the Z to boot. The board was a target-rich environment for scoring with my tiles, but it was even better than that. I was able play QUIRT at J2 to set up a virtually unblockable S-hook. As I hoped, I drew an O for ZOA at 15 for 50, keeping TRSL, and then I drew into ANTLERS. Then I actually screwed up my end game and allowed Rose to go out first, but all that meant was I won by 220 instead of 230.

My excitement over my win quickly ended when Weineke pointed out that the round 12 pairings were already up, and I noticed I was playing Robinsky. Not Robinsky! Granted, I did feel I had a better chance of beating Rob over Marsh or Weineke, but the problem was if I lost there was the risk it would fuck me up mentally for the final two games.


I took the momentum early with MOTLEY followed up with EMULATED. Rob seemed flustered right away, and as the game progressed he seemed to struggle with his tiles and get more flustered, grumbling and gesticulating. After I bingoed again, REFUELeD, he got desperate. The correct response to VIGA at C1 was VENTER, but I wasn't sure. Later, I would realize VENTERS is just ENTERS+V, so I should have been rock solid on the word. Anyway, not seeing a way to block it and score, I had to decide whether Rob's grumbling over the tiles he had just drawn was an attempt to lure me into a sense of security so he could triple-triple. I finally decided he wasn't that devious and took 33 with PRONE. Rob's desperation continued, AEONS at N7. Sherrie happened to be standing at our table with her notepad, and when I played the X at O8 she couldn't help but laugh. She apologized to Rob, but we all knew it was just getting ridiculous. I hit JIVE for 45, which I'm sure took the wind out of Rob's rESIZED. My end tiles couldn't have been better--TROOZ for 30 and then NETS to go out for 26.

One final note--Maven says SOLI at L10 gives up about 5 equity points, but given my lead and Robinsky's body language (grumbling), I felt cutting down the number of bingo lines was a good way to keep the pressure on.

My excitement about having picked up 400 spread points was even more short-lived. I didn't even have to see the round 13 pairings to know the game would be tough. And it would be. Weinike, no joke for sure. My heart was pounding, and my stomach was in knots. Oddly, despite my strong position, I almost felt on the verge of tears. Not of joy, but of turmoil.

Jim Kille, bless his heart, kept trying to reassure me that it didn't matter who I played, that I could win. Mark Miller said I just needed to be calm. Sound advice, for sure, but it was easier to agree than to internalize.

Meanwhile, there was some excitement at table 1, where I was supposed to play Weineke, something between Jan Dixon and Joel Sherman. Howie, Matt, and Howie's brother were involved. I was curious, but I was trying to focus on calming down, so I kept my headphones on. I was glad for as much of a break as I could get before facing Weineke. After a while I glanced up to see the table cleared, and Joe mouthed something like "let's go." I moved my things to the table and sat down. I was about to get ready to play when another ruckus erupted at the next table, Matt Graham and Paul Avrin this time, a dispute over a recount. I asked Joe if he wanted to wait until the noise died down, commenting that if he did, I'd go back to my computer. Joe said we could play, that it could go on for 10 minutes. And I think it did.

Holyyy Shiiit!

It was a hard game. Really hard. I opened with AIQTTXZ, and I had no idea what the hell to do with that rack except try and maximize the value of those power tiles. I'm sure QAT is obvious to most players, but as nervous as I was, I wasn't sure of anything. It took me a while to find GRIPT, but it was the play. XU was obvious. Then Joe hit with SNORTER to tie the game, and I started to screw up. I wasn't sure if PLOTZ was good, so I played PELON instead. Joe passed me with the self-defining RISKY, and my error came back to bite me. If I had played PLOTZ, leaving EHV, my chances of hitting the Y would would have been much better. But the best I could do with AABDHVZ was HAD at O13, and Joe scored with WOODY.

Maven prefers VATU at E8 for 14 instead of AZO for 32. I just don't understand that one, and even if I'd had the sim results in front of me I'd still have been quite disinclined to give up the points and risk Joe's hitting WOK for 34.

But I'll agree that MUSH at 12C was a real bad play. I should have played HM at 6N instead. Maven likes AMBUSH for the extra ten points, but given the strength of my opponent, I wouldn't have opened up the additional bingo lines.

After Joe's EMETIC, a score check revealed that I had myself down for ten extra points. Minus those points, my lead was down to two, the board was fucked, and I had no idea what to do with my ABCFGNY. I can't remember if I saw YA, but did I consider a play at 13I. Most of my time was spent considering plays at 11B, hoping to score, turn over an extra tile, and reduce the possibility of Joe's scoring at 14B (3 Is unseen) with IN or IT. I finally settled on BANE, keeping my F in hopes of drawing an O for FOP/FRISKY. Besides the aforementioned plays, Maven also prefers NABE over BANE, but I didn't want to open up the board with the N. Incidentally, the A at 11C actually allowed Joe to play ID/AMIDE, but he could just have easily had an N or a T. No, actually all the Ts were gone, but at that stage of the game I wasn't focused on the tile pool and hadn't noticed.

Joe played his ID, and I held AICFGVY, and primarily because there was another F in the bag, I went for FRISKY to prevent Joe from scoring there. I wish I could remember if I saw YA. I know I was looking at the spot at different times during the game, but by that point, I was very nervous, and that made it hard for me to keep track of everything I needed to keep track of at every point during the game.

Actually, from looking at my next play, VIRAGO at K4, it's clear that I did miss YA, because no way would I have opened up the board at that point in the game, when I had to assume Weinike held a blank. But I saw no other option, and so I took my chances and prayed he didn't have the bingo. When he started playing to the R, first an E, then a D, then an N, then an A, I though! "Fuck! BILANDER!" I don't know which was stronger--my amazement or my relief when Joe stopped with the L.

I played CAVY almost immediately to block that line, but had not been so scared of the bingo and taken the time to look at the board, I would have seen a 45-point play that I probably would have taken. It would have opened a multiple lines, but there was already a line at 5A or 5B, so I might as well have taken the points.

Joe took a long time, maybe even five minutes, to make his next play. I grew more nervous the longer he took, and I had to go really bad. He still had some 8 minutes, and I had over 9, a long time, so I finally raised my hand to get a director's attention (not wanting to disturb Joe for something so trivial). I asked Howie to watch me while I went to the restroom, since I had already drawn my tiles. When I returned, Joe was down to a little over 5 minutes and still hadn't played. When he did, it was a doozy. WEB at B9. It didn't take me long to convince myself that I was going to lose. His play was an almost unblockable setup given my tiles, EOBGLNR. I used nearly all my time, and I finally came up with GLOBE. I knew there was a high probability that Joe would bingo through the L, but I just couldn't think of anything else. After the game, Bob Linn found a better play, BOGLE. It should have been obvious, given that there was only one consonant in the bag, an N (and two blanks), that I should have given Joe an O to play through, not an L. Well, I might have fucked up, but luck is a part of Scrabble, and I lucked out big time--Weinike did not have both blanks!

Holy shit. holyyy shiiit! I beat Joe Weinike. I beat Joe Weinike to go to 10 games! While we waited for the final round pairings, Joel Sherman came up, shook my hand, and congratulated me. I said I hadn't won yet. He said sure I had, because I had a game on all the other contenders and hundreds of spread points. 357, as it turned out, on Paul Avrin, who had beaten Jan Dixon to move into second and needed to beat me by 179 to win the tournament! Damn, it felt good to finally have Joel's approval.

After the game Joe commented that there was a scoring spot both of us had missed, an E at 14K. I replied that, no, I hadn't missed it, I had been thinking about it almost from the moment I played the Z. But I only drew one E the entire game, at the end. Damn, I beat Weinike with one E.

Afterwards, Bob Linn and Stefan Rau looked over the board. Again that warm glow from the interest that other experts were showing in the game.

Aw, crap. I forgot to put my raffle tickets in the bag, missing out on a chance to win Everything Scrabble. Oh, well, it was almost certain I would win $700, my biggest Scrabble prize to date.

Three plays into my final round game against Paul Avrin, my win didn't look so assured. After THEORISE and ZONK, Paul was up 107 with both blanks and five power tiles unseen. But I drew the first blank, and a few turns later scored with ScORNER, at which point Paul mumbled that I'd won the tournament. I wasn't so sure yet, but a couple of turns later I hit again, with DANGLERs, and Paul congratulated me on the tournament and shook my hand.

I still wanted to win that 11th game, but it just didn't happen in the end.

After I played AIT for 10, I forgot to hit my clock. It probably ran for 1-2 minutes before Paul noticed and pointed it out to me. Very sporting.

The excitement over winning the tournament evened out my disappointment over having lost that final game, and I was pretty much chilly-chill.

While we waited for the awards, I was setting up a simulation and noticed that FAQUIR is good. I commented on this to Stefan Rau in a surprised manner, and he scoffed "What's your rating again?" I replied that I'd said before my word knowledge wasn't the equal of his, nor of the rest of the field. I knew that. Heck, everyone knows that.

I think I'd won a trophy before and stashed it somewhere back in Houston, not really caring, but I took my first big Division 1 trophy with pride, intending to display it at work (where I didn't expect anyone to notice or care).

In sharp contrast to my usual speedy departure, I stuck around the playing room longer than I could remember staying at any other tournament. Congratulations kept coming from players throughout the room. I continued to be in a state of disbelief.

Once I got on the freeway I had a strong need to call somebody and share my excitement about my win. Ordinarily I would have called Jodi immediately, but that was no longer a possibility. Over a period of 17 months, I had gotten used to being able to call her whenever I had exciting news, or just when I wanted to talk, and losing that felt like there was a gaping hole inside me. But even if might be glad to hear from me, I had made sure I wouldn't be the one to break our separation by deleting her # from my phone, deleting her from my e-mail, and even changing my phone #. I might have called my parents, except I had spoken to them the previous night. So that left no one.

My mind soon became preoccupied with finding that Colombian restaurant in Port Chester, Delicias Colombianas, and then finding an alternatve route back to the freeway on account of police roadblock. When I finally settled into a smooth pace to NYC, I started quizzing myself again on sevens. For some reason, they just weren't coming to me. And these were racks I'd seen before, at least once, maybe two or more times (depending on probability range). After several racks, I gave it up and decided my brain needed to rest.

Later in NYC, when I checked my e-mail, I got on CGP and saw that friendly rival Geoff Thevenot had gone 10-1 in Fort Worth and crossed over 1800 too. Even though he came out higher, I thought it was a good result to our informal competition, and I like to think of it as the "feel-good" story of the week, though if that missing Boy Scout in Utah is found, I can see how people would vote that story ahead of mine.

June 20

As I approached the toll plaza after crossing the Delaware Memorial Bridge, a big electronic sign alerted drivers to a seat belt check point. On the other side of the toll booth was a state trooper, and he directed a maroon suburban ahead of me to pull over to the side of the plaza. When I passed, I saw a line of three or four cars pulled over. I couldn't understand how those drivers had gotten caught given that the alert sign had seemed to be visible well before any officer could have determined that an occupant of a vehicle was not belted. Did these people just not see the sign? Could they not read English???

After a few hours at work I left to take a nap, and I thought back to the fact that I had slept on a couch instead of in my car. Surely some players would insist that a better quality of rest had contributed to my victory. I suppose it's possible, but you can't discount the fact that I had won or placed in other tournaments in spite of sleeping in the car, like several Bayside and Farmington events, and Melbourne, FL, during which I wasn't even in my car, but rather a more cramped rental. Nevertheless, I felt grateful towards Kevin McCarthy for the couch--it seemed appropriate to give him a share of thanks for my win.

After my nap, I finally decided what the heck, and I called my parents anyway. My mother was out shopping, and so I recounted my victory to my father. His response was to ask a lot of questions. Ah, well, it's not like I was expecting an "I'm proud of you." I'd never gotten those words in thirty-three years, and he sure wasn't going to change as he approached old age.

E-mail accolades from other players had started to stream in as soon as the results were posted on Sunday, and continued through Monday. I felt honored, and like I was getting some serious respect in the game.

The very gracious John van Pelt posted some very kind words about me to CGP, and I was beaming as I read them. I remembered reading similar praise about other up-and-coming player like Jason Katz-Brown and Carl something, and was tickled pink to have finally joined them in grabbing the collective attention of the Scrabble community.

June 22

I noticed something really queer. I went second in my first four games, but I'm pretty sure my score card did not reflect that. So basically I screwed myself out of an extra first.

June 23

At work, where I had tacked my scoresheet to my cubicle wall, I noticed that even though I started with four seconds I still ended up with 8 firsts. Another example of above-average luck.

June 24

Cecilia Le, from Division 2, posted her bingos to CGP, and despite her lower rating and 8-6 record, even her bingos were flashier than mine.

Oops! Somebody else took offence at something I wrote, or said, or did (unclear).


W - JQSS(??)
L - QXZ?
L - JQ?
W - QXS??
W - JXS?
L - XSS??

J - 9/14
Q - 8/14
X - 9/14
Z - 7/14
S - 26/56
? - 17/28

Power Tiles - 76/140 = 54.3%
















Total - 19 = 1.4 per game
Opponents - 16

I'm not sure if 54.3% of the power tiles is considered exceptional luck, but it's clear that I was very lucky in the bingos that were available to me. Except for RETINOLS, LEcTION, ENOLAsE, possibly CLOTuRE, and possibly ScORNER and DANGLERs, all were common vocabulary words. And for each of the uncommon bingos, except ENOLAsE, the blank offered me other, more common, possibilities.

By contrast, the bingos on both Robinsky's list and Diane's list are well more exotic. Several of those words I don't know, and I can't say I would have necessarily found the ones I did know. So in a sense I was fortunate that I had the tiles to form bingos that I did know and could find.

Challenges Lost

Challenges Won

Average Equity Loss Per Turn

Includes total equity loss only when all turns were simulated.

1 - 14.8 (192.1)
2 - 8.6 (128.4)
3 - 14 (209.7)
4 - 7.7 (100)
5 - 6.3 (88.1)
6 - 6.4 (83.1)
7 - 11.9
8 - 7.1 (100)
9 - 8.4
10 - 1.8 (22.8)
11 - 3.5 (46)
12 - 2.7 (34.5)
13 - 8.7
14 - 6.5


PlayScoreLeaveEquity LossOpponent

PlayScoreLeaveEquity LossOpponent

PlayScoreLeaveEquity LossOpponent

More to come, time permitting.

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