At the risk of boring you to tears or putting you to sleep (no snoring, please), here is a description of how it went for me at the annual Silicon Valley Showdown Scrabble Tournament in the Bay Area over Memorial Day weekend.
Round 1: Started out with a big loss to Marcia Wade, 334-395. My opponent started out with LOANED, setting me up for a 69 pt bingo with STOGIES before she bingoed right back with DEVIATED 78 pt. My first play was the only bingo I was able to get off all game, while Marcia laid down the very clever TINKLIER for 63 pt. I drew the Q (but was only able to play ROQUE 30 pt), while my opponent drew the Z, X, J, K and both blanks. Starting the tournament with a spread of -61 served as a quick reminder that this is Campbell, where the competition is all higher rated than I am and where I am forever in the hole.
Round 2: Felt a little better with a small win against Lynn Gunn, 374-355. I had only one bingo all game (LIONIZED 70 pt), but my opponent had none. I should have done better, considering I drew the bag with the Q, J, K, X and Z. I was just grateful for the win.
Round 3: Big loss to Joan Mocine, 283-373, a 90-point spread. I did not have a single bingo all game (accounting for my low score), while Joan did a great job with CORNERS 68 pt and TOWERED 89 pt. I should have known better than to set her up for that last one. I had played LAC, then extended it to LACTATE leaving the word one square shy of the triple line. I held a D and planned to take advantage of that triple on my next turn. Unfortunately for me, Joan had a D as well and was able to bingo with it. I need to learn to play more defensively. Hope doesn’t go very far in Scrabble.
Round 4: I shocked myself by winning against Barbara Van Allen, 413-376 despite having a boneheaded play challenged off the board. This was my first time playing Barbara, who I have known for several years as codirector (with her husband, Larry Rand) of our wonderful tournaments in Phoenix each February. I was first and started right out with a bingo, VEERING for 80 pt. Seven turns later, I wracked my brain forever over EIOLTSS in an effort to remember the anagram of TOILES + S. Of course, I checked later, and there isn’t one! The best I could come up with was the aforementioned boneheaded play, SISTOLE*, which Barbara promptly sent back to my rack. She then pulled ahead of me with TALENTS 70 pt. I lucked out with being able to lay down ROADIES 74 pt near the end of the game for the win. Barbara is such a gracious and kind opponent, which I very much appreciated. I hope we have the opportunity to play again.
Round 5: Donna and I grabbed some lunch (a veggie sandwich for me and Der Wienerschnitzel for her) and ate it back at the hotel room. I was grateful to come back from lunch even at 2-2. The feeling was short-lived, however, as I returned to a pair of big time losses. The first was against Gretchen Cowan, 310-424. I had not a single bingo and only two plays exceeding 30 pt. Meanwhile, Gretchen bingoed with TENDERS 66 pt and NASTIER 77 pt. As you can see, my opponent did a great job. Even though she had to exchange twice and I challenged off her play of IVIER* (she said she was thinking of IVIED), she drew the bag and coolly stuck with the Q when she played out. I deserved to lose this one!
Round 6: I followed up being trounced by Gretchen by being taken to school by Linda Sterling 272-378. Seriously, it’s embarrassing scoring fewer than 300 points in multiple games at a tournament! It is obvious that I have a long way to go. Linda had just one bingo with RESIZED 78 pt, while I had none. My only decent play was a word I learned recently, FIAR. My opponent didn’t know it and lost a turn when she challenged. Did I mention that I hate Us and Vs?
Round 7: My first big win, 434-291 against Maggie Morley. She was unable to bingo, while I cleared my rack just once with TAWNIES 65 pt, an easy TISANE seven. However, my best play of the game was a non-bingo, JIHADS 63 pt (through the I, double on the H and triple word score). After fighting with vowels and miscellaneous dreck the previous two games, this time I drew the bag.
Round 8: Last game of the day was against Scott Smith, the lowest rated player in the tournament and one of the few seeded lower than myself. Scott is a perfect gentleman and I am so pleased to have made his acquaintance. I expected the game to be an easy win for me and was surprised to find it hard-fought. (“There are no free games,” another player told me later.) I won 377-388, but could just have easily have lost. I bingoed with SINGLET 77 pt and Scott immediately came back with UPLOADED 72 pt. Other than the bingoes, each of us had three plays exceeding 30 pt. Nearly at the end, when the difference between our scores was only 14 pt, I played EELIER on the triple for 29 pt. Scott didn’t know the word and felt he had to challenge it due to the score being so close at the end of the game. He lost the challenge and I was able to make a dinky out play for the win.
Round 9: I came into Day 2 even at 4-4, but with a dismal spread of -151. So I was pleased to win the first game of the day with Zana Anderson, 442-327. Zana, who has played opposite me on several occasions, was unfortunately stuck with difficult tiles all game and was unable to bingo. However, she was able to play QI, tripling the Q in both directions for 64 pt. I was able to lay down two bingoes. The first was FLEDGING 74 pt, using the blank for the F. Zana challenged and lost her turn; she told me that she thought the word was FLEDGLING. I explained that the former is the act of the baby bird being pushed out of the nest by the mother, while the latter describes the baby bird itself. I also pointed out that I could have played PLEDGING, but knew that this had no chance of drawing a challenge. My second bingo was my second highest scoring play of the tournament and my first 100+ pt play. Thanks to the second blank, I got off BRANCHED on the triple for 104 pt. Two turns later, I challenged off my opponent’s play of YANKEE*, which I explained to her I had recently attempted to play on the Internet unsuccessfully. The following turn, my opponent, still trying to rid herself of the Y, played YIKE*. I was pretty sure this word required an S, but not sure enough to challenge off the 40 pt play. Of course, when I checked later, I found that it is not acceptable. I need to learn to trust my instincts and to stop questioning myself constantly.
Round 10: I was paired with Jeannie J. Wilson, against whom I have never won a game. She trounced me well and truly twice at Campbell last year. This year was no different, as I lost 305-459. My opponent started out bingoing with CANDORS 74 pt, following it up five turns later with STEADIER 82 pt. I had one bingo with PRESSING 64 pt. Although I had the advantage of drawing the Q and the Z, my opponent drew both blanks. I knew I would lose this game from the start, but I had hoped that it wouldn’t be by more than 100 points. When your opponent is good, she’s good!
Round 11: Next I was paired with Peter Dolgenes, and I prepared to lose again. Not only does Peter have a reputation as a tough opponent, but he has trounced me before. This hard fought game turned out to be a squeaker, with me winning by four points, 399-395! What makes this result really surprising is that I had nary a bingo, while my esteemed opponent laid down RESENTS for 81. My three top plays all had even-numbered scores, 30 pt, 40 pt and 50 pt. Peter had two 30+ pt plays besides his bingo. I did not deserve to win this game. There, I said it. You will agree once you hear about the idiocy that I let fly. I challenged my opponent’s bingo. I know, I know, who challenges RESENTS? I told you I was an idiot. This was a case of what my friend Lewis Martinez calls “unrecognitis.” Here I was thinking about whether “re-sent” has a gerund form that takes an S. Duuuhhh! And just to top it off, my opponent logically requested a recount due to the close score. It turned out that I had misscored one word and lost two points. This game was living proof that God takes care of idiots and looney-toonies.
Round 12: For the last game before lunch, I won against Polly Moyer 391-365. This was the second consecutive game that I should have lost. Polly drew the J, the X and the Z; I drew the Q. We evened up by each drawing one of the blanks and each playing one bingo, DATELINE 68 pt for me, ENTRIES 69 pt for her. But Polly had two high-scoring non-bingoes, 45 pt and 48 pt, as well as a 30 pt play. I had two 30+ pt plays and nothing above 40 pt. Incredibly, it seems that most of my spread was earned from a measly 16 pt play when my opponent exchanged tiles! Some games make no sense at all.
Round 13: I went off to lunch rather pleased with myself at 7-5. I nearly didn’t make it back in time. Donna went off to a leisurely lunch at Olive Garden while I ate a sandwich in our hotel room and took a nap. Well, you can guess what happened. Play resumed at 2:30 and I awoke with a start at exactly 2:30. I flew out to the lobby, where the director was hanging over the second floor railing calling me. “We started!” Indeed, when I reached the playing room, my opponent was waiting patiently while everyone else was already engrossed in their games. Fortunately for me, he hadn’t yet started my clock. My opponent was Lewis Singh, who proceeded to get back at me for being late by wiping the floor with me. In my worst game of the tournament, I lost by 165 points with a score of 273-438. Lewis bingoed with DENIERS 83 pt and ENDORSE 80 pt, while I foolishly foundered about in vowel hell instead of exchanging. As you may imagine, this was a game I’d rather forget.
Round 14: Next I was paired with John Aitken of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. In a close game, he played one bingo, ODONATE 60 pt and I played none, although I scored 50 pt for PLEX. I had one low-scoring play after another, then challenged off John’s play of YOMS* toward the end of the game. This was not the first time I’ve played an opponent who did not know that YOM does not take an S. I may not know a lot of bingoes yet, but I know my Jewish words! The game came down to 17 points, with John winning 339-322.
Round 15: My next opponent was Jim Barker, against whom I have had several good games in the past. I fondly remember playing SUNBIRD against him on a triple at January Reno several years ago; it was a baldfaced guess on my part and I lucked out when he challenged the word and lost. Here in Campbell, Jim was the only one of my opponents to go over time. We each had one bingo, DEPRAVE 67 pt for him and SENDERS 79 pt for me. We each had two other words over 30 pt. With an evenly matched game through turn 8, I lucked out in successfully challenging Jim’s attempt at MILI*, and then having him exchange tiles two turns later. Final score: 380-308.
Round 16: Last game of the day was against Peggy Grant, whom I had never played before. I introduced myself and it turned out that she came out to California for our little tournament all the way across the country from South Carolina. I remarked that her name sounded familiar, then suddenly the light went off. My opponent was the famous director of the annual GRITS tournament! On turn 3, Peggy bingoed with the lovely word CUTTINGS 70 pt. I did a double take when I realized that she had placed the C at A5, right between two triple-word scores, and I had ADEEHRS in my rack. Holy cow, I can play SEARCHED! That is, on the triple-triple for 176 pt. This was my highest scoring play of the tournament, my only triple-triple and just an all- around stupendous stroke of luck. Peggy was shocked, never thinking that I’d be able to triple-triple off a C, of all things. She later admitted that she was unable to recover from this play. Although the triple-triple was very early in the game, neither of us was able to come up with another bingo. I ended up winning with a score of 460-369. Even so, my cumulative spread remained a deplorable -179. But what a way to end the day!
This left me a little bit ahead at 9-7 heading into the final three games on Monday morning. I was thrilled, realizing that I had moved up quite a few places. After starting as 21st seed, I estimate that I had risen to about tenth place in my division. Now, if only I could win those last few games before I went home. I knew I’d likely be paired against some of the top players in the division, but I felt confident, as I have historically done very well in the last few games on the last day of the tournament.
At the breakfast buffet, I had time for a big bowl of oatmeal with cinnamon and raisins, along with a slice of a delicious egg and cheese concoction that may have been a quiche or a frittata. Even better, Donna, whom I had left sleeping back in our hotel room, surprised me by joining me midway through my breakfast. When I finally shuffled upstairs to the playing room, imagine my shock when, perusing the standings posted on the wall in the hallway, I discovered that I was now in fifth place! This meant that, not only could I be in contention for a money prize, but that I was likely to win an additional performance prize.
Round 17: I walked into the playing room floating on air — at least until I checked the pairings and saw that I would be playing Joan Mocine again, to whom I had lost by 90 points in Round 3. I thought things would be different this time, as I was on a roll and have won against Joan in the past. Let’s just say that I had another think coming. Joan laid down two bingoes, FAERIES 73 pt and BANDITS 79 pt, to my one (DEEPENS 85 pt). Playing on a tight board, I made an extensive series of very low scoring plays (12 pt, 9 pt, 8 pt, 8 pt… you get the picture) and we ended up being so closed down that neither of us could play out. I ended up losing 345-429.
Round 18: I then found myself in the ignominious position of battling with Paula Catanese, who is rated 300 points higher than myself. So I was pleased that I was able to keep up with her, even though I ended up losing — by one lousy point! Grrrrr! I was able to play two bingoes, ROADIES 64 pt and MANNERLY 61 pt, to Paula’s one. But that one was SURVIVER for 89 points, played on a triple. Knowing that the word is spelled with an O, not an E, I challenged. Unfortunately for me, that spelling is good. At the end, Paula played LEFTIST 22 pt, but my outplay was a paltry GAIN for 13 pt. With the score so close, we recounted. I gained 2 pt in the recount, but Paula gained one, enough for us to avoid a tie.
Round 19: Having kissed goodbye all hope of winning a money prize, I hoped to win the last game of the tournament so that the entire day would not be a loss. But when I saw that I was paired with Marcia Wade again, I knew that I was sunk. She remarked that we played the first game of the tournament and the last one. I replied that she won our first game and that I was going to let her do so again. I was a man of my word. We each had a single bingo, NECROUS 78 pt for me and HORNETS 80 pt for Marcia. But she also had five 30+ pt plays, while I had just one. The game ended 340-416, leaving me at 9-10 for the tournament with a spread of -340.
I finished in 15th place, raising my rating from 997 to 1029. All in all, it was a most enjoyable tournament. But I really wish I hadn’t choked so badly on the last day of the competition.
Onward to the National Scrabble Championship in Las Vegas, about six weeks hence.