Playing room at the 2018 Word Cup Scrabble Championship (Burbank Airport Marriott Convention Center).
Lately, I’ve been receiving a lot of junk calls on my mobile phone. I no longer answer if I don’t recognize the number, but sometimes, if I’m not paying attention, I get caught unaware. There’s the robocall offering me an expense paid trip to a resort (“Congratulations, winner!”). Click! There are the calls urging me to support a particular candidate or cause. And then there’s my favorite, the one where I am asked to subscribe to an asset management service. “Actually, I have no assets to manage,” is my standard reply. “Would you like to provide me with some? Hello? Hello?”
Being of a certain age, I also get calls offering retirement planning services. This always gives me a good laugh. They simply don’t understand that, here in the real world, a lot of us will never be able to retire, no matter what we do. They don’t want to know that some of us have to continue working until they carry us out on a stretcher. I thought about those calls this week while perusing the New York Times on my phone and running across an article about how we should begin active retirement planning activities at least five years before our planned date of retirement. For example, it went on, if you earn $140,000 per year. . . . At that point, I closed the article and moved on. Who the heck do they think we are? Are only rich people supposed to be reading the Times? Talk about being out of touch with reality! I spent decades earning less than $10 an hour. Come on, who earns $140K? Doctors? Drug dealers? Wall Street types and CEOs? Perhaps I need to look for a newspaper that caters to the rest of us.
While I enjoy working, I must admit to more than a bit of jealousy directed toward many of my fellow Scrabblers who are now retired and have enough money to allow them to roam the United States and Canada, competing in Scrabble tournaments across the continent. It seems like a lovely life, and is one I shall never be able to enjoy. I should be grateful that I am able to make it to two or three tournaments each year.
The director of the Word Cup Scrabble Tournament in which I am currently competing likes to start out his events by reminding the participants to keep their cell phones on, volume up and set “to the most obnoxious ringtone possible.” Everyone laughs, but we get the message. No one wants his or her concentration to be interrupted mid-game by a raucous cell phone going off. It happens anyway at least once during the tournament. It’s easy to forget to put your phone back on vibrate after lunch.
The prejudice against ringing cell phones is pretty much universal, but I never cease to be amazed by some of the other things that annoy my fellow competitors. There certainly are a lot of quirks and peculiarities in our little Scrabble world. One player insists on the game clock being positioned to the right of the board, another refuses to use a particular style of tile or rack, another insists on announcing both her score and the running total after each turn (technically a violation of the rules), while yet another uses the board as a work area, changing her play several times during her turn (a really big violation). You can complain to the director if you’re really that annoyed with an obnoxious opponent, but usually I grin and bear it. “We aim to please,” I say with a forced grin. Um, whatever. Life’s too short.
Although I try to be easygoing, there is one behavior that unreasonably sets my teeth on edge: Competitors who like to justify their own weirdness by saying “after all, it’s just a game.” Grrrr! Why are you spending all this time and money to be here if you truly believe that? Sigh.
My performance today was largely a repeat of Saturday. Seemingly stuck in a Ground Hog Day-style time warp, I again won all my games in the morning and completely pooped out in the afternoon. Weird, as I don’t consider myself a morning person.
I remain stuck in ninth place, but as my wife reminds me, it could be a whole lot worse. Still, I am annoyed with myself for throwing some games away due to sheer stupidity.
Game 1: My opponent started out with the X (COAX for 26 points), but then drew nothing but trash for the rest of the game. I had everything, including both blanks, which I used to bingo with LOOSEST for 77 pt and SNORTED for 65. I felt badly for my poor opponent, who is extremely kind and directs lovely Scrabble tournaments in her home. Win: 380-286.
Game 2: This was a very even game marked by a fight to the finish. My opponent and I were neck-and-neck until the third-to-last turn. Each of us bingoed just once, both with naturals and both with B words: BLONDIES for me (80 points) and BETTIES for her (81 points). BETTIES is a phony, but I was afraid to challenge it despite my doubts. After all, how does one express the plural of apple brown betty? At the end, my rack was GENORT?, with the question mark representing a blank. The only bingo I could find was TONGERS, which I knew as a study list word (TONERS + G). The only problem was that, by then, the board was blocked up and there was no place to play it. I was surprised that I noticed that I could play rhe 6-letter TONGER on the triple word line, hooking the R for RHO and preserving the blank in my rack. It only netted me 24 points, but it turned out to be the right play. My opponent unsuccessfully challenged the word, losing her turn and allowing me to play out and collect an additional 14 points from her rack. Win: 370-309.
Game 3: My last game before lunch was against a very old lady who has beaten me soundly at past tournaments. Fortunately for me, the luck of the draw was on my side and I had both blanks, which I used for ROSTERS (68 pt) and SLAINTE (77 pt). The latter I was able to play on the triple word line by hooking the T to WIT. I was pleased with myself for finding a bingo that contained the necessary T as the sixth letter (and for being able to explain to my opponent after the game that the word is an Irish toast). I also knew that it does not take an S, alleviating any concern about my opponent coming back by tripling a word in both directions. She had one excellent play with JANE for 60 points, playing the J on a triple letter score both horizontally and vertically. Win: 427-347.
Game 4: I thoroughly enjoyed going out to lunch with my wife instead of taking a nap. Upon my return, however, my good luck from the morning immediately went south. My first opponent of the afternoon humbled me early in the game with back-to-back bingos, VARIATES for 76 points and MISPLACE for 86 points. I got off just one bingo, PILLAGE for 73 points, courtesy of a blank. I managed to keep fairly close in score to my opponent by tripling first the X and then an F in both directions. But I got stupid and lost a turn after challenging my opponent’s play of WEBERS, a technical term that only a retired engineer would know. I had the Z and the X, while my opponent had the Q and the J. With a blank apiece, the game was fairly even overall, resulting in a recount that still left me the loser by seven points. Loss: 399-496.
Game 5: I couldn’t manage a bingo in this game, which never bodes well. My opponent, by contrast, laid down DETAILS for 69 points and ORIENTER for 68 points. My only decent play was ROQUES for 55 points, which my opponent successfully challenged. This may have given me the win had I not gone stupid again. I put down a parallel play on the wrong side of an existing word, forgetting that the blank on the board was an E. That created the phony LE (duh!) and that was it for me. Loss: 328-351.
Game 6: My next opponent was a pleasant young man who strategically outplayed me and who deserved the win. We each had a single bingo, he with WINCERS for 70 points and me with TINNERS for 68. But he was able to triple the J in both directions for 48 points and finished up with several excellent parallel plays. Loss: 381-330.
Game 7: My last game of the day was against an opponent whom I have competed against several times before and who is famous for her phonies. (In the first game I ever played against her, about ten years ago, she bamboozled me with the phony bingo GEFILTE.). This time proved to be no exception. I started out fairly strong with VIAND for 26 pt and FLAWED for 33 pt, after which my opponent drew a blank and bingoed with TAENIAS for 73 points. Several turns later, I drew the other blank and bingoed with STOURIE for 74 points. My opponent then got away with the phony OUVRE, which I recognized as misspelled about ten seconds too late. There was an open J in a triple line, so to block the spot, I played JARK, which my opponent challenged off the board (although only after I had my hand in the tile bag; I should have called for the director). This was one of several times throughout the tournament that I inadvertently played a word that is acceptable in the “other” Scrabble dictionary (Collins) but not in ours. As I have played with the British Collins and SOWPODS dictionaries online for years, code switching has started to become a problem. I may well be approaching the point when I will need to switch over to playing Collins in tournaments. I scored ten points or fewer on each of my last five turns of the game, making for a tight ending. I was just 12 points ahead when my opponent played out, but she exceeded her time by three seconds, netting me an extra ten points. Win: 376-354.
Tomorrow is the last full day of the tournament and I will need to pick up several wins to have any chance of a prize on Wednesday. I realize that this is not likely. The competition here is just too good.