a weblog of wordplay by Eric Harshbarger
Scrabble: Asheville, NCWell, I'm definitely back into the "Scrabble tournament thing". It's probably a safe bet that many of these LOGOLOG entries will on these tournaments in the near future.
The Asheville, North Carolina tournament over Veteran's Day weekend was my second competition since reviving my Scrabble playing. My rating plummeted after my earlier tournament in Birmingham (I could gripe a lot about not drawing my fair share of blank tiles and such, but I'll try to focus on the more enjoyable episodes...)
The first amusing thing occurred before the games even began. A fellow (whose name I've forgotten... sorry... I'm horrible with remembering names) approached me and said, "Hi... oh... you're the Scrabble guy."
Now, normally I wouldn't be amused by this because people throughout my life have tagged me with many labels coinciding with my current obsessions. However, when I'm standing in a hotel ballroom full of 60+ competitive Scrabble players, giving me the moniker "Scrabble guy" seems a bit odd... and garnered my reply: "um... well... that's a pretty safe guess."
What the guy had meant to say was that I'm the LEGO-guy. I have been known as many things (LEGO-guy, Scrabble-guy, Winona-guy, Math-guy, computer-guy, puzzle-guy, ubergeek), but this was the first time such a mixup occurred. Many of the Scrabble players I'd known years ago knew me at the peak of my LEGO building, so the notoriety still exists. This fellow player had heard about me, seen my website, and wanted to say hello... to the LEGO-cum-Scrabble guy).
Not only did I draw slightly better tiles (though still only 11 blanks in 14 games... below expectations), I also played better... more conservatively. When I got a good lead in a game, I went into defensive mode, and I have no doubt that help me keep the wins. As tempted as I always am to "open up" the board to try to play any of the thousands of 7- and 8-letter words I've memorized (a "bingo" in the Scrabble lingo), I made it a point to close the board down to keep my opponents from doing the same. This defensive style, I think, is reflected in the fact that my opponents' average scores dropped significanly this tournament, and with the modest rise in my score (because of the slightly better drawing luck?), I was able to win 8 of 14 games. Not as well as I'd hoped, but a bit better than "expected" based on ratings of those opponents.
Two of my loses came from poor endgame play (I should have won one of them, and tied the other), but it was somewhat equalized by the fact that one game was "thrown" to me by my opponent who screwed up his last play (as Mark told me at the end of the weekend, "that's going to be my worst memory from this whole tournament").
The two most interesting plays of mine during the fourteen games both involved phony words. I don't make it a habit of playing phonies, but sometimes it's the best thing to try.
In Game 2 I played WHITEHAT. My opponent asked me to "hold" and was considering a challenge for several minutes. He finally let it go, in part, because I'd ended the word right next to a Double-Word scoring space on the board. He was able to play BONES underneath it, hooking the S onto WHITEHAT for about a 54-point comeback play (my original WHITEHAT was 86 points). Unfortunately for him, I didn't like WHITEHAT myself, and certainly wasn't going to let him pluralize it. I challenged WHITEHATS... it is not a good word... so BONES had to come off the board, he lost his turn, but my original WHITEHAT remained on the board (because it was never challenged). A rather sneaky trick... but, hey... no one said tournament Scrabble was easy (and he'll never let WHITEHAT go again).
My second significant phony came in Game 14. On my rack I had the letters ABEINOR. The board was very "tight", and there's not a 7-letter bingo in those letters anyway, even if I had had a place to play it. I did notice, though, that if there was an open D on the board, then I could play DEBONAIR. There was a D. However, after seven open spaces, a couple other already-played tiles conflicted.
Then I noticed that those two tiles were the 2-letter word ER. I was rather skeptical that what I was about to try was a valid word, but I could not pass up a 10-letter "split" play by laying down my letters between the D...ER and spelling DEBONAIRER (a non-player will think, "of course that's no good"... but you'd be amazed how many awkward comparatives and superlatives are valid in the Scrabble lexicon).
But alas, not DEBONAIRER. DEBONAIR is good... DEBONAIRE is good... but you just can't play DEBONAIRER. My opponent (Cynthia) called me on it, and it had to come off the board. Oh, how I wish that word had been good... 10-letter split plays are not common things at all. I lost that game by 2 points.
Anyway, those are the most memorable things from this tournament. My eight wins helped me inch up 6 Ratings Points, and while that is nowhere near the 120+ Points I'd lost in the previous tournament, it was enough to get me just above the (now) second highest rated active Scrabble player in the state of Alabama.
We'll see how I can do in Reno, Nevada in January.
Highest Win: 488 (with no blanks!) Highest Loss: 426 (again, with neither blank)
[12 November 2007]
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