Wednesday, September 5, 2007

"Phony" Bash Yields Cash - Houston Scrabble Diary - Day Three and Final Standing (now with pictures)

I played and beat all these ladies in Division 2 of the 2007 Houston "Bayou Bash" Scrabble Tournament.

September 7 - How could I have failed to review Sunday's lunch--a carnivore's delight with three kinds of "all meat" sandwiches. I felt a little sorry for any vegetarians--the vegetable offerings were olives, jalapenos, potato chips and pretzels (an airline vegetable at best). Lunch was included in the price of registration, but still left a lot to be desired vs. home-cooked food from the Houston club members as offered at the previous hotel.

Here are a few of the Division 1 players in a rare non-competitive moment.

Sunday breakfast was more of the same--meat on biscuits instead of on rolls. Somewhere in between the upscale McMuffin and stale donuts--a long way from House of Pies, sniff.

Game 15, or as I referred to it afterwards, the "perfect game", matched me against Ken from Houston. Ken was leading the tournament after two days, but not after this game. He exchanged on his first turn and bingoed with ERInGOS on his second, but I rolled from there on out. First a bingo with PADRONi, then ZED for 49, another bingo with WETTERS (he thought about a challenge but wisely didn't), WOOLEN for 51, DARE for 38, and VEALY for 40 before Ken went out. 490-362; 9-6, +649, and back in the hunt if I could win all three remaining games.

Game 16 ended my dreams of victory just as they took form. My opponent was Stu from San Francisco, a legendary figure in the world of competitive Scrabble, having been around when Alfred Butts invented the game, I think. This was a very cagy game for eight turns until he played LEASHiNG for 95. I made rEUNITE a few turns later to tie it at 273. My next bingo, CAROLERS two plays later seemed like a game-winner until I pulled the last tile from the bag--the dreaded Q. Stu had cleverly blocked the only place to play a Q, thinking I probably had a big QI/QI play. It was a straightforward matter for Stu to convert a 50 point deficit to a 30 point win as he played out his rack while I had to pass three times. 374-404, 9-7, +619. Fourth place started to look like a best-case scenario.

Helen from Slidell, Louisiana was my Game 17 opponent. We've played many times in tournaments across the South. I've held my own despite her typically carrying a higher rating. The Scrabble gods, appearing a little guilty about my Game 16 fate, blessed me with the tiles for vITALIZE off Helen's opening play for 101 points, my top play of the tournament. She responded with COUNTING, but I had PINHOLES to keep the lead. ALULA was a lovely dump that I learned just days before on line. When she had to exchange four followed by my XI for 31, my lead grew to 96. Two other decent plays allowed me to survive her outbingo StRANDER. 426-399, 10-7 +646 going into the King of the Hill round.

Solidly in sixth place, I faced James from Texas, fifth in the standings after a tie in his last game, in a Game 18 rematch of Game 13. He got the first bingo with ELATiVES, but I was able to respond with QUEAN for 48 and TuSSLED for 81. I almost called the blank an A for a misspelled TaSSLED (should be TASSELED), but switched to U before hitting my clock--very good choice, though James said afterward that he probably wouldn't have recognized the misspelling. With the score still close I got FOIBLE for 36, then drew seven consonants with just 11 tiles left in the bag after James' next play. Not one of my tiles seemed to have the slightest use on the board, so I traded them all in a move that probably won me the game, though my draw wasn't that great--and S, but also V, Y and U. I slipped V and Y among some tiles to make EVERY for just 19, but it managed to block James' big Z play. After RUGS for 14 cleared the U, I drew the X for OX and 30 more points to secure the win, 361-326. Final tally, 11-7 + 681, good enough for fourth place. All three above me had 12 wins, making it impossible for me to finish higher, but making me think back on that game with Stu--no Q and I'd have had 12 wins and +700 or more (though my opponents for the last two games might have been different).

Thinking that only the top three places would win money, I called my family and told them I could leave. While I waited for them, I asked the director whether fourth was worth anything. She said they were paying down to fifth place (except for Group 1 which had fewer players), so I waited. My wife and daughter arrived in time to see me get an envelope with a crisp new $100 bill--a bill that's still in my wallet. Not counting travel expenses, I was even for the session--$80 to register for the tourney; $20 to rejoin NSA going out, and $100 coming in. I'm still planning to treat it like found money and buy some new books and CDs.

Thanks for reading. Come back in a day or two and I'll have some pictures. My camera battery is charged up. Now I have to get charged up to download the pictures (or is it upload--I always get those confused. I may be doing both.)

September 6 - We hurried home from Parents' Night at school to watch the second half of the Saints-Colts game. While we were there we heard second hand that the Saints were leading 10-7 (another parent was following the game on his Blackberry). The score was 10-10 at halftime. In the short time it took for me to watch about one quarter of action, the Colts built a 34-10 lead. Back to Scrabble, no matter how grim the tale might be. Here are the Day Two, Post-Lunch games.

Game 11 finally matched me with Lee from Oklahoma. On my second play I innocently hung PHONE on the board for 24 points. Lee wrapped a ZIPPER around the P for 68 points. After her pONDERS for 68, I was behind by almost 100. TISANES came close to catching me up, but after I played it I drew four A's along with some other stuff. I played off two A's with AA, but drew two more A's. I had the second blank so I tried to think of bingos with lots of A's. ANAUDIA fit most of the letters in my rack, and there were two spots to play it. I needed an N or I. I fished off an E in OE and drew of all letters the Q. Lee's lead was back to 62 when I had to decide what to do next--exchange the Q and hope to draw N or I, or dump the Q on the board with QUA. My training told me that extended fishing almost never works, so I played QUA, hoping to put my one of my other A's on top for AQUA and the long-awaited bingo. The first tile I drew of the new three was an I--just what I needed for ANAUDIA, but that ship had sailed. Lee closed the harbor soon thereafter by playing ABET on top of QUA. I was reduced to using my blank for cILIA to go out and hold the loss to 328-400; overall 7-4, +598.

Awash in A's, I lost my way in Game 11.

Robin from Houston was my opponent for Game 12. I've played her several times in other Bashes--she may have the better of me. Things looked good for me early with INSANITY. She came back a turn later with EMErIES--this after overdrawing. I turned over three of her tiles--two were blanks! I could only put one back in the bag. She bingoed with the other. I sniffed out that I shouldn't challenge this unfamiliar word--her tiles almost made the common EnEMIES. I drew the second blank pretty quickly but struggled to cash it in. Finally, with Robin having played DETRAIN to go up by 110, I found AUTORAmA*, which both Robin and me thought was a terrific find. It's a shame it's phony. I drew DEVOURE, lacking only a D for DEVOURED, but having room only for DEVOUR. The issue no longer in doubt, all I could do was find a nice spot for YURT to hold the final score to 355-423. Total 7-5, +530.

I'd outdone my previous negative response to being in first (two losses) with three consecutive losses. Could I break the streak?

In my way in Game 13 was James, a Wisconsin guy living in Texas. He opened with MAUVE in honor of what color our tablecloths were supposed to be and followed with DURATIVE. The board was open to several high-scoring plays from my rack ALZONE?, but I picked a super-high play that was a phony--FALLZONE* for 137. In retrospect, this was a terrible play, but I couldn't live with myself if I failed to try a 137 point play, especially riding a three-game losing streak. James predictably challenged it off and played KAON to block my spot. I settled for ZA and ZA for 46, then came back with another phony RECONGEaL*. James thought for a long time, but surprisingly let me have it. The rest of the tiles treated me well as he got the Q, and I found three more 30 point plays, and even drew the second blank to go out with FORTUNe (for a mere 10--but a win's a win.). Game score 386-361. Record and spread so far, 8-5, +556.

RECONGEAL* made up a little for GLASSER*.

In Game 14 I had to play hot-playing Reid, also from Baton Rouge. He didn't cool off at all against me, making ENvIOUS and the awesome KEBLAHS on his first two plays. Fortunately for me, he missed the optimum spot for KEBLAHS and cost himself about 25 points. Things looked real bad for me when he added CONTRITE, but I responded with ARrAIGN to pull within 44. Two plays later I made my big mistake, letting Reed have FILAR (which is good) and CONTRITER* (which is not). I should have challenged it, just on the grounds that I couldn't win if I let him have it.. My last three plays were good--DACE for 32, ZEROS for 40 and XI for 45, but they just closed the final margin. I did resist trying the outrageous phony ZEROISE*. Final score 372-407. Overall, 8-6, +521--back to the middle of the back with about six others with 8 wins.

After Game 14, I know that CONTRITER* is no good, and that KEBLAHS is.

September 5 - I went to physical therapy today and would rather sleep than write, but I know you are anxious to find out what happened in Day Two of the Bayou Bash, so here goes.

Sunday breakfast was a real comedown from Saturday. With play starting at 9:00 a.m. there was no time for a sitdown meal. With three ones in my pocket I went to the hotel restaurant to see what I could buy. The hostess told me that a danish was $2.50. I handed her my $3 and went to the continental breakfast bar. The tiny danishes couldn't possibly be worth $3 each, so I grabbed two donuts that proved to be stale and headed to the playing room.

Arriving early enough to get a table, I set up my board, clock and tiles and checked to see who would be my first opponent. The matchup sheet said Lee, but soon thereafter the word came down that the there'd been an error and new matchups would be posted in a few minutes.

My new opponent for Game 7 was Carl from Fort Worth. I've seen him at just about every tournament I've been to outside of Louisiana. He talked about having just driven 100 miles round trip to Dallas to play three games--that's dedication.

Once we started play he seemed more dedicated to phonies. I took the lead with REAMING. He tried to add an S for REAMINGS*. This didn't sound like a -ING word that would take an S. I challenged and he removed his play. Without doing too much I built my to 146 points. He then tried CURLIES*. I couldn't envision CURLY being a noun, so again I challenged. Away went CURLIES*. After my next-to-last play of KHETs for 34, my lead was up to 190 points. He played LIQUER* for 43. The spelling didn't seem right, but I was anxious to end the game and played GET to go out. Maybe I was just too lazy to walk once again to the computer word judge. I still won by a huge marking, 391-234, but could have won by 429-191 if I'd challenged LIQUER. I had very little to lose (about 12 points) if I was wrong, and much to gain if I was right. Lesson learned, I hope. Still my cumulative record improved to 5-2, +544, enough to put me back in the top five.

Game 8 was with Andy from Houston. I think I played him in another Bayou Bash, but I can't be sure without looking it up. Let's just go to the game. This was another easy win as he tried OWER* on the first play--a likely enough looking four-letter word that I knew was phony. I bingoed on the next play with SLUIcES, then steadily pulled away until I had a 125-point lead. He closed the gap with a late bingo, but I still won by 100, 403-303. Total score 6-2, +644.

Meet ZYZZYVA, the computer word judge.

My Game 9 opponent was Nancy from San Antonio. Right away I got ASTERIA, but in a dangerous spot with the A in the Triple Word Score column. Nancy could only come back with AI for 14. Three turns later I converted the first blank to INFiELD and opened a 143-point lead. Late in the game I made a loose play and allowed her to play rENTERS, but I still won by a nice margin, 425-349. Overall record 7-2, +720--and a return to first place. I hoped I could stay there awhile, but...

My winning Game Nine board. ASTERIA survived its placement, and INFIELD fit perfectly.

Back in first after nine games. But can I stay there?

Tony from dreaded Austin awaited for Game 10, also the dreaded "last game before lunch". About halfway through the game, the score was almost even when I had to exchange six bad tiles. He played GOOFIEST. My tiles were AIOPSTU, which I wrapped around an R for AIRSPOUT* with a false sense of confidence, hoping that perhaps it was some obscure weather analog to a waterspout, or at least that Tony would think so. Tony held the play for quite awhile, then accepted it and played his own bingo, NUTSIER. After his JAY for 39, I was down 102 points, 335-233. Fortunately I had a blank and after a long search found OrIENTER, a new addition to the Scrabble dictionary. I drew seven new tiles and held the beautiful AAFINR?, in which I quickly found FARINAs. He didn't block my spot and I was thrilled to make the play. I was not thrilled with the last six tiles in the bag--CGHKQZ. His rack was the more ordinary ADLNORS, which he emptied in two turns while I managed only QAT. Final score, 388-438. A tough loss with some bad luck at the end, but I was proud of how I competed, and not that disappointed. Total score, 7-3, +670.

Two strange sights--AIRSPOUT* and my unplayed tiles--CHGKZ.

Eighteen games in about 49 hours isn't enough for many Scrabblers, who work in "warm-up" games before play and during breaks.

September 4 - Preview - I first encountered the Houston Scrabble Club's annual tournament by accident, and before I was ready to compete. The year was 2000, the year I started playing club Scrabble with the club in Lafayette. I played in their tournament in late September of that year. On a trip to Houston for other reasons (either a family visit or to see the Austin Lounge Lizards), we found ourselves in the same hotel as the Houston tournament--40 or 50 crowded into a couple of small conference rooms on the ground floor. Without other plans I might have joined the action, but "family first" as they say, so I just took a mental note.

The National Scrabble Association has results for all sanctioned tournaments on its website. Let's see how many Houston "Bayou Bashes" I've played in since 2000.

2001 - Didn't make it. Not sure what we did for Labor Day. I know we went to Houston the next weekend to see the Austin Lounge Lizards. The Tuesday after we came back was 9/11.

2002 - There's no listing of a Houston tournament. Had it happened it would have been just one week after the National Scrabble Championship in San Diego. I competed there and finished third out of almost 130 players in Division 4.

2003 - My debut in Houston was auspicious. Somehow I ended up in Division 1 (actually ranked 16 out of 16 players). I won 6 of 11 games to finish 8th--my rating soared from 1555 to 1617. I pulled by best all-time upset in this tourney, beating Dallas-based ace Iffy Onyeonwu in very close game. His rating at the time was 1879. My family also enjoyed the tournament as it was held at a hotel adjacent to Houston's famous Galleria shopping mall. We ate breakfast down the street at the wonderful "House of Pies", whose breakfasts are better than their title offering in my view. In the evenings, we had our choices of several good Mexican restaurants, also just minutes away.

2004 - The NSC was held close to home (New Orleans) and earlier this year, allowing a followup trip to Houston for the Bash. I got "bashed' often, winning 5 of 11 games to finish 8th out of 12 in Division 2. Still I ate more House of Pies and Tex-Mex, so it wasn't a total loss. I think I read Dante's Inferno" (translated) while the girls shopped one evening.

2005 - The timing of this "Bash" was certainly the most historic, with the opening of play coming just five days after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. Many New Orleanians evacuated to Houston. We wondered whether the tournament would be held (yes), and whether the hotel would honor our reservation (also yes), and if we even wanted to make the trip (our Katrina houseguest had found other accommodations, so we said "let's go.") Evacuees were still streaming along I-10. We saw one compact car with at least 11 people crammed in. The hotel looked like it was hosting a dog show, as they'd waived their usual "no pets" policy for the evacuees.

Somehow, just 10 weeks after major surgery and five days after natural disaster, I had my best Houston tournament ever, winning 9 of 12 games and placing first in Division 2. My rating, which had fallen from its peak at 1619 to 1499, recovered somewhat to 1547. I wrote a diary, which I'll try to find and post a link to.

2006 - I was healthy. The hurricane season was benign. Bad signs for the Bayou Bash. Playing in Division 2 again, I had a miserable tournament, winning just 4 or 5 out of 12 games. (The actual results from NSA aren't available right now, either electronically, or in my very disorganized "Scrabble drawer".) To show how volatile the standings are, the last place finished in Division 2 in 2005 won in 2006. So there's always hope. And I had great fun singing with a Mexican combo at a cantina one evening. Two of my daughter's friends came along and we all sang with the band.

2007 - Which brings us to this year. Thanks if you're still reading after all that preamble. The tournament changed hotels--bad economic news for the House of Pies, but acceptable to my family once they learned that shopping was available by easy car trip at the Woodlands Mall and at Old Town Spring. They'll have to fill in the details--there seemed to be a lot of footwear involved, along with a very cute jacket and jeans outfit (not for me). I didn't even get a pair of socks, as far as I know. The "Bash" also expanded to a three-day format. At first I didn't know what to think, as we usually spend Labor Day eating a leisurely breakfast and driving home. But I came to play Scrabble, so what the heck--we'll make it a Labor Day lunch.

A rainy drive from Baton Rouge to Houston got us to the hotel at about 10 p.m. I was proud of the drivers along the way, who held their speed between 60 and 70, and even slower in the construction areas. Our Google directions were right on, even though they included a $1.50 toll road that we could have avoided, but my Google map skills weren't advanced enough to do so.

The 12:15 p.m. starting time on Saturday made it possible to get both a good night's sleep and a full breakfast on Saturday, important in that it would be my only meal before five or more hours of play. I enjoyed a breakfast sandwich of fried egg, applewood smoked bacon (more on this item later), and cheddar cheese on grilled sourdough toast--kind of an upscale Egg McMuffin, but very tasty and filling. After breakfast the girls headed on their first shopping excursion and I headed for the playing hall.

I'd actually seen the hall for the first time before breakfast, as I registered and dropped off my equipment, feeling secure that I'd reserved a space for my board, tiles and timer. When I returned from breakfast, I found another player setting up in "my" spot. It turns out that the tablecloths were color coded. As a Division 2 player, I was supposed to be at a "mauve" (actually more like peach) table instead of a white table. By this time, all the mauve tables were claimed. I set my equipment aside and found a seat.

Game 1 - My first game was versus Nancee from New Mexico. I'd never played her before, but she seemed familiar--either from a national tournament, or on line. I wasted no time playing my first "phony" (word not in the Scrabble dictionary) in a tourney that would be defined in large part by such plays. Holding BIKI among other tiles with an E on the board, I played KIBIE* for 22 points. My opponent "held" the play (thinking about challenging), but accepted it. Turns out there are two words in the tiles BEIIK--KIBEI and BIKIE, of which I played neither. I confused the two, but got away with it--a good omen. Soon after I made TERMInAL with a blank to take control of the game, and later GeRONTIC with the other blank to wrap up a big win. Nancee needed ZITS for 69 on her last play just to lose by 103. 1-0, +103--an auspicious start, but I remembered winning the first two easily at the 2004 NCS and then falling apart, so I couldn't feel the least bit cocky.

Here's the final board from my Game 1 win over Nancee. Note the batwing blanks, a souvenir of the Boston Area Tournament (BAT). I played them like I knew what I was doing.

Game 2 was with Glenda from Oklahoma City, whom I've played several times in Texas tourneys and many times on line. No phonies from me in this one. I got ORaCLES with the first blank and then challenged off her BIENNIAS* (seemed like a plural of a plural). I won handily 403-272, moving my overall stats to 2-0, +234, good enough for first place.

I took the picture because I was afraid my good fortune might not last.

In Game 3 I played an unfamiliar opponent, Jim (his tag said Jimbeaux) from Austin, TX. It was my turn to struggle as Jim rolled to a huge lead behind the opening play of IMARETS and a later IDEATiON. I scuffled and finally got UNFURLEd with the second blank followed by OX for 40, but he went out with me holding the J and some other stuff to win by 422-312. Good bye, first place. 2-1, + 124.

A familiar opponent from Austin awaited me for Game 4. Caesar and I have played several times since I got my rating above 1500. Most of the games have been very close. I also remember Caesar for having played a warmup game with me at NSC in San Diego years ago when I was still pretty new to the scene. Still it's kind of painful to write about this one as I messed up in so many ways a game that might have kept me out of the championship game later. My first error was accepting GLaSSER* (and GLASSERS, which he later extended), which didn't seem right (a glassmaker is a GLAZIER, but I convinced myself that someone who applied glass to another surface might be a glasser. There was also the possibility that this word was added to the dictionary during the recent update. Doing most of my playing on a site that excludes phonies probably hurt my judgment too.) I fought back from this error to take a 19-point lead after making a good play where I sacrificed points to block Caesar's bingo. A number of uncomfortable racks chewed up my playing time. I'd also mistracked Caesar's tiles. I was down to less than a minute as I made my last play--not enough time to both correct the tracking and find the best play without incurring what I thought would be a fatal 10 point overtime penalty. I put down my best play pointwise, and held my breath. Caesar tucked E under BIZ for BIZE and wrapped ETI about U for ETUI to score 19 and snatch the win from me with the two one point tiles on my rack. 328-330. I sincerely saluted his beautiful last play and trudged on to the bathroom and my next opponent. 2-2, +122, and a placement somewhere in the middle of the pack.

In the interest of journalistic honesty, I've included a picture of this mess.

Next a quick word about the temperature in the hall--COLD! In a polo shirt, shorts and sandals, I was inadequately dressed. The compression hose on my left leg left me wishing I needed the same treatment on my right leg. All the humanity and brainpower weren't warming up the room, though I'll admit that the problem was worse when I wasn't playing and concentrating. Still, I found myself rubbing my forearms and hands more than once.

Game 5 was with Cynthia from Georgia, who among many others walloped me at the 2004 NSC in New Orleans. Her thick white bathrobe attested how cold she was. I took control early with MISFEEDS to the triple word score for 89 points. She got close by setting up and playing SALtINE later, but I held on to win, 397-350. Overall - 3-2, +169.

Game 6 vs. Jane from Arizona would make Day One either a 4-2 success or a 3-3 failure, as all but one of my first day opponents had lower ratings than me. On my third turn, I felt like I probably had a better bingo, but settled for OUTLEARn in the interest of time. Jane stayed close thru seven turns, trailing only 172-188, but played the rest of the game making small plays to set up a bingo that never came while I plugged along with a series of 15 to 30 point plays. Her last such play set me up for a big finish--LETTING for 80 points to go out and win 453-235, one of my biggest tournament wins ever. Total tally for Day One--4-2, +387 and a standing just out of the top five. 0-2 vs. Austin; 4-0 vs. the rest of the world.

Scrabble can turn your world upside down, as this picture of my winning Game Six board demonstrates.

Dinner with my family at Pappasito's was wonderful as always. Their shrimp brochette is a Tex-Mex masterpiece. Not much news after that. After the short drive back to the hotel, my daughter watched "Scrubs" while I started a good night's sleep in preparation for an early start on Sunday.


Anonymous said...

I have visited your blog several times but never have left a comment. You make me believe scrabble is the most exciting sport ever. Thanks,

dadlak said...

Thanks for reading my blog and for your kind comment, Bet. I hope you enjoy my adventures from Days Two and Three as much.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoy your Scrabble summaries. I always summarize my tournaments for our friend (Jay-Oboe) and a couple of club members. May post my Calgary (in Oct.) adventures on Jomarco. Take care, Bill (Old Buzzard)

dadlak said...

Thanks, Bill. Coming from you, that's a great compliment. I'd love to meet you personally some day--all the more reason to travel to B.C.