Saturday, February 23, 2008

North American Scrabble Tour - Baton Rouge Qualifier

Here's my diary from today's North American Scrabble Tour Qualifying Tournament in Baton Rouge.

Intro - On the way home from a trip to Houston I caught a cold that put me out of action on Thursday and at about half-speed on Friday. I felt better this morning and happily drove the five or so miles to the Jefferson United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge, host to the tournament. To my knowledge, this tournament is sponsored and run by tournament Scrabble players and not by the National Scrabble Association. It consists of a set of open tournaments held all across the US and Canada. A set number of players from each regional tournament qualify for the finals in Minneapolis in June. Eighteen players signed up for the Baton Rouge qualifier, coming from across Louisiana and at least one from Mississippi. To make the open tournament more competitive for weaker players, the format supposedly called for games against players of like strength in the early rounds. I didn't much evidence of this. As the fourth-ranked player I was matched against number 16 in the second game. But enough about the set-up. The games were much more interesting.

Game One was with Jonathan from Mississippi, about two hours from Baton Rouge. Being rated about 500 points higher, I decided to test his vocabulary (and mine) on the first turn. I confidently (I hoped) played ODALINE* for 68 points. I didn't know if it was good, but it was close to OPALINE, which is good, and I thought might confuse Jonathan. He let it stand without hesitation. Four turns later I had to exchange all seven tiles, allowing him to pull within 16 points. But my new tiles made eGOTIST to stretch the lead back to 85. From that point I was able to keep the board bottled up and score enough to hold a 70-100 point lead. He went out to shorten the final margin to 65: 369-304. 1-0, +65

Game Two was with Alice, the lowest rated player in tourney (there were two newcomers who were seeded lower). I got off to a fast start with ZEINS for 48, and opened a 248-76 lead with TALLIES for 80. Later I played KI to set up my blank as a S for a possible bingo hooked to SKI. It turned out to be CRONIEs. At the end she got stuck with the Q and I was able to play my tiles one-by-one to maximize my score. Final, 525-235. The 525 earned me the $10 high game prize. 2-0, + 355 moved me into first place after two games.

Game Three was with David, formerly of New Orleans, but now relocated. Apparently he was back in town on other business. Rated about 1000, he'd just upset the 3rd ranked player in the tourney and said he was "telling everyone." Our game started slowly, but while he was fishing for a bingo, I made one - IRIdIUMS - love those three "I" bingos. On my next play I debated how to play the Q––in QANAT or in QUANT or QUAD. The latter made more points, but were riskier. David made my choice easy by setting up a QI to go along with QUAD. I made both words for 67 points. The rest of the game was much like Game One––I tried to close the board while making decent scores. Final score 390-288. Overall 3-0, +457 and still in first place.

Third-seeded Bill from New Orleans was my next foe in Game Four. We seem to play in every tourney in Louisiana. I've won my share so I wasn't intimidated at all. Perhaps I was still light-headed from all the success, as I butchered my first play––low scoring OLIO, placing it such that the vowels lined up under the double word score spaces. He punished my mistake, but not too badly with 59 points on the next two turns. I held FABNNN and something else and opted too quickly for FAB to the TWS for 28 when FAB HOYA and OF were available for 39 points––a play I saw about 2 seconds after announcing 28 points. Things got better after that––all my big mistakes were out of my system, and the Scrabble gods chose not to punish me. He played RIOJA for 30; I played POX underneath for 55. He got YEH for 51; I got MAN (where I should have played FAB) for 31. The scoring continued hot with MAZES for 50 for him and TANNED to the TWS for 39 for me. When the dust settled, I trailed by 8, 190-182––not bad for such a dumb start. A couple of turns later I held STUDENT with no place to play it. I settled for VET for 17 and thought, with TUNDS, I just need RA for TUNDRAS. It was kind of day when dreams come true as I drew RA and played TUNDRAS for 75 behind his CUIF for 9. He came right back with QADI for 72 to retake the lead. I drew one blank after TUNDRAS, but IRIGIL to go with it. I choses LIRI for 10 to get rid of as many I's as possible. My reward was the second blank. I considered SPRIGGIER (a nine––and it's good!), but didn't believe enough. I settled for PIG for 22, holding my two blanks and getting rid of one G. On my next play I could have gone out with CADGerS, but again, I didn't believe enough. I chose AGe for 28 under his WO for 20. At that point his CUREE wasn't going out to beat me. He settled for RUCK for 16. I went out with SaD and took the game 397-387. Not the best spread I could have accomplished, but I was proud to have made sure of the win. 4-0, +467, but slipping to second place.

The organizers examined the standings to make the next pairings. In Game Five, I got the only other undefeated player, Keith, also from New Orleans, also the top-rated player in the tourney. My lifetime record against Keith is about 1 and quite a few. I wasn't cocky, but things seemed to be going my way, so I figured, why not? Things started promisingly as Keith's first three plays of OE, OE and KORE totalled just 23 points. I wasn't much better, but I did get SHEIK for 50 to open a 66-23 lead, which grew to 97-23 with WATT for 31. Keith's next four plays were EXILER for 42, QUINOAS for 80, BIGLY for 38, and REGREEt for 69. I held the last play, but wisely let it go. When he played BIGLY, I held VACUUMS on my rack and had a home for all but the S. BIGLY put an end to that. I retreated to VUM for 24 and the C-wordS for 28. I trailed 272-200 and knew I needed a bingo to get back in it. Holding a blank, I tried to create an opening with AIR for 6. This worked out reasonably well. Keith blocked the bingo lane, but I drew ZA and played ZA AI for 46, making a hook for RAI in the process. A drawn V helped not at all; I dumped it in VID for 13, and drew tiles to make RoUNDEL. Keith figured something was up. He blocked my line with MAC for 20 before I even had RoUNDEL. Desperation set in. I tried RAI, RoUNDEL, EMID and LAG around his block. I didn't think that EMID was good, but I couldn't have forgiven myself if I "misremembered" about the word and didn't make the play. He challenged it off and played AH for 35. I created another lane with ED and DAH and waited for him to block it. Surprisingly, he didn't on his next two plays, figuring he had enough to win even if I bingoed, which I was unlikely to do. I surprised him with UNBRIdLE for 80, closing the final score to 412-383 his favor, but giving me something to feel good about. Overall, 4-1, +438.

The loss dropped me to third and in King-of-the-Hill Game Six, I was matched with fourth-place Peggy from nearby Zachary, whom I've played at the local club. An improving player with an 1100+ rating, she's still looking for her first win against me. The winner of this game would finish in the top three and qualify for Minnesota. She got the first good play, LOGGERS for 63 and a 99-54 lead. I took the lead back with the combination of OYEZ for 52 and JItTERS for 67. Two turns later my tiles were great - SARDINE, but there was no home for any of the many bingos. I tried to create a hook with DAL, playing just the D. I drew an unhelpful U, which I dumped with the N in JUN. After that play, Peggy got her second bingo with AGITaTe and took a 28-point lead. M and K wouldn't help me make a bingo, but they were good for MAKE for 57, alongside AGITATE to the TWS. She came right back with QUAG for 34 to retake the lead, this time by a slim five. ES alongside QUAG got 26 and the lead for me. She closed to within 3 with NIB. My next play was WIT, hooking to aN to make aNI. She got confused about the the blank letter and challenged. Of course, the word was good. I played RIPE for 22 and went out with WEEDS for 10 to wrap up a thrilling 433-393 win. Final record: 5-1, +478, good enough for second place, $70 and a spot on the Baton Rouge team in Minnesota, if I want to make the trip. There was talk of a three-man road trip. Yikes!

In any event, I vote for more Saturday one-day tournaments in Baton Rouge!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Not clearly