I went back to the Scrabble club yesterday. I timed my arrival for a little later in the night, hoping that there’d be more people. I was right.
I walked in with two people, I didn’t talk to them, but I walked in with them.
I sat down, sent a couple of text messages. I was still a bit panicky, but I decided to wait five minutes.
“Hi, I’m Nancy! Are you new?”
“Yes, I’m Dawn…hi…”
“Great! Sign in with Joel, the director.”
I went up to the man at the desk.
“Hi. I’m Dawn Summers, this is my first time…”
He went to reach for a yellow slip. (Now, for the rest of this exercise, imagine that my blog last name is Summer, instead of Summers, otherwise he’ll come off looking stupider than he needs to.)
“What’s your last name?”
“No, last name.”
He gives me an audibly annoyed sigh,
“SUMMMMMMEEEERRRRRRR…THAT’S MY LAST NAME.”
“What? Start over. What’s your name?”
“DAWN…SUMMER. That’s my last name…I understand the question…”
This exchange is then followed by the spelling of my name routine, which just doesn’t translate on the blog.
Finally, he asks me if I’ve played with a clock before. I say no.
(Months ago, after weeks of playing with the three minute sand timer and giving ourselves two flips of it, Fisch insisted that we buy an official time clock. Huh…and now that I think about it, by we, he evidently meant me. Jerkface. After a minor two week detour to California, the SamTimer finally arrived a few months ago, and the slamming of buttons is now a staple sound at the dining room table. But you know, just in case Fisch had tricked me about any particular custom, as is his way (“no, Dawn, it’s not garbage, it’s part of the lamp…I’m serious!”) I said no. Plus, I was in full-on ‘I’m just a girl’ mode. Managing expectations, people. Managing expectations. I didn't want my first time to go like this.)
I spotted a guy about my age milling around the beverages and went over to say hi.
“Um…do you come here often…”
“No, this is my first time…you?”
“Oh my God, do you feel like a total freak!?”
We laughed and introduced ourselves. His name was Charles, he lives in Harlem and plays Scrabble online all the time.
I told him I could never get any of the sites to work for me, but I played at home.
He laughed and said:
“Yeah, I can beat all my friends…they won’t play with me anymore. But I wanted to play live.”
Afterward, the tournament director Joel gave us a list of instructions on how to play with the timer, how to draw tiles and a list of two letter and three letter words.
“We not only allow newbies to use the list while playing, we encourage it.”
Charles and I crossed our fingers and hoped they would let us play with each other the whole night…uh…that was a poorly phrased sentence.
But no, I drew a woman across the room.
I sat down to my first club game ever. My opponent was in her early fifties, with short curly black hair. She held out the bag for me and I drew the E. I was fairly confident that I would go first.
“Closest to A goes first,” she said, simultaneously drawing the A.
I usually play with a brash kid who used to compete in Scrabble tournaments, our games are usually loud relentless displays of unsportsmanlike conduct unbecoming a Marine…er…Scrabble player.
If I had drawn the E and he outdrew me to grab the A – I would be hurling a “fuck you, luck box,” right about now. I suppressed that instinct and smiled.
She scored 14 on her first turn with Gay and I outscored by playing AMA with the m on the double letter square.
Then she exchanged and I pulled further ahead.
I drew extremely well – both blanks, three esses, the z, the q – but she exchanged three times and I was consistently outscoring her and using enough of my tiles to get the opportunity to draw new ones. She even drew eight tiles and I was able to throw back her x. I bingoed once with retiles and she audibly sighed, leaned back in her chair and said
“Man, are you going to win your first game at the club? No one does that.”
Again, I had to suppress my Fisch-honed instinct to say “fuuuckkk yoouuu,” for the premature jinxing.
Sure enough, my endgame fell apart. I started playing off one or two letters and she pulled ahead by five, I came back to take a six point lead and then she said “12 and out and out,” and I still had an m on my rack.
She exhaled and said “wow, you’re good.”
“Not really,” I said in keeping with the humble newbie persona I decided to adopt for my first time playing at “the most famous Scrabble club in the country,” as the first woman who introduced herself to me said earlier that night.
Of course, I realized that since I almost beat her, that might not have come off as gracious as I meant it to.
But she was super nice and we chatted for a bit about how we both came to play competitive Scrabble on a Thursday night.
“I’ve been playing about two years here. I used to play the informal games on Sunday, but I love the mini tournament style of Thursdays. How about you?”
“Well, the guy I mainly play with is very competitive and humiliates me every time I lose, so I had to get really good, but now he’s moving to California and I can beat everyone else I know…so I’m either giving up Scrabble or I have to play here.
Charles also lost his first match, but by 100 points, so I felt a little better about my patented endgame collapse.
I won my next match in what I thought was a crushing…I bingoed with outsize on the triple line, but then challenged the word: wos.
It was good. And as Joel told me the word was valid, he added “that’s why we give beginners the cheatsheet of twos and threes and tell them to use it…so you don’t make challenges like that.”
I think he muttered ‘idiot’ as he walked away.
Anyway, as I said, I thought I crushed my second opponent until my third match, where I had six bad challenges, exchanged TWICE and got all around murdered by this old lady by 174 points.
She was also very dirty. Like she would make me count my own points and not tell me if I’d forgotten to press her clock. So, pretty much, we’ll be calling her Fischwoman from now on. She even has his sneaky Fisch expression when she knows she's getting away with extra time. Fucker.
The Fischwoman played sneller and YUCH and a bunch of other bullshit that turned out to be good…by the time she was up by 220, I so wanted to dump my tiles onto the board and concede. But evidently, this is not allowed.
So, I battled back... a little…I bingoed with crossed and managed to get the loss to under 200 points…UGH.
I was still smarting from that match and botched the last game against a black woman who hadn’t won a game all night…I let my clock run down trying to think of ways to use the q and the z on some incredible power square…never happened and I ended up struggling with two minutes left and something like 20 tiles still in the bag. All around poor time and rack managment.
During the breaks in the game, this Asian guy was playing cards and when I asked him what he was playing, he said “Texas Hold ‘Em.” Indeed, he had dealt out four hands of two cards each, and then would lay out a flop, a turn and a river and then turn over the hands to see who won.
I told him I’d play the imaginary poker with him.
He told me he was very good.
“Oh? Where do you play?”
“Well, Playstation 2,”
“Oh, they reopened it,” I asked thinking he meant a defunct poker club called Playstation.
“Huh? I have two characters and they beat Christy Gazes AND Clonie Gowen.”
I tried not to laugh.
I didn’t succeed.
“Oh, the videogame?”
“Yeah, and I play on my phone. Do you play?”
“Yeah, I play.”
“In the city?”
“I’d like to come with you sometime!”
“Um…what’s the most money you ever played for?”
“Umm…Millions of dollars on the Playstation game. I play better when the stakes are higher. Otherwise, I never fold before the flop.” (Or turn or river, I might add.)
(He had been bluffing me hand after hand during imaginary poker.)
“Well, you might want to start playing small games first…like for money…before…going to a club.”
He told me that at the Scrabble tournaments, players have poker cash games and tournaments on the side.
And dude, if they all play poker like he does, I could so subsidize my Scrabble costs with my poker winnings!
All in all it was a good night. My 1-3 record, was definitely not indicative of my abilities and I learned some valuable strategic lessons. I also have a nemesis who will drive me to keep up my studies…seriously, Fischwoman, I am going to crush you…someday.
Like crack, the first time was free…each time thereafter, it’ll be $15…BUT maybe I can challenge Asian guy to some real heads up play…