I confess that I’m still a little sad and in shock about what happened. But I am ever so slowly moving more and more from the “I can’t believe I choked so bad” mindset to the “holy crap I came in SECOND in a THREE-DAY tournament!” mindset. And I thank everyone who has been part of that “snap out of it, you did great” brigade. Now just so you know I’m really not just a big baby, I’ll say right up front that I lost the championship game because I said the wrong letter when announcing my blank. Instead of s, I said e. And as my little brother would say “Dawn, E is a whole different letter.” Indeed. So it was a big collapse at the end of a game I was controlling the whole way and should have won, after three days of playing the best Scrabble I’ve ever played in my life, which is why disappointment ranks so high on my emotion scale. However, looking back at entering a tournament as the 19th seed, having never cashed in any tournament in the United States, a second place finish at a huge tournament like AC, was huge. Plus, I ended up losing to the number 1 seed, so no shame in that. So, we’ll do a final writeup of the tournament in a more characteristically upbeat style. (Oh, and as it’s come to my attention that more players have found this site, I should also say I don’t mean any offense or disrespect by anything I write, this blog is just a collection of my thoughts on learning this game and starting to play competitively…I respect (and am mostly still terrified) of all my opponents and am in awe that you guys have been doing this so long and I hope to be able to have that kind of staying power.)
At the end of the second day I was 12-1. I was solidly in first place as the only person with only one loss in Division 4. I was flying…but I was also shaking in my boots. At Saratoga last year, I was in first going into Day 2, which meant that I would be playing the very best of my division that day and boy did it show. I think I only won one or two games in day 2 and I had a three hundred and fifty point loss in my second game. It was ugly. So, I knew Day three was going to be tough, Adam in particular, kept saying that the top three seeds were stronger players than I was and I’d probably come in third or fourth. So I was registering a high ten on the freakout scale. I was restudying my stems and my twos to make threes and threes to make fours until I fell asleep around two in the morning.
I got to the tournament room early and played a quick game with Adam where he taught me a valuable lesson about looking for your best play. My rack was plit?zs, so I was ready to just dump the zlp and bingo on my next turn, but instead, after looking at my rack, he found a play through a b, to make blitz for forty some odd points! It was a great thing to be reminded of right before the last day. My first opponent was one of the top five seeds, he had only four losses and was a strong player, yet I could see he was visibly nervous! Of me! It was so weird, I’m like “dude, I’m nervous about playing YOU!” I think I went first, I had a great almost bingo rack, so I dumped the junk: two ohs and an H to make OHO, I drew X, I, A and my rack was examins – for some reason, I thought this was a word…I don’t know, in the light of day, I now realize that it is not a word (and not just because my Microsoft word keeps correcting the spelling and underlining it in red and screaming “you moron, you need another e”) Anyway, I decided to take advantage of my opponent’s nerves and play examins hooking the ess onto oho (which doesn’t take an ess.) Well, turns out he wasn’t all that nervous at all and challenged it right off the board, but then he made a mistake and hung an “I” right over the double word square, so I dumped my m and x for like thirty points on the next turn and drew very well to complete a real bonafide bingo. “Stanine” I was up by like 70, when I drew another bingo right out of the bag, I played “boldest” under mix for boldest/mixt, I was now up by 150. I started shutting down the board and he started fishing for a bingo. He finally got one four turns later: stinter, but it was too late. I won the game handily. My next opponent was my first repeater of the tournament, a woman I had beaten in the fourth round and had beaten at the Philly tournament, the first time I ever played in a rated tournament. I wasn’t too worried about the game, but that was a mistake. She bingoed on me very early, AND I was drawing horribly. IIIUUOOO kind of drawing, I’d exchange and get WWYOOOA. It was horrible. I was losing bad and I knew that this was going to be the easiest game I would play on the last day, so if I lost this one, my chances would be bleak going into later rounds facing higher ranked players with better records, so I hunkered down into my “you don’t need to bingo to win” mantra and started making my best three/four letter plays. I was finally rewarded with a satire + p rack, and found a nice place to play pastier under jab for 82 points. I was still behind, but it was more manageable now and I had plenty of time. My opponent, on the other hand was already down to four minutes on her clock with forty-something tiles left in the bag. I had well over 20 minutes left (that’s the one good thing about having to exchange twice early…takes no time at all and puts the clock back on your opponent). I took a deep breath and went back to work. She was also a big talker during the game…like “oh, I didn’t need that,” “I know you’re looking for a bingo, I should block,” stuff like that, which is difficult to concentrate through, but since I thought it was eating up more of her clock, I figured it was a net benefit to me, so I didn’t say anything. I bingoed again to take a small lead (rewarded for studying my threes to make fours when I remembered that HAY took a front ess hook and made townies/shay), she then made a mistake and played a French word “mer” which I challenged off. I then started shutting down the board on her and blocked her bingos. I know this because she kept saying “you’re shutting down the board and blocking all my bingos” as she stared hopelessly at them as her clock ticked away. In the end I won by 70 points. I then had to play the top seed, Supriya, who was out of the top five because she had three losses already, whereas I only had one and the next three only had two, but she was the top rated player in the division and I had seen some of her boards, she was no joke. And sure enough, she took the lead in our game and never gave it up. She was a wicked defensive player and strong offensive player. I bingoed with manless, she came back with a bingo of her own. Bah! It was hopeless and I lost by thirty something points, but it felt like a blowout. I think my mind was set on that being the game I was going to lose, so I made it so. The loss dropped me back to second, because although I only had two losses, John’s spread was higher than mine, so he was in first now.
Once the King of the Hill began, I had to play John again. I was so laser focused. I opened with Dairy for 26, he had a nice counter with LEK for 27, it went back and forth for a little while, till I jumped out in front with a bingo: diaries. He exchanged and then I bingoed again with a blank: sinuate. HE CHALLENGED! WOOO!!! I had a comfortable lead now and I was in shut down the board mode, but then he played ort, blocking my sweet q on the double letter e on the double word square play that I had been setting up. I HAVE NEVER SEEN THE WORD ORT IN MY LIFE. I held the play and even though it was only 12 points and scrabble strategy says that when you’re up by 100 points, you don’t challenge 12 point plays when you’re not sure if they are good or not…I challenged. I figured I have been studying for weeks, playing for two years, how could I have never seen a three letter word that’s good. Well. It’s good. And now I’ve seen it. Awesome.
Anyway, He then bingoes with gallons and is within striking distance of me now with four tiles left in the bag and my rack a dismal: AEEHIRV I start to panic a bit. I want to get my h on some kind of power square going two ways, but my options are limited. I start shuffling the tiles like a crazy person, when I find a BINGO! Heavier!! OH MAN!! I look desperately for a place…but see nothing. I look and look and look and then I see the word TET hanging over a triple letter square and a wide open lane. I know the word ETH and NTH And had recently studied the Hebrew letters which often end in ETH. I did a bit of calculating and figured if TET took an H hook, The play is worth 87 points, I draw the last four tiles out of the bag AND there was no more bingo lanes for my opponent to go out on me with; if I was wrong, his next move might open up a place for me to score big with my h and maybe I could hang on to win by a little. Okay. Let’s take a shot. I played Heavier/Teth John INSTA challenged. TETH WAS GOOOODD!!!!!!!! He lost his turn, I drew oon and went out with goon, getting 38 points from the tiles on his rack because he had like both pees, a C a Vee and H. It was awesome! I won by 136 points.
And I was flying high cause I was now the only person with only two losses. Unfortunately, Supriya’s huge spread and the fact that she hadn’t lost a game all day leapfrogged her into second place.
So I now had to play her in a sudden death match for first. This time my mindset was totally different. I could beat her. I would beat her.
It was funny, we both opened with UGH. I played mine horizontal, she played hers vertical. This made the next couple of moves very hard because UGH only has weird ass front hooks, no back ones. So she played Vau going horizontal over the top of her UGH and I played PRY going vertical in front of my UGH, SHE CHALLENGED IT!
I was suddenly feeling better and better. I drew a blank and found a bingo, she blocked my lane, but I found another one and played entasia. I was in control the whole game (AND DRAWING LIKE A LUCKY SOB!)
She bingoed twice for like sixty odd points, but I still had the lead and then…choke job. I meant to play woes/zins for 37 points and instead played woee/zine for zero. Then I played wey for 27 points, but it was challenged off for another zero, plus she went out and got all the tiles on my rack wylo blah blah blah…who remembers, I blacked out at some point after saying e instead of ess…or evidently just before saying e instead of ess. Blah.
Second place. But my mistake notwithstanding, mad credit goes to Supriya, I literally drew every tile in the bag…maybe she got one blank, and she still kept the score so close that she could still win. I can’t believe that I managed to play Scrabble as well as I did, against tough as nails opponents, my big choke job in that last game really highlights how hard this game can be as the pressure builds and I’m just grateful that I didn’t have mistakes like those in every one of my games…though my examins play comes close.
Anyway, I had a great time in AC. I’m really getting to love the folks “on the circuit” and obviously, I love this game.
I was a big head hanging mess of "I'm a stupid choker" after the game, and everyone helpfully kept coming up with big chokers through the ages to compare me to: Buffalo Bills, Tony Romo, The Mets, some golfer guy I've never heard of. I remember saying "I'm a big choker and don't deserve to go back to New York. New York doesn't want stupid chokers," and Matt said "It's okay Dawn, when we get to border crossing we'll cover for you." I laughed. And then every one was like "hey, but you're second! That's amazing." And I said "Yeah...and it even has an Ess AND and E right there in the first two letters of the word!"