Sunday, July 12, 2009

Meta Scrabble

My Albany tournament really didn't turn on my word knowledge.
In fact, I lost six challenges all tournament. And three were in one game - but that was somewhat intentional, and I'll talk about that in the context of meta Scrabble - the rest were in games against "weaker" players where they took a shot and happened to be good. (Like the challenge in my last game against a newbie who played "sickled" with the swiftness and fast tile grab of one who was trying to get over. (And actually, when I asked her, as we walked to the word judge, she said she wasn't sure.)) And one BIBICALLY ugly one which I'll write about later. Groan.
The other 20 or so times I found myself at the word judge I emerged victorious.
It's a good feeling being comfortable with my field and the tiles. However. Stupid howevers.
I am so weak at the nonvocabulary parts of the game.
My decision to play slower meant I had time to really think about the meta game, unfortunately, I really didn't know what to do when I ran up against these situations.

Some stupid ones first: In a game against Katya (who plays in Division three with her two kids - a girl about 11 and a boy about 15 - they are the cutest little Scrabble playing family you ever did see and I so want to stow away in their basement!) I had four tiles on my rack s a t ? I dumped three clunky tiles fishing and drew four more. When I realized I had overdrawn, instead of placing the four new tiles on the table, I put them on my rack - meaning I put my already possessed ess and blank at risk, sure enough she plucked my blank off (cause it was on the rack where *everyone* puts the blank when they get it) and threw it back in the bag. This was so stupid. First overdrawing was dumb, and then stupidly mixing them all was dumb. Chalk this up to exhaustion.
Then the three challenges in one game scenario:
I was playing this woman who was kinda spastic. So much so that I played cointer on her for 15 points. (These are very good letters and to burn them for 15 points tells you that I was not at all worried about her.) AND THEN SHE CHALLENGES It!! YAAAAY!
I then draw lstin?g. Jug is on the board and I know there are a billion words ending in gee that takes another gee, so I play listing/jugg. She holds the play and after two minutes, she challenges. It's not good, she plays arid. I then play listing/arids, she challenges. Not good.
I dump something, maybe gi and the game progresses. I end up playing toadies, she holds it for freaking ever, but lets it go. I am losing, so in a desperation move, with eight tiles left, I play darnels/uhs I actually think this whole play is good (it's not). She holds the play, but then lets it go. I draw my tiles and she says "no! Wait! Challenge." We call the director over and he says her challenge was too late. Whew. I then play "mim." She challenges. I panic. "Shit, mem is what I was thinking of." But turns out mim is good too!
I then play like something and mimo. She holds the play, but lets it go because I've opened up the triple and she scores big. No tiles left. I have alo on my rack. Only open letter is a t, I play alot. "8 and out." She challenges. I lose and I lose the game when she goes out.
The loss did not sit well with me. Ultimately, I decided that I shouldn't have tried jugg/arids because with a player that I have a substantial vocabulary edge over, I should just take my 15-30 points with words that I know are valid and wait to use my blank on some crazy bingo -but one that I am absolutely sure of. I should have been more patient.
The next meta issue is of the nature that I faced in the post below about what to do with the woman who played ioniser. In that case, I ultimately decided to challenge it off and play my own bingo in its place, hoping that since she couldn't find ironies/noisier after four minutes of shuffling, she never would. I was right, and on her next turn she burned off "ion" for 18 points. (Unfortunately, I played a vowel next to the dreaded TLS and she was able to hurt me real bad and play the ex on it going two ways. And I lost the game by 30 Blah.)
I faced pretty much the same scenario in my first game on day three. I had gone on a 6/7 tear in day two and was only three games behind the leaders, if I could tear it up on day three, I was back in it, and since I was in 20th, I should be facing weaker players than the leaders. My opponent was this dude who was kind of a stickler.
"Did you write down my score? 34." He barked at me after the third turn.
I wrote three and four on my paper and then looked at him coldly.
"Yes. I got it."
I then bingoed with a pretty eight letter word: estriols, which made four parallel plays. I was feeling pretty good about myself when he puts down quviet. He uses the blank for the u, with the kue on the DLS and the tee on the double word square. 54 points. I am 90% sure this word is not good. But he burned a blank for 54 AND the kue is now three squares to the left of the TWS and I have aid on my rack, for an easy 42 point response. I hold the play. I am still ahead even after his 54, plus my 42, I will be more ahead. Math says leave it. I do.
I take my 42 with qadi, he takes forever shuffling his tiles, then bingoes with unparted through my dee.
I hold, think of Moses and then super challenge. Unparted the sea? What the hell?
It's good.
He then plays suey alongside the unpa in unparted, down the triple lane for another 54!
I don't challenge.
I am now down 70 and my rack is all vowels, so I have to exchange. Going into end game, with three tiles left in the bag, I have inertia on my rack, but it doesn't play. I burn an i and hope. I draw the zee. That was that. I couldn't win.
He then blocks the last bingo lane with rum and takes the last of the tiles. I am down by 125 and I see no spot for my zee. Bad mazel, yo.
I have time, so I look and look until I find THE PLAY of my whole tournament. In closing the last bingo lane, he opened the TWS lane. Alongside rum, I play zeta, with the zee on the DLS, and the a on the TWS, getting zeta/am BOTH tripled! For like 93 points!! He was stunned. I still couldn't win, but I had protected the spread! I took a picture.

Of course, in deconstructing the game later, I decided that the only reason I should ever leave a word that I am more than 80% sure is a phony, on the board, is if I can triple/triple through a letter in it.
My next issue came in the third to last game. At this point we have entered the King of the Hill stage of the tournament, where entrants with near identical records are paired up for the epic battle for 22nd!
The death match for 31st!
Now, since these games depend on the outcome of the games before, they don't have a set start time: essentially, when your last game ends, at some point your next game will begin. I ran up to the room to pack my things, so that between this game and the next game I could run up, grab those things and check out. I am a time managing machine on the last day of a Scrabble tournament!
Anyway, I return to the game room and many matches were in progress. I look around for my opponent, but can't find her. I ask another woman if she knows who the lady I'm supposed to play is, and she says yes and helps me look. The lady is NOT in the playing area. I wait around some more and decide to just go throw the stuff in my car and check out now, because this game is obviously going to end *after* 11 (hotel checkout time). I go and take care of these things. I return to the playing area 7 minutes later and see that my clock has been started and it now reads 21:48.
"Oh, the director started your clock. Sorry."
I am all kinds of livid.
"Well I'm here now, you should stop the clock."
Now time generally isn't an issue for me because I play fast, but I was pissed because I guess I should have sat at a board and just started her clock when I got down there the first time. However, as we were playing for ooh, 27th place AND there were still two more games to be played, I saw NO reason to be a jerk about her absence. This is generally my attitude when it comes to Scrabble rules. I never hit somebody's clock back on them if they dont write down what their blank is on the paper first. I never yell at someone for confirming the score on my time. I have never called a director over for the purpose of assesing a penalty on someone for any of the numerous possible transgressions.
It's a game, and as long as the broad strokes of quiet and nonviolence are respected, I'm cool. I have never started or asked to have an opponent's clock started. I agree to makeup games when my opponents miss a scheduled match. I don't ask for recounts. I am not an asshole. I recognize that I'll be playing this game, with these people for as many years as I am involved with competitive Scrabble, why be a jerk?
Of course, I have had opponents do all these things to me, so maybe I'm just a sucker and need to put away camraderie and take my advantages wherever I might find them.
Finally, my last game of the tournament I am matched with a girl who I had played poker with the day before. She said this was her second tournament. I think I was in 28th place at that point, with 9 wins and a negative spread, so I was super relaxed about the game. Basically, picture me swinging in a hammock with a beer in my hand.
She played a bingo early on with her blank: mel?ing, but she hooked the em under the word un for melting/num. I waited for her to add it all up, announce her score and then I instachallenged. Her next turn she burned off her em and I bingoed on top of it. I had this game. Then she bingoes with insulter for 58. I am still in the lead and not worried. Her turn after that she plays "suq" down the triple word lane, hooking the ess on insulter, getting a tripling of insulters/suq!
I am out of the hammock and the beer goes down the sink. I have crap, but respond with a 30 point play to keep pace. She then bingoes with sickled, I challenge and lose.
She hammers me with a forty point play and just like that I am down by 98.
I have heating on my rack, but it doesn't play and I am sad.
I take my time though, and I realize heating uses a stem I just learned!
I dump the aitch under an ess, opening up a bingolane and cross my fingers that I pick good.
She doesn't block me and I decide the "craziest" word of my five options, is "tangier."
I chose wisely because she holds the play for three minutes before letting it go.
She then plays BA over the AN in my bingo.
I now have aeiotvz. I am still down by fifty something. I can get twenty five for za/aba, but a few more minutes shuffling reveals azote. I've never played the word before, but I'm like 65% sure it's good. And it fits snugly above ba for 41 points!
As I am weighing my options, she suddenly stops the clock and says:
"Your clock went to zero."
I look up and my clock reads 9:54.
"Oh, yeah...these mini Sam Timers are weird. When they get to ten minutes, it changes to all zeros before dropping the first digit and counting down from 9."
"Oh, ok," she says. She hits my clock again.
I decide to take the risk on azote. I need to score. She instantly challeneges! (I think she was still stewing in uncertainty about tangier.)
It was good!
I then played vain through the a in azote down the triple lane to take the lead!
She plays something and I play jo with the j on the triple letter.
We go back and forth until the bag is empty. I have three tiles left on my rack, she use the other blank and two tiles to play under my j to take a 13 point lead.
I have sog.
I can make sog and three parallel plays *on the triple word line* for 24 points and the win. My only problem is I was sixty percent sure sog was a phony. Plus, since it was an outplay, it was a free challenge. But if I didn't go out here with a greater than 10 point play, she could win. If I play my phony and she challenges it off, she definitely wins.
I decided to go for it.
Sog, 24 and out.
She turns her rack around and says "and you get 8 from me."
Yay! She wasn't challenging!
We fill out the score sheet.
"So the difference is 19?" I ask confirming the spread.
"No, you have to subtract all that time you went over."
"Huh?" I look at the timer, I still have 5:13 left.
"It went to zero. You're over."
I explain about the 10:00 -> 9:59 thing again.
She insists that I'm over.
I call the director. Maybe he'll have better luck explaining.
She had :21 left on her clock, so he says "ok, how about I hit your clock and we see what happens when you run out of time."
She agrees.
Sure enough, the timer shows a minus sign and starts ticking up instead of down.
"See? If she were over, her clock would have a minus sign. So I have to rule that she is not over."
I start to clean up the board, but she won't sign the sheet until she has hit my clock and the five plus minutes run out.
I wait it out. Again, upon reaching zero, the minus sign appears and the clock starts ticking up.
She sighs and signs the slip.
"Fine. But you know you were over. I showed you when the clock went to zero. This isn't fair."
I was kinda officially annoyed now and was tempted to point out that her winning move wasn't complaining about the phantom overages, but challenging sog.
But I thought better of it, after all, I am NOT an asshole!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Scrabble in the news

Ugarles sent me this article with the commentary the mom doesn't "know how badly she's getting served, a 9 year old keeps nailing her with a phony!"


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Today is my birthday!

Hilarious e-mail from Phil:

Solve the anagram:


(And no Ugarles, it doesn't have anything to do with a PhD...wait...right? My rating is in the crapper.)

Friday, July 3, 2009


I only lost one game today. I made some mistakes in that game, but ultimately, she beat me fair and square. Unfortunately, we learned a new word: keto. Actually, that game posed a question for me (and I confess I didn't do the math, I probably should have) and I want to lay it out here.

She bingoes with the word: ioniser. She places it right above the triple word line. I have the word natives on my rack which will easily fit under ioniser. She is ahead by 46 and with ioniser she would be up by 102. My natives would be 89. (Maybe a little less, I am not looking at a board right now.) Of course, ioniser is no good. As a matter of fact that is the senior stem which I think is a top five stem which she really should know at this point. (I've played this lady before, so I know she has been playing for a while.) So I had a decision to make...leave her with these letters (two easily findable bingoes) or accept the phony bingo knowing I had a response and hope to just outplay her to make up the difference?

I'll tell you what I did in tomorrow's edition after a healthy debate in the comment section! :)

Also, I am tweeting my stay here!

Thursday, July 2, 2009


When I tell you I did every single one of the things on my list, except win games or have fun, I am not exaggerating. Oy. Well, at least I can still beat Ugarles in Scrabble.

Back in the Saddle

I have been working hard on my Scrabble in the last few weeks.

The combination of having just accepted a position doing the most mindless, boring work on earth and the return of my original Scrabble nemesis have given me the time and motivation to really tackle new stems and esoteric word lists.
In addition to trying to finally get a hold on the threes(why did I think enn and fam were good until the last 48 hours?) I've also tried studying words with letters that I hate seeing on my rack together: wu, yu, bvu. Yes, I HATE the U. Unless I have the Q, but then I would have already burned all my Us on successive ulu plays.
My favorite ridiculous word: Ouabain! I wanna drop that on someone at Albany so bad!
Hmm, I've got five vowels and a bee and an en (not ENN!) Ooh I know, WHAP: Ouabain! Then I hope I get Coeloms on my next turn to hook that bad boy on back!
I have a bunch of goals for Albany:

1. Take my time. I play too fast, I miss things. I need to slow down, think about my options and make sure I've picked the best one. Too often I do something way too quickly (getting adeimnr and quickly dumping the em, hoping to draw a letter to complete the rained stem for a bingo. D'oh!) The worst part about these errors is not only do I make them and cost myself points, I also then dwell on them for the duration of the game/tournament and certainly cost myself games. It's stupid.

2. Play the game, not the player. Sometimes I get too clever by half. I start thinking "Well, this player probably doesn't know this word or he won't challenge that word because he just lost a challenge, so I'll go with some dumb fancy play or a phony, when some straightforward play of an ordinary word would score more points. I'll also tend to open up the board or fail to close it down because I think I'll be better able than my opponent to capitalize -- more often than not I am wrong wrong wrong. I need to stop relying on these flimsy "reads," and just rely on my vocabulary and sound Scrabble strategies.

3. Stop obsessing about bingos. I am good enough at finding bingos with whatever rack I have that I have got to stop fishing for one or two tiles. Just make the best five or six letter play that I can and hope for a better draw on the next turn. I don't need blanks to bingo! I don't even need esses: anergia! Sometimes, I don't even need stems!

4. Win games. My rating has taken such a beating in the last two months that I am back in the bottom division and I'm seeded in the middle. It sucks, but I need to take advantage. I think I'm better than my rating and I need to prove it. There is no game I can't win. (Yes, yes except Wordscraper against Ugarles. I meant Scrabble game.) I need to produce here. No choking!!

5. Have fun. Um...yeah...I really mean win this tournament, but figured that would sound jerky, so I oughta toss some touchy feely hippie goal on this list. But yeah, you know what would be fun? Winning my first tournament in America!

Wish me luck! Happy Fourth!