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!


Anonymous said...

i would have tried really hard to be an asshole - not sure i would have managed to though.

SUEY makes me want to throw up. Also, JAGG is good... how come that came back not good?

Dawn Summers said...

Oh, it was jugg. I have to fix that. Congrats on Thursday! Now you are Adam and Nancy's favorite again. :)

Ugarles said...

I'm-a challenge BIBICALLY, son.

Anonymous said...

SUEY*- He was probably trying to spell SOOEY.

Like many UN*ED adjectives, UNPARTED is not a past participle. Similarly, UNTHAWED does not mean UNTHAW* is a verb.

IMNSHO, most law-abiding scrabblers don't consider it rude to (get the director to) start someone's clock. Everyone has their own take on things, of course. I would beware those folks who tell you they never start their opp's clock- they might often be a latecomer and appreciate the lax enforcement.

Recounting is never rude to me because it confirms the result of the match. You may hear someone describe it as 'the recount GAVE him the win.' Well, no it didn't. You discovered who won more accurately. Anyone can make a counting mistake, and when the winning margin is 10 or less it definitely pays to be sure. Ob course, if someone does it with a bad attitude (sore loser) there's bound to be bad feelings, but I always do it as quickly as possible when I recount to avoid that chance. It takes about 2.5 minutes, generally, for peace of mind. It's worth it to me because to whatever complex level that you scrutinize your strategy later, it sucks to put that much effort in and lose because they said the wrong score or you did.

Besides the scoring math(which is very important) there is an incalculable value to clearing your opp's junk from the board. It usually intimidates them and makes them less likely to try to slip anything by you again. Or get more frustrated so they toss up more junk.

Dawn Summers said...

I would beware those folks who tell you they never start their opp's clock- they might often be a latecomer and appreciate the lax enforcement.

HAHAHA that is true enough, Jeffrey, I think I am most known for my penchant for sleeping through scheduled games. But I really don't mind if my clock is started when the sheet says 9:00 a.m. start time and I am still snoring in bed at 9:10. That's definitely my fault and no one should have to wait for me.
In the "king of the hill" scenarios, there is no start time and I just think people should be more flexible.
I am still in shock about unparted(and well, unthawed!) but I haven't been playing all that long. Thans for commenting!

Ugarles said...

You discovered who won more accurately.
That depends on the game, I'd say. The margin could lead a person to make different choices in endgame, for example to play a low scoring 5 to dump tiles instead of a higher scoring 3.

Dawn Summers said...

I agree with Ugarles on this one! Properly keeping track of the score is another one of those annoying things that eats up time on the clock. If you make a mistake, even inadvertently, there should be a penalty of 5 points. (And yeah mistakes happen, but I once said the blank was an e when I meant it was an ess and even though EVERYoNE agreed it was a speaking error, I was still penalized.)

Anonymous said...


Me: "You discovered who won more accurately."

That depends on the game, I'd say. The margin could lead a person to make different choices in endgame, for example to play a low scoring 5 to dump tiles instead of a higher scoring 3.

(Just to clarify, the 'more accurately' was meant to modify 'discover.' I didn't mean that there would be an accurate or inaccurate way someone would win.

Of course the running score affects endgame matters, which is why every player should count and confirm every play. If it's so important than an extra 5-10 seconds spent per turn (counting an opp's play) should be worth it. Actually, if you count (mentally) with them there's no pause! In fact, if there is a disagreement about score, clock can be neutralized, so all you have to do is find the discrepancy and the it's no time off your clock!

Accurate scores kept and recorded is one way to avoid the need for a recount, true. Both players could possibly make a mistake though, which is why I'm glad the rules make both players keep score. If someone under- or overestimates a score and it stands, both players are at fault.

@ Dawn: re: the misspoken blank: did you write down the proper blank before you hit your clock? As it stands now, if your opp. hears one and sees another, your opp. must ask you to disambiguate, giving you a chance to say what's on the paper. Of course once you circle it or write it down you should double-check before you hit your clock.

Anonymous said...

Oh, hey, and if your opp. says three wrong scores you get an extra minute- that's bound to keep them on their toes if you mention it after they err the second time or think they are miscounting strategically. I do not claim it will make you friends, but it's also a legal way of putting them off their psychological game.

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Anonymous said...

What do people think of Scrabble Help and Solving sites such as:

Are you guys for or against them? Are they spoiling the game or what?

F-Train said...

Is this blog finally dead? Hooray! One less place I have to comment.

Anonymous said...

You should have started her clock. She griefed you the entire game.

steve fox said...

What position is the common one for blanks so I know not to use it.

Fischel said...

Hmm, upon much consideration, A squared plus B squared =s C squared!

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