Tuesday, October 24, 2006

you changed all the lead sleeping in my head to gold

It's been a massively long time since I've written in this thing, and I wanted to try to get the cobwebs out, so here I am.

To be honest, not much has been going on around these parts. I've been working two jobs and most of my free time is devoted to hockey.

This past weekend, I played in a Scrabble tournament in Raleigh: my second career tournament. I played well enough to take third place in my division, and although I felt like I should have taken second, and could have won, I'm still okay with third.

On the first day, players are randomly placed into groups of four, and they play a round robin. I easily defeated all three opponents (504-251; 441-290; 375-295) and had a cumulative point spread of +484 after three games. Unlike college football, the margin of victory is important. You never call off the dogs when you're crushing someone. You never play "third string" words. By the end of the tournament, cumulative point spread might be a deciding factor in whether you take home any prizes or how your rating changes.

On the second day, eight games are played using a modified Swiss pairing, followed by a king of the hill. I'm still not 100% sure about all the complexities of the modified Swiss system, but it basically means that players go against others players with similar win-loss records. The pairings are re-seeded after each game, and they are based on the previous game. To be more clear: While game six is in progress, the pairings for game seven are posted based on the results of game five. It isn't necessarily the case that winners play winners, but those who are doing well play each other.

So I started game four as the overall #1 seed in my division. I had good games for games 4-6, beating everyone (including both players who eventually finished ahead of me) and building my point spread to a stout +745 after six games. I was drawing well, I was "seeing the board" well, I was bingoing with ease, I was hitting hot spots. I was doing everything right.

In game 7, my opponent, who had a reputation for being an ass (and a bad player), didn't show up. He broke for lunch early. Or he was scared to play me. I don't know. Anyway, I sat there while his timer ran down to zero, earning a forfeit win. I think I would have beaten him by a bunch if we had actually played, but the rules are that a forfeit is a 50 point win. I took it, and at the lunch break I was still undefeated and in first place.

After lunch, there were four more games. As the leaders started to separate themselves from the pelloton, the games got tougher. The people who had ended up in the top four by freak accident got beat down. There would be no more easy victories for me. In those last four games on Saturday, I won two and lost two. One of the losses was bad, but they were both to the guy who ended up winning. Even after losing two, I was still in first place at 9-2. However, I knew it wouldn't be easy to keep it. I knew I would have to play Jeffrey at least one more time. Although I had gone 1-2 against him, I felt like he had an upper hand.

I played the #3 guy, and lost a very close game that went back and forth for the whole game. In the later portion of the game, he played ROUX for 57 points (x on the double letter, the whole thing tripled). He told me later that he would not have known that word except that he was forced to study his list of short words ending in -x after I played ILEX against him for big points the previous day. A well played game for both of us, ending in a 403-383 loss for me.

Next, I played the #4 guy, and had another barn burner. Back and forth for most of the game with a really closed off board. Very late in the game, with a very favorable rack, and in need of a bingo, I took a big gamble playing off a single letter in a place that made my intentions obvious. Because I was tracking the tiles, I knew what was left, and I knew that my opponent couldn't block my set-up (AL - to which I wanted to hook an E). I was left with AEEINR0 . Since I study dorky lists, and memorize mnemonic devices, I knew that my options were to make that blank either a T or a G. If I made it a T, my options were ARENITE, RETINAE and TRAINEE. All of those are very common to Scrabble players. I knew that if I made the blank a G, the only valid seven letter word is REGINAE. The last E hooks on to the aforementioned AL. REGINAE is a pretty uncommon word, and I guessed that it might draw a challenge, which would give me more breathing room. After some consternation, there was no challenge. The play put me barely in the lead. Fortunately, I was able to play off the last three tiles on my next turn, winning the game 412-382.

I was 10-2 and Jeffrey was 11-1. I would have to beat Jeffrey twice in a row to get first place. I would have to win the first game to guarantee a second place finish. I was already locked into no lower than third, but the pressure was on. Jeffrey and I both played poorly, but thanks to a strategic error on my part where I was greedy, I left the door open enough for Jeffrey to win 352-313. Meanwhile, John lost to Mark, leaving me with a chance to finish second.

They tried to make me play Jeffrey again, but I demanded that he be Gibsonized so that I would have a chance to win second place. Jeffrey had already secured first place. The 15th round game was moot for him, so it doesn't make sense for him to play the #2 guy. He could go in collusion with the #2 guy, and lose on purpose, which helps the #2 guy and screws the #3 guy out of his chance. Gibsonizing means that the #1 guy is taken out of the mix. The #2 and #3 guys play each other, and the #1 guy plays the highest seeded person who is out of the money. In this case, there were only three prizes, so he played the #4 guy.

After all that commotion, I lost my final game badly. I got behind by a bunch early and played like a desperate player trying to get it all back on one play.

Still, getting third out of 19 isn't bad. I walked out of there with $90 in prize money, and after all the red tape is taken care of, I'll have a better rating with the NSA than I did before. Most likely, I'll get to play in one more tournament in the low "novice" division before I get moved into the next highest division. The competition will be a bit tougher there, and It'll take me several tournaments to work my way up those ranks. So my last shot to win some money will be in late January in Charlotte.

Up soon : a post about a crazy set of dreams I had on Friday night.

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Bettie Serveert Palomine