Scrabble in the Snow: February Fury in Warren, MI

An "open" Scrabble tournament doesn't divide players into divisions by their rating. This means that the thousandth-something-highest player can end up playing one of the top players in the country. It means that Tina Totten King can end up playing a three-game match against "G.I. Joel" Sherman. This is no Cinderella story, though. I got whupped by Joel Sherman, and rightfully so.

That was last weekend. And despite having zero chance of winning even one of my first three games, that part wasn't so bad. The rest of the tournament, though, was downright dandy.

In what's become a common event, traveling to Michigan for a Scrabble tournament includes a short stopover in the Cleveland area to pick up friends. My usual traveling companions include Dallas Johnson, Pete Ziegler, and George Viebranz. This time we were joined by another Ohio Scrabble player, Kevin McCarthy. There're many advantages to doing things this way. First, it makes the last three-or-so hours of my ride much less lonely. Second, it almost guarantees the rest of the ride will be hee-larious. Them smart people are funny.

During the Warren tournament, I was invited to stay at the home of Steve and Joni Grob who live about 45 minutes from the tournament site. Steve is a good of many I've made in the Scrabble world. Steve's wife Joni is the type of woman other women want to be hang out with...friendly, kind, and smart. The Grob house is a warm, comfortable place and I felt right at home the whole time.

So, after my favorite pre-tournament breakfast on Saturday morning (egg and cheese on croissant from Burger King and a Mocha Joe), we got those three impossible games out of the way and started onward and upward toward the real potential for me that weekend. (By the way, those three games against Joel Sherman: 249-479, 216-550, and 365-461.) For the other 12 of my games, I went 7-and-5, winning three of the four three-game matches. My highest-scoring word: GROUSER (88) against Rob Long. My best game: 509-317 against Dianne Watson.

Having started as 31st seed, I finished in 21st place. For that, my rating went up 72 points!! Another, higher-rated player also finished 10 places above his seed, so the two of us split the $150 prize for that achievment.

And Steve Grob hit quite a stride that weekend. Faced with incredibly tough and talented opponents, Steve won the tournament and a very nice cash prize to go with the bragging rights. Jason Idalski, the tournament's spectacular director, gave a heartfelt, impromptu speech before handing over the envelope. Steve had kind words to say himself and even Joni Grob was able to make it for the prize ceremony.

As always, win-or-lose, traveling to Scrabble tournaments gives me the chance to see my friends, the chance to compete, and the chance to eat all the Pretzel Flipz I can find while laughing my way down the Interstate. The February Fury, though, definitely had some bonus material. It was a good tournament. It was a good weekend.

Oh, man. I've got to go study.

Top - My game against Joel Sherman. I'm the one with the glasses.
Middle - Jeff Clark and me at Saturday's typical group dinner.
Bottom - Jason Idalski reflects on a successful tournament as Steve Grob soaks up a little glory.

P.S. An extra special shout-out to Linda Hoggatt.
Without her, things just wouldn't be as much fun.