Kanawha Valley Scrabble Club Tournament, Sept. 2011

Guess what. I played in another Scrabble tournament. Yep. You didn't think I would, did you? But I did.

Truth be told, I've wanted to get back into tournament play for a long time now. But life has been a little crazy the last couple of years. There've been a lot of changes and Tina doesn't take well to change. It makes her hide out, socially speaking, and speak of herself in the third person. BUT...I've been studying. And I've been playing lots of expert players online which, in addition to constant trouncings, has given me lots and lots of exposure to good strategy and great words. Plus, I actively seek out advice from these top-rated players and they've all given me helpful pointers that I've integrated into my play (as much as possible with my level of experience).

SO... back to the tournament. Last weekend I played in the Kanawha Valley Scrabble Club's 6th annual tournament in Charleston. As always (except for that one time), I played in the bottom division but I was seeded third, behind Martha Keaton Mills and Joe Larson. I felt good about this because when I find myself seeded low in a tournament, that means there's a good chance I would get beaten so often and badly that it ends up being an emotionally-trying experience. And being seeded third meant I might be able to win some cash!

As I walked into the tournament Saturday, I was in my usual state of late. I was happy, living in the moment, thinking about today and not worrying about the past or the future too much, keeping my spoon in my own bowl, so to speak. I was sleep-deprived because, as I've always said, I'm a night owl living in a daytime world. But I had Claratin-D on board to combat my allergies which makes an interesting partner for sleep deprivation. I saw many of my old friends, gave them hugs and hellos, I met some new friends, and enjoyed all this immensely. And here's what happened next:

Game 1 against Stephanie Howard: What a start. Things just really lined up for me in this game. I drew J, K, X, and three of the S's and managed to play MIDSIZE (72) and some word I can't read in my own handwriting that ends in "ATED" for 80... and I was able to consistently put down 30- and 40-point plays. That game ended 447 (me) to 235 (Stephanie). Starting with a spread of +242 felt nice.

Game 2 against Joe Roberdeau: Now this one was a first for me. I got stuck with the Q but almost won. I fought and fought and fought for this game. Although our draws were fairly balanced, I was unable to get a bingo down but Joe was able to play RIOTER(S) (63) and LANTERN (63). I drew the Q late in the game and wasn't able to play it but I kept an eye on what I knew his remaining tiles to be and tried my darnedest to play out with enough points to absorb the 20-point deduction for the Q. In the end, our score before deductions was 381 (me) to 374 (Joe) so I lost by 13 points. Oh, well. I was proud to have not given up. I felt like a trooper. Score card: 1-1, + 229

Game 3 against Betty King: Not a lot happened in this game. I challenged WINTERER (65) and lost a turn... and that alone is probably why I lost by 18 points. STILL, I was happy. I still felt good. I was still playing Scrabble and that makes for a good Saturday. Score card: 1-2, + 211.

Game 4 against Rob Stanton: I wasn't able to bingo in this game but I was able to draw well and optimize the value of those letters. I drew J, Q, Z, and one of the S's and my plays of DARKER (45), AZINE (52), QUIVER (38), and JATO (52) shot me ahead for a 67-point win. How was I able to get 52 points from JATO? I hooked it onto QUIVER (for AQUIVER) with JATO running across the TWS. Score card: 2-2, +278.

Game 5 against Janice Hatton: My play of FIERIER (70) drew a challenge here and I was also able to play PALTRIER (74). Despite a balanced draw, Janice wasn't able to get a bingo down. Score card: 3-2, + 362.

Game 6 against Victoria Bledsoe: I tried to sneak by with MORRADER* which was goofy, I know, but it was very early in the game and I was feeling reckless. Other than that, an average game in which I played ARMORED (85) and Victoria played DESTINES (74). In the end, 393 TTK vs. 345 VB. Score card: 4-2, + 410.

Game 7 against Rafael Barker: I get to play Raf more often than other players. Not only is he a local club member, but we've been known to get together outside of club to play a few games. I tend to feel like he usually beats me but I think, in actuality, we're pretty even. During this particular encounter, I played INLANDER (58) and SPARING (89) and successfully challenged off Raf's play of ZOD late in the game (an effort to get rid of the Z he'd drawn late), leaving him stuck with it. Final tally: 408 me, 334 Raf. Score card: 5-2, +484.

Game 8 against Chris Ross: Ah, Chris. Another local club member and someone I really like. And although Chris and I drew pretty equally this game, I had a couple of helpful moments. I played STANDUPS (68) which drew a challenge and played SNIGGER (68). I kept the board locked down pretty well otherwise and Chris was unable to get a bingo down. In the end, it was 366 (me) and 307 (Chris). Score card: 6-2, +543.

Game 9 against Zosima ("Leah") Gingerich: Leah, Leah, Leah. I can never beat Leah! And nothing changed here. Although I got away with DINNERED* (62) and stayed consistently on Leah's tail, I was never able to catch up. Turned out to be 347 Tina to 366 Leah. Score card: 6-3, +524. (Cute picture of us in pink: to the right.)

So at the end of Day 1, I had a very respectable W/L and a great spread because my wins had been significant and my losses generally close. I walked away feeling really, really... accomplished ...and, after a delicious dinner at Bluegrass Kitchen with, among others, Andy Murphy, Alex Greenman, Stephanie Howard, Lynne Crowley, and Joe Larson, I felt full, satisfied, smiley, and ever-so-slightly buzzed. I went home, didn't study, and fell into a happy sleep by 11:00. I felt fully ready to face Day 2:

Game 10 against Stephen Henney: Lucky game for me here! I was first to play and was able to put down IDIOTIC for 72 points. Later I played REAVOWS (70) which drew a challenge. I also drew the K, Q, X, and Z and was able to play them for a decent number of points. All that put me out of reach for my opponent and our final score was 394-350. Score card: 7-3, + 568.

Game 11 against Shirley Perman: I had heard that Shirley wasn't having a great tournament so I tried to approach this game with special sensitivity. (Hey, I've been there. I know what it's like to keep getting beat for two or three days in a row. It's hard on the spirit.) Still, I had to play my best game of Scrabble while trying to be a sensitive opponent. I played TEENIER (63) and RELAPSES (72) and drew the J, K, Q and Z and, interestingly, was able to play out my last six tiles with a disconnected 8 of REUnITeD (for 9 points but it's rare that I'm able to play disconnected words). Shirley did get by with PROTHERS* (65) but it was late in the game and, although that play put her within 36 points of me, I had the Q and the Z on my rack still, with an opportunity to play the Q for a lot of points, and didn't want to risk losing a turn. We ended up at 445 Tina and 345 Shirley. Score card: 8-3, + 668.

In between games 11 and 12, I learned that Joe R., the player who had been in first place, had lost a game which moved me from third place to second and moved Raf Barker to first. And therein lay my opportunity to take first place in my division. To do this, I needed two things to happen. I needed to win against Joe R. in our upcoming game...and I needed Raf Barker to lose a game. Raf was 9-2 but my spread was pretty much out of reach for any other player. Suddenly my joy over second place was...strangely...a little dulled. If I could take first place, it would be my first first place in a tournament. And that was something I reallly wanted. Although I felt suddenly different, I didn't feel unhappy or nervous or like my play would be affected. The entire tournament, I had felt focused and I felt such clarity and fluidity in my thoughts. I know the sensation well and recognize the buzz of it instantly. And it feels so splendid. In fact, I'm so mentally "on" when that feeling hits, I knew I would not choke in my last two games. If the tiles were right, I would do right by them. So I kept moving forward.

Game 12 against Joe Roberdeau (again): I have to admit, I went into this game feeling ayy-okay. Joe was really burning it up this tournament but we'd seen that he could be beaten. I did have a small thought that, since I had won two already this morning, I might be up for a loss which would have put first place (and maybe even second place) out of my reach. But I was able to play MEANIES (78), STRINGS (73), and URINOSE (69) over which I racked my brain for minutes. I just didn't see URINOSE for the longest time. His play was taking minutes, too, so I kept hoping he would throw down an S so I could play NEUROSIS. He didn't. And right before I was about to burn off three or four letters, I saw URINOSE. I had played that word before but sometimes you just don't see words on your rack. (I find it helps to either move the tiles around on my rack or the just relax for a second and let the letters float freely in my mind's eye.) But, anyway...phew! Final score: 412 (me) to 281 (Joe). Score card: 9-3, +799.

And Raf won his game. And that meant it literally came down to the very last game for Raf and me. Whomever won our game would take first place in our division. Whomever lost our game would take second. Raf and I get along very well and we respect each other...so we shook hands, wished each other luck, and got the party started.

Game 13 against Raf Barker: The decision maker. All right, I'm just going to come right out and say it. I just could NOT get any good play down on this board. Both Raf and I played bingos for our final plays (he with SIGNEES (68) and me with RIOTOUS (74) to bingo out) but, other than that, nothing special really happened. He was just able to consistently play small, higher-scoring words than mine and those points added up. I was never in the lead and, in the end, he had 448 points to my 304. I had taken second place and Rafael first. Sigh.

Raf was happy...as he should have been. He was excited...all smiles and chatty about the game and the scores and our records and all those very normal things to talk about after a round of Scrabble. And I was deflated. Me being me, I knew exactly how I felt and why I felt it and I was most definitely able to put it into words. I looked at Raf and I said, "I'm a really good loser but I'm so disappointed. I just need a few minutes to let that feeling dissipate." Raf immediately recognized that, as happy as he was with his victory, I was just as sad about first place slipping away from me. He smiled and was gracious and understanding and went to another part of the room to chat while I put my board and supplies away.

Sure enough, 20 minutes later I was able to smile genuinely as I accepted my second place prize. And 20 minutes after that I was able to smile and enjoy myself as I sat having a late lunch at Pies and Pints with Raf and with some of the Pittsburgh players before they got on the road.

So it was a good tournament. A GREAT tournament. And I cannot wait to do another one.

As for this blog post, I'm not so sure it's that great. I'm sorry it's long and ends sort of abruptly. I'm out of practice with writing, you know? Give me time. Time for blogging and time for tournaments.