The 1500+ rating I built through modest success in Scrabble tourneys in Louisiana and Texas put me squarely in Division 2 of the National Scrabble Championship in Orlando. After Day One I wished they could demote me to Division 3 or lower.
Registration on Friday preceded the tournaments start on Saturday. The walk through the giant hotel and conference center took at least 10 minutes. I was very happy to see another apparent Scrabble player heading toward me as I followed the hotel desk clerk's directions to the Scrabble venue. When I found it I offered to hug the registrar, but settled for a handshake. Registration involved filling out a W-9 form, authorizing the IRS to withhold income tax from my winnings ("ha!"). I also got a cap, T-shirt, and a new Trivial Pursuit game (Hasbro's contribution) in a canvas Scrabble bag. On the way out we found a drop-off point just feet rather than seeming miles from the playing room.
I showed up on Saturday full of enthusiasm, if not new words or recent practice in live games against top competition. My last tournament was the NAST event in Baton Rouge in February. My Game One opponent was Jack from New York. I played him at the New York City Scrabble Club on Christmas night several years ago. He wiped me out then; I did a little better on Saturday. He exchanged seven on the game's first play. The tiles he drew made AVOIDErS on his second play. I came back with TARRIERS and then PAINTeD to take a 22-point lead. Later Jack played the little word UN to create a new opening. I considered blocking, but went with ZA for 33 and a 55-point lead. Bad choice. Jack bingoed with LICENSE and SUN. I still held a 15-point lead with myn response of REVS for 30. My next play cost me the game. Jack put PRE in front of the Z to make PREZ. I considered covering the new opening, but went for ROM at the bottom of the board for 22. Down came QUA for 46 and my goose was cooked, even though LUV left me only 9 back. I had tracked the tiles and should have recognized the danger of QUA being played. Defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. Final score Jack 459; Dave 430. 0-1, -29.
My Game Two opponent was soft-spoken, gracious Wendell from Florida. I played this game entirely from behind after he found ROlAMITE on his third play. RINgERS pulled me to within 7, but my last hope died with he played VANITY on his next-to-last play. Final score - 392-406; overall 0-2, -43.
I played Elspeth (a Scottish variant of Elizabeth), also from Florida. Playing first (though I'm not sure if I was supposed to - the NSA changed to rules for this), I played the easy-to-find RELINED. Elspeth came back a few turns later with MEDIAtE. From there the game stayed with 10 points until I pulled the tiles for QUANTS for 45 and the win - 394-389, a big five points. Overall 1-2, -38.
Game Four with Judy from Massachusetts got off to a similarly auspicious start. After opening with JAMBE for 48 and following with AEDILES for 77, my lead was 151-37. Judy roared back with EROTICAL, PESTERED and WInELIKE* to retake the lead, the latter of which is phony. Having seen so many -LIKE words, I never questioned whether WINELIKE* was good. It turns out that WIrELIKE, playable from the same rack, is good. The game ended soon after my desperation play of EROTICANA, which drew a laugh from Judy as she challenged it off. I told her that it another 20 or 30 years it might make the dictionary - an eroticana being a gun-and-knife-show-like for adult sex toys. In fact, I'm going to Google that "word" and see what happens. Though I didn't get a lot of hits, the word seems to already exist to describe pornography collections. Final score - 378-431; overall 1-3, -91.
My Game Five opponent was Glenda from Oklahoma. I've played her several times in Texas tournaments and usually won the game. In the first half of the game, she got two bingos (ANTENNAS and HASTIER) to my one (OPERATiC). Later she made a beautiful play, front-extending ZED to LIONIZED for 36. I drew the second blank, but couldn't cash it for a game-winning bingo. In fact, the search put me 9 seconds into overtime and cost me another 10 points. Final score 365-441; overall 1-4; -167.
Mike from Florida got the first bingo, ENGORGE, on his second play of Game Six. I spent the rest of the game trying to keep the board open for my own answering play. When I finally played SpOONER* (which is phony; SNOOzER and SNOOpER from the same tiles are good), it was too late. Mike let the play go because he could still win. My tracking was poor and I even let him get TZAR for 23 to go out and catch me with seven points on my rack. Final score 314-373; overall 1-5; -226.
Game Seven against the lovely Joan from New York looked like it would be my salvation for the day. This may have been the game where I landed in the back row ("death row" to some) -- the last line of tables in each division where those at the bottom of the standings battle it out with one another. Although I decided not to play GHIBLIS on the first play (was afraid of misspelling it), everything went beautifully (CURSERS for 83 being the prettiest play) as I built a 290-189 lead. Then I blocked the wrong spot and watched Joan play mANQUE for 72 and AZO for 48, the latter of which I should have seen coming, much like QUA in Game One. Joan converted the second blank into HaD for a modest 22, but enough to win the game. Score 379-392; overall 1-6, -239.
Exhaustion didn't help me much at the end of Game Seven. Almost every game was close and required a lot of thinking. With an ugly 1-6 record, I couldn't get out quickly enough for a post-game beer. Looming on the first game of Day Two would be Connie from Philadelphia, an on-line nemesis from a few years back.