Sunday, December 27, 2009

Scrabble Year In Review Meme (by him)

Tourneys: 28
Games: 269
Wins: 129
Losses: 140
Win %: .480 (sorry, Jason, it's too late for me to be running the LCT vs. fully rated tournaments)
Spread: -3289 (-12.2268 per game -- looks better when expressed that way!)
.500 or better record: 12/28

Rating in: 902
Rating out: 1296 (with Albany yet to come)
Rating peak: 1296
Average Perf Rating: 1067 (raw average) 1101 (weighted by my own method -- ((perf rating times number of games in particular tournament) divided by total number of games played over the year) -- yes, I'm a nerd, but it pays more attention to how I did over a sustained period rather than that dreadful 0-4 performance at a LCT.)
Prize money: approx. $374 -- can't recall how much I won at Independence and South Lyon, and cross-tables doesn't say. And, to quote Jason, thanks Hudson (because it's totally due to the town of Hudson's idiosyncrasies (my girlfriend can spell when drunk) and not due to any director) for it not being a round number.

10 highlights (in chrono. order):
1. Hudson in January: I beat Danny Kidd with STRAWING -- a total guess which turns out to be good. Go on to take sixth place, losing to only one opponent not named Viebranz or Zeigler.
2. Game 1 of the Eastern Championships: 545-230.
3. Chicago: CROSSING ONE THOUSAND. Also, after a sound thrashing by first seed Lindsay Crotty Bahra on Day One, coming back to win against her 432-379 in the last game.
4. Pittsburgh: After losing to Tina Totten King by stupid failure to be confident in the word JACKY, coming back two rounds later to beat her 421-261. (There seems to be a revenge factor here, eh?)
5. Pre-NSC: Studying harder than I've ever studied for anything save the bar exam.
6. NSC in Dayton: Beating #8 seed Denise Mahnken in Round #1 (who I had been absolutely creamed by in Albany.) Having a bye and walking into the playing room, seeing 250 simultaneous games of Scrabble being played at once.
7. Independence, 8/29/09, a date which will live in infamy: winning first tournament. :) Also, beating persistent nemeses Walter K, Stan A, and Midge S. Also, after having a terrible time with it on Zyzzyva, playing COMIX at an opportune time.
8. Hudson (September edition): Being one of Darrin True's two losses on his way to victory.
9. Elyria (October edition): Beating, for the first time EVER, George Viebranz.
10. South Lyon: Girlfriend wanted to go. Convinced ultra-cheap boyfriend to go by agreeing to get up at 5:45 for three hour drive. Was seated sixth. Finished first, only losing to Pat Badgley.

10 lowlights (in chrono. order):

1. 2-4 at Rocky River in February.
2. Losing to Brad Mills in Pittsburgh after opening with a 106 point QUILTING and another bingo on next turn -- I hate blowing losses.
3. Losing to Tina Totten King in Pittsburgh (lesson may be that West Virginians + Pittsburgh = sad Michael) when I wimped out on playing JACKY and thus sealing the win.
4. 1-5 at Rocky River in July. (What the hell was it about the Unitarian Church this year?)
5. 1-5 the following day at PFACT, meaning I had a 2-10 weekend.
6. Hoping to have a strong Toronto to give me a morale boost going into Nationals, and instead going 5-6, including a horror-inducing 204-551 loss to Sharmaine Farini.
7. Going 4-9 in the first two days of the NSC.
8. A Farini-like thrashing at the hands of Harold Stone in the first game on the last day of NSC. (Special thanks to the anonymous player who had told me the first seed wasn't that tough.) Also, failing to block a bingo lane against Ron Barker out of sheer greed, and learning why my dad has always said greed was a terrible thing.
9. A string of losses, both in tournaments and at club, to Dan Stock -- almost none of them respectable. What does this guy eat for breakfast, anyway?
10. Following up a 4.5-2.5 Day One at the Cleveland Triple (Double) Open with a 1-5 Day Two.

Next year: In addition to other various goals I'll come up with later ... More words! More Quackle! A cereal box. If in division 3, winning same. 1500 by 12/31/2010.

Tourneys planned: Albany, Hudson, Seven Hills, maybe Phoenix, Flint, Elyria, Pittsburgh in June (and maybe February), hopefully Michigan Madness (assuming no one close to me dies or gets married on that weekend, thus far an unattainable goal.) Dallas.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Playing Quackle: the best within-an-inch-of-your-life beating you'll ever get

Michael is an attorney working primarily with victims of domestic violence. He never condones people being beaten. I don't either - except when the object administering the beatings is inanimate, impersonal, and causing no physical pain to its victim. Hello, Quackle, my abusive friend!

Our friend Dan recently mentioned that he and his wife have been playing Quackle. I have used Quackle in the retrospective version - lost a game, gonna enter it in to see what I could have done better, esp. with games I feel like I lost narrowly - but decided today to play Quackle and do what Dan had mentioned with it - decide what I'm going to play and then see what it would tell me to play afterwards. I'm already feeling like I'm learning a bunch of cwap, and I've only played two games! Here's what Quackle has taught me thus far:

1. Look at your leave closely. There are a lot of rack-balancing principles out there that can conflict at times, and two that did for me just now are the idea of getting rid of the Q immediately and the idea of leaving as few high-pointed (3 or above) tiles on your rack as you can after a play. With a rack like AEQMTW, am I supposed to get rid of the Q first, or get the MW off my rack and hope for a nice play with a good (but Q-ful) leave? I wanted to be very Q-ful with my treatment of the Q. Quackle liked the leave with the fewer high pointed tiles - AEQT - better than the Q-less leave - MW - that I could have ostensibly had.

2. You might have a bingo. No, really. Look again. I had a rack of ELOPRNS - thought: so close but so far away - BUT there was an open A. Looks promising, and even though I haven't studied it yet, I should have been able to find it - PERSONAL.

3. Better word knowledge will kick your a**, like, every time. I flash back to what our friend Pete said to me once - "The biggest thing for you two right now is word knowledge. The more words you learn, the more strategies become available to you." This is true. Quackle knows all the words in the dictionary, and it very effectively kicks my butt all the way to Florida every time (no, it doesn't. That might actually be pleasant if it did. It's getting coooooold here!!!!)

4. Sometimes I just don't understand Quackle. What good is a leave of Q? after a 28-point play in the middle of a game that opens up a triple?!!?!? Ability to bingo after THAT?! okay, so there are 3 Us left - but there are a heck of a lot of other tiles out there, too, and nobody says I'm gonna get a U! Yes, I know, there are U-less Q bingos, but still - likelihood? Please, enlighten me if you understand, because I'd love to figure this out. (may be tough without the exact game in front of you, though, I know). NOTE: Quackle just bingoed off my open hook to a triple after I followed its advice. And my rack is now DIIQRT?. Stupid self-serving computer program. :-P

Do you play Quackle? What do you get out of it? I tend to get a thorough beating, but (sorry, Michael!) the insights along the way kinda make it worth it.

Monday, September 28, 2009

On winning: her perspective

I had a revelation yesterday at Rocky River club. One of these years, whenever I'm a little above mid-level in a division, I'm going to make myself decide NOT to play up into the next division at a Nationals, and instead to shoot for the win in whatever division I'm naturally placed in. Not because I want the money, or the feeling of superiority that would come from winning at a Nationals, or even the bragging rights - but because I just saw Doug S's absolutely awesome National Champion Scrabble board, and it's one of the cooler things I've ever seen, and eventually before I die I WANT ONE!

And then, after winning it, I would likely be once again filled with the great and righteous fear of the Increasing Rating. Because winning, my friends, is scary.

Saturday's Battle Creek tourney was only 7 games against 7 other players - but after that one day was over, my rating was suddenly an as-yet-undetermined-amount higher. Meaning I'm expected to be that much better of a performer in a tournament, have that much more word knowledge, that much better strategy. And for someone who fully acknowledges that there is a world or two or ten out there of Scrabble knowledge she doesn't have, the need to perform better can seem like a very tall order sometimes.

I will now digress, quickly but necessarily, to say that I am not half as neurotic as the previous two paragraphs make me sound. Focusing on thoughts like those is of no use, so I just Zyzzyva Zyzzyva Zyzzyva and throw some Quackle into the mix and see where doing my best studying lands me in the next tournament. That's all I know to do, and apparently it's suiting me fairly well right now.

High prob 1-1000 7s, 1-500 8s, 5-7 vowel 7s, 5-8 vowel 8s, JQXZ/W/Y/K 5s, and 4 vowel 6s are always on the agenda these days (with 50 or less in each quiz always, happily). I'll add 500-1000 prob 8s tomorrow and hope for the drive to get through 300+ words I may not have seen before in one shot. I should also add 4s, daunting though they seem - maybe I'll start with the FHKWY ones and go from there to higher prob since I know I know the JQXZ ones...

But there is still always so much to learn, and such a gap between the brain of an intermediate and that of an expert. I have read about the occasional expert serving as a "Scrabble mentor" to us intermediates, and I think that would be about the coolest thing in the world to have happen, because who better to teach you what an expert brain thinks during a Scrabble game than someone who actually does think with an expert brain?! One cannot rely on one's brain to learn everything about a subject if one is never taught.

So I will have to disagree with Michael on the essential value of winning: to me, it's rating points (still want to be in MvO next year, however un-reachable that may be) and an invitation/command to continue studying and improving. And with that, why am I still taking time to blog?! Back to Zyzzyva for me!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A few spoonfuls of Division B thoughts: Battle Creek Cereal Bowl

For some, winning is important. For others, including me, winning is kinda scary. Happened to win Division B in yesterday's one-day Battle Creek tournament, and am now invaded with the righteous fear of the most idolized entity in Scrabble, the Increasing Rating. But first, a few highlights from the tourney as I saw it --

1. Had good tiles. Didn't do anything I thought was too dumb, (of course, Quackle will soon disabuse me of that notion, I'm sure) other than playing DECENTER to an open R against an opponent and leaving the D right next to a triple. Thought process being, "There's gotta be a bingo in here! Hey, DECENTER could be good. Anything else? Hmmm, RECENTED* - no...okay, we'll go with this and hope it looks as plausible as I think it does. Hit the clock. Had OH SHIT moment immediately following, realizing CENTERED, you idiot, play CENTERED, and he can't get back at me with a triple word on his next turn. DECENTER gets challenged; I thoroughly doubt myself; have further OH SHIT moment realizing a worse thing than an opponent making a good play after a bingo is losing a turn. But the Scrabble gods like me, DECENTER comes back good, and it's my triple! I'm keeping it!!!!!!! Rest of game goes happily.

*note: apparently DECENTER means both "more decent" (which is what I was thinking when I played it) and "to put out of center/make eccentric". Therefore, it even takes an -S!

2. Strategy was apparently good (in those games, at that time, lol). One feel-good moment for me was in the endgame of my last game. End rack was BELOUVW; opponent's was AOOUS. Close game. This opponent capable of very good thinking and strategy. Had to get out in two to win; opponent had 10 min and I had like 1:30 on my clock. Opponent's turn; she's taking a while. I see BLEW for 28 points or so; hey, that would put me ahead, but what does one then do with a rack like VOU to go out?! (laments one's horribly-lacking knowledge of fours, that's what one does). Please please please there has to be a better play. Suddenly I see the other use of the open R, the double word above, and the double-letter three spaces below: VROUW, 30 points, leaving me with BEL. That's actually a word!!! Could I put it anywhere? Dude - I see two places for BEL, right off the bat. Score!!!! That is, if she doesn't block my spot, the only spot I can really see to secure this for me. She thinks I'm going to play WEB with the B on a triple letter for 28 points or so and decides to block that spot, well away from mine, with AMINO for 9. Yay! I win!

3. Got lucky; several challenges elicited on good words like TRODE, DATARIES, etc., that allowed me to build lead/catch up significantly. I was once told, "Even if you're more than 100 points behind, you still have to try to find a way to win it." Coming from behind is way easier if you happen to run into luck like I did.

4. AND if you take it one play at a time. I'm always telling myself: there is no pressure on you and there is no correct pre-conceived notion about how a game is going to turn out. There's just a rack of letters in front of you and you just need to figure out each time what the best thing you can do with them is. One game at a time. One rack at a time. One play at a time. Without that mentality, I never would have been in the right frame of mind to see that I could come back from being behind 70 points AND being nowhere close to a bingo toward the end of a game. But when your opponent challenges a 30 point play, it's good, and you draw the tiles to make a 36-point play immediately following, suddenly the game seems a lot more winnable.

All in all, I felt like I was as smart as a 1200-ish player (maybe soon to be 1300? rating will be 1285 after this according to one calculation and 1313 according to another...we shall see) can legitimately be on any given day. But the goal in this game, as ever, is to work to be even smarter...more on that in the next blog post!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

On winning

A funny thing happened to me at my last fully-rated tournament. I won.

To wit, I went 11-2 at Dean S's Cornerstone of Hope fundraiser tournament. This was sort of a big deal for me, insofar as I'd never won a tournament before, and doing so was something that was important to me.

Heather and I differ on this. Heather focuses on her ratings, and picking up points, almost to the point of disinteres in whether she wins. She says she doesn't really pay attention until the last few games as to where she is. If she can win, she's pleased; but she's much more excited about gaining points.

To me, winning a tournament was important. I think it may be a guy thing. I had this need to feel like, at one given tournament, a bunch of people showed up and played Scrabble, and for that brief shining moment, I was the best of them.

So there. I was better than all of you. Ha ha.

[end feigned egotism.]

In addition to being an achievement, as well as profitable (and who doesn't mind collecting $150 for one's Scrabble labors?), I also found winning this tournament was somewhat fascinating. I say fascinating, insofar as I learned a great deal about my Scrabble games. Some lessons, below.

1. I can do it: Not just win, but win with a pretty good record. Going 11-2 in a field where I was seeded seventh was quite an accomplishment. I had to work pretty hard to keep from thinking that I couldn't keep it up...but somehow I did.

2. Don't panic: For whatever reason, I did not have the sense of impending doom that sometimes comes over me when someone plays a bingo. It was more a sense of, "I can deal with this." And, usually, I could. Just as surely as my opponent found a bingo, I could usually look to come back with a thirty or forty point play. Speaking of those...

3. Even somewhat insignificant fours help, much though I hate to admit it: I've been studying fours in straight probability order, just to keep things simple. I have found this rather frustrating, insofar as it's often easier to remember a word when you see a random W or F out there, and there are so many potential combinations of letters with just A, E, I, R, U, T. Some anagrams have become the bane of my existence (AOST comes to mind.) But they do come in handy. I think what won me the tournament was a 30 point play with the word GETA in my last game against Walter Konicki. Knowing words does help in this game. And speaking of Walter...

4. Avast, Ye Demons!: If one must be plagued by demons, one could not hope for nicer ones than Midge Skwire, Walter Konicki and Stan Angrist. They are perfectly nice people and fun to play against, but I was a combined 0-4 in tournament games against them going into this tournament. Both Midge and Stan kept the games close to the end and probably took a few years off my life. Walter, however, was in a class by himself. I won a thriller in our first game on Saturday; lost our second game on Sunday; and won the battle for first place against him right aftrewards. I have a lot of respect for all three of these folks as players, and it was a personal accomplishment to be able to hold my own against them.

5. Stupid Mistakes Can Come True, It Can Happen To You: Everyone makes mistakes. I just am not in favor of the ones where you want to bash your head in again. Such as tracking that all the O's were gone, deciding there was no chance of being hurt with the J in position next to the triple word score, and then kicking myself when my opponent used the blank. Oh, duh...

Winning was a lot of fun; I also had moments where I felt I was looking at the board in a different way and playing better than ever. Can I keep up with my new rating of 1081? (1083 after last night's club tournament?) Stay tuned...

Friday, July 10, 2009


And once again, we have been horribly delinquent about blogging. Horrible busy-ness is once again the culprit here...Michael and I both had crazy times at our jobs and had put blogging and studying both on the back-burner!

But no longer. Nationals is coming up, I'm free for the summer, things are calm for the moment for Michael, and we're kicking it into gear. With $2500 up for grabs for me in D3, and $1500 for the taking if Michael can bring it to the D4-ers, we really can't not step it up and immerse ourselves in tiles, mnemonics, and stems!

Even I - the cardbox shunner - have been Zyzzyva-ing it till I feel like my brains are going to fall out. Eternal thanks go out to Kevin C, Mike E, and Pete Z for the input on how to prepare for Dayton, and even more eternal thanks go out to George V for not only providing input but offering to sit down with Michael and me and go through games with us.

I feel like I've reached the general point I can get to being a Scrabble player who doesn't study and has the strategy and the words I currently have. My rating hasn't changed much in the past months, and I refuse to be a 1200-something player forever. Enter - high prob sevens, eights, power-tile-fives, three-to-make-four-hooks, and four-and-five-vowel sevens and eights!

I have a really obscure, probably unreachable goal for the next year, which is to gain the 3-to-4-hundred rating points I'd need to get on the Ohio team for Michigan v Ohio. (Disclaimer: Even if by some miracle I pull this off, you WILL NOT EVER catch me wearing Ohio State gear! Hail to the Victors!) Not sure if I can do it - that's a lot of ground to cover in a year, and a 1200 player is a very different player from a 1600 - but it's one of those where I may as well set the goal, and if I don't achieve it I'll get closer to it and will just keep plugging away. But it's even more motivation to study, as if I needed that right now ;-)

I did spelling bees back in middle school...studied like mad...and this totally feels like the same deal. You look at words till your eyes go blurry, but every word you get in your brain is increased confidence and another tool in your arsenal at show-time. And it is T minus 22 days till show-time!

So here's my poll of the general Scrabble world at large: Are you going to Nationals? Are you playing up at all? How, if at all, have you been studying? Has your studying increased as Nationals is getting closer?

Would love to hear everyone's feedback about studying - hope everyone is having a blast as NASPA tournaments start and Scrabble fever continues!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Here We Come A-Quackling

You will be happy to know that, contrary to what you might have thought from the lack of activity from this blog, that the Scrabble couple has not:

  • died (old Scrabble players never die, they just constantly draw a blank.)
  • retired from Scrabble (perish the thought!)
  • broken up (ditto!)

We've just been incredibly busy. So, a quick update on our doings:

1. Elyria: Ah, the Burning River Blowout. Always a fun tournament. Heather finished first, 11-4 with a +666 spread. (Yes, 666. I'm not quite sure what to make of it, either.) My record also included a 4 and 11, although not quite in the same position. It was enough to make me wonder if I shouldn't be out campaigning with Pete Zeigler instead of playing Scrabble. Heather goes from 1037 to 1061. I meanwhile go from 900 to (eeeghh) 829. Sigh. 829. Alas.

2. Rocky River Local Club Tournament (aka Stockjobber:) How does a Scrabble player celebrate his birthday? With a Scrabble tournament, of course. Initially, this was supposed to be an unrated, just-for-fun tournament, but at the last minute, Dan Stock asked if we wanted to make it a local club tournament. A good time was had by all. I played decently, if predictably, losing to the aforementioned Mr. Ziegler, Jeff Clark, Mauren Kennerk (no good draws whatsoever); Heidi Nemeth, and Kevin McCarthy. (Let's just say this about my game with Kevin: Some day, somewhere, someone will play the word CLOGGIER on you. You will think you should challenge it. Don't.) However, I did manage to beat Cecilia Huber twice, which I consider an accomplishment as I consider Cecilia a pretty strong player (whom I had never to this point managed to beat in a tournament.) I gain six ratings points.

Meanwhile, Heather is awesome (but I could have told you that), beating both Messrs. Zeigler and McCarthy despite being significantly lower ranked than them, and gaining ten ratings points.

3. Battle Creek Cereal Bowl: I go 3 and 4 in Division C, for those of you keeping score at home.

Meanwhile, Heather gets "knocked up" to Division B as the tenth seeded player in a 10-person division. This does not deter her from going 6-1 (or 6 and Knapp, if you like) and winning the division. And picking up 150 ratings points. And getting to 1220. And no longer being a novice. And having a boyfrend who randomly exclaims for the rest of the weekend, "1220! Do you realize what you just did?!"

OK. So one half of the Scrabble couple has this game down pat.

That would leave me. I am absolutely thrilled for Heather and couldn't be prouder. I would like to eschew mediocrity.

So, here's the thing. It's not that I think my word knowledge is lacking. While I woudn't pretend my word knowledge is stellar compared to even midlevel players, I am satisfied with my studying and my learning words. It seems my strategy is off.

Enter Quackle. Quackle is a program where you enter your racks, your plays, and your opponent's plays, and the computer suggests what it would have done. The hope is you learn why. It's very interesting -- and a little intimidating. It's not so bad when you see words you didn't know (for instance, I had no problem in having missed SUASION the other day -- I didn't know the word) but it is a little scary when you realize the plays you missed wth words you know.

Anyway, I just started. One of the challenges is that you have to keep track of your racks so that you can tell the computer what you have, and it can tell you what you missed. I started doing that tonight at club, and have already noticed that it tends to focus your mind for both looking at your rack and tile tracking. Anyone else noticed this?

As a side benefit, I'm also hoping this wil allow me to provide a slightly better overview of my games for this blog when I play in the Cleveland Classic this weekend. (Heather has a friend visiting in Ann Arbor and will thus be unable to attend. I will miss her, and will probably have to fill my Saturday night...I don't know, perhaps blogging about how I did???) It's fifteen games, which makes me really happy. I like the longer form tournaments.

PS: Speaking of which, it was decided tonight: The Scrabble Couple is headed for Albany. What better place to spend New Years? :)