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...