Brief Scrabble Report – MSI Prague

Can’t seem to start on my homework, so I guess I’ll do this instead.

The Tournament

It’s always nice to play in an international tourney for its atmosphere – I’m one who enjoys talking about games, moves and words in general so I don’t think I’ll get tired of the scene anytime (or is it any time? Please pounce on this, grammar Nazis) soon. The venue was very spacious, and the scheduling was fine for me (though some players didn’t like having 10 games in a day). I didn’t stay in the hotel so no comments on that.

There are a few things which can be improved, for sure. Providing water is almost a necessity in tournament Scrabble (survived on the first day thanks to John Chew and tap water). Not having all the mind sports games in one room is a hopeful suggestion, as I do know players who were affected by dice shaking sounds (backgammon). I imagine the backgammon players might have been affected by tile rattling sounds too! Lastly, situating the scoreboard some distance away from the playing area might help in reducing disturbances to ongoing games, especially when other players leave the room and start talking about their games in front of the scoreboard.

Some suggestions for the “intelligent” board (don’t know what its official name is, tbh it wasn’t really a factor in attracting me to the tournament), which I got to play on a couple of times. As mentioned many times, it’s not ergonomically suited for tournament Scrabble – apart from the distance from the board to the player, the height of the table could be brought down a little. The racks are not really suited for holding tiles – I had tiles drop off the rack two or three times. It’s not obvious where the boundaries of the racks are so I misplaced them a few times.

During the games, I did hear sounds from the ongoing commentary, though I didn’t know what was being said – still, it constantly reminded me that my moves were being seen, and worse, that my moves were being scrutinised. Another minor comment is that I couldn’t have my water bottle on the table – I normally want to put it on the top of the table so it doesn’t look suspicious when I’m reaching to drink some water. I guess doing anything suspicious under live TV would probably be caught anyway…

The Scrabble

This is one of the hardest tournaments I’ve played in terms of opponents, and I’m ambivalent about my performance. While I generally think I played decently for the first two days, things changed rather dramatically on the last day. I threw my first game of that day away (against Michael McKenna), lost a game on recount to Sam Kantimathi (might have been able to do slightly better in the endgame, not sure if I want to analyse the board in case it does show I could have won), mistracked against Adam Logan (explaining LAWIn when b(E)WAIL would have done the job perfectly fine – thought he might have had SEP(A)LOID) and failed to challenge his phony (though that was a blessing in disguise – he told me that he would have had COADMIR(E) if I’d played the E, which was likely in that situation), phonied twice against Kevin McMahon and failed to block his out bingo (and still won undeservedly), made several unforgivable errors against Alastair Richards (all on camera!) and had a probably unwinnable rematch against Sam Kantimathi (will analyse). I’m certainly unhappy about how the last day went, and I think I was very fortunate to win money at the event, if only because of a slightly odd prize allocation system, rewarding the 7th seed for coming in 10th.

I would attribute part of the problems I faced on day 3 to an incredibly large gap in word knowledge versus my opponents – I haven’t been doing words for any regular period of time, pretty much since I started university a year ago. Though I have still been active in tournament and online play I’ve mostly just been recording words I haven’t seen before, and not taking time to review them. Not knowing/ seeing the words puts me at a massive disadvantage against those who do (pretty much all my opponents this tournament). I’ll need to hit the books if I want to perform well in another international.

The other reason, I would like to think, is the immense pressure I faced throughout nearly all my games. This is my tournament record – my highest winning spread was +137, and highest losing spread -93 (against none other than Nigel). Almost all of my games were close, and I only had 3 games going above 100 spread (should have been 4, but I made a large error versus Kevin McMahon). Surprisingly, my highest margin was clocked against Elie Dangoor, on this board.

I usually have more games with large winning/ losing margins. I don’t think it was the opponents, since that can’t explain the low losing margins. Nor did I purposely choose vexatiously blocky moves (except against Elie; though Helen did seem rather affected when I played marginally blockier moves to protect my lead). Either way, almost all my games were neck and neck at some point, and I faced quite a few difficult pre-endgame decisions (including a very interesting one against Nigel – I think I played the right move but didn’t get what I wanted – please comment or tell me privately if you want me to post it up). I think the stress might have gone to my head at some point, and affected many of my choices towards the end. Playing on live telecast didn’t help at all (especially when you CAN hear sounds from the ongoing commentary – I expect a more acute listener may be able to pick out some words) – I think I was having a terrible time against Alastair, as onlookers could probably tell from my facial expressions. I also think I would not have chickened out of YUMPS over so many turns if I wasn’t on camera, but that’s said only on hindsight.

On the bright side, I did get down a number of decent words, including EP(I)THEMA, FRAMP(O)lD (FiR(E)DAMP was also playable but lower-scoring), YPERITE, PAENUlA(E) and ScIOLOUS (after a misspelling, so no pride there). Also a number of misses, but those are again due to lack of study. Going off to tour Prague now – may continue later, but probably not. That turned out not to be so brief in the end…

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