Sunday, October 26, 2008

2008 Triangle Tarheel Trifecta

Posted by Brad Mills
Tina, Martha, and I ventured down to my old stomping grounds - Durham, North Cackalacky - for the Triangle Tarheel Trifecta. This event is in its fourth year, and although attendance has taken a hit the last couple of years, it's fun for me because I get to visit the old neighborhood and see how quickly everything has changed.

The Triangle reminds me of playing SimCity when everything is clicking and you can basically lay down the infrastructure you need whenever and wherever you want, because every time I visit something is different. Likewise, the Trifecta is adapting to change as well. Since attendance at this event has fallen, the three planned divisions were consolidated into two. Also missing this year was the karaoke competition - in its place was a trivia contest.

This event is called the trifecta because in addition to Scrabble and the trivia contest, there is an after-hours poker tournament. If you manage to win all three events, you've won the trifecta and your entry fees and hotel bill are on the house. To date, no one has pulled off this feat.

So - on to the Scrabble action. I was rated high enough to qualify as the 8th seed in the consolidated top division and my traveling compadres were in the lower division. The players in the top division had ratings ranging from 1037 all the way up to 1575. I've won against a player rated 1740 before, so although I knew it was feasible for me to hold my own here, I really didn't expect to excel, and hoped instead to win the five or six games predicted by cross-tables and essentially break even.

Friday evening: Two wins put me at 2-1 with a positive spread. One of these wins was against a 1558. That gave me a lot of hope. I made a half-assed attempt at the trivia contest, followed by the realization that trivia just ain't my cup of tea anymore, followed by a late dinner with Martha and Tina.

Saturday morning: One win puts me at 3-4. Still hanging on at this point, and remaining cognizant that I just wanted to meet expectations. So all I needed to do was get this same record again for the rest of the tournament to stay even. No problem! Lunch with Martha, Tina, and Stan "the man" Angrist.

Saturday afternoon: Undefeated over four games, which made my record 7-4 and catapulted me into third place. I loved every single one of these games for different reasons, elucidated below.

Game 8: Marina Villena and I both ran our clocks down to exactly zero, which I've never heard of anyone doing before - and we each got a picture of this because of its rarity.

Game 9: Squeezed out a slim 5-point win against Liz Gottlin by finding AXON for 11 instead of settling for several other places to score only 4 points. I learned this lesson the hard way at the 2007 Players Championship against Will Scott, where he beat me by one point because I didn't look for the ever-elusive better spot. In fact, I have a picture of that board hanging up in my cube at work as a reminder to never give up.

Game 10: The first opponent I faced at the first Trifecta in 2005 was Cathy Poole, and it was a pleasure to see her again. In the 2005 Trifecta, we had a 457-440 game which netted me a high loss prize. I proposed that when we faced each other this time, we should just call it a tie and go have a beer. She seemed agreeable to the idea, but when the designated time arrived, she was ready to play. At first it looked like she was going to run away with it this time too, but I stayed within striking distance, got on the upswing when she challenged FRIGGED, then sealed the deal with ARMY for 42 and INTRANET for 77. Bruce Shuman was sitting next to us and he kibbitzed afterwards, saying these were both excellent plays. "Unfortunate for me, because we play next!" he kvetched.

Game 11: I visited Bruce in Wilmington when our club was quite young to see how things worked in other areas. I was fairly surprised that I was the only attendee that evening, so we got in a couple of games and made the best of it. I've been looking forward to playing him again since then, because I've arguably picked up a little bit of skill at this game over the last few years. Bruce informed me he was on a severe losing streak, and really didn't expect to win if I continued playing the way I had been this evening. I certainly didn't want to let him down, so I kept him below 300 points and kept the streak going.

In the after-hours, Robb Griffith stopped by to say hello and play a quick game with me, Tina ordered some pizza, wine, and bruschetta for us and got in a game with Jesse Inman, and Bruce turned his luck around by winning the poker tournament.

Sunday morning: I calculated my rating as of Saturday night and was pleased to find that not only had I broken 1200, but I was in the 1240s. I ran a worst-case scenario of me losing the rest of my games just to see where things ended up, and it looked like I was going to gain points regardless of what happened over the rest of the tourney. But the way things had shaken out, I was holding onto third, was in contention for a money spot, and had no intention of slacking.

I faced Marilyn Pomeroy in round 12 because she had a chance of knocking me out of contention. I could tell she was vowel-heavy based on the words she was playing, and halfway through the game I'd picked up a lead of almost 200 points. She turned it around a little bit with BEAUTIES for 63 and QUARE for 54, but it was too far gone at that point and I ended up +101 over her.

Round 13 put me against the top seed, Gerry Greenside. Gerry had given me a good and proper ass-beating when we'd faced each other earlier, but our brief post-mortem indicated he'd drawn the bag on me. So we figured out the firsts and seconds, and it was on. This is the part where I'm thankful to have studied the 4s, because I played LYCH for 36 and got a challenge out of him. Having previously played QUEAN for 34 and QINDAR for 32, his lost turn gave me an advantage. Playing aggressively paid off here too. QINDAR left an S-hook opening on the triple column, and I grabbed it after his challenge with JUS for 47. "Shit, that hurts," he said. And it turned out to be the game winner. We traded bingos before it was over and I ended it with a 75-point advantage.

In the penultimate round I faced Francis Anum, who was in first place and had stayed there throughout most of the tournament. If I knocked him down I could feasibly move into second or first place, but since I'd already played him, I knew from experience it would be a fight. I fought well but ended up losing by about 30 points.

Last round. Francis's win over me clinched first place for him, so he wasn't a factor in what was to follow. In second place, Gerry Greenside... and in third, me. Finishing out the top five were Susan Bertoni and Marilyn Pomeroy, who played each other. Susan had enough spread points to knock me out of third place if she won, and if I beat Gerry I could take second. So I played Gerry to see who would get second place, and I hoped that Marilyn could beat Susan and therefore keep her out of contention.

This was a fantastic game for me, and I held onto a slim lead until three turns from the end when Gerry played WHITEST for 81. I stayed close by responding with KINDLY for 48, so he wasn't out of the woods yet. Unfortunately I had a lot of junk on my rack, but I saw a primo spot where I could play GAZOO for 65 and possibly win. (A better play was GYOZA for 84, which I didn't see until afterwards.) Gerry picked up his tiles, and in his next to last turn, put down GREED for 40 in the spot I was eyeing (simultaneously blocking the GYOZA spot). I noticed, however, that he'd made HD* as one of his parallel 2-letter words. I tried to remain calm as he reached for the timer.... then, his hand stopped. And... he shifted all the letters in his play over one space, thereby lining everything up properly and completing the play.

I had a good ten minutes left on my clock at that point, but it was over, I knew it, and he knew it. After I let five minutes go by while I studied the board, I said, "Well shit." I looked up at Gerry and he nodded his head. After searching a little longer, I put down ZAG for 36, but it wasn't nearly enough for the win, and I really needed that win.

So I was in third place, maybe, depending on how the game between Marilyn and Susan ended. They were playing next to us, but since this was also a money game, I walked outside so as not to disturb them. After a bit Martha joined me. I filled her in on what was happening - that a third place finish for me was in the balance. Francis came out shortly thereafter, board in hand, taking it to his car. He saw us and came over to fill me in - "They're finishing up now... I believe you got third place."

Sure enough, Marilyn had beaten Susan, which got me third place, a prize of $150, and a shiny new estimated rating of 1267. That's not official yet, but tsh is pretty accurate, so that's probably about right. To put it in perspective, that's about 300 points higher than I was around this time last year.

One of the topics Stan, Tina, Martha and I discussed at lunch was the infeasibility of continuous growth. The context was the housing bubble and the credit crunch our country is facing, but it's got to apply to Scrabble ratings as well. Am I really 1267 good? That's "I could maybe beat Jeff Cook" good. Lexington is one week away... I guess we'll see if I stay there.

Now that my completely self-indulgent recap is finished - and I apologize profusely for that - I want to give public props to Tina, who has been galavanting all over the country and playing in tournaments weekend after weekend. Tina has played in 11 tournaments since March, which is about one every two or three weeks - and this was her fourth consecutive weekend. I just want to recognize this out here in front of the whole Internet and make sure everyone knows how proud we are of her for that.

So let's do this all over again next weekend, shall we?


  1. We're proud of you, Brad!

    And thanks for the props. I left Durham feeling more satisfied than I had after most of the tournaments. Though the first five or six games were real let-downs for me, the rest of them played out much more as I would hope.

  2. Apparently Martha's rendition of "Dust In the Wind" in 2006 raised the bar so high they realized no one would ever reach those lofty heights again. :)


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