Why Don’t We Just Play Bingo?

Note from Daiva: The following entry is written by my husband, Marty Gabriel. I am swamped with work and haven’t had much time to play Scrabble, including Facebook Scrabble (sorry if you’ve been waiting 28 days for my move.) Marty will be a guest blogger. He is an expert at the game and is also pretty insightful and funny. I’m proud at his attempt at blogging, and even prouder that he’s mastered the fewer-less distinction.

The Elmhurst Thanksgiving Scrabble tourney is over and I’m receiving the first place envelope containing $250 that goes to the champion of the Collins division.  I’ve won my last three games to finish with an 8-4 record and am surprised to have surpassed the early leader in the division, who has ended with four straight losses. I’m happy, but somewhat embarrassed about this unexpected outcome. After suffering through a couple of shellackings earlier in the day, I’d been careful to complement the victors, Melissa Routzahn and Bill Rexhausen, on their well-played games, but I’d also bemoaned a sustained period of exceptionally unlucky drawing spanning nearly fifty games that began in London during the recent World Scrabble Championship. Before my tenth game in Elmhurst, a rematch with Bill, I’d thwacked my tile bag against the wall next to my seat in a semi-comic attempt to knock some luck into it more loudly than I’d intended, causing heads to turn. “I’m amazed and thrilled to have won the tourney, but I know I won’t be getting the sportsmanship award,” I sheepishly admit at the CSW awards ceremony. Melissa likes this remark enough to post it on Facebook.

In London I’d drawn twelve fewer blanks than my opponents in the twenty-four game main portion of the WSC and ten fewer blanks in the fourteen game follow-up tourney for WSC also-rans who hadn’t qualified for the eight player WSC playoff to determine the world champion.  I’d also had fourteen fewer esses in those thirty-eight games. When I grumbled to Daiva about this, she responded, “Yes, and you’ll continue to draw like this the rest of your life.” After I drew just one blank in my first four games at Elmhurst her remark appeared prophetic.

The leave simulator at www.cross-tables.com , the go-to site for serious Scrabble players, lists the true value of a blank at 28 points and the true value of an ess at 8.5 points for international dictionary play (CSW). Each is actually slightly more valuable in CSW than in standard North American dictionary play (TWL). I was very encouraged to have had the eleventh highest scoring average in the WSC, pleased to have finished in 37th place with a 13-11, +446 record in that event, and satisfied to have finished  7-7, +55 in the follow-up, considering my lack of primo tiles. Top rated Nigel Richards, universally acknowledged as the greatest Scrabble player of all time, won the follow-up tourney after shockingly finishing in eleventh place in the marquee event. One can only imagine the kind of tiles he’d endured.

Back in Illinois I’d explained what transpired to my parents, who enjoy following the major tourneys online. My mother suspected foul play. ” What about that Dave Wiegand? How come he never has a bad tourney?” she asked. I explained why Dave is beyond reproach; his annotated games show an extraordinary ability to play nearly flawlessly extremely consistently. And, like Nigel, he’s a good sport.

Good sportsmanship in Scrabble is manifest in many ways: scrupulously following the rules, congratulating an opponent following a loss, being gracious in victory, not disturbing players at other boards, and not complaining about one’s tiles. Former national and world Scrabble champion, Brian Cappelletto, my mentor ten to fifteen years ago, was extremely conscientious about playing properly, unfailingly  gracious in victory or defeat, and appropriately stoic during stretches of poor drawing. He also displayed a keen sense of humor. “Why don’t we just play bingo,” he’d say to players who whined about bad tiles.

Being down twenty-eight blanks over a stretch of three tourneys wouldn’t have elicited a peep from Brian, but he wasn’t oblivious to the role that luck can play in Scrabble. When I asked him if he’d drawn poorly after he’d disappointingly finished fourth at the 1996 NSC in Dallas, he recalled having a stretch of seven straight games without a blank and how he’d been fortunate to have won three of them. He added that winning two out of five such games would be about as well as one could expect to do usually. But he typically disdained conversations about luck. My demeanor has improved over the years, as I’ve tried to emulate Brian, but I’m still prone to vent toward the end of a prolonged drawing drought.

Showing a sense of humor is easier, though, especially when I’m playing an amiable opponent. Following his lopsided win, Bill begins our second game by wishing me good luck. I am taken aback by this and ponder my response. I don’t want to respond in kind because that would be disingenuous. Bill has had good luck already and he’s used it to kick my ass. Now it’s my turn. If Bill was a low-rated and relatively unskilled player and we were playing a mere club game, I might wish him good luck, hoping to have a more competitive and interesting game, but this is different. “I won’t insult you by wishing you good luck,” I say.

At an adjacent board a player chuckles. The player had lost twice to Bill the previous day and posted a somewhat unflattering message on Facebook, regarding his frustration at losing to Bill, a lower rated player. I’d heard about it later that night and told Bill in the morning I thought he was quite underrated and mistakenly disparaged. Bill and I were scheduled to play back-to-back games a couple hours later and I feared emboldening him beforehand, but encouraging him seemed appropriate; I think Brian would have approved.

So my remark has added meaning. To emphasize my point I explain to Bill that because he’s such a good player, I cannot sincerely wish him good luck.

“Let us not come to fisticuffs,” I say instead before elaborating. “I told Dave Wiegand this before we played a game for $3000, the championship game of the 2010 Dallas Open. His response was, ‘Whatever it takes.’”






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