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2004 National SCRABBLE® Championship Commentary: Before the Tournament

[ Congratulations to the new National Champion, Trey Wright, who defeated David Gibson in three straight games, 365-328, 355-344 and 429-328. Please tune in to ESPN to watch the final games at 1 P.M. ET on Sunday, October 3rd, 2004. We welcome your e-mailed corrections to our web site. ]

Go to: Before the Tournament, Round 1, Round 2, Round 3, Round 4, Round 5, Round 6, Round 7, Round 8, Round 9, Round 10, Round 11, Round 12, Round 13, Round 14, Round 15, Round 16, Round 17, Round 18, Round 19, Round 20, Round 21, Round 22, Round 23, Round 24, Round 25, Round 26, Round 27, Round 28, Round 29, Round 30, Final Round 1, Final Round 2, Final Round 3.

Saturday: Registration Day

The sun rose above the Mississippi into a cumulonimbus cloud, which was a breathtaking way to begin the first day of our National SCRABBLE® Championships. The Marriott's lobby restaurants were doing a brisk business with gaily chatting SCRABBLE® players and armed services chaplains (who were here for a three-day conference that ends today). Both hotel towers were full to capacity and couldn't have taken another player even if one paid double to stay here!

Registration took place outside the Grand Ballroom on the third floor of the Marriott where the tournament will be held starting tomorrow. Division leaders, Bonnie Rudolph, Mary Rhoades, Larry Rand, Bryan Pepper, Wendell Smith, Matt Hopkins, and John Robertson were at their respective division tables with arms full of contestant goody bags and name badges. This year's badges are on medium wide cotton lanyards that say www.SCRABBLE®assocation.com on one side and National SCRABBLE® Championship down the other.

To help us differentiate between staff and player, the latter's lanyards are are a dark blue or black and the worker lanyards are red. No missing us! NSA staff members had another table set up to answer questions and hand out event pins and other goodies. In the center of the foyer were several "oyster" tables. I'd been referring to them as high bistro tables when Jane R. Williams explained their historic significance to New Orleans. Oyster shuckers really did use them! And New Orleans does know seafood!

At these oyster tables, W-9 forms and pens were scattered about around bouquets of sweet-smelling fresh flowers. My favorites: stargazer lillies.

After hours of individual registration tables, the as-of-yet-unregistered were compiled into one table and the committee meeting began. This year the divisions will be run more autonomously with paperwork maintained within each division. We're hoping this new set-up will be successful at getting each round's paperwork in on time and to the right place.

An hour after the committee meeting ended, the reception began down the hall on the third floor. And what a spead it was! By the time I arrived, fifteen minutes after it began, players and their guests were already crowded at tables in the hallway, the tables inside full. There were several different buffets, including a carved meat station, a pasta bar, a cheese and cracker spread, and lots more. There were at least two open bars.

I guesstimate that more than 1,000 people attended the reception! Players from different cities were gathering around tables and standing in clusters. I heard a lot of laughing and plans being made for dinners later in the week. Dresses, high heels, and sparkly jewelry mixed in with fresh SCRABBLE® T-shirts and a few pair of flip-flops.

Players told me the food was great and the Marriott staff kept bringing it out until our event wrapped up a few hours later. First the lights were dimmed and then they were turned up bright to encourage us on our way to other evening activities.

Many players headed down to the after-hours room for warm up games of SCRABBLE®, anagrams, clabbers, and even a game of Upwords! Players spilled out of the after-hours room and were spread around the halls on oyster tables and at comfortable chairs with small coffeetables set up inbetween. The main game of course, was SCRABBLE®. And this was a theme throughout our visit. People played SCRABBLE® on nearly every flat surface throughout the hotel. Wonderful!

Before the Tournament

Outside the Grand Ballroom, players crowded in around their division boards, looking for their day's pairings. Each division had several tables spread with brightly colored contestant scorecards. It was like a paper rainbow spead across the room. Soon the area was tightly packed with excited players.

Deborah Light (Napanee ON) had a credit card-sized light she was using to illuminate her division's pairing sheet. I'm told we have players from ages 12 to 93. Talk about a spectrum of ages!

I caught Andrew Golding (Verdun QC) outside the playing room and tried to usher him inside. He said, "Oh, I've already been here. I checked out my pairings and had to go back up to my room and cry before I came back down to face my opponents." I laughed and asked why. He's starting off today playing one of the event's highest-rated players and then he's moving onto two Thai players (alleged to be absolutely fabulous, each and every one of them!). Andrew represented Canada at the last World SCRABBLE® Championships in Malaysia and he had ample opportunity to get a real opinion on just how great the Thai contingent plays.

Right on time, Laura Klein, NSC Coordinator, started her welcoming comments, which included introducing the NSA's John D. Williams, Jr. John took the microphone and made his comments from the playing floor, bringing us all together with the board tale of woe. The NSA, in conjunction with Hasbro, had designed a new deluxe SCRABBLE® board, which was to debut at this event. Sadly, the shipment was held up in customs and didn't arrive in time for today's games. We are hopeful that these new boards will arrive before the Nationals end. In the meantime, we'll be using the older "new" boards with our varied and brightly colored Protiles.

We begin today with a total of 837 players! A record for sure! The numbers are:

Division 1: 173 players
Division 2: 139 players
Division 3: 169 players
Division 4: 150 players
Division 5: 90 players
Division 6: 76 players
Division 7: 40 players

Terry Kang (Philadelphia, PA) who has the first bye in division 1 wasn't happy about having to get up only to not play and she was understandably cranky about not being in bed right at that moment. I explained to her that we gave players until midnight to register and that we had to call each player that had not yet arrived or contacted us to find out their status. Once we did this, and only then, could we pair. It was past 1:30am, which didn't get us sufficient time to alert her and other bye players of their status. I think she understood, but moments later I saw her heading out of the playing room. Maybe she'll catch a few more zzzzs anyway.

Before games began, Laura asked the players to unwrap their deluxe boards and prepare them for tournament use. Credit cards, pencil and pen points, and even one or two Swiss army knives were pressed into service removing the cellophane.

Moments later, the boards were out and the games were soon to begin!

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