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2004 National SCRABBLE® Championship Commentary: Round 23

[ 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.

Round 23

Going into the last round, there is an understandable amount of excitement about how well Trey Wright (Los Angeles, CA) is doing in division 1, but there are many hotly contested races in this room right now! In division 2, David Pearl (Long Beach, CA) and Fern Lindzon (Toronto ON) have 18 wins each and Win Inthara (Winter Park, FL) is right behind with 17. Steve Moniz (Manchester, NH) tops division 3 with 17 wins, but 4 others are at 16 wins--Paul Haverly (Los Angeles, CA), Gina Fassio (Methuen, MA), Dielle Saldanha (Richmond BC), amd Jerry Scheiten (Buffalo, NY). Eugene Murray (Indianapolis, IN) is the only player with 19 wins in division 4, but Travis Green (Mooresville, IN) is working hard to catch up with 17 wins. In division 5, Ryan Barrett (Englewood, CO) leads the group with 19 wins, but Asif Rahman (Cincinnati, OH) is only two games back. Mel Skolnik (New York, NY) is the 18-game leader in division 6 with Ben Harrison (Cambridge, MA) just one game back. However, saving best for last, the player with the best record at this event right now is the leader of division 7, Jon Rumzis (Chandler, AZ), with a whopping 21 wins! Anna Rahman (Cincinnati, OH), (now known as Asif's mom!) is only one game back with 20 wins.

The room is buzzing and the groans and grins are more dramatic into this last game of day 3 in the main event. My favorite "coincidence" of the afternoon is that both mother and son are playing at board 1 in their respective divisions. Anna Rahman (Cincinnati, OH) is at the top board in division 7 and Asif Rahman (Cincinnati, OH) is at board 1 in division 5. I later learn that neither won their game, so maybe they should avoid these mirror situations!

Eugene Murray (Indianapolis, IN) defeats Fred Rible (Poway, CA) at board 1 in division 4, 363-352. Eugene got down TREASOnS from the T for 85 (and happily recited the anagrams while I sat there) and aRRIVAL for 98. Fred also played nice plays: HOUNDERS through the D for 66 and ZAX/ZED for 51.

Fred III Rible (Durham, NC) comes over from his division 5 environs to check in with his dad. Unaware that there were two Fred Rible players, I did a double-take. Whoa! Another "FRED" hat? Could this just be a coincidence? Fred III tells me that his games have been far less exciting that his dad's and I decide to leave it at that.

In division 3 at board 70, Carla Chase (New York, NY) atones for her 7 straight losses today with a doozy of a win against Raymond Slaughter (Louisville, KY), 527-313. Her sparkling plays are RELATION for 70, VOMITOUS for 75, SAUtOIRE through the R on the triple line for 71, BLATHER for 86, QUERN for 48, and QUAY for 48! Besides keeping score, Raymond managed to pklay VeRIEST for 81. Astonished by her game as much as she was, Raymond found me on the other end of the room several minutes after I reviewed their game with them to tell me that she averaged more than 35 points per play in that game!

At table 4 in division 3, Kenneth Rubin (New York, NY) defeats Daniel Casey (Brooklyn Park, MN), 427-387. By the game's midway point, Ken had played ARANEIDS through the I for 70 and SCORIAE for 71. Daniel played TOADIES for 68 and QUININES through the first I for 68. After this last bingo, Ken was behind. To the triple he played KELEM for 33. Sensing the shifting sands, Daniel tried to block with DREG at the board's top left quadrant. Still behind at this point, Ken was astonished, because Daniel played the one tile that would help! Holding a rack of AEIUBLN, Ken threw down RUINABLE from the R for 87. He was still behind, but was able to play FREsH/ AWE/AUTOS for 46 and this was the winning play. He says that both of them played very well.

Lynn Cushman (New York, NY) had a great find this round. In a game versus Tom Singleton (Laguna Hills, CA), she got down the 9-letter bingo INHERITED through the disconnected N and first E for 92 points on the triple. Her rack that turn was DEHIIRT, making no playable 7s or 8s. Earlier in the game, Tom had played WESTERLY for 68 and blocked Lynn's CANNIBAL. Lynn's win: 429-392.

Andrew Golding (Verdun QC) tells me that earlier today, in game 16, I believe, he was stuck with the Q, but managed to win the game anyway. It was one of those situations where he had to score enough so that he could absorb a Q-stick if it occurred. As it turns out, he was able to play EXPUNGe for 51 and this score was enough of a cushion for him to win by 4, after the recount.

As the day wears on, people get more tired, their stories get more complicated, and my ability to absorb the true nuances is compromised by the sheer volume, but let me try to explain this one. I walked by a division 1 game where Daniel Wachtell (New York, NY) has his face in his hand, completely covering his face in a look of resignation or horror. I snapped a quick photo and asked him afterwards what was going on. He looked around, cleared his throat, looked at his papers, his hands still slightly shaky with the effort at wrapping around the seeming enormity of it all. He said, "I was playing Dan Barry (Redondo Beach, CA) and I was ahead by 18. I got AIRIEST down on a tight board. My opponent was down to under one minute on his clock and in his rush misses playing NOR, an 8-point outplay that would have won him the game." Dan Wachtell, also down on time himself (they ended the game with a grand total of 3 seconds left on their clocks) figured out where Dan Barry would play, but Barry didn't cooperate and played someplace else, which actually gave Dan Wachtell the chance to go out and win himself if he'd had enough time to respond to the unexpected possibility. Anyway, in the end, Dan Barry won, by 4 points, 392-388.

Not content to leave me with that story, Daniel Wachtell (New York, NY) told me about game 22 with Christina O'Sullivan (Seattle, WA). In a odd bit of strategy, in the endgame, Dan opted to pass four times in a row so as to avoid picking any tiles in the bag. With a slight lead and QVC among the unseen tiles, Dan reasoned that the only way he could lose was to pick one or all of them and get stuck with them. Christina, behind at that point, had no choice but to keep playing, earning small scores to his 0 scores, but ultimately his strategy paid off and she lost, 366-385.

In the "look at the phoneys on that board" department, Gene Rawlins (Scarborough ON) finally gets my attention long enough to tell me about a game yesterday. About halfway through the game, he played the bingo COENTER*, and his opponent accepted the play, responding with her own bingo, FOISTER, hooking to make COENTERS*. A few turns later, Gene again played a whole new COENTER* bingo to which she responded again with her own bingo, NUTTIEST, hooking to create COENTERS*. These four plays were naturals and both players were feeling pretty fine about themselves and their beautiful creation of a board when a post-game passerby asked what with up with all the phoneys on their board. Ha!

Kay Patterson (Columbia, MD), as she leaves the playing room, says to her friend, "Hey let's go to the after-hours room tonight! I feel like playing some SCRABBLE®." Kay had just played 23 tournament games in 3 days, eight of them today, and she wanted to go play some more. She is one hardcore SCRABBLE® buff!

At table 1, an astonished Trey Wright (Los Angeles, CA) manages to overcome a nearly 200-point deficit to defeat David Gibson (Spartanburg, SC)445-437. David got down VERNIERS for 65, QUiNOAS for 98, EUpNOEAS for 64. Both blanks gone and up by a bit less than 200, I imagine David wasn't as worried as he might have been were the game closer. Just then, Trey played REACHING for 74, two turns later DABBLES for 81, and the REUNITED for 60. Not done yet, Trey's last three plays were XI for 38, JAG for 11, and YE for 32. As the game ended, Trey let out an audible sigh and pushed back from the table a bit. His eyes were wide with disbelief. Bill Geist, the CBS reporter, was entranced with their game, sitting at the end of their table and watching intently. His camera operator and boom microphone/sound man kept going back and forth to each side of the board, trying to catch the expressions and dialogue. A crowd formed around the players and both Marlon Hill (Baltimore, MD) and Stefan Fatsis rushed over to shake his hand.

This news crew spent most of today with us and by this round, they were right on every gesture and nuance. At one point, I stood in a chair above the camera operator (trying to angle a shot behind and above him) and I caught a look at what he was seeing through his viewfinder: a close up of Trey, a charismatic, young man with a winning smile exuding confidence and accomplishment. A moment worth remembering, for sure.

After the players have milled out, our fearless Director of Clubs & Tournaments, Joe Edley (Coram, NY) stops by to tell me how to "blow a game subtly." In an endgame earlier today, there were S S ? tiles unseen and 1 bingo line open. Joe contemplated blocking the S hook on CURRY (SCURRY) or going for points by making a play to the triple. He wasn't that much ahead and the triple spot was Q, open, O, open, and an open triple-word squqre. He can play for 45 there and his opponent might get a bingo in the other spot he leaves open. Anyway, he played QUOTE, and his opponent responded with STOGIES. He realizes, in horror, that he should have played QUOIT, leaving POLE in his rack, giving him the chance to play PELORIA. And this small oversight turned a game where he could have won by 100 to a loss of 100. There was also a CHORDATE play mentioned in this story, but I can't relate it right now. Joe's level of play is so high, his insights are sometimes hard to condense! He figures he's given away 4 games this championship and at 14-9, he can't blame his standings on bad luck.

Division leader Bryan Pepper observed a division 4 show of incredible sportsmanship. Two players called him over because they were certain a tile was missing in their game. Each player had 7 tiles on his rack, and the bag was empty. Bryan looked around and found a tile on the floor and wouldn't you know, it was the game's second blank. Bryan put the blank back into the bag, which then would give the person whose turn it was, very easy access to that blank and a certainty of a good last play. This player declared his advantage to be unfair and asked Bryan if the game could continue as it was, with 99 tiles and only one blank. Bryan agreed. I don't know which player won this game, but the level of sportsmanship and consideration was high.

This round's Division 1 Board 1 game between Trey Wright (Los Angeles, CA) and David Gibson (Spartanburg, SC) appears in our playable games section.

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