Archive for August, 2009
UPDATE: Won my next game 411-358Recently I was playing Scrabble’s Facebook app and found myself getting pounded early. I asked my opponent what he or she was rated – cheating is far too common. My opponent, Rod MacNeil, reported his rating, which was very high on the app: 1871. This ranks him pretty high:He also informs me that his NASPA rating is 1932. I’ve read Word Freak and watched the documentary Word Wars, and right away I recognized that his rating was elite. This ranking is good enough for around 20th in the world (Check the highest NASPA ratings for some perspective)To get to that level, players memorize massive word lists. Sure enough, Rod reported that he had memorized everything 6 and less, 10,000 7-letter words, and the high-probability 8s. Meanwhile, I haven’t memorized the 3s – yikes!Rod was quite friendly, offering constructive feedback of my plays during our first match (I’d provide him with my tile info and he offered critique). I fared decently, losing about 460-350. I was still thrilled to be getting firsthand accounts of the stuff I’d watched and read about, so I asked for a rematch and he obliged me.I drew a blank tile early which yielded a bingo (all 7 tiles = +50 bonus). This helped make the game close when he disappeared for about a week. When he returns he informs me that he was at the 2009 national championships. He downplayed his finishing position, 18th (out of 100+), and 6th overall in point spread over the 31 games:After seeing this I realized I was playing against a world class Scrabble player – I felt lucky to be keeping the game close at all. Once the game resumed I started falling behind quickly, handcuffed by an odd rack. I had an X and the second blank tile. The blank tile should be saved for a bingo, few exceptions. The X was complicating my bingo effort, so the ideal play would be to drop X on a multiplier and go for the bingo. Unfortunately Rod was neutralizing bonuses pretty effectively, so I could not find a good play for X. I needed the bingo, though, so X had to go. At this point I realized that playing away just the X would not be enough to set me up for a bingo the next turn. With a swap (or the playing of tiles I’d otherwise discard) inevitable, I thought I’d try playing away the unwanted tiles – N and U – on the immediate turn in a way that created a very valuable play for X if not disrupted on Rod’s next turn. Setting yourself up is rarely a good idea (it’s obvious, and the other player usually disrupts it), but the play I had in mind was very unlikely to be disrupted (in my mind) for a number of reasons. Sure enough I get away with it and drop the X on a 3L that scores doubly for 53 points. At this point I’m still losing by a good chunk, and Rod lets me know that my strategy was probably poor:Fortunately, the next play I was able to redeem my approach by landing a bingo (made easier by having unloaded the X and 2 undesirable letters). I pulled AELNRII and was able to follow with another bingo, INERTIAL. This pushed me into the lead, but still expected a trouncing bingo to overcome me. He was playing few tiles, making it clear he was gearing up for a bingo.The remaining tiles began to dwindle. With a rack of DEFGLVY and only one letter in the bag, I had to unload some high point tiles. I played FADGE for 52, leaving 9 points on my rack. I was up 434-327, but there were no tiles left in the bag, so if he indeed had a bingo, he’d also pick up the bonus from leftover tiles. Sure enough, he played TWINIEST for 86. Final score 425-424.I won by one point.Do note, this doesn’t qualify as a true Scrabble victory for a number of reasons. For one, challenges are disabled (by default). If you play a word that is invalid (a “phoney”), the game automatically rejects it and informs you it’s invalid. But not only are you provided unlimited “tries”, the game provides a validator conveniently located so you can test the dictionary before you drag the tiles out. Most people prefer this setting because it helps with learning the lexicon. Also, this setting rewards a good feel for English etymology – a surprising amount of arrangements that look like reasonable words end up being actual words.Another big distinction is the turn-based style of Hasbro’s Facebook application. When you log in you play if it’s your turn, otherwise wait for your opponent. This is a convenient way to play multiple games at once in a casual way. But it’s important to note that this eliminates an important part of Scrabble – quick thinking. There is a time limit in tournament Scrabble, so speed counts.So what to make of this victory? I think of it somewhat like those geeky poker pros online that started spilling into casinos and hustling the pros. The online game is a little different, but nonetheless a game with a unique set of chance and challenges.