Friday, April 6, 2012

Taking grounders

As is probably true in any other game, the plays you hear talked about most in Scrabble are the unusual ones. Maybe a flashy obscure word, or an intricate fit on the board, or an uncommon strategic insight. But as any tournament player knows, the majority of Scrabble turns don't offer such opportunities. It's like being a shortstop in baseball - most of the plays a shortstop makes during a season are routine (at least for major leaguers they are). But they're very important: winnable games are lost every year because someone made an error on a routine grounder.

This position - click through the annotated game at the link below until turn 7, when I have DDEGIOP on my rack, and stop there if you want to try to solve it yourself - strikes me as the routine sort of position that comes up in many games. (This game is using the North American (TWL) word list.) The degree of difficulty is, I would say, moderate by tournament game standards. The best play available does not involve knowing any uncommon words, though you'll need to look carefully at the board. There is not much in the way of strategic nuance to consider - the best play is best for straightforward reasons.

This position may turn out to be crucial. I have a solid lead to this point in the game, thanks to fortunately picking a blank and bingoing on each of my first two turns, but there are plenty of tiles left in the bag and I'm nowhere near being out of the woods yet. I have lost games from stronger positions than this before. If I make a lesser play here, I'm either leaving points on the table, keeping a weaker group of tiles for next turn, or both. The miss probably wouldn't be catastrophic, but depending on what I draw from then on, it absolutely could turn out to be the difference between winning and losing. These ordinary positions decide more games and tournaments than the occasional highlight-reel plays everyone remembers. I made the right play in this instance, though I certainly don't always. I'm relatively good at scooping these up, but not to the level of the very best, who almost never miss such plays. Consistency with the routine plays isn't near as routine as it might seem.

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