2016 World Scrabble Championship – The Quarterfinals

The preliminary 24 rounds of the 2016 World Scrabble Championship are done, and we have 8 qualifiers for the quarterfinals. Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 11.33.44 PM

A few things to note. Some people think that 24 games is too short to determine the 8 quarterfinalists, and  5 of the 8 qualifiers are seeded 10th or higher (3 are seeded 20th and above!).  However, even the lowest rated qualifier, American Rob Robinsky, is a great player who just finished 2nd at the elite BMSC (British Matchplay Scrabble Tournament) last week, so he is certainly underrated.

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Pakistani youngster Moiz Ullah and a crowd are hushed over his round-24 game against Adam Logan, which he lost by one point. (Photo taken by Jesse Day)

The Pakistani Scrabble players are truly becoming a force to be reckoned with. Several of them finished at the top of division B at the championship. As with any tournaments with qualifiers, this tournament has its share of heartbreaking stories. Moiz Ullah lost by just one point to Adam Logan to get knocked out of the quarterfinals. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time for him.

Nigel Richards sadly finished out of the money, but even if he had won his last game to Brett Smitheram (a barn-burner I watched earlier on the train over the Twitch live stream), he would not have made it to the top 8 anyway, due to the way the other games turned out.

Kenji Matsumoto, a top American Scrabble expert, commented on Facebook that this year has not been too great for young players. Indeed, most of the quarterfinalists are in their 40s or above. Maybe the youngsters are getting surpassed again! Kenji is a top American Scrabble expert from Hawaii who has recently written a book called Breaking The Game, which is available for purchase through his website.

The best player in the top 8 is probably Canadian Adam Logan, who has won the World Championship in 2005, the US National Scrabble championship in 1996, and multiple Canadian National Championships.

Below are the expected quarterfinal matches, along with my predictions for how they will do — best of 3 for the quarters, which is very prone to high variance.

(1) Mark Nyman vs (8) Joel Wapnick – two former world champions. I’ll give Nyman a slight edge because he finished with the best record after 24 games, but it’s probably a coin toss since it’s just three games!

(2) David Webb vs (7) Lewis MacKay – Lewis made it all the way to the finals last year against Wellington Jighere before going down 4-0 in a series that was more hard-fought than the scoreline would indicate. David Webb is known for creating a series of YouTube videos in his Dweebovision channel, wherein he commentates on his online Scrabble games. I’ll pick Lewis to win this mini-series due to his experiences from last year.

(3) Allan Simmons vs (6) Adam Logan – Allan has won the UK National Championship once, and the BMSC multiple times, but I’ll give Adam the edge as he is possibly the 2nd or 3rd best player in the world currently. (After His Nigelence)

(4) Robert Robinsky vs (5) Brett Smitheram – I know Rob from our days on Yahoo! Literati (I need to write an article about my Literati experiences at some point…) and he’s always been a great player. Brett has more experience with the Collins dictionary, although Rob has been playing Collins for almost 5 years now. Although Brett might be the better player – he is seeded best out of the top 8 – I’ll give Rob the sentimental pick (he did just get 2nd in the BMSC).

The semifinals and finals will both be best of 5. Assuming the brackets are as they were in the 2014 WSC, my picks would be:

Mark Nyman vs Rob Robinsky – Mark gets the edge

Lewis MacKay vs Adam Logan – Adam gets the win

And our winner will be Adam Logan over Mark Nyman 3 games to 2. Mark my words… maybe.

 

 

 

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2016 World Scrabble Championship

The 2016 World English Scrabble Championship started in Lille, France, earlier today. This edition is the third held by Mind Sports International (MSI), a company based in the UK. They have been involved in the Scrabble scene for several years now, as well as poker, chess, Magic: The Gathering, and other mind sports. Among their innovations is an RFID-based Scrabble board that automatically keeps score, as well as their live camera coverage of games and annotation software. This particular tournament is extra special because it also features the championships for French and Spanish language Scrabble.

As you may know, Scrabble is quite an intense game and many people take it very seriously. We know of a particular player who has taken a several-month sabbatical (Scrabbatical?) from work just to prepare for this tournament and he is doing quite well as of day 1. This is the kind of obsession that makes Scrabble players unique and that makes the game so interesting.

The standings in the English edition so far are as follows (thanks much to Nicky Deco and the wonderful team in Lille who got these standings to us):

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Many of the old favorites are here, including Wellington Jighere, Nigel Richards, and a significant Thai contigent (Komol leading his compatriots with a 6-2 record). On top is the only undefeated player, and a former world champion himself, Englishman Mark Nyman.

There was a bit of a snafu earlier today with the MSI-developed tournament pairing software, which was not quite ready for prime-time. The organizers have now decided to switch to tsh, an old but stable and well-maintained tournament pairing software used in most large Scrabble tournaments worldwide. This software also has the ability to provide live results, so we’ll try to get you a link to follow your favorite players.

You can also follow live on twitch.tv – our good friend Jesse Matthews is in Lille providing live commentary. He has been doing great live commentary for major tournaments since the National Scrabble Championship in 2015. This is his first time doing this at Worlds, along with Robin Pollock Daniel, a top Canadian expert. Their dynamic duo are quite entertaining and worth watching. Day 2 begins in just a few hours!

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2015 World Champion Wellington Jighere playing against Shan Abbasi earlier today on the live board.

 

-Cesar Del Solar

North American Scrabble Championship: Cesar’s Report On Days 3, 4, 5

Day 3.

At the end of day 2 I was 7-7 and very barely in contention, with a low cumulative point spread. To make the brackets I would need to win all 7 games the next day, or maybe even 6, but they would have to be by a huge amount on average. I calculated the chances of doing so; assuming I’m about 55% to win each game (reasonable since I was a high seed), I have about a 1.5% chance of making it to the brackets. So I was about as good as done, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t going to try as hard as possible.

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Unfortunately my dream was dead after just the second game, in which I played Steve Bush, a nice guy from Kentucky. He opened with a bingo, and a few turns later plays another one, FROWNIER through an O, to go up about 80 points. I held him on this play for a long time, trying to remember whether this was a word or not, but the problem is that for some reason it looked very familiar, and I thought there was a very good chance it was good. If I had thought harder, I would have realized that I’ve never seen the word FROWNY before, and I’ve studied the high point 6s… so I let it go, and he bingoed 3 more times and killed me.

At the end of the game I checked and sure enough it was phony. Turns out I was thinking of the word BROWNIER. Oops. Too bad I’m not Nigel Richards. In prior years I would have been upset and probably played badly the rest of the day, but I took it very stoically, got over it super quickly, and moved on to the rest of the day. I think part of my success in this tournament was due to my successfully conquering the ability to quickly move on from mistakes. The difficulty of long tournaments is a culmination of many factors. Playing against incredibly skilled opponents, luck, lack of sleep, and increasing frustration contribute to a potentially lethal potion that in past years chipped away at my focus. This year I let things slide and kept my emotions in check.

I won 3 out of 4 games in the morning, and had a great lunch at a super good tortas place (if you ever happen to be in Reno you must go – it’s across the street from the Reno Ballroom). In the afternoon, I won 2 out of 3, for a total of 5 games for the day, a good average. My sole loss came to Joel Sherman, and I made a very serious word mistake, playing a phony bingo when I had a 50-point play that also blocked the board and put me up by a bunch. Joel, being a former National and World champion, challenged very quickly and controlled the board afterwards. When I finally bingoed, he was able to triple-triple through it and I was done after this.

I had avoided looking at how close I came, but it turns out that if I had just won one more game by enough, that I could possibly have made it to the Elite Eight. If only one more of those games had gone my way, especially early on when I was facing lower seeds! Why did I have to start 1-4? Still, I wasn’t too upset and I filled out my bracket that night, guessing that my good friend Jesse Day would win it all over Thai wonder Panupol Sujjayakorn.

My stomach hurt a bit, mostly from nerves, so I didn’t have dinner until late, and it was just half of a deli sandwich. We had a NASPA town hall meeting that night and I attended; most of the questions ranged around the controversy of the bracket format. More to come on that in a later post.

Day 4.

While the Elite Eight in each division started their bracket playoff games, the rest of us were forced to play another 10 meaningless games. Just kidding, but that’s what some people thought! In order to give us something to play for, there were prizes for 9th through 12th place, and since I had missed the bracket by a game and change I was playing all the other players who had also just barely missed. As a result, I had what has possibly been my toughest Nationals day to date, in terms of my matchups – and it was a great challenge. Scrabble players take the game very seriously, and certainly no one seemed discouraged by not having made the playoffs; we were all playing super tough.

In order, my lineup was: Trey Wright, Ian Weinstein, Chris Cree, Charles Reinke, Joey Krafchick, Rafi Stern, and Doug Brockmeier. That field includes a former Nationals champion, the number 2 seed, and several other top-notch players who have all won far more events than I have. I was lucky to finish day 4 with a 4-3 record, losing to Ian, Chris, and Rafi. More annotations on these games will come soon.

Cesar Del Solar (me!) playing on day 4 against Joey Krafchick, a top player from Texas

At the end of the day, since it was our last Reno dinner together, I went with a group of 6 good friends to an Italian restaurant called Johnny’s Ristorante. I had a classic spaghetti and meatballs, recommended by my friend, food aficionado, and local Reno resident Kenji Matsumoto. It was a wonderful yet bittersweet last night in Reno. It’s the one time of the year so many of my friends are all together in one place, and it’s great seeing everyone, but it’s always a little sad when it’s over.

Dessert.

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The final day.

My field on day 4 was so tough that even though I tried my best I could not win more than 4 games.. which meant that I would have to win all 3 games on the final day to cash. Again, this was possible, but unlikely, yet I gave it my best.

The day 5 field consisted of Jason Li, Charles Reinke (for the second time), and Conrad Bassett-Bouchard. That is the same Jason and Conrad who played for the title in last year’s Nationals in Buffalo, and Charles, an excellent player who was looking for revenge for the previous day’s loss.

Charles got me this time after I tried a ridiculous phony of PALEWEED*. Why would I try that? No idea, but it seemed a little familiar. In North American rules Scrabble, challenging a valid word costs a player their turn, and maybe I felt bravado from winning our previous match on a challenge, that I thought I could get away with it. Unfortunately for me, Charles smacked it off the board pretty quickly and then got his own massive bingo a few turns later, which I had to challenge out of desperation. So a completely deserved loss and good play by him.

I did beat both Conrad and Jason, though, getting admittedly pretty lucky in both games – although at a high level, a lot of games do come down to luck. It is playing consistently well over the 31 rounds that cause good players to rise to the top, and I came up short again by one game and didn’t cash.

I was still very happy with my final result; 16th is the best I’ve ever done at a Nationals and I feel like next year I can actually cash. I am planning on studying all the words now. During this whole tournament I was very focused and I think if I can channel this focus again but with good word knowledge, I can finally prevail.

At the end of our three games, we took a quick break for lunch then headed to the awards ceremony room, where they live-streamed games 4 and 5 of the finals games between Matthew Tunnicliffe and Jesse Day. Matthew ended up prevailing in the very exciting game 5. You can see the videos on Youtube, starting with https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IU9z6CvM1kI.

It was an amazing tournament and I was so glad to see so many friends again and partake in all sorts of fun activities after-hours. Reno is a pretty cool city and there was always something to do. There was a big car show the final day we were there so I got to wander around a bit at lunch and check out the endless rows of candy-colored roasters.

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Hot August Nights car show on the Reno strip

My next big event will probably be the California Open in San Francisco, sometime in late October. I’m feeling good about my game, and I actually had the highest average score at nationals (437). I just have to keep my head in the game and stay focused.

Until next year.

-Cesar Del Solar, Aerolith.org

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North American Scrabble Championship, Day 1 – Cesar’s Report

Had an exciting first day at Nationals today. The tournament feels extra intense this year because only the first three days count to get to the final 8 bracket — so having a bad day can be super rough. Luckily I was able to save a 1-4 start by winning the last two and I’m ready to keep going!

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Div 1 at Nationals is always tough. Everyone is good, so one must make as few mistakes as possible. Will Anderson, who finished in the top 5 the last two Nationals, was matched against me in the third game and he played four bingos on me — but the first one hooked the new word SHEN with another S, making SHENS*. For a second, I considered challenging the play, but he had the bingo in a couple of other spots, and he wouldn’t have played it there unless he was sure! Unfortunately, I wasn’t 100% about it being a phony, so I felt like I had to let it go and the game pretty much ended shortly after.

My game 4 went as follows: http://cross-tables.com/annotated.php?u=21356. I plugged it into the computer trying to figure out what I did wrong. I shouldn’t have challenged OVERLEAPT, but it was a desperation challenge and if it stays I have too little of a chance to win. Oh well.

We got some deli sandwiches from Safeway. Note to self: deli sandwich people can take up to 20 minutes to make 3 sandwiches. I came back from lunch to another defeat.

In game 6, I’m at 1-4 and although I told myself that the tournament is by no means over, I started becoming discouraged and thought to make up a word against my opponent, “SUDATIVE”. He quickly challenged it, jumped out to a lead, and just when it looked hopeless, I drew the blank, and was able to bingo twice in a row and squeak out the win. My opponent was such a good sport about it as well, and it encouraged me to keep trying, and I won the next game as well.

What do Scrabble players do after games are over for the day? I eat Thai food. I went to a fantastic spot not too far from the casino called Thai Chili and stuffed myself. I usually don’t eat too much during the day at tournaments because I don’t have much of an appetite so by 7pm I was pretty ravenous.

We drove back to the hotel and ended up running into a couple Scrabble friends in the parking lot. We headed to a bar to discuss the day’s events over beers. We snapped a selfie as we walked past the large neon sign in downtown Reno, of course.

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Chris Tallman, Emily Dowgialo, Cesar Del Solar, Jesse Day

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Cesar Del Solar and Will Anderson

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Rafi Stern and Jesse Day

A Scrabble trivia contest was tonight but we didn’t end up participating. A number of teams competed Jeopardy style for a cash prize.

Here’s to a good day tomorrow, and good luck to everyone else at the tournament!

-Cesar Del Solar, Aerolith.org

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