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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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.

Dessert

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, thus far

Friday was a day filled with travel pains for many, and we were no exception. After leaving the Bay Area painfully late (approximately 3:15, yikes) we hit pockets of dead-stopped traffic and excruciatingly hot weather on our way to Reno. But we finally saw the outlines of the large casinos sprawled along the downtown Strip around 8pm and made a beeline for the NASPA reception in one of the Silver Baron ballrooms at the Silver Legacy.

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Silver Baron ballrooms

The food spread included two types of flat breads, two kinds of sliders, BBQ beef, cole slaw, rolls, and potato chips. Just outside the reception entrance were more delicious bites, including deviled eggs (which I was personally very excited about). Each attendee received a drink ticket which could be redeemed at a fully stocked bar.

Delicious food

Delicious food

The reception

The reception

The reception went from 7-10pm, but a few continued to mingle even after the food was cleared and the drinks (sadly) disappeared. It seems most people wanted to get to bed early so they could get enough sleep for the tournament in the morning but it was great seeing and reconnecting with friends.

Nick Meyer, David Whitley, Dan Novinson, and Emily Dowgialo

Nick Meyer, David Whitley, Dan Novinson, and Emily Dowgialo

Cesar Del Solar

Cesar Del Solar

Emily Dowgialo

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Scrabble Nationals and March Madness?

The North American Scrabble Championship is THE event of the year for the Scrabble community in the Americas. Hundreds of players from the US, Canada, and even places such as Thailand gather in some city in the US and play 31 games of intense, competitive Scrabble. This year’s championship starts very soon, on Saturday, August 1st, in sunny Reno, Nevada.

The championship has been held on a bi-yearly basis since 1978, and yearly since 2008. The top prize has been as big as $25K, although nowadays it is around $10K, mostly due to Hasbro withdrawing their sponsorship of the tournament. However, it is as fiercely competitive as ever, and for the first time, the North American Scrabble Players Association (NASPA) is hosting a March Madness style bracket contest.

Nationals this year is almost 2 separate tournaments; the top 8 players in each division after 21 games will be put in a bracket to determine the two finalists for the final day. The rest of the players will continue to play the last 10 games for other prizes. Although some players are expressing skepticism regarding this format, I am optimistic about the change and of course hope to make the top 8 in my division.

NASPA’s bracket contest, called “Bracketology”, allows NASPA members to pick who they think will make the top 8. Once the top 8 is set, the contest will change to pick the winners of the quarters, semifinals, and finalists. Those who choose best can win prizes such as entry to next year’s Nationals, or money to buy items from the NASPA store (tiles, racks, shirts, and other cool swag).

Check out my Collins Division Bracket -- who else should I pick?

Check out my Collins Division Bracket — who else should I pick?

You have to be a member of NASPA to sign up. Check it out here:
http://www.scrabbleplayers.org/w/2015_Bracketology_Contest

We’re very excited for Nationals to start this year and hope to bring you lots of cool coverage. Stay tuned!

Cesar Del Solar, Aerolith.org

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