Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Toronto: 1231
Just the facts, man


I am seeded 65th and am not expected to do too well against this impressive field. A couple of the right kind of victories will send me over the top. However, a loss against someone seeded below me might crush me.

Game One: Yvonne Lobo, 42nd seed
After a sad little VAW I change tiles twice. Yvonne bingos with JOINTERS for 98 points, and the score is 120 to 166, Yvonne's favour. I find CARDIA for 20 points (not my best play, but my shout-out to my live games trainer Aldo Cardia and a prayer to the tile gods). I change tiles twice and manage to squeak out GOAlIES for 71 points, extending CARDIA to CARDIAE. Final score: 417-271. My first win.

Game Two: Trey Wright, 8th seed
What can I say? It was a perfect game for this talented concert pianist. He had left me limping after scoring with OPIOIDS, FLAnERIE, REMANDS and PHONETIC. The best I could manage was QADI for 34 points. But it was a fun game and a real pleasure to meet this one-time national champion. After twelve plays per side, the score is 272-554. I'm 1-1. Je ne regrette rien!

Game Three: Rachel Matlow, 88th seed
Sixteen whopping moves on my part in this game against the daughter of my Grade Six English teacher. No bingos, just little leaps forward: YAUPS, INION, CUIF, WEDGIE and so forth. Rachel makes QuIT for 44 points and then QuIT for 36 on her next turn. for Final score: 331-292. I'm 2-1.

Game Four: Joel Sherman, 13th seed
I'm nervous and excited to be playing the famous Joel Sherman. We have never played together, although I've known Joel for a few years from his role as club director in New York City. I've always liked him and now that we are facing off, I get to watch and make notes to myself. I am playing like an imbecile, although I manage to hold my own for awhile there. By the seventh play there is a beautiful opening on the board at 15H, where a lone E tempts me. On my rack is EEIRSV?. I am wearing my clock down. I am confused and cloudy. I have been studying new words dangerously close to tournament time and now I am really baffled. The clock is ticking down. I am seeing a blend of DEVISEES and REVISALS, but time is of the essence, so I lay down REVISEEs* across the E. Joel holds the play, does an internal calculation and quickly challenges it off. Joel took a bit of time and then thoughtfully blocked that sweet spot with TIRL right above it. I spent the rest of the game pissing my good tiles away, watching my score wane as his waxed, and struggling to shorten the cumulative gap. No bingos this game. Final score: 249-368. I'm 2-2.

Game Five: Steve Pellinen, 25th seed
I open with TREATY for 26, and Steve flies out of the gate with FLEURY for 24. On his next move, he lays down SALINIFY* and I promptly challenge it off, then exchange seven tiles. He makes ZIGS and CULEX, and then bingos with INDOwED for 82 points, raising him up to 229 to my 153. I find ENCAGES and then UNSATED. Too little too late. Final score: 387-394. I'm 2-3.
Game Six: Ross Brown, 91st seed
Ross opens with HANGED and I find WANGLING immediately. He questions my JERRID but lets it stay on the board. In his ninth move he finds TOLERATE for 66 and I counter with EASIEsT for 77. Final score: 452-317. I'm 3-3.

Game Seven: Carolyn Easter, 39th seed
My last game of the day. Lucky thirteen. That's how many plays per side we managed in this game. In our opening volley I make QI to which she counters with IF, and it's off to the races. Two moves later I bingo with TREPANS for 72 points. Meanwhile Carolyn is making small plays, treading water. After I see TOOTERS for 64, I am feeling confident. I lay down DIGGER and ATMAN and then another bingo, WEIRDED, for 82 points. I've broken away and am heading toward victory. In our last volleys I unload EX for 39 points and JAILED for 22. Score is now 393 to 327 and I am contemplating my end game. I check the tracking. I see that Carolyn is holding a V, a C and an L. I am happy happy happy. And then she blows my mind with VESICLE, to bingo out, which fetches her 101 points plus 16 from me. I stand up and give her a big hug. That was amazing. I am so impressed! Final score: 393-454. I'm 3-4.

At the end of the first day I am 3-4. I've lost all the games that I was expected to lose in this tournament and I've won a game I was expected to lose. Not bad at all. That will garner me a few rating points.


Game Eight: Sid Lashley, 61st seed
Sid opens with MOLE and I come back with WINK for 27, PARITY for 30 and DANGLE for 24, giving me the lead. Then I lay down EARNERs for 68 points, and later, IONIsED for 63. After 14 plays for me, the final score is 379-322. I'm 4-4.

Game Nine: Geoffrey Newman, 81st seed
My opponent opens with ERODERS for 68 points. I am trailing and making little plays like AUREOLE, MAX and FILER, dumping stuff and building some points. Then I hit on FOLIAGE for 76, and now we have us a game. Geoffrey comes back with INEDITA for 82 points, and I am still throwing back small but strong punches. I bingo with SUNRIsE, then play FEZES and QAT to assure my victory against this young up-and-comer. He's very good. Final score: 440-380. I'm 5-4.

Game Ten: Geoff Gibson, 75th seed
Sometimes you feel the game going the wrong way and you can do nothing to stop the bleeding. This was one of those games. With Geoff seeded lower than me I was pretty confident that I would find the way to pull this off. Especially when he played URAEI and then its anagram, AUREI. I played QUODS for 50 points and then it started. He bingoed with REINDEER, bungoed with GROOMED and then two plays later, after his ZAG for 43, he bingoed with ELATIONS for 70. I ask tournament director John Chew to consider the fact that Geoff should be rated higher because of his recent stellar performance in another tournament. I am pleading my case not to let Geoff wipe out my progress so far. John says, "I'll put that on my list of things to do," and writes it down on a long sheet of paper with many scribblings. Final score: 279-460. I'm 5-5.

Game Eleven: Lisa Odom, 16th seed
My third expert. I'm quite thrilled about this! And with my record so far, I can afford the bloodletting and still come out ahead. I open with OIDIA. Lisa makes HOGTIE for 22, and then I play JEEZ for 31 while she counters with FUTZED for 38. I play TWeAK for 45 and then AUROREAN for 76. Score's now 176-130 and I'm feeling pretty good. Two plays later, Lisa plunks down SIDEWALK for 89 and we are neck in neck until nearly the end when I challenge PECH. She makes 45 points and takes a decisive lead. Final score: 363-404. I'm 5-6.

Game Twelve: Robin Pollock Daniel, 4th seed
Yet another formidable expert opponent. I so badly want to find the big words; the impressive words; the words I've been studying. I open with FIND and Robin counters with GRANA. I make BATMAN for 20 and she zings me with ZA for 46. I get the J and start to giggle: All I can find is a spot for 28 points to play JO. I can forget about making any interesting plays to show off my new word knowledge. Now sitting with two blanks on my rack, it takes me an eternity to find ETERniTY for 70 points, and then Robin comes back with VENDORS two plays later. She plays a lovely YOGINI through some stuff on the board. I get WARTS for 34, and then we spill out little words, setting me back and Robin way forward until the final score is 318-423. I'm 5-7.

I rethink my tournament. I have two byes as we all do in this particular tournament. This makes me technically at 7-7, so I am okay. I'm even money. But it's time to get serious and start taking control. I've played all the experts I can handle and have learned something valuable with each of those losses. It's been such a cool ride.

Game Thirteen: Mark Gooley, 54th seed
We are dancing the dance. Mark bingos with RETUNiNG for 70 points. I am unafraid. Then I spot the convergence of opportunity and knowledge: There is AERATED on my rack and
an orphan D on the board. I make DEAERATE. Mark challenges and I get another shot at the bag, making ORBY for 30. I have the draw and the opportunity and the board is wide open. Final score: 365-308. I'm 8-7.

At the end of the second day, I am holding my own. There are two pages posted with the updated standings. Instinctively I look at the second page and do not see my name. I did not realize that I had made it onto the first page. It is humbling and I have to be very careful not to rest on these transient laurels.


Game Fourteen: Anna Miransky, 64th seed
I need this win. I need this win because I am nervous about any more losses. Anna is seeded one directly above me. At the rate I've been going, I should be able to knock her out. But in thirteen moves I will not find the way. I do, however, play CAISSON for a disappointing 64 points, rather than any of its more familiar anagrams, hopeful that Anna will challenge. She looks, ponders, and moves on. Meantime, she plays OUTWEAR for 69 and then ENTREaT for 68. I play JAW; she plays CROUP. It is over. Final score: 352-384. I am 8-8.

Game Fifteen: Sinni Vijayakumar, 19th seed
We are in the final game before the final King of the Hill round. I can feel the tension. I come out swinging with PAX for 32, then COITAL for 33 and then JELLY for 46. I'm an animal. Sinni lays down FOLIAGES for 65. Then I pull out ORDAINED for 70. We are running neck in neck. I play MEWED, BIRDY, AMAZES, GNU and then Sinni plays GUNWALE through something for 20 points. He is ahead by 20 points. I am tasting it. I need it. I will make it happen. I look on my rack and see the play that will bring me there. I play SOUTANE for 69 points. Heading into the final round, it is mine. Final score: 394-345. I am 9-8.

King of the Hill: Abraham Thomas, 38th seed
Abraham opens with POCK and I feel myself a bit light-headed, looking at his play for a second, but then plunking down ZIP for 34 points. He counters with XIS for 39 and then I see uNWASHED for 78. I find CLAVE for 28 points and then FEEB. He is pondering this word. That can only mean one thing: I have studied the new word list and know my way around it. Abraham tries STROBING* and I challenge it off. Then later, KIRTLING* and off it goes, too. I play STORAGE for 70 points, then PRAY for 36. It is clear that I have the draw and the composure. Abraham's clock is dangerously low and falling. I unload junk as we near the end, making OIL, ILIAD, QUIN for 13 points and RID. And it is done. Final score: 403-361. I am 10-8.

Despite 20 bingos for and 21 against, I have a shiny new rating of 1231. No money, but I'm very satisfied.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Holy Scrabble, Batman!
Prelude to a tournament

I close my eyes and it is two weeks ago or probably more by now, but it is a clear memory. A Tuesday night. I am recoving from a cold which was made worse by a 12-hour plane ride, climate and time zone change. Suddenly I am sweating profusely and sleeping all day. I am jet lagged and trying to keep North American hours because I have a Scrabble tournament in Toronto coming up, and I'll be damned if all the studying I did on that eliptical machine is going to waste now that I am in Tel Aviv.

Tuesday. I take a cab from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and visit Lori, who is on the mend after breast cancer took one breast and several lymph nodes. So how is my childhood friend?

"My parents survived the Holocaust. How can I complain?"

That's how she is. And so I schlep around after her as we go from her fabulous bakery/restaurant La Cuisine in Talpiyot, carpooling the young'uns and going to the mall to exchange a few things before heading to see her mum, back to her apartment and then to a great new burger joint in the German Colony. We are caught up. We have had two meals during the course of the day (and I've sampled some of her delicious delicacies) and things are the way they have always been for us.

Back in the burger shack we are sucking the sauce off the barbecue chicken wings and still gabbing when I realize that it's late and I'm probably going to miss the first Scrabble match-up of the Sam Orbaum club. It's drizzling and Jerusalem is cold cold cold on this night. Winter-like. People tool around in heavy coats, hats and scarves. Cars are skidding on the winding paths that pass for thoroughfares. Not a good night to cross, even at a crosswalk.

We venture out and in no time Lori drops me at Scrabble. I race up the stairs and there it is -- the land that time forgot: the Sam Orbaum Scrabble club. At least sixty people sitting at their boards, dropping words down, hitting timers and recording plays. It's an important night: qualifiers for an upcoming tournament.

And just as in the region's politics and religions, there is a rift in Israel's anglo Scrabble society concerning which is the appropriate word list to use. Jerusalem plays the North American TWL while Tel Aviv favours SOWPODS, which is used outside North America. This night there is a tension in the air. There are so many new words since the new TWL list came out last March. Every bad play or challenge can be blamed on the new word list. Who will survive and see the Finals? Who by AGGADAH; who by KEFFIYAH. Who shall survive the cut; who shall go down with FEEB and DEF. In this city that is holy to three major monotheistic religions it's all up to the tile gods tonight.

I get in two games and win them both. The club director opts to have a piece of me while simultaneously playing someone else. This happens at the Jerusalem club. I don't feel I have the director's full attention when I open with YILL and he challenges. A new word, perhaps? No. A short while later I make room for DOOMY and again he challenges my play. New, nu? No. I had an unfair advantage because we three were Canadians, all talking about things Toronto, Guelph and Hamilton. Maybe we were not really focused on the game. But hey, I will take my wins.

The bummer of the night was that my friend Wendy Orbaum did not win any of her games and thus was not going to qualify in the upcoming tournament. Heartbreak! I gave her several boxes of Lori's cookies so that she and her three daughters could console themselves at home. In coming days I would receive an email from Wendy, who described the cookies at ACGIMORS (you figure that one out), and she wished me a good tournament in Toronto.

It was still drizzling and chilly when I caught a cab back to Tel Aviv. But when I arrived at the hotel on the beachfront by midnight, it was warm and balmy out.

Several hours later, Marty drove me to the airport, and I was on a Continental flight from the Holy Land to Newark.

I am now in the plane with several of Marty's colleagues and friends. Next to me a resident of Dallas named Mario with whom I would snooze and bond over the next twelve hours. A wonderful travel companion.

Mario's family came to the States from the West Bank after the intifada and now have established ten successful hispanic supermarkets in Texas. We talked about the Palestinian and Israeli situation and then our banter turned to the political situation in the States. After those ten minutes were over, we mostly gabbed about parenthood, music, marriage and life in general. He watched some Arab-language movies on his laptop and I worked my word lists.

It was a day flight and the territory we covered was beautiful -- desert regions that soon turned to Greece and its idyllic islands, hilly Turkey, frosty mountains in Italy, verdant Eastern Europe, a greyer Western Europe, bucolic Ireland, Iceland, rugged Labrador, Maine and then nothing but cloud cover for hours to come after being spoiled by perfectly clear skies until now. With around half an hour left to landing we realized we were in a holding pattern over the Catskills. The pilot came on a few times to update us and people were a bit uneasy about not being able to land right away.

But things really got uncomfortable when the pilot came back on and announced with regret in his voice that due to heavy headwinds we had to stop for a refuelling in Stewart Field in Newburgh, NY: It was the safe thing to do. Some of us know that this is a ten-minute flight to Newark. But others were really freaked out by this news. I was okay until I realized that the booze had been locked up and stowed away.

Not only did we need fuel but the wings needed oil. That's another maintenance crew and another truck. Poor Mario was going to miss his connection back to Texas.

Nonetheless, an hour behind schedule we landed in Newark and was I ever happy to touch down and grab my luggage. It was only around 6:30 p.m. but my body thought it was after midnight. I stepped outside and waited for the cab. The night air was more humid and heavier than I'd felt for a few days, but it was also a bit milder. Thirteen hours of plane air expelled from my lungs. I went home in a daze and slept with my windows wide open. I received a voice mail from Mario that he had taken a later flight and was okay. That's all I recall, other than I might have let my daughters tend to me a little bit.

The next morning the sky looked threatening. I knew I had to get Miriam ready for our car at 3:30 p.m. which would get us back to Newark and to our Toronto-bound plane for our 5:15 flight. She had her stuff ready and I had thought through what I was going to bring.

I did my usual domestic goddess drudgery: I drove Yona to school and then cooked all kinds of goodies for the weekend. We have a houseguest -- an actor from Toronto who is opening in a New York City production soon. And Marty would be back by then, too.

There was no point in wearing clean clothes. I threw on my plane clothes. I'd clean up when I got to Toronto.

Meantime, I made a banana bread, veal stew, and sauteed chicken livers in carmelized onions. A little olive oil and flour never hurt sweat pants and a tee shirt. Just in time to pick up Miriam from school and finish packing. Meantime, the sky has gone from grey to bitter angry. Tumultuous clouds are racing across the sky like sheep from a hungry wolf. The trees are swaying and the wind is swirling the leaves into mini-tornados.

We have a one-hour delay. This is our reprieve to get our stuff packed up just right for the trip. Because at this point we are in denial. We know this flight will go and that the minute we take off we will be up and out of this storm.

At the airport we discover that there is a two-hour delay. There is practically no line at security and it is eerily quiet. We stroll down to the end of the terminal, to the Presidents Club for a snack. Hordes of agitated, disappointed and angry people crowd at the gates. But inside the club it's quite different. The bartenders look very happy. Their tip jars are full of greenbacks and some foreign currency, too. It's festive. The board is flashing with delays and cancellations. There are audible thunderstorms outside. It clears; then there is fog as the night turns the sky black. We see limited numbers of planes taking off and landing outside the club. But no one is really paying attention in here.

The airline representatives are processing everyone as quickly as they can. One man who missed his trans-Atlantic flight is being rerouted through Minnesota. A Calgarian is heading back home and cancelling a business trip to Orange County. On the other hand, the TO flight is apparently still a go. We can probably make the last flight out if the storm clears.

Meantime we grab a seat and friendly up to a gent from Edinburgh. Miriam is fascinated by all things Scottish and the two of them are engrossed in conversation about everything from film to mankind. His name is Ged and he is a neighbour of J.K. Rowling. Ged plies me with two glasses of chablis from the Continental Cellars and Miriam is drinking soft drinks, eating little packets of cheese and an apple. She goes off to work on her sketchbook, and Ged and I talk about life events. The recent loss of our mothers (we are the same age). Kids. Divorce. Disjointed lives. Travel. The joy of meeting new people. The joy of finding happiness again. Hours pass and Ged's flight is ready to leave. We say our good byes. He hands us his business card and invites us to call him when we come to Scotland for the Fringe Festival, which apparently we have been coaxed into doing, thanks to the chablis. A big, full frontal hug and kiss from our new old friend and he disappears.

Meantime a group of five guys in their mid-forties have gravitated into our area. They are showing off pictures of their kids and wives to each other. We soon learn that they were eavesdropping in on our conversation with Ged. They are high school buddies from New Jersey -- now scattered -- who get together every year and have an ingathering of exiles. This year they are off to Dublin to see churches, do some sight seeing, drink some real Irish beer. But mostly they are going to Dublin to see Bruce Springsteen.

I carefully looked them over. We told them that I was going to Toronto to play Scrabble. Miriam rolled her eyes, but the redhead from the west coast was fascinated. A pregnant pause as I contemplate my next move and reach into my carry-on for my board and tiles. I utter:

"Hey, hundred bucks -- all of you against me. I'll take you all on. Say, twenty bucks each. How about it?"

Miriam was dumbstruck and more than a little embarrassed. The guys all looked at each other and gave that "why the heck not" look.

"Just let me check the board first and see what's going on with our flight."

While they refuelled their beer steins I hopped over to see that our flight had been removed from the board. Nine o'clock and we were cancelled. I checked at the desk. Cancelled, indeed, and more bad news: We were placed on a flight at 8:30 p.m. the next night. That would give me seven forfeits in my tournament. Completely, utterly unacceptable!!

I stood and tried to make the gentleman behind the counter understand that I knew, from much personal experience, that the morning flight would be wide open, but he was not open to listening. I was royally pissed and now I was sweating again, the last gasp of my cold. The smell of fried onions wafted from my clothes.

"I want a refund."

Done. I called the tournament director and left a message informing him that I was cancelling. I called my friends in Toronto and told them not to come out to the airport to get me.

Five minutes later, I realized the error of my way. Why the hell would I refund my trip and cancel my tournament? Did I not study enough? Was I not ready? I'd been through a refuelling, a bad cold and twenty-four hours in the air, no change of clothing, and now this?

I gathered my wits and went back to the counter. The man was gone and there was a new person at the desk. I pled my case and asked her to reinstate my ticket and wipe out the whole refund incident. I explained that I needed to be in Toronto by the morning. She was masterful in making it happen. Of course, as I had suspected, the morning flight was wide open.

"Just make sure you show up, because that plane will have your luggage on it and will not leave without you," she warned.

We said our sad good byes to our new friends who were a bit disappointed. Next, what to do? Go home for a few hours and come back at 5 a.m.? All the hotels were sold out. We cabbed back home and got up at 4:30 a.m. The weather behaved. I threw on the sweats and we headed out to the airport where we changed our seats up to the bulkhead.

A completely uneventful flight. We dozed off and then suddenly, we were on the ground in Toronto.

All I wanted to do was to get our stuff, race up to my friend's house for a quick shower and to burn my clothes outside in a pire. At the luggage carousel Miriam noticed a bad thing: The only ones waiting for luggage were those who were bumped from the night before. The smell of fried onions followed me to the baggage counter where we all filled out claim forms. We were assured that the luggage would be on the next plane and might even be airborne as we were standing there. Fine. Let's go. Clock is running down.

Within minutes my friend arrived with the car and I drove her to work, then continued to Earl Bales Park in North York where I arrived with scant minutes before my first game at 10:30 a.m. I was finally here. Phew. Deep breaths. An air of anticipation. Miriam sat around and waited for my best friend to come by and rescue her from this den of nerds. But meantime she got to see some of the Scrabblers from the circuit and it was not totally unpleasant for her.

I will save the Scrabble commentary for another post.

Let me just say that after a day of fighting hard in the tournament and struggling to keep my head up, we raced up to Thornhill to my girlfriend's. I forgot that I was jet lagged; that I smelled like a goat; that the luggage still had not arrived; that it was my girlfriend's birthday and I wanted to fete her. But the road to hell is paved with good intention. I would party with the best of them tonight, I thought.

By 8:30 p.m., after a good shower, I was really getting pissed. The luggage was somewhere in Toronto being dropped off to us weary travelers wherever we were. My friend's husband gave me some sweats to wear. I looked like a wooly bear and could not fit into my jacket. One last time I eased myself into my sweats, now smelling like the collision of stale McDonald's french fry oil and a sulfur plant disaster, and borrowed a tank top from my friend. We were about to head to the store when I realized something, and I told everyone to stand back: I was going to call Continental's lost luggage claims department.

Because I am a gamer, I will not reveal to you my method (you will have to find your own), however, I will inform you that by 8:45 p.m. Continental was springing for a lost clothing compensation spree for Miriam and me. It started at Old Navy and ended at the Loblaws Super Store. So you know we are good sports and did not take advantage. Three pairs of slacks; one blouse; one sweater; two sports bras. Total: Somewhere around $150, US funds, not including taxes.

With Miriam at a friend's in the neighbourhood for the night, there was still a birthday to celebrate. Donning my new jeans and sweater, I dozed off in the chair during the big outing with my best friend. Underwhelmed by my festive spirit, she took me home and went back to the bar while I dragged my sorry bones into bed and crashed hard. At around 1 a.m. I heard the doorbell: Bing bong. Continental calling, luggage in hand.

For the most part I decided to do the right thing and only wear my new duds for the next couple of days, out of principal.

Next: How the games went.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Here's some info about a very interesting program on Dec. 3 in Connecticut. I am a proud "rookie" alto with the Jewish People's Philharmonic Chorus, and we will be featured at this event. Please come by, enjoy a fabulous musical event...and say hello!
- Lynda

The Emanuel Synagogue in West Hartford, CT, presents
A Yiddish Choral Festival
Binyumen Schaechter, Conductor,
and 11-year old Yiddish performer,
Reyna Schaechter
Sunday, December 3, 2006
The Emanuel Synagogue, 160 Mohegan Drive, West Hartford, CT 06117

For all who love Yiddish music! For all who love Choral music!For all who love to listen! For all who love to sing! If you will be in New England or East New York State that Sunday, you won't want to miss this event!

This exciting Yiddish Choral Festival, to be held at the Emanuel Synagogue, will include a pair of workshops/sing-alongs led by Binyumen Schaechter and a rehearsal of 2-3 pieces to be shared by all participating choral groups. We will conclude with a choral performance featuring the JPPC, conducted by Schaechter, and featuring child soloists Reyna Schaechter and Arun Viswanath.

Binyumen Schaechter is an award-winning composer of musicals, revue songs and cabaret songs which have been performed in theaters and cabarets everywhere. His music has been sung by many famous singers, featured on PBS, ABC and NBC and recorded on a bunch of CDs.

You may have also seen him in the show and video Too Jewish?, in which he was Avi Hoffman's pianist, backup-singer and straight man.The JPPC is an excellent Yiddish chorus whose recent performance venues include Lincoln Center and Shea Stadium (singing "America the Beautiful" in Yiddish before the Mets game).

The Chorus just released their acclaimed first CD this year, ZINGT! A CELEBRATION OF YIDDISH CHORAL MUSIC,

The concert performance will be open to the public and serve as a fundraiser for the Emanuel. Come learn about Yiddish music and/or come to the concert in the afternoon. This day will have something for everyone!

For more information contact Cantor Sanford Cohn
or at 860-236-1275.