A brisk eight (22-minute) games at the familiar Box Hill centre on Sunday, a welcome retreat from some wild weather; this was the Victorian matchplay qualifier, the top sixteen eligible to carry on and vie for the glorious title in individual knockout rounds over the next couple of months. My first opponent was Oliver Podesser, who opened with TOMBOLA but didn’t muster much thereafter – in midgame I took the opportunity with EEORSX? to make the blank an X, then later had VISITER to put the game out of his reach. Then Aaron Chong, currently ranked number one in both Malaysia and Singapore but sojourning in Australia for a month (and proud possessor of a very high initial Aussie rating, after an undefeated outing in Brisbane). This had been billed by avid onlooker Anand as “the clash of the titans”, but I got an early break after I left open a C-hook, retaining CNO and picking ENOR for CROONER. His scoring dried up just as I drew the blank, and he never had the opportunity to get back in.
Next up was Trevor Halsall. A fairly cagy start, but my rack matured to SINTERY while he needed to change the Q; as the board sclerosed I slotted TETANUS, prompting him to try a speculative nonword, and he had no way back. This paired me with the ever-entertaining ockerina Carmel Doney; consecutive BRENTEST and DOGLIKE were helpful, then a phony on her part gave me the breathing space to overlook FORCEFUL (oops), though I did manage ROTOTILL next move. I think that was lunch, and I showcased the delights of Ra-Ramen to Aaron in the food court (where we engaged in conversation about Malaysian politics and culture with our random table-neighbours).
Peter Kougi in game 5. The newish BOOAI was helpful, but the rack didn’t improve much and I soon had to change all of DLTTUWW. I regained a small lead with LEDGERED (onto ED), having remembered Chris’s recent bewilderment that it was good while LEGERED* is phony; it seems a LEGER is a fishing line, and to LEDGER is to fish with a particular type of line, so of course it makes sense. More so than GREBO/GREBOS, GREEBO/GREEBOES anyway. My AGNOMINA was met by his INTERACT, and after a successfully fishing for an E, LAZIER for 75 helped me to a lead after he erroneously tried to S-hook AGNOMINA. That’s three games in a row my opponents phonied…always helps.
Geoff Wright was also undefeated after five, and in a low-scoring encounter he manufactured a strong lead. My much-needed bingo never came, though a 60-point WAQFS cut the arrears, and Geoff is pretty good at closing down a board when ahead. In game 7 I vied with Sandra Masel, who played solidly but ended with a 60-point deficit after I deployed TATTOOER.
Final of the day was with Jimmy Scarff, and here I had a fortunate start with IRONNESS onto his opening TSK, 30 points for GOMEREL and then ACERBITY. He was well behind even after conjuring WALISES, so my dangerously-placed POLITICO permitting his 99-point ZOOEA was worth the gamble. On 7-1 at close of play, Geoff having faltered late in the day, I came out on top. Jimmy’s an interesting case, clearly with a much better vocabulary than his rating suggests. He’s studying hard at the moment so could well claw his way up the rankings.