I had three pleasant days in Prague before the tourney began. By the time Wednesday rolled around I had been everywhere I desired, mainly on foot, occasionally bumping into parties of scrabblers (e.g. Chris Cree and friends en route for the mediaeval clock, or Hubert in a seafood café in an out-of-the-way mall) and occasionally meeting them by design (some of the US guys at a splendid beerhall, for example). The weather was unwontedly warm for December, up to about five degrees and generally sunny; the vaunted Christmas markets were mainly full of tat such as doylies, dolls, baubles, glassware and the like, but it was nice to see roasted chestnuts and the trdelník on offer.
Perhaps I was too distracted by the local flora and fauna, for I played truly dreadfully in many of my games (or maybe it was the K-pop that Chris M assiduously sought out in his nightly channel-surfing, sometimes making do with lolloping Kraut rock). Embarrassingly badly, even, so that I should hardly have been rubbing shoulders with the rest of the Australian team. I was probably too complacent in some games, and my bingo-spotting matrix was seriously awry – so far I have found six misses in my first sixteen games, which is absolutely appalling and well below my usual level. Maybe I need to rethink things from scratch, and simply spend more time looking for better plays instead of falling lazily into the ‘hit and hope’ mentality. This is the world championship we are talking about.
MSI’s organisation was generally fine, but there were some minor irritations such as the tiny tile bags (I brought my own), and the means of advertising pairings via a small laptop.
Anyway, game 1 was against Indonesian rep Fadlan Satria, who opened with the straightforward REPUTES. I wasn’t at all concerned at that point, even though I felt I needed to change holding AAEORRS. But as it happened, AERATORS might have been a better choice (yes, one of my low points). He got a 100-point lead and sensibly started clogging up the board, and by midgame I thought it worthwhile to phony him with the nonexistent anagram of DOLPHINS (that’s *PINHOLDS). He accepted without demur, promptly using the S to play YEASTIER for 140 which was not helpful for my cause. I later jammily bingoed twice in succession to garner a lead, but he secured INSTEAD to draw level while I held BKMMOOQ. I suppose I misplayed the endgame but his tiles were slightly easier, and he ended up winning by 13. Very poor play on my part, but you can often get away with that against unheralded so-called cannon fodder.
Joanne Craig then completely outdrew me, nabbing four bingos to my consolation PASSATA, and I had to face Taewan. This started OK, but my draw was rather weak after UNCURSE (the rebarbative AAAIIUW, which I stupidly tried to play through) and he then double-blanked me to come back and win. I almost had him, but managed to draw the only tile out of eight unseen that let him bingo out. So be it, I was on 0-3 minus 197 (much the same as Cappalletto in Melbourne, but it’s probably harder to recover these days).
I was down on table 90 or thereabouts, and my opponent was Japan’s Kunihiko. I’d have to say he played quite badly, usually dumping two tiles here and there without much thought as to the consequence of his play, and on move four he played S?IFTIER round an open E. My heart had been sinking until he declared a W as the blank, and I was able to kill all immediate possibilities. I ended up with a 160-point win despite his rather nice TzETZES.
The tiles flowed beautifully against Peggy Fehily, and here I played reasonably well including a late block which spurned a 60-point (VALOR)IZE but set up a likely bigger play, and I did end up with HAZIER 89 for a massive win. Then against teammate Esther Perrins, I couldn’t complain about drawing into SELFISH, ROULETTE and BIPAROUS (though HISSELF would have been a lot better). Last of the day was against Wong Zhi Yuan, current Oxford student and occasional sparring partner of Chris (who reckons he wins about 75%). Some smallish inaccuracies here and there, but when the (bull)dust settled I had clawed back to 4-3.