Friday, July 25, 2008

Early Morning Excitement (#1)

In a couple hours, the Coconut Conundrum will be driving with me over to The Director's house. I will meet up with the Acolyte and the Crimson Commando and the four of us will drive together to the airport (sadly the wife will be staying behind this year to spend time with her Mom and her friend Teresa from out of town). No actual games today, just travel, registration and settling in. I am feeling nostalgic this morning so I'm going to let my mind drift back over a couple comparable tournaments to this imminent scrabbleganza.

Way back in high school, when I was a hot shot young chess player, I attended an event in Tennessee called Super Nationals. It was "super" because the United States Chess Federation, or U.S.C.F., decided to hold a championship for all levels of scholastic chess at the same time and place. There were over 2,500 kids participating from first to twelfth grade. There were seemingly endless divisions. I think I was in 9th grade Division Two. This meant I was "only" directly competing against around two hundred other people. My rating put me near the top and I remember naively thinking "Well I only really need to worry about these four kids ahead of me". Of course ratings are only an approximation of ability and children are especially prone to variance in performance. I got off to a good start, winning my first several rounds. One by one, the kids rated in front of me suffered at least one loss. Around halfway through the tournament (round 5 out of 9, I think) I had pulled into first place. Lucky me, a news crew showed up at his point and decided to tape some of the "top boards" (the two top ranked players in a division playing each other). I was paired up against someone from my home state who I had actually played against before in previous tournaments and beaten both times. He was a pleasant enough guy, but his "style" of play was somehow both very boring and annoying to me. We got into a position that should have been a draw, but I did not want to suffer my first non-win and fall out of first place so I made a couple risky moves that wound up backfiring and I went on to lose my first game. I bounced back to win three and draw one after that, but I could not catch some of the people in the standings. Unfortunately, the kid I had lost to fell apart after our match and lost several games in the remaining rounds. When the last round was over I had finished fifth, right where I started. I was ahead of one person with the same record as me (because I had beat them head to head) but behind the other three with the same record (and the winner who only had wins and draws). It was an overall fun experience, but a little bittersweet, because I was pretty sure I could have done better. Who knows though? By losing when I did, I didn't have to play as difficult opposition until the last couple rounds then if I had kept winning and stayed in first. Incidentally, chess does have a national championship, but the one time I went, it was as a high school state champion and the forty something of us were kept in our own little bubble, separate from the main tournament hall and the thousand or so playing in the "main event".

Magic also has a national championship (one for each of around thirty countries actually), but it is invitation only. There are two ways to receive an invitation to these prestigious events. If you can get your rating to a certain level then you are automatically qualified. Last time I checked it was top 100 in the world if you wanted an invite to the U.S. Nationals. I got pretty close to this threshold (125th or so) but could not quite make it. The other option is to make the playoffs of a Regional tournament. Depending on the turnout, somewhere between one and eight people would qualify. Alaska and Montana, for instance, usually have less than 100 people at their regionals and so can only send one representative. New York, California, Ohio and a couple others regularly have more than 500 at theirs, so they get to send a full eight. I'm pretty sure I went to ffive regionals over the years and attendance ranged from 250 to 400. Only the largest one qualified a full eight people. My first regionals I only won one round and quit before the tournament was over. There was also one year when I just was not having fun and left to spend time with the Coconut Conundrum (who I should have been staying with in the first place) One year I came as close as possible without qualifying: 5th place when the top 4 got invitations. The other two were moderate successes where I won prizes and pretty much recouped my expenses. The question on my mind this morning is this: what will Scrabble Nationals be like? I am nowhere near the top of my division and am very jealous of The Director who is one of the favorites in her division. People keep telling me I am in a good spot to gain rating points, but I do not really care about that. Its not like I can cash my point in for a car or even a free meal somewhere. Hopefully, I can go an have a fun time. At least I will have friends there. The more I think about it though, the more I am sure of one thing. Having my duck with me will be nice, but I am not going to another ocean of scrabble insanity this big in the future without my smiley anchor of sanity the Coconut Conundrum herself.

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