SCRABBLE ALL*STARS 2003 Commentary: Before the Tournament
Go to: Before the Tournament, Round 1, Round 2, Round 3, Round 4, Round 5, Round 6, Round 7, Round 8, Round 9, Round 10, Round 11, Round 12, Round 13, Round 14, Round 15, Round 16, Round 17, Round 18, Final Round 1, Final Round 2, Final Round 3, Final Round 4, After the Tournament.
Incredibly, despite all the setbacks that the power outage created, all 24 All*Stars made it to the Providence Biltmore, the last, Brian Cappelletto (Chicago, IL) arriving at around 11 P.M. Many players will remember the Biltmore as the host hotel of the 2000 National SCRABBLE® Championships. Since then, it has undergone many improvements including high-speed Internet access on several floors and overall improvements throughout. After checking in, my eye was drawn to the ceiling by the elevators. I gasped: it was indeed gold leaf, applied piece by painstaking piece on the ceiling! Perhaps the biggest change is the addition of the world's biggest Starbucks--3000 square feet!--off the main lobby!
Phone calls and e-mails were flying all day with reports of players delayed and making alternate travel plans. One player and two committee members were unable to fly out from Toronto, so they cheerfully opted to get a rental. Seems like many people had that idea, too, and rental companies weren't permitting any more one-way treks to the United States, so the trio ended up taking a car owned by Robin Pollock Daniel (Toronto ON). Thanks to her spouse, Gary, for his willingness to be home and carless with two small boys! Nearly 12 hours later (including driving and stops) a very weary John & Kristen Chew tumbled into the Biltmore lobby with Robin.
The most fun role reversal was the case of the late spouse. Rich Baker (Westhampton Beach, NY), stranded in Geneva, Switzerland, with a cancelled flight to New York City, made alternate plans through Zurich to land in Boston, MA. Since New England states are all so small and close together, he was able to take a commuter rail to Providence, RI, in under an hour. His wife, Liz Ashby, headed toward Providence from their Long Island, NY, home for what she'd planned to be a four-hour trek. Dense and difficult traffic stretched the trip out to seven hours and Rich arrived at the Biltmore more than an hour ahead of her!
After a quick committee meeting, I planted myself at a table in State Room B and greeted the players. Tim Adamson (Saint Paul, MN) and Randy Hersom (Morganton, NC) were the first registrants, prompt and excited. Soon after, Jerry Lerman (Foster City, CA) arrived, pulling out a 1948 folding SCRABBLE® set. It had small white (well, a bit yellowed with age) tiles with tiny magnets on the back that attached to the metal board. A bit worse for the wear, I declared it beautiful. Joe Edley (Coram, NY) said I might be overstating it, but I insisted that beauty was in the eye of the beholder and I was beholding one of the very first SCRABBLE® sets!
Every player's packet included an Official Tournament Rules book, a W9 form (for declaring all their winnings), copious amounts of official event scoresheets each with an event emblem in yellow, navy, and red (fetching!), a welcome letter, and a detailed explanation of the Gibson Rule and how it may be invoked in this tournament.
Jim Kramer (Roseville, MN) arrived just a few seconds after David Gibson (Spartanburg, SC) entered the registration room. I gave them their packets and suggested they read the David Gibson (Spartanburg, SC) rule carefully. Jim Kramer (Roseville, MN) deadpanned, "So, just who did they name this rule for anyhow?" David Gibson (Spartanburg, SC) laughed and said, "Oh, some player that used to be good long ago." It was fun explaining how we may be invoking the rule to the man for whom the rule was created at the 1994 NSC. David Gibson (Spartanburg, SC) had been driving all day and was so exhausted that he assumed I was both the tournament registration and the front desk concierge and he asked me where I'd assigned his room to be! As he left for the real front desk he told us all that he listened to Pat Barrett's word tapes all the way from South Carolina to the Biltmore!
Marlon Hill (Baltimore, MD) shook hands and greeted fellow players with "my man, how you doin'" sentiments. The one player we hadn't heard from all day received a round of applause once he entered the registration room. Dave Wiegand (Portland, OR) had made it! His wife Chris and daughter Samantha posed for a photo before running off to visit family nearby.
The day's humidity was getting to us all and many players were in t-shirts and shorts and we were wilting when all of a sudden the mood changed. Framed by the doorway with a grin from ear to ear was a dressed to the nines David Boys (Dorval QC) and his partner Kate Doe. Not only was David wearing a matching jacket and pants, he had on a tie! Kate sparkled with beads against her bare skin. They claimed to be watching a James Bond movie earlier in the day!
It is worth pointing out that our event's webmaster hasn't had access to electricity for the past 30 hours and many of his event files are on an unreachable server in Toronto. We look forward to catching up and bringing you all the great things we'd planned for this weekend!
Eight games tomorrow! Can't wait!
Before the tournament
Over breakfast this morning, Marlon Hill (Baltimore, MD) recounted the tale of his arrival at this event. He was scheduled to take a train from Baltimore, MD, to Washington, D.C., and then onto Boston, MA, but the train stopped in New York City, asking passengers to book another train to finish on toward Boston. Opting to take a break from the rails, Marlon spilled out of Penn Station at 7am and like a "homing pigeon" wandered up toward Washington Square Park where the city's SCRABBLE® players converge daily during the warmer months. It wasn't long before players showed up and challenged him for a few games. When the power went out, Marlon realized he had to find a way to get to Providence, so he phoned his buddy, Joe Weinike (New York, NY). Marlon was offered a ride, but he had to get himself up to the Upper East Side. After waiting for a bus for nearly 40 minutes, Marlon started to despair ever getting uptown. Clad in a gray San Diego NSC t-shirt, a passerby pointed to his shirt and asked "Did you go?" Marlon nodded. He then said, "Did you read that book Word Freak?" Marlon smiled and said, "I *am* the Word Freak! I'm in that book!" So, they stood on the street corner talking up the finer points of the book, the game, and the freaks therein. Their conversation was frequently punctuated by Marlon complaining about the "darn bus" and the passerby asked where he was going. When Marlon told him, he offered to drive Mr. Word Freak to his destination! I asked Marlon if the got the fellow's name and if he thought he'd ever see him again and he said, "Oh, yeah, we'll be seeing him. I bet he'll start playing in the park soon. And I better see him again! He's got my glasses!" Concerned that he may have trouble seeing the board or his tiles for this event, I asked if he would be okay without his eyewear. He snorted and said, "Sunglasses, my friend! I'm just that kinda guy!"
At 8:30am, players started to stream in the playing room--551A--and find their seats. The room is small with the tables all contained within a large metal structure that looks like high tech scaffolding. There are 12 giant lights spread around with smaller yellow lights interspersed, too. We're told that the lights will increasingly become more and more bright as the day goes on so that the cameras can operate to their best advantage.
Charlie Southwell, the event's director, began the announcements. As always, he was funny and brief. Since we'll be annotating at least three games per round, all players stand the chance of experiencing the joy of having someone recording their every draw and play. For some it is nerve wracking. Charlie's advice? "Play lousy." If the top three boards are annotated and a player loses a couple of games, they will certainly not be at an annotated board!
Laura Klein in a diaphanous floral dress then spoke for a few minutes reminding the players about ESPN's need for quiet in the playing room.
John D. Williams, Jr., the NSA's Executive Director, then took the podium. He joked about not knowing for sure that the event was going to happen until 11 minutes prior! He thanked the players for their great flexibility and perseverence and let us all know how gratifying it was to see this all about to happen. Looking back, he said that the past 25 years of tournament play had all led up this day, a day where our game would finally make television, where future School SCRABBLE® players could see the best and the brightest compete at the very highest level. He wrapped up by saying to the players, "This moment belongs to you. For all your years of studying and association with fellow obsessed individuals, this event is yours. I'm proud to be here."
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