I had originally intended to post a summary of my results from last weekend's Plainfield (Indy) tourney, but when I got started writing, I realized I needed to lay out some personal thoughts first, that boil down to my self-discovery of why I play this game. I hope to follow up with specific results in a subsequent post, but for now, I'll suffice it to say that for this tournament, I had two objectives.
First, to have fun no matter what the results are.
This was personally a big challenge for me in light of my previous 3 tournaments, going all the way back to Charleston last year. At that tournament, I was 9-2 going into the final game. All I had to do was not lose by more than 140 points and first place was mine. Well, I ended up losing by 147 and Brad Mills had to tear up the $200 check he'd already written in my name. Next was Pittsburgh, where I was last seed in the top division, and although I faced a lot of tough competition, I had mostly poor draws and my 4-8 record was considerably worse than I expected.
Then came the infamous Lexington tourney, where, in spite of being the top seed, I opened 0-5, with several losses against sub-1000 players, and finished 5.5-9.5 and lost over 100 rating points. My lackluster play was combined with even worse luck, where I drew a TOTAL of 8 blanks in 19 games over the weekend. However as bad as my game results were, there were far bigger factors contributing to the misery of that tourney, that I will not go into here.
For a while after the Lexington tourney, I was wondering if it was worth all the effort of word study (30-45 minutes per day on average), driving many miles in some cases, with the risk of coming home disappointed yet again. For someone who regularly hovers in the 1600-1800 range on ISC, to be playing in the 1200s in NSA play (which I don't list on ISC because with that disparity many folks will naturally assume I'm cheating there), I was starting to ask myself if I had what it takes to be a successful tourney player.
However before long I found myself looking on cross-tables again for tournaments in the area, seeing which I might be able to make it to. And to be honest, for a while it was accompanied with a sense of dread that all my effort would once again be met only with disappointment. But at some point I came to a critical realization: at its root, I don't care. It's fun. I play Scrabble because it's fun. Sure I want to win. Sure I want to someday crack the top 100 players, which is a goal even though I'm not yet sure it's realistic. However, the root reason I play this game is because it's fun. It's an escape, a recreational activity. Complaining about poor draws, bad luck, bad behavior by others in the game, etc, misses the point of the game, which is to have fun. Dwelling excessively on my bad experiences from prior tournaments was seriously jeopardizing my right to have fun at this game.
So, at Indy, I made a conscious effort to have fun and keep a positive attitude, even if I finished 0-6. It turns out that this mindset was put to a serious test, as I lost 2 of my first games that day, blowing big leads in both. However, at lunch after Game 3 I did notice that I was still having fun, which frankly I considered a pretty big personal achievement.
All that said, I decided to look for ways to improve my game, and hopefully start living up to my own expectations. My second resolution, therefore, was to start playing more analytically, and less emotionally. I know it's risky to make generalizations, but if you look the habits of top players, a high number of them record their racks and analyze their games and look for their mistakes. I've gathered this in personal conversations, but also by reading blog entries of some of the top players. You rarely hear them moan about how few blanks and S's they drew in a tournament. Instead you'll see they write about whether the found the best play in a given situation. The point isn't that that tile gods hate them because they drew IIIUUVW on their rack after an exchange. Rather, the point is whether the subsequently made the best play with that rack on the next turn. So, the focus is on what they CAN control (what they do with their rack and the board), not what they CAN'T control (what they draw out of the bag).
If you've read Tyler's posts of his tourney results, you'll notice that he lists his racks at critical turns, so I assume he's recording his racks. Naturally, knowing what was on your rack is pretty important in deciding whether you truly made the best play. So, I set out to make an effort to record my rack at every turn in every game in the Indy tournament. Since I'm only just now getting to where I track tiles reliably, I expected to have a lot of difficulty adjusting to this added accounting workload, especially since I hadn't done it before, even in club games. I'm happy to report, however, that I was 100% successful/accurate on all but maybe 4 turns the whole tournament. The downside was that I did have trouble with time in a couple of games, a situation which probably caused one of my losses. Frankly, though, I think taking a loss in exchange for the information gained by recording racks is a tradeoff I'm willing to make at this point.
The day after the tournament, I spent a couple of hours entering all 6 games into Quackle (a great tool for analyzing games, for those that may not have heard of it). This was at once revealing and very humbling, as I could see every turn where I missed a bingo, should have exchanged but hung on to a bad rack, you name it. All in all I could see that it's time very well spent. I've used Quackle to analyze the occasional ISC game (albeit not enough), but analyzing live games allows you to see all kinds of situations that might not come up when playing online.
So, how will I do, with this new attitude, and new commitment to an analytical approach to improvement? Honestly, it's too early to tell. My gut tells me that it's definitely a step in the right direction. The fact that I won my last 3 games at Indy and came away with my first 1st place finish, only reinforces that feeling.