My closest game of the tournament was the first one, against Mal Ramsdale. He started strongly with TALAQ and achieved three bingos to my one, earning an endgame lead of 35 while I held the difficult EEGJPRZ with nowhere to dump JEEZ or JIZ, and only face-value spots for J and Z if they were played individually. It looked bleak, but luckily Mal had problems of his own, facing the rack AEIOO. I played PERK onto a K, leaving myself the play-through of JEEZ if Mal failed to block it - he did play in that area, but made EE which enabled me to dump J and Z on either side for 40 points, then to go out with GE(L) to win by a whisker-thin five points.
My racks were a lot easier against Julian McKail in round 2, and I scored a 100-point win (ending his long-standing recent streak of victories) thanks to an outplay of PESKY/SEVERALS followed by ENTIA. Similar flowing racks awaited me against Chris May, including IN(H)AULER on move one (glad to be going second with that rack ) and the unlikely EEFNVY? which slotted round an R for FERVENcY. This earned me a match with Edward Okulicz - I was quite pleased to spot the 34-point play from my opening rack of CEEFMNY (1), but Ed responded with ZINK(Y) for a healthy 42 (his rack leave was EST, so I was fortunate not to be in a position to provide I or U as floaters for ZINKIEST/KUNZITES). In midgame, I boldly set up an (I)VIED hook onto the TWS line (placing VIED at 13b), but was unable to use it profitably from my follow-up rack of GILOOOP. I dumped GLOOP, and then held AEINOSV - but oddly overlooked EVASION/IVIED, playing the bingo elsewhere. Finally I got down TWIRL/IVIED next turn for 45, just as Ed had finally picked a couple of I's of his own. On a rather blocked board I managed a late bingo of (S)ANDLoTS to seal a win.
Lunch was a very salty and greasy piece of fried fish from the local chippy.
Esther Perrins was up next, and my first rack EEFRRU? yielded four possible sevens to hook her VOL, making the blank H, L, S or T of which I chose the first (2). After changing six from AAAEIII, my third rack was the pleasant AEINOT?, giving NIOBATE for 84. A later judiciously placed JIAO/QI/AA for 42 allowed a follow-up of HEREIN/AAH for 51, and I kept the bingo lead to the end of the game. David Eldar was also undefeated at this point, and I was on the back foot immediately as he started with ScLERITE for 78 in response to my WEBER opener. I was falling behind after a few moves apiece, and it turns out I missed an 8-letter bingo with ACEOOR? (3) (the floaters available were C, E, J, R or X) - having dumped OO, I pulled back with ACATERs for a nip and tuck struggle to the end of the game. David had a spot of board-blindness himself towards the end, overlooking the hook for him to fit in AUNTIES (according to several observers later, who had been kibitzing the end of the game), and I was glad to have a good scoring spot for AMIRS followed by TUFTY/OWLY which sealed the 30-point win.
Game 7 was against Naween Fernando, and I couldn't find much better than BRIAR from my rack of BIIKRRR to follow his opening TAV. Naween pulled well ahead thanks to a four-timer of HOT(B)EDS, but his change on move 8 allowed me to catch up with TRAINED/BRIARD and follow that with the lucky SmUDGES/COVENS. Although Naween slotted COcAINE, he had surrendered the lead, and had to hope the Q was in the bag at the endgame to snatch it - but when he set up the needed hot-spot with an I next to a DWS, I was fortunate to capitalise with the ideal tiles making SUQ/QI for 59, enough to win by about 80.
This earned me a clash with John Holgate, whom I had only played twice before in Australian rated games (1 win each). His second play was aTTENDER for 82, but I found a nice score of 43 for (E)PRISE, also making UP, KOR, AMI and MOS to keep in touch. I was forced to change all 7 from my midgame rack of IILOTUY, whereupon John colonised the TWS lane making CHINS down from L1. My new rack was the delightful ABDEIS? enabling a 158-point nine-timer round the C which survived as high word for the rest of the tourney (4). He stayed within reach, but was unable to overcome my lead by the end.
My ninth opponent was Jean McGiffen, who took a strong lead with TRAVELs and ORGANzAS. My rack matured at just the right time for me to play INDEXES/WOX for 125 towards the end, and although my last seven tiles were the problematic EJMNOQV I held on to win. Final game of the day was against Bob Jackman, and a dream start saw me begin with ACTINON/CHUB followed by LAPW(I)NGs and a later EGMNNOT (5), adding insult to injury with DUOTOnES at the death. So I finished day one undefeated, to my amazement - but the tenacious David was only one win behind.
Sunday morning, and I was matched with Alastair Richards. As in my game with Chris, I was happy to be going second with my first rack of AEIRTTO, and even happier when Alastair played BLACK which permitted LITERATO. I followed that with MINILAB and kept a solid lead throughout the game, eventually picking EELQU?? which fitted in nicely to make (s)PEAT/sEQUELs for 103. Alastair's mum Karen was next, and though she has previously been a bogey player of mine, a couple of phonies on her part enabled me to win (no bingos in this game for me against Karen's DONATiNG and FERRIES, but I did manage HAJj for 60).
Lucky 13th opponent was Carmel Dodd. My third rack was EILMSTT, and I spotted SMITTLE but declined to play it because of the danger of hooks that would be exposed onto the TWS line. It turns out that SMITTLE is a dialect adjective meaning "infectious", and (despite appearances) has no hooks whatsoever. Fortunately I was able to play an eight through a floating H instead (6). A late TARRIES gave me a flattering 100-point victory margin, and the right to face Joanne Craig. She was scoring well, but I started even better, particularly with FECHTER on move 3 for 105; she was never able to conjure a further bingo to erode the lead earned by that word.
Game 15 was the final round before the KOTH kicked in. My opponent was Alistair Kane, who has frequently dealt me defeats in the past - as indeed he proceeded to do in this game. I did hold a lead near the end, but he was able to slot in RAYLETS for 98 which was too much for me (Naween suggested a possible winning line for me at the end holding AEIOOPU - I'll have to look into that one in detail, but I'm dubious). Al won by 18 points.
David Eldar had been performing very well, and although he lost to Edward in the same round, was only one game behind on 13/15 - together we were way ahead of the field. So naturally I was matched with him for the first KOTH. All square after a couple of moves each, I held BCEIOO? - I thought of COENOBIA and BOOKLICE (there is also BIOSCOPE, which I failed to spot), but none of the possible eights were playable. Unfortunately I made up the word COOMBIER round an M (which is NOT allowed, don't ever try to play it), getting confused between COOMIER, COMBIER and the existence of COOMB/COOMBE. When that was taken off, David had enough of a lead to control the game to the bitter end (though he did block my late chance of a bingo with DEEISSU (7)). That made us all square - given that his margin was considerably better than mine, I needed to win the last two games to claim the title (David only required one further win).
The last two games were, of course, both against David. Meanwhile Naween and Chris were still battling it out on table two for third and fourth (an unusual quirk is that they played the final three KOTH games together, and that even if there had been another round, the matchups would again have been me vs David and Chris vs Naween). Games 17 and 18 were minor classics, and exciting throughout. I suspect they would both be worthy of annotation in ATB if I had not already featured in the last issue.
Game 17 exploded when David played TR(U)DGEON on move 4, followed by my Am(E)NAGES, then his ANOTHER and my MA(N)TILLA. My next pickup was ACDEOSU, and I was greedily eyeing the R in third position of a nine-timer - but chances of CA(R)OUSED were dashed with David's hat-trick play of WiSEAC(R)E using the same letter. I made do with DECO/ORAD for 32, but was lagging in the score stakes. Fifty points behind with a rack of FINNSTX, I saw the chance of slotting in (A)X(I)TE for 60 if I picked the right letter, so I turned over four tiles with a play of FINS for 30. David was continuing to score strongly - but I had plucked a precious E from the bag, AXITE giving me a slender 14-point lead with one in the bag. David held BBEILRU, and I had the nasty IIINNOY with another E lurking unseen. He opted for BUIL(T), scoring 13 and incidentally preventing my best shot of (P)INYIN which I had planned (with a follow-up of OI/ZO/DEI lined up). However, I could still make a great score with NOY/ZO/DEY for 34, and although I wouldn't go out with IIIN, I had just enough in hand to win by eight points. It looks as though BUILT would win two out of eight endgames (if O or Y were in the bag), but this one didn't go David's way.
All to play for in round 18, then, and David had the start. We traded blows for a while - his VETOES/ABOVES for 50, my ZOONIC for 54, but I finally pulled ahead with an eight from AELMOST round a floating C, the only bingo playable (8). David followed with INDUNAs, but I responded with MEW underneath for 54. This gave me enough of a lead to justify burning the blank next move for 46 on a blocked board (I played PARKs). David kept the game alive by making an opening with LITE - apparently he held the last E for the front-hook onto the triple. I restricted the opening, but David made another, dumping a single O to make O(UP) with its multiple front-hooks. My final rack was AIORRTX, but the bingo didn't quite fit in (9). I could see that from the final pool of EHINOSTU David had chances of HEINOUS/SOUP, or also of OUTSHINE onto a floating E. It didn't occur to me at the time that he almost certainly had the final E, so OUTSHINE wouldn't have been on the cards. Nevertheless, I was 58 ahead and calculated that if I left the bingos alone and scored enough to overcome HEINOUS, I would still scrape home. If the H was in the bag, David wouldn't have a bingo so I didn't need to worry about being stuck with an extra four-pointer. A final play of OX(ES)/XI therefore scored me 33, and when HEINOUS duly went down I was in the clear by 11 points. Phew! Two really tough games to finish, and a great way to earn my second CSIM title.
A quick blank count reveals I picked 20, slightly above average. But most of the time I was in a position to play high-scoring moves throughout my games - it helps when the tiles flow. Let's hope I can return for CSIM 2007 next year.
Answers to puzzles below
X X X X X X X X X X X X (1) CYMENE (2) FUEHRER, rather than FERRULE, REFUSER or REFUTER (3) JACKEROO was the only playable bingo (CORONAE wouldn't fit, no other floaters were suitable) (4) PEDICABS (5) TONGMEN (6) MELTITHS (7) DISEUSE (8) MOLECAST - CAMELOTS wouldn't fit (9) ORATRIX