I was up early and at Allan's by 8 a.m. Allan was just finishing his coffee and we were on the road to Perth ten minutes later. As is usual it is my job to feed Allan with anagrams. I managed to give him an 8 that kept him quiet for a large part of the journey (EHIPRSTU).
We arrived at just gone 10 a.m. - enough time to get a coffee and not feel stressed before we started. I was defending my title, and also trying to become the first person to win it three times in a row. I handed back the trophy, and noticed there was a hole in the bag and the engraved strip on the side was missing. I retraced my steps to the car but could not see it.
Game 1: Moya Dewar
Moya started with FUB and after a while trying to find something better (there were no other bonuses) I played TOElIKE. HOD from Moya. I had picked a clumky rack and VIR(E) cleared the V and duplicate R, but I was not happy playing such a blocky move so early in the game. LOTA from Moya and I opened with WRITE. Moya immediately blocked with ABA. I had another awkward rack and again was not happy with CU(BI)T but could see nothing better. Moya immediately blocked again with DO(C). GENUA to open again from me and Moya just dumped C(IDE). I then broke away with PLIER for 40 and ZHOS for 62 to be 80 up after QIS from Moya. A late bonus of bARNEYS blocked Moya's bonus to increase the spread.
Game 2: Ross Mackenzie
We both changed five tiles as our opening gambits. I bonused first on move 4 with MONSTER and Ross dumped the Q. GNA(R)R from me using my only vowel but I had picked an S, and picked three more consonants and a blank. Luckily for me Ross did not block my F(A)X. ZIT from Ross and I had picked a vowel for SNiRTLE. Ross bonused back two moves later with (R)EWINdER. CRON(E) blocked the useful floaters but did not help my rack. AMI(d) from Ross. I(N)DUED cleared it and scored well, but I picked up more of the same but also an S. Ross changed five tiles again. I dumped LU(D)O. FY from Ross. I successfully talked myself into UN(R)IP to balance, blocking Ross's J(U)VE at the same time so just JO(L) instead. At this point I am only 46 up with six in the bag. With AEHISSO I opt for ASSI(Z)E leaving one in the bag as I was not far enough ahead to afford for Ross to get the triple. He duly bonused with AVERAGE but it was not enough.
Game 3: Marion Keatings
INIA opening move from me from an uninspiring rack. Marion laid down MATINEE across the top but then noticed the NI... I was waiting for ETAMINE instead, working out what to play with my rack of ACDNQRR but it never came, Marion just dumping ME. I played off NARC and picked a blank. With nowhere to dump the Q I then changed it on the next go, bonusing with gRANDEE the move after. I followed up with YOLK and JOUAL, but Marion was caught me back up with HIES, EX, WOG and WIN(C)H to make it 228-228. I bonused with (E)LeVATOR but Marion hit back with ZIT. GAG from me and DEF from Marion to make an opening and stay in touch. OBS blocked it, emptying the bag and sealing the win.
Game 4: Allan Simmons
Allan exchanged four tiles and I opened with the board killer of VAV. Allan bonused with plintHs. ADO from me clearing a couple of duplicates. LURE from Allan and DEIF from me to score and keep an opening. QAN(A)T from Allan and I cleared an awkward rack with (V)AUCH. Allan took the triple with EDGE and I took the other with G(L)ENT. (C)OZIER from Allan gave me the floater for ABER(R)ATE to take a small lead. FEERIE for 55 from Allan, and there was now only one unseen E. OXY from me - I was worried about the hooks and Allan immediately got M(A)C there for 33. Another uninspiring rack and I balanced with IWI. Allan also balanced and blocked with GI(G)OLO. I just dumped an H from a now consonant heavy rack to keep in touch. Allan then made an opening with (V)UM and I took it off with JANNS to regain a small lead. TRAN(Q) from Allan and I am now 19 behind with ABLOPRU with six unseen tiles including ESS?KWY and other bonus-friendly tiles. I spent a long time before deciding on PROB to take a 20 point lead and pray - I could not see anything else that could score enough to give me a chance. I picked OWS? and as long as Allan did not have a bonus blocking mine the game was probably won...
Game 5: Azu Ogbogu
In all the previous games I have played against Azu I have got off to fliers but this game was slower to get going. Azu started with AZO and I played OF. After JA from Azu I could not make a single play so changed five tiles. TAPA from Azu let in a chink of daylight. GOY from me. Azu then bonused with COnIDIA. I balanced a consonant heavy rack with WH(O)M and REWaXES the move later got me five points ahead. It was nip and tuck for the next few moves. Azu took a reasonable sized lead with CHU(T)E but I bonused again with STARRED. I gradually eked a small lead which was wiped out by VARVES, emptying the bag. My rack wasn't great (DDEEITT) but Azu's pick up was worse (EEIINNN). (B)ITTED gave me a six point lead and a two move play out, Azu missing the new NEINEI but it wouldn't have affected the spread.
Game 6: Alan Sinclair
It was me to start from an opening rack of AAEIKW?. I did a lot of soul searching - KAWAI* formed on my rack. Then I thought of KAWAU and couldn't decide which was good. I went with it and Alan just wrote the score down. I checked it in the evening as it was still niggling away at the back of my brain. I followed it up with FLETToN after wasting a lot of time again deciding which bonus to play. Alan bonused back on move 3 with NOD(D)IEST but responded with the face value GREEN(L)ET. Five 30+ plays in the next six moves from me saw me take a large lead. Alan made a desperation opening at the end allowing me to get 60 with JEST.
So, end of day 1 and a clean sheet. I phoned Paul to get him to check for the missing engraving, but he reported back later that it was not found. I was staying in a nearby B&B, and wandered into the city centre in the evening to eat. I cleared my cardbox before turning in for the night.
Game 7: Neil Scott
VIFDA to open. Neil dumped QI. AXOID from me and Neil bonused with CLoTTED. I had AACELNT and tried AC(C)ENTAL for 167. Neil bonused again with GOBLINS and LACTEAN from me. Neil took the triple with (C)HORE. I had AIJKMUO and eventually opted for MUJIK. ANY from Neil scored too many points. AGENE from a vowel-heavy rack from me, AULI(C) from Neil finally removing the 9-x spot. HOI from me and Neil bonused with StOMPI(N)G. I was still hanging in with WINERY, opening another 9-x, but was then hit with ZOOEA and (E)VENTERS from Neil. I got a consolation play out bonus with PERTUS(E)D.
Game 8: Wilma Warwick
I changed IIIUY as my opening play and Wilma tried WETTENs. I had picked NATURES and Wilma played the face-value TWENTiE(S). I was pleased to spot the playable bonus with BIIMNRS. Wilma took the triple and I dumped QI(S). N(E)ATHERD two moves later and Wilma tried (E)ARHOLEs. PLUFFE(D) from me for 60. Wilma dumped HO(M)A setting up my LUZ for 45. Wilma bonused with B(U)NGLERs. JAI from me, keeping two more Is, and a lucky pickup gave me DIO(R)ITES the following move. I followed that up with OX(T)ER for 60.
Game 9: Iain Harley
Iain opened with ILIAC, ORV(A)L from me. Iain dumped QI, and (C)OLBY from me. OOM from Iain, blocking the S hook I hoped he didn't know. My rack hadn't matured and I changed five tiles. Iain got the face-value RET(A)INER and I caught that back up with MIKED and FEZ. LAUNCeS two moves later to take a good lead. sTEWERS from Iain on move 10 to get back in touch. I didn't particularly like my reply of GAIT and I was still not safe at 70 ahead when Iain opened the 4-x with V(ET). I didn't have an E so took off the triple, leaving one in the bag. Iain just dumped an O, and I had now picked an E to remove the last danger spot.
Game 10: Anne Ramsay
Anne opened with YUM, and with a consonant heavy rack GOLF from me. GR(O)VE from Anne, and I took the risk with NOTT/GROVET. Anne blocked the potential high scoring S hook with ADO. HARO from me and I was consonant bound again. LI from Anne and QI from me. Anne changed after toying with playing parallel to QI, DIPT from me. Anne bonused with ARAISES to take the lead, which we swapped over the next few turns as the board got more and more blocked. I had moved 40+ ahead when Anne played JArGONs onto DEEK which I challenged off. I wasn't going to make any openings now and dumped BL(I)N from a rack of consonants. Anne now tried S(NOTT). I couldn't block either of the two danger spots from TORI or ITA/SOW so balanced again with BUY. Anne now dumped JA(NE). I severely restricted TORI with REN. GU(V) from Anne. From my rack of AEINRST I played off NITRE to kill the last danger.
Game 11: Allan Simmons
The computer threw a wobbly this round and had done a king-of-the-hill pairing, which was not meant to happen until the last round. Amy decided to run with it rather than risking screwing it up completely. I was one game ahead of Allan, and around 160 points better in spread.
Allan started with AGAPE and I responded with JOB, keeping back an E. (G)ENII from Allan and from EEIILPR, and I chose PLIE over PIE. (JA)XY from Allan, QI from me. I followed up with good scores from WERO and KEDS from DEKLNRS rather than the lower scoring but better rack leave choices. I then took off with the hat-trick of D(E)LETION, OUTRATe and WIGLeTS. Allan never closed the deficit.
Game 12: Anne Steward
I was 'Gib(p)sonized', as no-one could now catch me.
I started well with HOMED followed by OX. NOTATEs on move 4. Anne's JIN for 42 kept her in touch, but I scored well with consecutive plays of BLEND, WAID and POUK. I bonused again on move 11 with IOLITES and Anne's bonus response of R(E)TiRING still left her well over 100 behind.
So I had retained my title, Allan finished second after beating Azu in the playoff for second/third places. Allan was looking at the trophy after I received it and he happened to turn it over - there was the engraved strip stuck on the back!
Many thanks to Amy who had a fraught weekend with all the fixture/printer problems, and to everyone else who helped.
The trials and tribulations of a life of leisure...
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