The Pardubice Qualifying Tournament 2020

Pardubice, CZ, Sat Sep 19 2020

I always look forward to this tournament very much. Being a part of a big international event of chess and other board games, there’s big buzz and overall a unique atmosphere.
This time, though, due to the alleged pandemic, the buzz is way smaller. The festival has been moved to a smaller place… but the atmosphere is still there.

I remember I left for this tournament by the 5.40 AM train a few times and then had to hang around for about an hour. This year it starts half an hour earlier but still, it seems I would arrive there way too early, so I decide to take the 6.42 AM one.
Of course Murphy’s laws work, so I gotta go number two before leaving. I manage in time – I still don’t have to run, but guess what – just as I’m about to leave, my cell phone rings. I don’t answer it – whoever it is, sorry, I don’t have time now.
When I jump on the train – in time but just thanks to the run – I find out it was my teammate Jirka Kracík. I call him back and he wonders where I am – he’s taken the earlier train.
I realize I’m quite pressed for time. Even the common five-minute delazy (what a good typo) of the train makes me nervous – but hey, the train I’m changing for being a “minor” one, it must wait for me.
It does. Oooph. Five minutes is the standard waiting time for a delayed train, but it being exactly five minutes, the run to the platform is a hell of a thrill.
I drew myself a map of the route from the station to the venue before hitting the (rail)road, but still I do ask some locals for direction so I don’t go the wrong way – too little time for that. I’ll have to stand in line to register and pay the fee – I still wonder why we can’t do that online like at other tourns, especially now with the alleged pandemic around.
Before I left, I had drawn myself a map of the route from the station to the venue: it turns out to be useless in the end, since I have to take the town bus due to lack of time. Oh well, whatever.

When the Nationals bronze holder and runner-up Jiří Kamín finds out he’s matched up against me in Round 1, he says to me: “I thought I’d get someone easier for a warm-up.”

He does in the end – the match-ups are going to be redone, which usually happens when a latecomer manages to arrive before we start.

I am supposed to take on the charming lawyer Věra Majtánová.
She starts out with a 42-pointer. I don’t have much to play, so I play láru for ten.
Láru, eh?” she frowns at that. “Láru…?”
I offer a definition, but it turns out to be wrong: the one-time National Champ and a double runner-up Břetislav Basta turns to us from the neighboring (guess what – #1) table: “[The accusative singular of] lár – a Roman home god.”
She decides not to challenge, which turns out to be good for her, because she needs to save penalty crosses for weirder words I put down later. Haha! Such as – right on my next turn – the pure bingo neoduji. The negative 1st person future of neodout, an a bit bookish verb for not to swell. She challenges this time. It comes back good (I was sure of it.) Five turns late I triple-triple the 7-point Ó: forty-nine. Blocking the remaining bingo spots, I make it practically impossible, but she still impresses me by taking a triple thanks to an uncommon prefix. She delights me by saying she remembers this because of my punning group on Facebook. I win 398 – 311.

“I was supposed to play her and then there was the redraw,” Jirka Kracík tells me. He won now too…. And to his “pleasure” he becomes my next opponent.
“You go first… unfortunately,” he reads the match-ups. “Good luck – but slightly worse than to me…” he sneers.
That wish, though, doesn’t help him. On my fourth turn I play a 37-point two-word combo and two turns later I use my blank in (a)nexí, the genitive plural of an ANNEXATION, for 55.
“Jesus,” he goes as usual and (also as usual) puts the word down on a piece of lined paper. I kill him 334 – 233. Sorry mate.

On my way from the restroom I peep at the score sheet of the game between my dear friend Adéla Svítková and my teammate Jan Votava. They are just about to go to the computer with the scrabble dictionary installed to verify a word, but he says: “He’s gonna know.” Meaning me, so they don’t have to go anywhere. “Is rauš a word?” (A word for a state of highness – not the royal one but the one after smoking weed, less typically after doing any other drug including alcohol.)
“Yup.” I blurt out, but Adéla still goes and checks that. I was right (of course).

I can’t expect an easy opponent after two wins. But I still do rejoice to see who that is this time – Michal Přikryl, one of my fave opponents with whom I often have “online scrabble sessions” during which we often listen to music and drink beer or wine.
“Rodr…,“ he reads the match-ups. “Who’s that?” he grins.
“[The match-ups of the front tables are] full of pretty people,” Jaromír Buksa grins ironically.
A neck and neck fight for the first seven turns. Then two 30-pointers get me ahead, but on his eleventh turn Michal comes up with a bingo and the close battle begins anew (223 – 225). What decides is the very endgame and the blank that comes to me towards the end. I win 314 – 352.

Lunch time. We were supposed to tell Filip the organizer which of the offered dishes each of us wishes to enjoy and cough up for it on the spot. I have meat and rice, not bad, but this kind of dish needs to be washed down with beer. I ask the girl at the stand for one.
“Are you a player?” she asks.
“Yes, I am,” I confess, not having a clue what I’ve just given away.
“I’m sorry then. We’re not allowed to sell alcohol to players.”
I ask for a non-alcoholic one then, but she still says she needs to confirm she can sell me one.
Thank God I get away with it at least. What else but beer would you drink after a meat dish?

Let’s make a new cuppa coffee and now Round 4 can start!

Alena Jankovcová. Although rated 1696 only, she’s pretty dangerous – my win – lose ratios is only 6 – 8 in her favor. She almost pours the tiles into the neighboring player pair’s bag.
“They wouldn’t even notice,” one of the players at the adjacent table grins.
“But we would,” his opponent remarks. “We wouldn’t have any tiles to play with, while they’d have twice as many…”

I get a blank right at the beginning of the game and on my third turn I come up with poh(ů)nek, a somewhat bookish word for a flunky. “Nice,” she says.
But this doesn’t secure my win yet – I’m only ahead by twenty-two. Only the following three turns, during which she changes seven and I put down two 30+pointers, get me ahead – now let’s just close the board so she can’t catch up. Even so she does, though, when she sets herself up for a triple, which I can’t do much about: this time. I challenge the hook just in case, but it comes back good.
I’m still some 45 points ahead, but she enters the endgame holding the remaining blank, while my rack is full of crap. Let’s hope the current spread is big enough to save me even if she goes out, which she sure does.
Sure. It is, luckily… even after deducing eleven, I win 325 – 339. Oooph!

Second in the standings! But it’s getting tough: Jaromír Buksa, the 2007 Nationals bronze holder. You may remember he often says “Only now the tournament begins” when he sees himself matched up against me (not only me, though – I hear him say that before his game against Basta too), and today is no exception. A close fight right from the beginning: he puts down a bingo on his third turn. I bingo back two turns later. The blanks are gone now, one per each fighting party, so let’s hope the more interesting part only begins!
One of the closest battles ever in my tournament scrabble history. On his 15th turn, at 351 – 331 in my favor, I challenge off a phony of his. When we get back from the laptop with the scrabble dictionary installed, I press the clock.
“Wait, have you passed?” he asks.
“No, this was to mark the end of your turn.”

There’s a vague repeated sentence in the tournament rules that “the second player starts the clock for the starting player’s turn to begin”. But if this meant that when the other player (the one whose turn it is) presses his own turn, both turns would be in process at the same time. I point this out to him.
“Oh well,” he says, dismissing my suggestion to call the judge. “I don’t like pushing it.”

I win 355 – 339, but as we find out, I would have won even if he’d made me miss that turn.

Guess what? First in the standings! But of course – who do I expect for my #6 opponent… nobody else but the 2016 National Champ and double runner-up Břetislav Basta. If my game #1 was an easy win, this was one of those unwinnable ones.
No doubt I was ahead for the first five turns. But then he plays a bingo, hooking it on a words of mine that came back good after his challenge. I do catch up, but as soon as I do, he plays another one. I do my best at least to shrink the spread. I lose 354 – 435.

In Round 7 I take it out the 2014 Nationals bronze holder and 2018 runner-up Jiří Kamín. Just like always when two fast players cross swords, we’re the first to finish. I win 378 – 308 mainly thanks to a 48-point three-word combo and a 66-point bingo two turns later.

It’s back to #1 in the standings for me, but then in Round 8 Vít Sázavský takes me out in a similarly one-sided game like in Round 6. I lose 441 – 300.

“Don’t be cross,” he comforts me. I’m not. I know damn well that when I last played him – at the Brno team league – the game was exactly the same but with tables turned.
“I’m not. Last time [we played] it was my way the tiles were falling.”

Last game. I know damn well this will be a medal quest for me. Now I‘m 4th in the standings and all the top five is 6 – 2.

Pavel Vojáček, say the match-ups. Oops – well, I can’t expect an easy opponent. Jaromír Buksa, seeing him as “low” as Table #2, asks him:
“You’ve lost twice in a row, have you?”
“Don’t remind me of that, or I’ll strangle her,” Pavel grins, pointing at Jana Vágnerová with his head. She’s just beaten him by more than 200!

“Who can win [the event]?” Saša Willerthová wonders.
“Anybody,” someone answers. There are five 6 – 2 players, so this statement is not far from being true. Jiří Kamín, though, sitting at the neighboring table – yeah, #1 – says rightly that it will be someone who wins at one of these two tables of ours.
“Well, look, I still gotta…” Pavel Vojáček wants to prevent him from making him rest on laurels.
“… beat Rodr, eh?“ Jiří grins.
“Exactly. But that’s not gonna be easy.”

You’re damn right! I “greet” him with two 30+pointers on my 3rd and 4th turns. He kicks back with a 37-point two-word combo, but another two turns later I put down a pure bingo. Sixty-four. Four turns later he prolongs it into an eleven-letter word: thirty-four. It’s only no later than another two turns later, when I triple-triple the five-point G, that I secure my win. He then plays a phony in the endgame, thanks to challenging off which I win by more than I hoped to – 377 – 340.

Whewww. I know I’ve just saved a medal place for myself, most probably the bronze one. And big congrats to my teammate Jirka Kracík – by beating Petr Landa he has just secured a top ten place for himself and thus – thanks to the good job he’s done since the beginning of the 2020 scrabble season – he’s just qualified for the Nationals after a five-year break! And since the Nat’ls will be held in Hradec this time for a change, there will be one more regional “homey”.

After we finish, a wallet full of documents is found.
“Some lost property here,” Pavel the pres says. He finds out the owner quickly by looking at one of the documents and grins: “Buksa… now that will be expensive… that will be expensive…”

As usual, we have to wait for the board game festival director to read out the results, although we already know the top three so that will be no surprise.
The winner is guess who – yeah, Břetislav Basta. Second comes Jaromír Buksa. The third place award goes to me (I choose a little bottle of gingerbread mead, Pardubice being a famous town of gingerbread...). Of course – the only year when the local prizes are not financial, I get among the top three again…
A goodbye hug and kiss with Adéla – she congratulates me too and all this together is a way better prize to me than the mead. We’re off to the station – I hope I’ll manage a quick beer before the train comes. I do. See you in two weeks in Kroměříž – or at least I hope so, taking into consideration the worsening epidemiological situation...

The Brno Qualifying Tournament & Team League 2020

The Brno Qualifying Tournament and Team League 2020
Brno, CZ, Sep 12 & 13 2020

There was a heated discussion about whether or not to play the team league – seeing the worsening epidemiological situation. The verdict is that the league will be played. Haha – in Hradec in May it was said the team league would be postponed because “the [epidemiological] conditions are not [ideal] yet”, the number of the infected growing by about 100 daily, and now that it grows by over 1000, we will play…

Unlike last year when I took the first morning attain to Hradec and went to Brno with Zbyněk in his car, now I decide to go as early as Friday and get put up at a friend’s. I see my best friend, too, and go for a walk with her through a beautiful countryside part of Brno. She takes her baby along in a carriage, which makes me look like a father to the passers-by, but who cares…

I don’t sleep much well, although Radim, a friend of mine from the time of university studies, lets me sleep in his bed and altruistically uses a sleeping bag for himself. But that’s surely because of the change of environment.

There was a suggestion to move the tables out and play outside “because the virus spreads better in rooms”. This is practicably impossible, because who has the time to move them all back after the event, eh… but one of the tables gets moved out indeed after all and the players out there seem to enjoy it.

Martina the organizer welcomes us and announces a “best positive bingo” contest. “Oh, and to drivers – the gate opens at my command…”
“… which costs CZK 1000,” someone cracks.

Round 1 starts right away so we don’t time press those who have come a long way. My Round 1 opponent? Zbyněk Burda. Not a good idea to match me up against someone whose ride I’m going to share – if he loses, he might poke at me like he once did: “When’s your bus due?”

It starts out so fine. I play a bingo on my eighth turn and get ahead by 50. But then I start blocking the board too much, which turns against me and makes me lose in the end – 338 – 315.

I take it out on another teammate of mine in Round 2 – Jiří Kracík, commonly called Jirka. “Oh my God,” says he on finding out who he is supposed to play.
“Seems you’re glad to see me,” I grin.
“You’re mistaken,” he grins back.
“Dubov is sometimes malicious,” Jiří Kamín who overhears this says, Dubov being the author of the match-up system used.
Jirka asks me to lend him a pen since his has failed. I do.
Every 30+ play of mine in this game is followed by an “Oh my God” of his, once even intensified by the rhetorical “what have I done to you” and even “I used to love you as a friend. I don’t anymore.” Haha! I win 353 – 298.

The worst-rated player here, Daniel Turek, has just won over Věra Majtánová, mainly thanks to his bingo that I didn’t even know.
When the Round 2 results get printed for us to check, we find out that the line spacing of the lower half of the results is changed from single to double.
“That’s safety distancing,” Pavel the Association pres grins.

Jirka’s eyes pop when he finds out who he’s just gotten matched up against: the Association pres himself. Me I’m supposed to take on Aleš Horák, a 1753-rated clerk from Ostrava (and an ardent fan of a local football club) and the 2018 Nationals bronze holder. My win – lose ratio against him is positive (13 – 9), but I know he can get pretty dangerous, so I watch out.

“I’m not going to offer a handshake, Tom,” he says. Yeah, I understand – safety reasons.

It’s a wild close fight. After one of my plays I’m off by one point when announcing the score of my play. “I hope that the missed point won’t decide the game,” I grin. On his seventh turn he takes out both blanks and plays a bingo with them: sixty-four. A mere turn later I bingo back with a pure one (netikaly, the feminine plural past tense of not to tick). Another two turns later he double-doubles the five-point G: thirty-six. I have an “almost-bingo”, but I rightly decide not to wait and maximize the play, as Brett Smitherham once advised us at the World Championship: six letters onboard and twenty-four.

Later on I say to myself this was the winning play of the game. Had I been wasting my time trying to put together a bingo, I’d sure have missed the two points by which I won: 369 – 371. “I hope that the missed point won’t decide the game…” … well, it almost did! Phew!

“I’m not going to offer a handshake, Tom.” – but he still does now to congratulate me...

At table #8 the beautiful half-Vietnamese Žaneta Leová has just beaten Martin Vacek. I peep over her shoulder to see the results and she asks me to take the score sheets to the judge.
“Anything for you,” I grin.

On one of the non-tournament tables used for putting personal things on I see car keys and a half full bottle of red wine along with a glass. What a “coincidence”!
“Is that your booze?” Zbyněk Burda notices the glass and bottle too. But then he beholds the car keys and immediately knows who the things belong to…

Round 4: František Růžička. He puts on a face mask because of the local pandemic outburst in Prague where he’s from, so I put one on too so our conditions are even. I smash him 506 – 317, having played three bingos. Let’s keep it up.

I make myself a new cup of coffee, anticipating my next opponent will not be that easy.
Not really. Michal Přikryl, the current 1784-rated #24 on the chart and one of my favorite opponents – we sometimes have online scrabble “sessions” during which we like to drink beer or wine and listen to music.
He starts off with a major blunder: intending to play mzdy, WAGES, he accidentally swaps the Z and the D. I challenge it off and enjoy the advantage of going first myself. Four turns later I want to punish him with a pure bingo. It gets challenged off too, though. This starts off a big play exchange: 42 – 38 – 36 – 45 – 43. A mere turn of a rest and then again: 42 – 77. Yeah – at last a bingo. On my side. And as a reward – the other blank! I use it to go out and steal a win by seven: 397 – 404. What a nice result!

“For the fact that you had both blanks, you asshole…” he grins. But then he adds: “Well, I gotta admit I played badly… for all the great tiles that kept coming… you deserved the win. You played better.”
Now that’s the way I like it. It will actually be no hyperbole when I say that that the game was decided no later than by his very opening play. He played two phonies altogether, while I did just one...

Third in the standings! If I keep it or go even higher, I will be able to reach a medal.

My opponent #6? Vojta Vacek. Another nice close fight: on my seventh turn I play a pure bingo, I challenge off a phony of his and then I add a 34-point triple. Two turns later he bingos back, but I take out a blank and use it in a 34-point triple. I win 358 – 334: he says he fought consonant-heavy racks all the time, but in the end it seems it was mainly the phony he lost because of…
Still third in the standings! Let’s go even higher to an even sweeter medal place.

But I don’t. I lose all the remaining three games. In my last game, which all the way I hope I win, my opponent goes out with a most improbable bingo without me being able to have done anything against it (and I expected that. I said to myself: “I can’t block that spot, but in order to go out with a bingo there, she’d have to have a pure bingo ending in an O. How improbable…” Guess what – of course she had one there…). Oh well, what the hell – wasn’t that exactly what I wanted? I told myself 5 – 4 was enough today and that I wanted to shine tomorrow at the team league to help my team take another step towards a medal. So I’ve actually fulfilled the first part…
… and hey – my secondary criteria being quite good, it could actually be enough for the top ten or right below it...

The winner is clear – the Czech teacher Pavel Palička (yeah, the one who always said at the Nationals he felt he didn’t belong there). His first win at a scrabble tournament – congrats! (Jiří Kamín cracks: “Come y’all – all the shots are on him today!”) Second comes Petr Landa: he misses the gold by two Buchholz points! One of the closest tournament wins in Czech scrabble history ever. Third comes Katka Rusá – that’s why she’s still here, otherwise she would have ridden away after Game 9… at least we have time for a proper goodbye.

I come 11th as the 4th best 5 – 4 player. Oh well – as I said, isn’t that what I wanted: I intend to shine tomorrow! I don’t take wine for a prize this time but some natural energy booster.

I promise myself to do just what is usually advised – have a good dinner and a good sleep and kill ‘em all tomorrow at the team league.

The next morning I lose my way. Hell, I’m here for about the twelfth time, and still… well, I just forgot to take a turning, so I still get there in time and manage a coffee and a breakfast.

Our opponent #1: Záškoláci or The Detainees. I’m challenged by Martina the Brno tournament organizer. What looks like a good game at first changes with the arrival of the blanks. To her. She makes a bingo with them and I can’t catch up anymore. I lose 313 – 360. But the advantage of the team league is that your team can win even when one of its members loses… just like now.
“You’re the only one [of our team] who has lost… shame on you!” Jirka Kracík grins at me. Whatever. We’re on bye in the next round, so I’ll have a proper snack and another coffee then I’ll kill ‘em all.
The university music teacher and famous folk singer Vít Sázavský, who has a break in this round too, asks me: “Do you happen to know where coffee is?”
“There… I point to a table in what has been made the tournament dining room, “… and the kettle is over there.”
“And glasses?”
“Here,” answers Jiří Kamín for a change, pointing at the place inside the table.
“I can’t see them.”
“Well, you gotta reach down, take a glass and then straighten up carefully again…” Jiří grins.
“Kiss my ass,” Vít responds with a sweet smile.
“Well, that’s also a solution,” Saša Willerthová laughs.

Round 3 – Pilsner IQuell, a group of low-rated hobby players from Pilsen. Beating them is no major problem – let this be just a practice for the next round. Zbyněk complains about losing to Radana Williamsová who “doesn’t even belong to the team” – she was allowed an exception to fight for them although she usually plays for another team. That’s because both of the teams can’t reach a medal anymore, so it doesn’t matter.

Who awaits us is Matalino 17, formerly Paluba or The Shipboard. You may remember it’s more of a family clan: the lineup slip is full of the Vaceks. I take on Jana Vacková: we chat about work before the beginning of the round is announced – as we both teach foreign languages, it’s low season for both of us.
She gets a blank early in the game and play a bingo on her third turn (neputují, the 3rd person plural present tense of nott o wander, with a blank for the U; after putting it onboard, she ponders a little about which of the U’s to substitute and swaps the U and the blank before hitting the clock so the blank goes for the former of the two U’s; seventy-three). This puts her 44 points ahead, but I have a “bingo-prone” rack too, it just takes me four more turns to come up with one because it’s pure: odpásaný, the masculine singular form of the adjective “to unfasten” or “to undo”, used of things fastened around the waist: sixty-three. She challenges: it comes back good.
The bingo puts me a bit ahead. I play a string of 30+points two-word combos, while she prepares a trap I fail to discover: she sets herself up for double-double-doubling the eight-point Ď. The plan works out. Fifty-eight, whack. I leap away with a 33-pointer. 24 from her side. The board gets quite tight and I, being ahead, don’t want to open it. Duh – whenever I’ve done so, I lost.
The blocking style pays off. I win 378 – 362.

“Have you won by so little?“ Zbyněk grins. But it was still enough to help my team win.

It’s getting tough: Nerobité or The Doing-Nothings. Josef Nerodil brings me their lineup slip: “I feel honored to be able to give you this, Mr Rodr.”
I have a hard time keeping a poker face. When I set out for Třinec in August, 400 kms and then the same distance back just to have fun at a local non-qualifying scrabble tourn, I asked him to give me a ride to the nearby Bohumín from where my train was due, and when I was ready to pay for the trip, he said he didn’t want money: “… just because it’s you”. I don’t know what it was that made him behave this nicely to me since a certain day…

Of course: the main issue with matching up your team’s member against Nerobité is who will take on the triple National Champ and double runner-up Martin Sobala. Guess what – it‘s left with me. Oh well – at least it will be a great game, a scrabble concerto with a lot of peculiar words played. And maybe – just maybe – I will even win, but I don’t count on that much. Whenever Pavel the team capo (who couldn’t come today so we asked Jan Votava, commonly called Honza, whom you might remember from a few past stories – he started tourneying again after an 11-year break and shone right away 10th) matched one of us up against him, he always said “I’ll sacrifice you”. (Not me, actually – to me he always says “You’ll manage.”)

When Martin finds out who he’s supposed to fight, he says: “A strong one against a strong one. Great.” This delights me – well, after all even after yesterday’s 5 – 4, my rating is still pretty high: 1895!
The crucial moment of the game, which I’m decided not to give him for free, comes as early as my third turn. I see two bingos on my rack – protepal* and poreptal, both through an E on the board, but I can’t decide which of them, if either, is good. The first one would be the masculine singular past participle of “to spend some time beating” (used with heart or the like) and the latter “to spend some time chattering”. I decide in favor of the former. It gets challenged off. From that moment on, a worm of doubt starts gnawing in me I should have tried the other one. Only now the scrabble instinct starts telling me it’s sure good. Have you woken up early, instinct!
I put down another bingo five turns later, pure nezanikl, the masculine past participle of not to perish, fade out, vanish, or even “cease to exist”. Fifty-nine. Even so he’s 80 points ahead, but when he extends my play to nezaniklo, the neuter past participle of the above-mentioned verbs and verbal phrases, and plays oři, the plural of STEED, in the triple lane, a devilish plan develops in my head: with the help of the blank I have and the C I hold, I could wait and see if I get the right tiles for tchořice, a female polecat, on a triple-triple. Even without being a bingo, it could yield over a hundred points.
Five turns later it happens. “A hundred eight.”
Zbyněk and Jirka, sitting at the neighboring tables, steal a look at our board on hearing the number. Martin muses for awhile and then he challenges “just to double-check – it’s a lot of points”. It comes back good.
This puts me back in the game: now he’s only thirty points ahead. After the next turn, when I play a 38-point three-word combo, while he only responds with a five-pointer, I even get a little bit ahead: 336 – 333. But then it’s him who plays a three word 30+ combo – thirty-one – and it’s back to where it had been before the lucky moment.
This is actually his winning play. I lose 383 – 426. But still – what a game! And had I chosen the right form of that bingo… oh well.

“Wasn’t the female polecat enough [to help you win]?” Zbyněk grins on seeing I’ve lost.

Unlike other losses of mine, though, this one fills me with fighting energy. In Round 6 against Poškoláci or The Detainees I play three bingos and smash the 1835-rated 2009 National bronze holder Luboš Vencl 289 – 500, informing him with a grin that it could have been even worse had he not blocked a fourth one of mine.

“Well, listen…” he grins back. “Like, I do have sense of humor, but enough is enough.”
This smashing of mine helps my team to a 3 – 1 win and it starts a killing spree of mine: I win the remaning three games, and against no wimps – the 2018 runner-up and 2014 Nationals bronze holder Jiří Kamín of Sirotci or The Orphans (386 – 322 thanks to my pure bingo nevidění, the 1st person plural masculine animate of UNSEEN, for 72; both of us being fast players, we’re the first to finish), thus saving a “big tie” for my team (when two players win, two players lose and the combined score of the whole team is higher than the one of the opposing team), the folk singer and university music teacher Vít Sázavský of Túzy a múzy or Aces and Muses (345 – 299; it’s his last game, as his team is on bye in the last round, and since they “borrowed” Katka to play for them as a substitute, it’s the last round for her too, so let’s play fast to manage a proper goodbye with her… I do. After our traditional goodbye hug – oh how I have missed it for the past two months – I tell her to take care, which I don’t mean as a mere goodbye phrase but literally: she’s gonna go all the way from Brno to Prague by bike! Like, she’s done much longer distances, but this time she ain’t gonna make it before it gets dark. Luckily she reasonably makes a deal with Vít – he promises to leave now too and be there for her by car should something happen.) and, finally, Žaneta Leová, who, this time, plays for Ýáčci or the Eeiores (345 – 408 against both blanks); this is my only “useless win” today (just in case you don’t remember – a “useless win”, as we like to call it, is when a team member is the only one to have won. That way his team gets zero points anyway. It’s not that useless from the winner’s oint of view, of course, because it boosts his rating…) and my team’s only loss. Altogether we’re the second today and… the first altogether this year! Let’s hope to keep it up!

The Dolní Kralovice Qualifying Tournament 2020

The Dolní Kralovice Qualifying Tournament 2020
Dolní Kralovice, CZ, Sat Aug 22nd 2020

Marek the organizer of this tournament told me the place where he was holding the event is beautiful. So I tell myself – why not hit the road a few days earlier and take a short holiday trip to explore and enjoy the place myself? And hey – in a nearby town lives a friend of mine I haven’t seen for about twenty years.
And so I do. I find a cheap hotel in a neighboring village which I hope will be just as picturesque. As early as the Thursday before the event you could have found me sipping beer in the hotel yard, “smoking passively” as all the other pub visitors at this table are smokers. Tonight I don’t mind at all. I’m on holiday in a beautiful countryside!
I set out for a walk throughout the village before going to bed. I enjoy a shower and the next day I hit the road for Zruč nad Sázavou, where the above-mentioned friend of mine lives. We spend the afternoon together and she promises to put me up for the night and drive me to the venue the next morning.
We agree I’d bring a beer pack from my hometown. When I see her, though, my eyes pop:
“Can you… drink at all?” She’s twice as… big as when I last saw her.
“Of course I can, why not?” Then she gets what I was driving at. “Oh, if you mean this…” she points at her tummy and giggles. “No, I’m not pregnant. I just eat too freakin’ much. Which means I live up my life...”

I get quite startled: I check the connection on a public transportation website and I find out I would get there by train within no less than three hours. It would drive you the thirty kilometers just about the time I usually manage 150 kms from my town to Prague! Jana the Zruč friend of mine gets freaked out too, but then I find out this only because I checked the train route and not the road one.
“I knew it was a while’s drive,” she messages me, relieved.
Not only do I see her after a long time and she and her boyfriend get my transportation to the venue off my chest, but he also solves another of my problems:
“Do you know of an electrical store nearby which would still be open now?” I ask. They point out of the window at one of the buildings and then they have the great idea to ask what I need there.
“Headphones,” I chuckle. “The ones I have just won’t fit into my phone cable hole.”
“Strange, no? The diameters of the jacks are all the same.”
“Yeah, I thought so.”
“Let me have a look into it.” He takes my phone and finds out there’s some “pocket mess” in the hole. Not only do they put me up and drive me to the venue, but he also saves some CZK 300 for me this by fixing the headphone problem!

The next morning at 5:20 I get an unexpected “wake up call”: it’s my teammate Jiří Kracík, commonly called Jirka. He’s wondering where I am – he expected me to be on the first morning train to Hradec and to share a ride with him and Zbyněk. I tell him the way things are and go back to sleep… luckily the call didn’t wake up my friends. They drive me to the venue in the morning, they wish me good luck and here I am in this tiny village now packed with cars of other players: there’s forty of us, which has been the average number of players at a qualifying Czech scrabble tournament for quite a time (where have the times of 100 players gone?).

I haven’t slept much, but I slept well, so I hope I’ll do good. Not that I need qualifying points – I just want to live it up here. And when you don’t do good, you can’t live it up, can you?

I looked forward to dropping off the beer pack I took with myself as a gift for my friends for putting me up: now guess what – my bag is just as heavy as it was yesterday. Yeah, you guessed it – I’ve bought some local beer...

As I said, we’ve reached the “magic number” again: there’s exactly forty of us. My opponent #1? Alexandra Willerthová. Great – quite high-rated and my win – lose ratio against her is positive (you may remember I beat her at my very first scrabble tournament) and she seems to hate playing against me, which is actually all to the good – it will frustrate her and make her play badly.

The win is easier than I thought it would be this time. A blank early in the game, then I add two 50’s, a 36-pointer and a 40-point two-word combo and she loses by ninety: 306 – 396.

Jan Votava, who returned to the scrabble scene after about twelve years and shone so much last year, hitting the top ten, has just lost to the worst player rating-wise here. Shit happens...

Eighth in the standings! Let’s beat ‘em all today.

Round 2: Martin Worek. He only entered the Czech tournament scrabble scene five years ago, yet he’s become dangerous since then and he’s on his way to qualify for the Nationals for the first time (he almost did it last year too).
Today, though, I don’t give him a chance. I get a blank early and play a bingo with it as early as my second turn (he challenges; it comes back good); then I double-double the ten-point X in oxidem, the instrumental singular of OXID, triple the 7-point Ť which, together with a modified X-word, yields 39 points; I challenge off a phony bingo of his, and when he plays a good one three turns later, I bingo right back. I thrash him 480 – 324.

Zbyněk Burda, having beaten the double runner-up Pavel Chaloupka in Round 1, has just won over Daniel Turek, the lowest-rated player here. “But oh how lucky I was!” he grins. “First he played a bingo. Then a double-double… what decided about the result was a phony of his.”

Pavel Vojáček the Association pres is about to fight the six-time National Champ Pavel Podbrdský. “Let me kill him!” he makes a merciless grimace.
“Games against you are hard,” Podbrdský acknowledges.

2 – 0 and 1st in the standings: I expect a butcher for an opponent. What a surprise to get matched up to the 1469-rated charming lawyer Jana Novotná. Wait, has she dropped so much, you say? Well, the problem is that among Czech tournament scrabble players there are two charming lawyers. The higher-rated one, Věra, has attended four tournaments of six this year and last year she didn’t qualify for the Nationals, although from 2009 to 2016 she qualified every year except 2012. Jana only went competitive in 2012 and has never qualified for the Nat’ls yet (as her rating might hint). I smash her 287 – 475 even though she gets both blanks. She wonders at my bingo: “Isn’t that Slovak?”
It’s rátanou, the accusative singular passive of rátat, a pan-Slavic word for to count. Czech prefers the verb počítat for this, but rátat is also good in Czech scrabble, though a bit archaic.
“It is, but that doesn’t matter,” I grin.

I fly to get lunch. When I’m done with it and stand in line for the second time, this time to get beer, I tell myself to get coffee with it right away so that I don’t have to come here for the third time.
The Round 4 match-ups have just been pinned up so I tell myself to mentally prepare to fight the six-time National Champ Pavel Podbrdský.
Yeah. It figured. But now I must go and move my things from table #3 to #1.
At the former the 2019 runner-up and 2014 Nationals bronze holder Jiří Kamín has just arrived to play.
“Rodr, what a mess you've made here again. Take that coronavirus tissue with you, too…”

What he hints at is the paper tissue I took from the bathroom and soaked with water to put on my forehead just in case.
When Podbrdský sees me bring my beer and coffee, he points out such things shouldn’t be on the table (meaning the beer – the tournament rules ban alcoholic beverages; not that anybody cares much). He suggests I put the beer on the floor, but when I remark that that way it could be knocked over easily with a foot, he gets a good idea to use an extra chair as a table. We put our drinks on it and now we can start.
Guess what: he plays a bingo as early as his second turn. Nine turns later he comes up with another one. So now the blanks are gone, each of them used in either of his bingos, and he’s 122 points ahead. But let’s at least shrink the spread as much as possible.
As soon as this thought goes through my head, probably a reward for staying optimistic, I see a 42-point triple and then a pure bingo on my rack. After playing these I manage to squeeze the point difference as low as forty: I lose 362 – 402. Against a six-time National Champ, against both blanks and two bingos! Hell, you bet I’m satisfied. And still in the top three in the standings!

Zbyněk Burda comes to complain: “I lost to [Luboš] Vencl. I tried to intimidate him by telling him I’d beaten Turek, but it didn’t work.” Haha! I love these quips of his.
And speaking of Zbyněk – he becomes my Round 5 opponent.
The retained optimism helps me kill him: 407 – 284. This time I had both blanks and played a bingo with each of them. One of them was husa(r)ka, a female hussar. He challenged: “At the time of hussars women couldn’t join the army at all.”
“Don’t you know that song?” I grinned. There’s indeed a Czech song sung from the position of a male and a female hussar, and it being a traditional one, it must be pretty old...
I was hesistating between the female hussar and husařka, a female goose breeder. Both are good and I saw them both, but I wasn’t sure about either. I went for the hussar in the end – maybe because of that song...
“Good luck in the upcoming rounds,” I wish him.
“We’ll see. I may’ve already had my share of it,” he laughs.

From third to second in the standings! Who’s the next to be executed?
Jaromír Buksa, say the match-ups. Great. Against this 1766-rated sexagenarian my win – lose ratio is about 10 – 5 and we love playing each other, although I once high-scored against him (over 550) and killed him a few more times apart from that. When we start, we like to say “Only now the tournament’s beginning” and today’s no exception.

This time, though, he makes a major blunder as early as his third turn, taking his chances by setting me up for a triple. I eat that spot up for forty-four, which starts off a killing string of strong plays on my side. TEXT with the X tripled: thirty-three. He strikes back with a 38-pointer, but then I take another triple: forty-five. Two more turns later I put down a bingo: seventy-eight. Then another 30-pointer. A phony of his goes off. Double-tripling a four-point Ý brings me 38 points and I don’t mind opening a triple-triple lane. I take it with a triple another two turns later: forty-two, and then spread it to the next triple: forty-five.
“Too late, eh?” he grins, meaning that if the ending I extended the word with had come a turn earlier, I would’ve been able to play a triple-triple. But that would’ve been too much to ask, eh? This has secured my win anyway. He loses 350 – 414.
“You’ve deserved [the win],” he acknowledges.

And I sure deserve one last coffee today! Marek the organizer’s Japanese wife Yumiko astonishes me by using the Czech diminutive of it – kafíčko – but when I see her about to put it in a new cup and I tell her to use my old one so she doesn’t have to wash two, it’s already too hard for her to understand, so I switch to English.
“That’s OK. Málo práce,” she grins, the latter of the two sentences being the Czech for too little work.
First in the standings! Which is why Pavel Podbrdský now says to a bunch of people around the Round 6 standings sheet printout: “Somebody should take out Tomáš.”

Jan Votava, thanks to whom there will be four in Zbyněk’s car on our way back and not just three, has just lost to Radek Mannheim, but he played a beautiful bingo – úklejino, the neuter singular possessive case of úklej, more commonly ouklej, a freshwater fish called the bleak in English.
“But he kept saving letters for it so long that it made him lose the game,” Podbrdský sneers.

Luboš Vencl scored 488 against the Association pres Pavel Vojáček in this round.

Somebody should “take me out”, eh? I stare at my Round 7 opening rack again the 2014 Nationals bronze holder and the 2019 runner-up Jiří Kamín: both blanks and easy letters. What the heck is happening today? I play the obvious bingo d(e)n(í)čku, the vocative and local cases of a diminutive of a diary, for sixty-seven. He catches up with a 32-pointer, but I take a triple for forty. Six turns later he dramatizes the endgame with a 48-point triple. I’m still ahead by thirty, but he comes up with a 24-point double word. I’ve counted on that though: I’ve been preparing a deadly blow here with the seven-point Ó. I quadruple it on a triple word in two directions: thirty-eight. I win 322 – 350.

I knew there wasn’t a way for him to block the Ó spot, so I used my previous turn to block the last bingo lane, even though he grumbled what crap he had. That could have been a trap!
“I knew that. I said to myself, he’s got the Ó; if he gets the S, too…”
… and I had tons of esses in this game, if not all of them. They’re not as crucial as in English – we don’t make any endings with it, apart from the colloquial abbreviation of the 2nd person singular of to be, which you can’t use in scrabble anyway – but this time they’ve won me the game!

Aware that I can expect another hell of a strong opponent, I take my cup, intending to take a sip of coffee, but I don’t notice the saucer stuck to it.
“Tom, watch out, your saucer will fall down,” Pavel Vojáček warns me. As soon as he says this, it – guess what – lies on the floor broken.
“What a nice prediction,” he lets a laugh.
I fly to get a broom and a dustpan from Yumiko, but I run into a language barrier. She doesn’t understand what I want, even though I try Czech and English and simplified English. But she solves this greatly – just takes a guess at what I might need and her second try is successful.
“Great! Thanks.” I make off, tidy the mess and give the broom and the dustpan (I didn’t know this word, but I didn’t need it to get what I wanted in the end anyway) back to her.

“You and Pavel [Podbrdský] are fighting a long-distance battle for the first place,” Luboš Vencl grins. Indeed – our number of games won is the same as of now and we’re the only 6 – 1 players. I’m now the first in the standings; he is the second.

The fun is over. Well, actually it has been over for quite a few rounds. Now I’m supposed to take on Petr Landa. No need to introduce him I guess – currently rated 1859, 14th on the chart, a tournament veteran who took bronze at the 2002 Nationals, has hit the top ten there seven times. But despite that I won over him three times in a row and my win – lose ratio against him is now close to 50%.
The crucial moment comes as early as the third turn. I’m holding a pure bingo on my rack, cupkaje, the masculine present transgressive of to toddle or to patter. Guess what – nowhere to put it. Shit, shit, shit.
I solve this the as best as I can: remembering Brett Smitherham’s words from the World Scrabble Championship in Warsaw, Poland in 2011 – “If you can’t bingo, maximize the play” – I put down kapucce, the dative singular of a hoodie, through a letter on the board on a double-double. Forty. He challenges: it comes back good. He strikes back with an uncommon 42-point five; I challenge “just in case”. It comes back good too. I fight back with a 34-pointer. A few turns of a close fight with him a bit ahead; but then I get a blank and play a 60-point bingo with it. The only thing I don’t like about it is that it begins right below a triple and it has a front hook – a Z. Luckily there’s only one of the two left in the pool… and there are chances, though slim, that he might not know the hook.
Guess what: I get the Z… when the spot is already blocked. Oh well.
Even after the bingo it seems possible to catch up on me. But then…
… two turns later I spend over a minute thinking. Opponents who know me well already smell trouble. And they are right: I make four words at once for thirty-three points altogether.
This puts him off. “I’m not lucky… I’m not lucky… I’m not lucky,” he repeats sadly. The 33-pointer practically decides the game. I win 369 – 322.

Radek Mannheim comes to inform me he’s just tied with Pavel Podbrdský. “I’ve helped you.”
“You’re welcome. Now I gotta kill you.”
(He thought he’d get matched up against me in the last round.)

The newbie has just lost her seventh game. “He had both blanks,“ she complains to Jiří Kamín who probably brought her here.
“Don’t use this as an excuse,” he grins.
“This is my first time here [at a tournament]… let me breathe…” she says, irritated.

Pavel Podbrdský comes to complain of what we already know:
“So I tied,“ he grins.
“Heard that,” I say.
“I was just one point short of a win.”
“Were you?” I ask like an idiot. Only then it dawns on me what a stupid question I’ve just blurted out. Too tired to be on the ball, sorry. “Those jokes of you Math Ph.D.’s…” I sneer.
“Now you tie, so that I have a chance at all [to win the event],” he sneers back.

Last round! Hell, I’m quite tired. But let’s manage. No doubt this is a gold medal quest for me, but even if I lose, it’s quite sure now I’ll get silver, so what? A medal’s for sure now, so let’s live it up.

But I don’t. My last opponent, the double runner-up Pavel Chaloupka, against whom I used to have a terrible win – lose ratio (about 1 – 7; it’s gotten better since then – 11 – 13) gets a blank, plays a bingo on his seventh turn, then adds a pure one seven turns later, and when I get a blank, there’s no room for a bingo anymore. I use the blank in a 39-point triple at least and I lose 361 – 330. Not bad against two bingos… and you bet I’m happy with a silver medal!

The winner is guess who – yeah, Pavel Podbrdský, who has half a point more than me, yes, because of that tie.
I am the second, just as I expected – being the 7 – 2 player with the best secondary criteria (back at home I also learn I had the highest combined score of all the players). Third comes Jiří Kamín.

I get a beautiful glass trophy cup with an inscription on it that says “Scrabble Dolní Kralovice” and the date of the event. A part of the prize is also a carton. The photo of the winning three of us having been taken. I open the box. And in it I find…
… nothing! Haha! It’s meant to be some protection for the glass trophy.

(photo arranged and taken by my mom)

Of course there was a topical bingo contest as always, this time for the best bingo associated with water. It was won by Jolana Kajzarová for her bingo uplavte (the 2nd person plural imperative of to swim a distance or swim away).
What a great “long holiday weekend”! Now even crowned by a medal – and the way back with Zbyněk and Jirka will sure be a lof fun as always!
It is: Zbyněk, Jan and me are already in the car, ready to leave, while Jirka is still talking vividly to the tournament newbie. Zbyněk grins and starts the car. Jirka gets startled, runs to catch us and we have a good laugh at that.
“Honza,” Jirka turns to Jan, addressing him by a common diminutive derived from its German equivalent Hans, “this is your first time coming together with us, isn’t it? You’ll have a lot fun [if you come with us next time].”
“Did you end up in a ditch, or what?” Jan grins back.
“No, but he [Zbyněk] once had a puncture while driving a company car. He was on the brink of buying himself striped pants…”

I buy myself a bottle of NA beer to enjoy on my way home from Hradec: I’m even too tired to pore over my results. I just stare out of the window all the way, picturing myself in the shower and then in bed. Can’t wait… but the trophy and the fun were sure worth it!

The Pilsen Qualifying Tournament 2020

The Pilsen Qualifying Tournament
Plzeň, CZ, Sat Jul 12th 2020

Last tournament before vacations. Let’s hit the road and wash down the bitterness of last tournament.

I make a deal with Zbyněk Burda about sharing a ride in his car from Hradec. I’m looking forward to washing down the bitterness of the Třinec tournament, meeting my dear scrabble friends again and hitting the road after several weeks.
In Hradec I meet Daniel Turek, one of those amateur players who just play for fun, who wants a lift from there too, so we wait for Zbyněk together. And what about Jirka Kracík? He’s already in Pilsen, having arrived a day earlier: he wanted to go for beer coaster hunt.
You know Dan. You have to keep away from him because of his sputtering and he’s the type who just won’t shut up. Luckily one of us has to take the front passenger seat to become the “navigator”, so we don’t have to sit next to each other.
“Is there a way we can still catch up?” I paraphrase Zbyněk’s quip he uses every time an opponent of his gets ahead. Surprisingly he says “I hope so”.
Not only we do, but we’re even half an hour too early. A warm welcome with my scrabble friends – oh how I missed the hugs and kisses. I use the extra time to check the completeness of a few sets, listen to some music and, most importantly, have some coffee.
Rumor has it that “your parents know best”. I’ve followed my mom’s advice to take my sneakers on – “they said” it’s gonna get cooler. It doesn’t. So now it’s so hot I think I’m gonna die. I decide to kick off them damned shoes and socks and walk barefoot here. Now guess what – a few players find themselves in exactly the same situation (“in the same shoes”?) and, independently of me, decide to do the very same.
“Is this some latest fashion trend or what?” the other players’ eyes pop at our bare feet.

We’re ready to play, but every time the Round 1 match-ups are ready, a latecomer drops in. When the third version of the Round 1 match-ups is ready, Pavel the Association pres grins and hollers to us all: “Sit down quickly before another latecomer drops in!”

I get matched up against the weakest player here – yeah, the Dan we took along for the ride. He does his best, but still, the result is I beat him “only” by 119 points, 69 of which I get for a phony I managed to sneak past him. To put it more exactly, the bingo as such was good, but the hook I made wasn’t. He intuitively made sour faces at both the words, but after challenging the bingo and finding out it is good, he decided not to challenge the hook in order not to get two penalty crosses at once. Ooooophhh!

As I’ve pointed out a few times before, when the match-up system sends you to play against a weak player, it “makes up” for that by matching you up against a strong one in the following round (or vice versa). So I get one of the strongest there are – Martin Kuča, the triple National Champ and six-time runner-up, a long-time #1 on the Chart of the past and the current #4.
Come on, we’ll manage. He’s been blowing scrabble for family reasons lately and I’ve beaten him about seven times.
On my fourth turn I get a pure bingo, but guess what – nowhere to put it. So I break it up and do the best I can, and as a reward I am soon sent both blanks. I play a bingo right away: (č)t(v)rceny through an N on the board, the imperfect feminine plural passive of to quarter: seventy.
It wouldn’t be him, though, if he didn’t catch up right away and get ahead. Soon I know I’m doomed. At least not by much: 384 – 339.

Yes, I do get someone “weaker” than Martin in Round 3, but with regard to Martin’s rating this is not much of a comfort: nearly everyone is below him on the Chart, duh. Petr Landa, one of the best non-champion Czech scrabble players, who got bronze at the 2002 Nationals.
You may remember the two of us have something in common, besides being in the top ten on the Chart: being emotional. But while I let it out when something bugs me, such as tiles not falling my way, he holds it inward and becomes sad. (Although you can’t tell how he’s doing when you look at him during a game of his: as Katka once noticed, “He looks sad even when he’s ahead by 200.”) Let’s make him sad again!
Seven turns of a close fight. We trade bingos (me: tržbami, the instrumental plural of takings or turnover, sixty-six; him: pilníkem, the instrumental plural of a file, the tool, seventy, the blanks being the B and the Í respectively) and the neck-and-neck run goes on. This is how I like it! I devise a two-step endgame: hope he won’t go out now or on his next turn.
He doesn’t: he plays off the 7-point Ó. I win 370 – 338.

I tell Katka he even smiled a bit while congratulating.
“Yeah, I teased him to try,” she grins.

Jana Pečenková of the Parnas scrabble club, though rated 1605 only, is on a roll: she’s beaten Michal Přikryl, Věra Majtánová and even Martin Kuča.
“Keep it up and win this event,” I tell her.
“In a pig’s eye…”

She shouldn‘t have said this. Next round, which she will win again, will be an end to her winning spree and it will be followed by a losing one. She’ll come 22nd with a 4 – 5 record.

With a 2 – 1 record you can’t expect an easier opponent either.
Not really: the Association pres Pavel Vojáček.
He gets right ahead for about seven turns. Then I play a bingo (pure sejcovu, the accusative possessive case of sejc, a colloquial form of sýc, the saw-whet owl) and I catch up, but he bingoes right back (přehrabe, the 3rd singular person of to rake or to rummage, with a blank for the P). Two turns later I change four and then I put down another bingo (ukotvím*, the 1st person singular future of to anchor, with a blank for the Í): I know it’s not good, but I hope he’ll buy it – it’s heavily used.
He does. Yippee! Now I’m just nine points behind. Within five turns I even get ahead – by six points. Now let’s play one of those “killer endgames” of mine which an opponent of mine once said I was infamous for, and win this one.
He has to interrupt our game for awhile now: “Sorry – I’m the [tournament] judge…”
This means when there is a dispute between some of the players, he has to go and help settle it. He doesn’t have to “go” anywhere, since the one who called out for him is sitting right next to us. He’s back in a few seconds and we go on.
But the endgame is all his: twenty and then fifteen, out. I lose by ten: 383 – 373. Oh well. Good game at least.

The six-time National Champ Pavel Podbrdský comes over to see how we did.
Ukotvím? Who played that? It’s not good,” he grins. “I thought this was a well-known thing.”

Hm. If I bought an opponent’s phony, I’d definitely lose.

I take it out on 1815-rated #18 on the Chart, Michal Přikryl, another one of my fave opponents: I start out with an 82-point pure bingo and keep throbbing him with two-figure point value plays (except #5 and the going out one), decided not to give him a chance. I win 424 – 339.

I peek at the standings: tenth! Let’s keep it up. Hope I haven’t run out of my share of good luck in last round.
Seems I haven’t. I kill my Round 6 opp, the youngest player here, 1836-rated Vojta Vacek, the son of two top Czech scrabble players, by almost 180: 493 – 315 (both blanks and a bingo with each of them, duh, the latter one being a triple-triple on my last-but one turn when I was winning by mere 30… plus a 57-point triple to add insult to injury), reaching the tournament high-score.

Has the frog talisman of mine finally woken up? At last!
Even against the double runner-up Pavel Chaloupka, against whom I once used to have this horrible win – lose ratio of 1 – 7, I luck up – he gets both blanks, plays a bingo with each of them, but that doesn’t help him. I make up for not playing a bingo or getting a blank in this game by multiplying the face value of “big” letters, such as the 7-point Ť (double-tripling it in štiť, the 2nd person singular imperative of štítit se, to abhor), the 10-point X (tripling it in kux, a kind of stock), or, which finally secures my victory, the 5-point Ú (útoční, “aggressive”, for 35) on my tenth turn.

I wonder who I’ll get now – I’ve practically run out of the strongest available opponents. The only one who remains is Katka…
I mentally prepare for a game with her: I’ve pointed out several times that I once, a long time ago, had this positive 4 – 3 win – lose ratio against her and since then it’s only been getting worse and worse. I mean worse for me.
What a surprise to find out I’ve been matched up against Josef Nerodil, rated 1546: he used to be wel over 1600, even 1700 once; you might remember I lost to him at last year’s Championship, although my win – lose ratio against him is heavily positive. But today he’s been doing extremely good.
After five turns I’m 38 points ahead. Then, though, he plays a bingo and I just can’t for the life of me catch up. And when I finally do… thanks to the blank that has only arrived NOW, on my last turn…
… yeah: he goes out. I lose 347 – 323.

Oh well. I’m still the best 5 – 3 player and 5th in the standings. If I lose now again, I’ll still be in the top ten or right below…

Kateřina Rusá, I read the match-ups.
Are you kidding! Well, I actually expected that.
Oh yeah, a dear friend of mine and one of my favorite opponents, but… now? Now that I’m done after eight rounds?
Oh well. Let’s play for fun.
But it’s no fun. One blank – one bingo. Another blank – another bingo. I do put together one of mine halfway through the game and catch up (253 – 259), but after that I hardly ever get to play a 20+ word (once) in that game, while what happens on her side is the opposite. To top it all off, one of my eyes starts burning and watering. I take off my glasses for awhile to wipe it.
“You can’t look at that anymore, eh?” she grins. I let a laugh – at least games with her are fun in spite of all the losing I’ve been through – but the burning just won’t stop.
“Wanna go and rinse your eye?” she offers. I thank her and say there is no need to, but should there be, I’ll let her know. It’s all right in awhile so I finish the game without any need to pause. I lose 365 – 410.

5 – 4. Oh well. But my secondary criteria are so good that I’ll be the best of 5 – 4 players, or at least one of the best. So I guess the top ten is secured, and if not, I’ll end up closely below it.
Katka is 6 – 3 – duh – so our traditional goodbye hug with both her and Adéla (who, as usual, has come just to play for fun and comes 31st with a 3 – 6 record) will wait until after the prize ceremony. Especially when, as it seems, the ceremony will be quick: “OK… results announcement! We’ve got five minutes for that!” Pavel the Association pres shouts so we all can hear.

I come ninth. The Round 9 win over me gets Katka a medal (bronze). Glad I could help, hah. Silver goes to the six-time National Champ Pavel Podbrdský. And the winner is… the 2016 National Champ and double runner-up Břetislav Basta. This helps him get to the very top of the Chart – now he’s rated 2011. Me, I end up right below the top ten – now rated 1868. Hope to similarly live up the August tourn in the tiny village of Dolní Kralovice – the organizer says it‘s a beautiful place so I’ll make it a three-day trip during which I’ll visit a local friend of mine I haven’t seen for ages. See you there!

The Třinec Qualifying Tournament 2020

There was a local epidemic outbreak among the coalminers in Karviná, about 30 kms away from Třinec, but still the organizer encourages us to come.
Right in Karviná lives Radim, a university friend of mine, so I’ll take this for an opportunity to see him, to have a good soirée with him and his parents AND not to have to get up before four on Saturday, as I would if I went with Zbyněk. Which I can’t this time anyway because I’m not able to get to Hradec before 6 AM amd three hours is not enough to get to Třinec from Hradec.
A station before Karviná I have to move to the front train car. “Next stop: Ústí nad Orlicí,” says the speaker. We burst out laughing: we’re about 200 kms far away from it and I’ve passed through it a long time ago. The train driver fixes the announcements and at the next stop it’s all right again.
Radim welcomes me and so do his parents. We drink up the wine I’ve brought and I seek to hit the sack so I’m fresh in the morning.
Radim drives me to the station and wishes me good luck. I hope I didn’t use up all my share of it in Hradec.
So how will the winner of the Hradec tournament and four other Czech scrabble tourns in the past do now?
He loses to one of the lowest-rated players here.
How did it happen? Well, I ONCE opened the board and he, who hardly ever plays bingos, put down one. And I didn’t catch up. So he, even in spite of challenging totally common words I played, beat me by twenty-seven: 358 – 331.

Round two: Pavel Palička, the Czech teacher you may remember said once at the Nationals he felt he didn’t belong there… and then last year finally made it to the top ten there. at last, while I bombed out.
He also once said I wasn’t one of his favorite opponents. Let’s keep it that way, ha!
But I don’t beat him today. Although I triple the X, then play a 42-pointer, challenge off a phony of his… I lose 390 – 354, lacking vowels in the endgame.

Round 3? Wasn’t better either. Zuzana Skálová, who usually enters a game with me suspecting she will lose, plays an easy bingo while I change tiles as many as five (!!) times before I get something playable. 281 – 395.

So is this the price I have to pay for having won last tournament?

I win games 4 and 5 against lower-rated players between which I rush to the nearby supermarket to buy me some beer to wash down lunch with.

You dare win two games and you get matched up against a strong player again – this time Radek Mannheim.
“Is this where you’ve gotten from 0 – 3?”
We are about to start when we find out the famous singer and university teacher Vít Sázavský is missing.
“He’s sure enjoying a cig on the balcomy,” Radek cuts. Of course we know he’s a non-smoker.
For safety reasons he doesn’t accept the handahake I offer, but offers an elbow bump instead. Haha!
A total of 42 points after six turns. Have I traveled the 400 or so kms for a kick in the ass? When I finally come up with a bingo, he bingos back right away and adds a 40-pointer. I play two 40-pointers towards the endgame, but that doesn’t save me from losing. At least by not that much: 321 – 369.

He doesn’t accept the offered congratulation handshake for safety reasons, but suggests an elbow bump instead again.
You may remember Radek holds the tournament in Kroměříž, which this year he decided to move to the nearby village of Soběsuky. Jiří Kamín (and me too, independently of him) renames it to Soběšuky, “Self-fuckers”, right away, and cracked, hinting at the fact that the Soběsuky event is the last-but-one one before the Nationals: “The first 32 [players on the qualification chart, which is the number of players that traditionally qualify to the Czech scrabble Nationals] will get infected [at the last 2020 qualifying tournament] in Prague so who’ll go to the Nationals is the next 32…”
You lose to a strong player…
… and get matched up to another. The one-time runner-up Martin Hrubý, known for his huge vocabulary comparable to some of the champions’, beats me as well, although my win – lose ratio against him is positive. I admit he deserves the win, though – I had both blanks and he found a hard bingo on his rack. At least the score is nice – 399 – 371.

I end up at one of the hindmost tables against a dear scrabble friend of mine, Adéla Svítková, who you may remember entered the Czech tournament scrabble scene last year to immediately hit it off as friends with several of us. At last a relaxed game for fun. I watch out as well of course, seeing all sorts of things seem to be going wrong today. I win 248 – 408.
3 – 5. Let’s make it 4 – 5 at least and shine at the next event.

Marián Viochna. Another good scrabble friend of mine, who left the scrabble scene for family reasons years ago when twins were born to him. Let’s hope he doesn’t practice much at home.
Of course: both blanks and a bingo as soon as I dare open a triple. It doesn‘t get him much ahead, luckily, so I catch up easily and win 364 – 323.

I assure myself that Katka is not gone yet. I always feel so miserable every time I miss out on our traditional goodbye hug! But today you bet it pays off for her to stay for the results announcement – she’s 5 – 4 and her secondary criteria are so good that they can even help her squeeze in the top ten (which she does – 9th).
I don’t even hit the second third – I end up as low as 20th out of 32. But oh well. Not only do I manage to hug Katka goodbye, but also do the same with Adéla, even a goodbye kiss with the latter. Would you rather a top ten without hugs and kisses? Sure not. Let alone when you already have enough qualification points. I don’t even hesitate before answering myself in my mind. Let’s do better in Pilsen in July!

The Hradec Qualifying Tournament 2020

Hradec Králové, CZ, May 30th, 2020

At last. A scrabble tournament after 3.5 months of putting off or cancelling them all due to the pandemic.
I hoped this tournament would be held – not only because it’s the nearest to my home, but also because of the team league.
The thrill lasts for almost three months. Then we finally learn the good news. The only knacks to it are that there are only eight rounds (so we can have longer breaks to be able to get ourselves some food and drinks, which won’t be provided this time either) the team league is cancelled: “The conditions for holding it do not seem favorable yet,” it says on the Association website. Probably because of players sitting too close to one another. Oh well.
I’ve been saving collectibles for Jirka Kracík over the time we hadn’t seen each other, but he says he can’t come. Shame. He asks me to send them to him by mail, but I refuse since mail often gets lost if you don’t make it registered. Which he told me not to. So, Jirka, you’re gonna have to wait some more.
Sleep well if you want to do good. That’s what I bear in mind when I go to bed on the Friday before the event. But of course, Murphy’s laws work. Although I do fall asleep around ten, which rarely happens to me, I’m up at a quarter past four and I can’t fall asleep since then, feeling fresh and just laying around. Oh well, they say every hour of sleep before midnight counts as two, so we’ve had a good dose of doze. And remember how we once got matched up against a National Champ and a double runner-up at table #1? He said then he went to bed around 2 or 3 AM! So let’s not get stressed about that.
Of course. What good is it to be up two hours before necessary if you have to go number two just before you intend to leave?
But I manage. It takes a bit of running on the way, but I do.
We have to go by bus for some time due to some reconstruction works on the railroad. I see one just leaving when I arrive, so I try to catch it, but luckily the conductor tells me it’s not the one I need. There are two other ones going my direction. A big sign on them bids us to wear face masks all the way. Fuck you! There is no one sitting around me at the distance of two meters anyway.
But I’m out of luck, the driver sees me in the rearview mirror and hollers at me to put one on. Oh well. Haven’t they been told it only works for about an hour before it gets wet? Oh well, let’s take it for an exercise for the tourn. I got a feeling we’ll have to have them on during the event too. I rely on my fast playing style which could free me of the mask within twenty minutes or even less each round. Let’s see.
Back on the train there’s a guy who doesn’t have one all the way and nobody cares. So I say to myself, if he can, why can’t I?
Arriving in Hradec, I decide to “treat” myself a bit by having a coffee and a choc cake at a nearby confectionery. Yum! Exactly what I needed to get myself going.
There are no familiar faces on the way, which makes me wonder. But I tell myself I’m quite early – that might be why. I promise my grandma that as a “compensation” for not staying overnight this time I’ll have a beer with her after the event.
I don’t have to use the public transportation – the venue is about five to ten minutes’ walk away from the train station. I’ve asked the lady at the confectionery for direction and now I remember I’ve gone this way a few times. I can’t wait to see my scrabble friends, especially Katka and Adéla. I haven’t given or gotten a hug in more than three months…
What happens almost moves me to tears. Not only a hello-again hug, but also…
“I got something for you,” Katka says. “To shoot at your opps…”
This is to remind me of the rubber frog I once got from her – you bet I have it with me! She elicits a pen with a rubber frog on top. When you press the button on the pen, it really shoots the frog on a spring. Oh, thank you so much! This incurs another hug. “What do you like, so I know how to repay?”
“Don’t worry. I don’t wanna make you feel you owe me one. But should you happen to bump into something, I like bats.”
Zbyněk the organizer welcomes us and brings good news: “We’ve adopted the [current] chess players’ tournament rules. You don’t have to wear a face mask during a scrabble match, unless your opponent is ‘careful’, is wearing one and wants you to put on one too.”
A hell of a sigh of relief.
“BUT… as soon as a player stands up from the table to check a word, they stop being a player and are supposed to wear a face mask.”
Let’s see how many will stick to this.
“Toilets… are [solved] an interesting way here. The gents are in the corner…”
“… you mean over there in the corner?” the six-time National Champ Pavel Podbrdský points at one of the decorative “corners” of the stage behind Zbyněk, which has us burst out laughing.
Zbyněk looks for a socket to plug in the laptop with the scrabble dictionary application.
“You got nowhere to put in?” Podbrdský grins, hinting at an innuendo again.
I’ve just grabbed my vacuum flask full of coffee (since there’s no refreshment this time for safety reasons) and all the other “necessary” things (my tournament exercise-book, chocolate, carbon paper, cell phone to take photos of the game, and tons of pens).
My first opponent after the long break? Věra Majtánová. Great – one of my fave ones. You might remember this nice 1778-rated Praguean lawyer who threatened a few times “this is my last tournament” in the past when tiles weren’t falling her way.
On the third turn she misplaces her bingo, creating a two-word phony, so I challenge the whole thing off. On her next turn she places the bingo the way she had meant to, but since it’s not good, I challenge it off again. Five more turns later, I challenge off another phony of hers. Seems like she’s gotten out of shape over the months… as a punishment, I play a tripled bingo for 97.
“If you don’t play one, you catch one,” she sighs, of course meaning a bingo by the one. By then I’m ahead by a hundred, but now she plays another bingo, this time a good one for seventy, and my lead shrinks to thirty. But here I am with my killer endgame: three 30+pointers in a row, followed by a 28-point two-word combo, careful not to open the board and do the opposite, which makes it harder for her to play. She plays off a tile: five. Then another: four… I close off another bingo lane, leaving a last one for her, the toughest one: the bingo would have to contain -as-… and even if she did play one there, all it will do is shrink the spread to a little over 100.
“Sixty-six, out.”
Heck, has she really gone out with a bingo! Luckily, as I have said, this just shrinks the spread to 100-something. I win 444 – 332.

“Don’t take a picture of this – it’s not worth it…”
Oh yeah, her favorite response to me taking my cell phone in my hands after a game of ours. You bet it is!

Right in Round 1 came a surprise: 1357-rated Daniel Turek beat the double runner-up Pavel Chaloupka. Shit happens…
I go and grab my vacuum flask full of coffee (since there’s no refreshment this time for safety reasons) – I guess I’ll need it now. The effect of the confectionery coffee may have been gone… but the main reason for this is to get warm. It’s quite cold here, which is said to be good for thinking, but still, enough is enough.
I kind of anticipate the Round 2 game will be tough. Martina Iliasová, say the match-ups.
My win – lose ratio against her was slightly negative until quite recently (January), but it’s better now. And I’m determined to smash you today. Not only you – you all.
All of us are seated and ready to start, but Zbyněk has something to tell us.
“As always, just like every year, I’ve come up with a beautiful by-contest, but forgot to let you know,” he grins. “A by-prize will go to the author of the best bingo concerning the current situation – that coronavirus and the like… the bingo I like the best will be the winner.”
Yeah, as you say – a beautiful one as always.
Now Martina, come on!
By “coming on” I didn’t really mean playing a pure bingo for 104 points as early as your third play.
But I grit my teeth and tell myself I’ll make it. And this brings fruit again: soon the spread lowers to 100, then I play a pure bingo (sixty-one) and hey – I draw both blanks! It takes me three turns to “clear” my rack but then – another bingo! Sixty-one again.
But if you think I’m ahead by loads now, you’re mistaken: I’m one point behind, and now that she’s played a 33-point multi-word combo, it becomes clear to me I have to go out if I want to win. I rely on her full rack to be worth lots of points and I look for the best going-out move. Here: eight.
But I tell myself to double-check the board and look if there’s more.
And yeah – nine! Let’s see her leftover now. To win this game, I need it to be at least thirteen. A second of deadly silence.
Yippee – by one point! 388 – 387. Had I gone out for those eight points, it would have been a mere tie…

“How many [wins] do you have?” Jaromír Buksa sks me. “Two?”
“Against whom?”

I tell him what a thrill it was to win Game 2. “I had both blanks, but…”
“That’s something history doesn’t ask about.”

I go outside for a bit. I tried that during last break too, but it was too cold. Just for kicks I leave through the other exit, and it seems this side of the building is warmer. Hah! I get back just to see Zbyněk print out the Round 3 match-ups.
I smash my Round 3 opponent Jana Vacková her 264 – 405 this time, throwing a pure bingo as soon as my fourth turn and a 39-pointer right after that.

#1 in the standings! Let’s keep it up.
Round 4: Radana Williamsová. OK, we should make it too – she’s rated 1703 and my win–lose ratio against her is heavily positive. I open with a 36-point French loanword. She responds with a bingo ending between triples. Sixty-three.
“I hope I ain’t got a triple coming… or a triple-triple…”
None of those, don’t worry…
… ‘cause I got a double-double one! A hundred two.
She grumbles all the way how lucky I am, although she keeps it close. She plays a triple with the X for 51. Now who’s lucky? But I’m still ahead by about fifteen; I just hope to get rid of all these consonants before she goes out. Seven.
Seventeen. She gets even closer.
Nine. Now I expect her to go out and win closely. She uses up the whole two-minute play limit to think.
Phewwww. Six, out.
I win 373 – 341.

“So far so good for how badly I play,” I grin at Zbyněk, bringing him the score sheets.
“Yeah… you’re lucky,” he grins back.
First in the standings! I “celebrate” this with a snack – I haven’t eaten since yesterday! And now… hey, wouldn’t a beer be nice to wash it down with! I go outside where there’s a restaurant garden. Some of the players are already sitting here, one of them with a beer. The waitress, though, doesn’t take any notice of me for a long time. When she finally does, there’s still luckily a lot of time to drink it up in peace.

Since beer brings inspiration, I should be full of it (i. e., of the inspiration) now!
Břetislav Basta. The 2016 National Champ, a double runner-up in one and one of the best Czech scrabble players. Oh well, who else did I expect with a 4 – 0 record?
I stare at my opening rack like insane. What the hell is happening today? An easy pure bingo netáhlo, the neuter singular past tense of not to pull, and although I’m not going first, there even is a spot for it! (Which there usually isn’t when you get one. Murphy’s laws work.)
Seventy-one. And after drawing a new rack of tiles…
… what the heck? Have I been good lately or is this (at last!!!) a reward for all my practice? Yes, no kidding – another pure bingo here. This time homeless, but I decide to do the best I can: I keep one letter and use the remaining six for a double-doubled seven-letter word. Thirty-six.
Mere another two plays later: yet another pure bingo on my rack! And this time placeable! Eighty-two. He hesitates whether to challenge or not, but then decides not to. (The word is good.) He responds with a 44-pointer, but still I’m 72 points ahead. I start blocking the board, knowing he’s an infamous bingo-thrower. And when I block it all… a blank and another bingo! And again, there’s a spot for it! Incredible. Seventy-two. I win 341 – 448 and I would’ve had even more hadn’t I backed out of a bingo hook I wasn’t sure about (it was good and he took it for me right after, luckily not with a bingo).

I want to say I was lucky, but before I do, he takes my breath away by telling Jana Vágnerová, who comes to look at how he did, that I deserved the win. “Tomáš played words I wasn’t sure about,” he says, giving the latter two of my three bingos as an example. “He put down nanudíš [the 2nd person singular future of to be bored too much] without even batting an eye… and then flitrem instead of more obvious, easier words such as flirtem or filtrem [the instrumental singular of a FLIRT and a FILTER respectively]. What’s a flitr anyway?”
I don’t even know exactly. “A sort of a patch I guess,” Jana says hesitantly. In English it’s a SEQUIN.
“Yeah, something like that,” I agree. If she hadn’t been quicker with the definition, I guess mine would have been more or less the same.
I knew I had it coming: my dear friend and double National Championess Kateřina Rusá, commonly called Katka, against whom I used to have a slightly positive win – lose ratio, which, though, since then is getting worse and worse and duh, is not positive anymore. Regardless, she sure remains one of my favorite opponents…
“Ribbit,” we greet each other with the secret frog greeting.
If I had everything against Basta, now it’s her who does against me. One blank: a bingo. I do bingo back, but as a “reward” I get crap. She goes on: A string of 30’s. EX and XU on a triple. (This almost makes me burst out laughing.)
I lose 430 – 340, but still, with a 5 – 1 record, I’m the first in the standings. There are currently two of us with such a record: me and the double National Champ Michal Sikora.
“Anyway, I don’t get how you can be first when you play so mucking badly,” Zbyněk teases, pinning up the standings.
And guess what – yeah, Michal becomes my next opponent. Along with Radek Mannheim, both are wearing face masks since there has been a local pandemic outbreak in their hometown of Třinec. However, he encourages us to take part in the tournament that will be held there towards the end of June – no need to be afraid. It’s considered to be a local thing around the coal mine in the nearby town.
I take mine on out of solidarity – so we both play in even conditions.
And – is that possible? He opens with a phony! I challenge it off, and since I’ve gone first, now I’m two plays ahead. On my ninth turn I get a blanks and play a bingo with it (hřivnou, instrumental singular of the Croatian currency unit; the blanks goes for the I), right after which I double-double the seven-point Ó. He strikes back with a 34-pointer, but I’ve just gotten the other blank too and I got a feeling I could bingo with it just like I did with the first one. It takes me about a minute to discover, but then here I go: (r)ozpeče, the 3rd person of to crisp. He fights back bravely, double-doubling an X-word for 67, but we both know I’m too far ahead to be caught up on. He, however, manages to shrinks the spread below 100. I win 435 – 358.

Jaromír Buksa walks by. “How did you do?”
“Good,” I grin.
“So you won, eh? Wooow. How many tourns have you won in your [scrabble] career? Five?”
“Four.” Not counting English scrabble ones.
He gives me a (literal) high five and leaves.

You didn’t have to leave, Jarda – we’ve just been matched up for the last round.
You sure remember this top sexagenarian player. He was third at the 2007 Nationals, he’s hit the top ten at the Nationals five times altogether so far and I admire him for his calm nature. He can get beaten by loads and still hold a poker face, and if you apologize for being too lucky, he tells you not to.
You may wonder why I haven’t been matched against the six-time National Champ Pavel Podbrdský in spite of having been doing this good so far. You bet he’s here again – for the past few years he’s sure been after having his name engraved in the challenge cup for about the fifth time in a row so he can bring it back home again. But oops – today is not his lucky day it seems. Now he’s 3 – 4, which is why we haven’t been matched up so far today and we aren’t for the last round either.
Just like Michal Sikora, Jaromír starts off with a phony bingo. What a lucky day today! Off it goes. As my Round 1 opponent said, if you don’t put down one, you’ll catch one – two turns later it’s me who bingoes. Another two turns later I play a 51-pointer. Then a 34-point double word. Out of despair, he slots an L between two triples just to have four points more.
“Will there be a triple-triple?” he sneers.
Just wait. I’m working on it.
It takes me about ten seconds longer than my average ten-second play (like one of my opponents once said: “If you take longer than ten seconds to play, I smell trouble”). But then – here I go: z(e)tlevši, the singular feminine past transgressive of to rot. Not many people can make transgressives correctly (but some still use them, sadly including those working with language, and they don’t mind they do so in the wrong way) in this country – they are considered ancient, but still good in Czech scrabble.
A hundred forty-nine!
He checks it just in case, but I’m 100% sure of the word. Finishing the game is just a formal thing. Just after the triple-triple I play another bingo, this time a pure double one for sixty-five. And another three turns later – an X-word for 51! “Will there be five hundred?” he wonders. You bet! I add a 20-point two-word combo and a 12-pointer and I win 335 – 517.

Now it’s clear. I’ve just won my fifth Czech scrabble tournament, my name will be engraved on the challenge cup for the second time after eight years and I’ll be lent it to take home for a year. At last a change for a string of Podbrdský’s on the last one or even two of the fake gold plates of the cup!

Zbyněk is having a hard time deciding about the winner of the “best coronavirus bingo”. One of the players has played “superlék”, “superb remedy” or “superb medicine”. It’s a phony of course, so he says he can’t proclaim it the winner.
“You’ve selected it [to be the winning bingo], so where’s the problem?” the most beautiful Parnas club member Jana Pečenková says to him in the role of the “best bingo advisor”.
“No, I’ve selected hnisavé (FESTERING). Superlék is nice, but it’s a cheat cuz it’s not good in scrabble.”
All of us are already seated – at random this time, ha – to listen to the result announcement.
“Come closer y’all so I don’t have to yell…” Zbyněk asks us.
First, as always, he announces the by-contests. For the best coronavirus bingo he finally chose blázinec, MADHOUSE, because that’s what the world looks like now.
“Until the last round, it had been looking like there wouldn’t be a triple-triple…”
So mine is the only one! I go and collect a by-prize – a bar of extra-dark chocolate with a Hradec panorama on it.
“And the best score…“
… is one of mine again: the Round 8 one. I go and get another of the Hradec-themed dark chocs.
Silver goes to Břetislav Basta and bronze to Michal Sikora. Katka closely misses the medal and comes fourth. This time she’s sure waited for the announcement – she knows it pays off today.
Zbyněk prints out the final standings. When I come to pick one too, he grins: “Why?”
A goodbye hug with Katka and Adéla and I have to split. Oh okay, first I’ll help Zbyněk tidy the room. And now let’s enjoy a beer and drink to my victory!

The Prague Qualifying Tournament & Team League 2020

Prague, CZ, Sat & Sun Feb 15th & 16th 2020

Having started the season greatly, you bet I can’t wait for more. On the Saturday I wake up fresh, shit-scared that I’ve overslept. (Waking up fresh is often a bad sign!) A quarter to two… ooophhh!

2.5 more hours to go. Let’s go back to bed…

Thank God for the old trick that lets you fall asleep within a few minutes. Why didn’t it work at the Nationals?!

There have been nights when I woke up fresh in the middle and then when the alarm went off a few hours later, I felt like a truck went over my head. Luckily, this isn’t the case. As usual I drink a pint of Dalai Lama’s tea (a mixture of hot and cold water), I have a quick cold shower, I do a few exercises… heck! I need to go number two…

… sitting on the “throne” seems like eternity. Why didn’t I take my watch with me! Hope I’ll catch my train…

In foul Czech there’s this verb prosrat for missing something, literally “shit through” something, especially used with an opportunity. Couldn’t be more literal now – hope I won’t “shit through” the departure of my train!

Luckily not, although I jump on in the last minute as usual. I think about which song to put on on my phone as a reward, finding that all of those stored in it have been played over and over for way too long.

… until that one starts ringing in my head irresistibly and it becomes clear to me I gotta listen to it even though I’ll have to use data for it. Whatever. I want to listen to Alanis Morissette’s Underneath so badly... right now.

Exactly what I wanted to help me get going. I don’t feel like sleeping anymore. The only thing that’s bugging me is the thing I forgot to buy for my trip… yeah, I traditionally forget to take one thing with me, every time a different one: this time water. I get a good idea before splitting for the train: bottled faucet water. The taste is no big deal, but better than nothing. When Jirka Kracík gets on, he says he’ll go shopping in Hradec, so I ask him to buy me some bottled one.

In Hradec Zbyněk Burda gets on. The two start talking about collectibles and exchanging them, when all of a sudden Zbyněk sneezes.

“Hopefully you ain’t brought some of that Corona virus,” I grin

“That’s exactly what I was about to say,” he grins back. If we only knew! I’m writing this three months later… at the time of this tournament there were no SARS-CoV-2 infected people in my country.

When we arrive in Prague, I stop at an ad that catches my eye thanks to a pun it uses. I read it and then I take a photo of it. In the meantime, the two disappear.

Whatever. I know the way myself.

“Where’ve you been? We were waiting for you for a good while.”

The moment it took me to take the photo of the ad you call a good while?

Quite like last time, I traditionally greet my dear friend and double National Championess Kateřina Rusá, commonly called Katka, with a ribbit and another dear scrabble friend Adéla Svítková with a hug and a kiss. The Round 1 match-ups send me against Mirka Zaisová. Great – a warm-up, I say to myself. She’s never won over me so far and today is not an exception. Rated 1602, she challenges such common words as pojímaný (the bookish masculine imperfective form of  “taken”) and plays a four-letter phony that I challenge off. Even so, playing defensively (I know how lucky these players sometimes get), I don’t win by more than 51 – with a great help of the above-mentioned bingo, I beat her 375 – 321.


Of course Round 2 makes up for it. Against Jana Vacková I play a phony bingo on my fifth turn and its invalidity puts me off so much so that I lag behind until the endgame. I do manage to play a good bingo on my last-but-one turn, but that’s not enough to catch up on her. I lose 319 – 358 and then 395 – 363 to my Round 3 opponent Hana Závišková.

I take it out on my Round 4 opponent, Alena Fiedlerová – I put down three bingos and I thrash her 281 – 483.


I “celebrate” this by having lunch – traditionally, like at most Praguean tournaments, we have sausages – and going to the pub across the street to buy me draft beer along. They even lend me a beer glass – I promise to bring it back in about an hour.

“You’re an inconspicuous beero, eh?” remarks the Czech teacher Pavel Palička, who you might remember says at every Nationals that he feels he doesn’t belong there, in spiteo f which he finished 9th there last year. Like, what else would you wash down sausages with but beer? But it seems others can do without it...

Round 5: Martin Hrubý, the 2016 runner-up. The fun is over – although we always have fun over our games.

This time, though, it’s no fun. He plays a pure bingo on his second turn, then a quadrupled one with both blanks for ninety, and although I do keep up thanks to a 42-pointer, a 46-pointer and a tripled pure bingo, on his fourth last turn he double-doubles the eight-point Ď. Of course on my last draw I pick the X when there’s nowhere to put it. I lose 367 – 388.

“Luck,” he admits. At least the beer works as a comfort.

Even the oldest player on the scene Michaela Marečková makes it hot for me in Round 6. She plays a 70-point pure bingo as early as her second turn. I bingo back with a pure one too. Then she puts down a 37-point three-word combo, to which I respond by triple-tripling the seven-point Ó: fifty-four. She plays a 40-pointer. I take a triple: forty-five. After five turns it’s 175 – 162. After my sixth turn I cross 200. What a game! And hey, what do I see – both blanks! I form a bingo with them on my ninth turn: eighty-two. Now let’s concentrate on blocking the board. Even so, she’s making it hot for me. On her eighth turn she gets as close as eight points away – but I still have them blanks so let’s put down a bingo. Eighty-two. Mere three turns after that, though, it’s neck and neck again. How dangerous she can get at her age! But you’ve never beaten me so far and you won’t this time either. Thirty-two! Whack. I block the remaining bingo spots and I win 389 – 410.


You’re 3 – 3 and still you get matched up against one of the strongest non-champion players – Petr Landa, currently rated 1839 and 19th on the chart. Well, after all I’m rated higher (currently 1874), so let’s do justice to that!

“My mom’s massacred him,” Katka says. (She didn’t. He won 482 – 333 over her.)

“So he could be sad,” I don’t lose hope: sadness and pessimism have much more impact on a scrabble player’s game than we’d ever admit.

“He looks sad even when he’s ahead by 200,” she grins.

This time, though, only the first five turns are a close fight (even in spite of my dreadful, highly improbable opening rack, so awful that it had me laughing in my mind and that I had to put it down in my exercise-book: CJMMTŤV). Then three 20-to-30-pointers put me as much ahead as if I had played a bingo, so when I play an actual one, it’s 183 – 305 in my favor. I just watch out not to open the board anymore and when it’s him who does, close the spot off again. I win 258 – 376.

“Better luck in the remaining rounds at least.”

“How do you mean – better luck? To score at least four wins?” he grumbles. Oh, come on, Petr. You’re 3 – 4 now so you can manage 5 – 4. (He doesn’t this time. He’ll end up 4 – 5 and 30th.)

I find out I forgot to turn over the page of my copy pad, so now the last page is one big mess of two copies at once. I solve this by taking a photo of the score sheet and then I go and ask our drop-dead gorgeous tournament IT manager, Jana Vágnerová’s half-Italian daughter Laura, to lend me my Round 5 score sheet for a sec.

Round 8: Pavel Palička. Yeah, that Czech teacher who said at the Nationals he felt he didn’t belong there; then once came dead last at it partly because of overeating with roast goose; and last year finally hit his first top ten by finishing 9th at those dreadful 2019 Nationals, my second worst ones that taught me a lesson – never expect too much, no matter how hard you practice.

My opening rack looking promising, I start by changing three. It’s him, though, who comes up with a bingo as early as his second turn: ch(á)pany, seventy-one. I rejoice in my mind, thinking he’s misread the A: chápány would be the feminine plural passive of to understand or to grasp.

The word, though, turns out to be good. “[Chápan]’s a monkey,” he gives me the meaning of the word. English calls it a spider monkey. Five turns later I catch up by double-doubling the X: FAX and axony, the Czech plural of AXON. Fifty-four. And then thirty-four. Take that!

I play the rest of the game defensively, careful of opening the board. Still, I play a 52-pointer on my fifth last turn: ňumu, an accusative singular of ňuma, a word coined by the world-famous Czech 20th century writer and playwright Karel Čapek, a short form of ňouma, a fool. Fifty-two. Thinking I’ve got the game nailed, I draw the 8-point Ď. Nowhere to put it. And he’s just caught up: 355 – 355. Ugh! Am I gonna lose just because of bad luck of the draw?

Luckily he opens the board for me, which enables me to play ďas, one of the words for the devil.

Four tuns later I win 393 – 357. It doesn’t happen very often that the devil helps you win a game… he just did!


Zbyněk Burda has just won over Jaromír Buksa. “No matter how hard I try, I always lose. Doesn’t matter if I rack up 526 [points] or play a triple-triple…,” Jaromír cuts. (Not that he’s had a 500+ score at this event – he’s gone over 400 only once today.)

Twelfth in the standings – let’s play the last one for fun and enter the top ten.

Pavel Vojáček. A hell of a challenge for this last round – the 1907-rated Association pres, a double bronze holder from the Nationals, the organizer of this tournament and its “playing judge”, which means that should there be a dispute, he has to go and settle it; should he have one himself, a different player with the status of a tournament judge will be asked to do so (apparently not me, though, hah). It is sure not easy to participate as a player at one’s own tournament, but I remember he’s even once won one – sure he’s a tourn holder sourdough!

I get ahead, but he catches right up with a bingo. And heck – right after that he plays another one!

“This should be a word,” he says hesitantly, having played medníky. Med being the Czech for honey and -ník being a standard Czech suffix for containers, storage places and doers of things, he’s probably right, but I go double-check the word. It’s good. (Medník is a storage place in a beehive for storing honey or also a honey gland in a honeybee.)

I decide not to give the game to him for free. After I play a 21-point two-word combo on my sixth turn, it’s 197 – 152. He’s played two bingos, and he’s only 45 points ahead! Come on, we’ll manage.

As always, the bag can feel my optimistic attitude: I get pure rozsívá, the colloquial third person singular present tense of to spread by sowing, and I just silently pray for him not to block the floating N on the board (rozsíván being the masculine singular passive of that verb). He doesn’t. Eighty-six. Another two turns later I play skloniti, the ancient infinitive of to bow, through the N of his earlier bingo (those medníky) on the board: fifty-eight. Still, though, he’s only eighteen points behind!

“Wait a minute, will you, I gotta go sort something out,” Pavel says all of a sudden. Apparently, there is a dispute between one of the playing pairs and he, as the tournament judge, has to go and settle it. Not that the extra time means any advantage for me – as always, I’ve decided what to put down within a few seconds. He gets back in a minute and we go on playing.

It’s only my next turn, the 48-point 1st person plural imperative of to drive, that finally brings me the victory: a hell of a nice score of 375 – 404.


6 – 3 – a top ten for sure!

There was a newbie at this tournament: she ends up dead last. Two top players bomb out – shit happens. Katka stays this time, although with her 5 – 4 record and bad secondary criteria she doesn’t expect anything big: she’s gonna accompany the double National Champ Michal Sikora by bike to the outskirts of Prague where he is accommodated, and since he is 6 – 3 with the secondary criteria pretty good, you can bet your bottom… um, I mean bottom dollar that he wants to stay and pick a nice prize. She comes 26th; me I come 9th, picking a huge bar of chocolate for a prize. Bronze is won by Filip Vojáček, silver by the double runner-up Pavel Chaloupka… and the winner is Luboš Vencl, the 2009 Nationals bronze holder. I have no idea that a) the choc will have been gone within a few weeks and that b) this will have been the last qualifying tournament for quite a few months due to a pandemic outbreak.

I find the accommodation place within the venue area quite quickly this time. I have a shower and I’m off to dinner and a deserved brewski. I walk for a bit before I hit the sack: we need to sleep well before tomorrow.

I do. I haven’t slept this well for ages. Let’s do even better today then!

We find out that there’s another event taking place in the room. It takes us about half an hour to kick those folks out, but luckily, as if we had anticipated that, the Association committee has agreed that the team league games newly take 35 minutes only, not forty.

Players have put their belongings on both sides of the room, so I hesitate where I should put mine – I decide in favor of the one where there are more things. Just after I do so, Pavel the Associaton pres comes: “Please put your things to the other side [of the room].” Oh well – the more I walk before the tournament, the better…

Just like every year, Pavel the pres starts by announcing the results of last year’s league.

“The last one in the top ten [as you might suspect, there are ten teams only] – Pilsner IQuell. This is the last time I’ve pronounced its name. From now on I’m going to call them Pilsners...”

We finish fifth with 43 points. Not that bad, although the differences being quite close, we thought, had we made a few more, we could be way higher now… oh well.

But now let’s successfully start this new team league season! We pay the CZK 1000 fee for the whole team league season as usual and so does one of the other teams, but… somehow we are the only two teams to have paid for a long while. Michal Přikryl is made responsible to collect the money from other teams, which is why you can now hear him shouting repeatedly: “Collecting 1000 crowns per team… no pay – no play…”

“Looks like only the two of our teams will play – so this first 2020 team league tournament is the final one at the same time!” laughs a player playing for the other team that has paid. But soon all the remaining teams cough up too so we can start.

Not until nine, though. Oh well.

Round 1: Záškoláci or The Truants. I’m taken on by my scrabble friend Martina Iliasová – let’s make this an enjoyable fight.

Drawing my opening rack, I roll my eyes: an Ř plus an R, a B, two I‘s one of which is accented… oh crap, that looks like an exchange: ABIÍRŘL… but then I take a closer look: řibíral*… if she puts down a P, this could yield a pure bingo! (Přibíral being an imperfective masculine singular past tense of to put on weight or to take on more, such as patients or staff.)

… now that’s exactly what happens. Sixty-nine! 

This injects the necessary optimism in me, so I add three 30+pointers and I win 306 –354. 


“This game was a punishment,” she says.

My win helps to a 3 – 1 win of my team.

Game 2, though, is the opposite. Against Vojta Vacek of the Matalino team I lose 341 – 357 even in spite of challenging off a phony of his. This is even more pissoffable when I find out this causes my whole team to lose as well. 


As usual, I “report” the result of my game to Pavel my team capo who puts it down on a large sheet of paper.

Then I realize the game was bingoless – in contradiction to what I reported – so I found Pavel again: “Sorry, the bingos should be 0 – 0. Not that it changes anything.”

“The bingos should be 3 – 0!” he grins.

This punny answer of his was possible only thanks to the fact that modern Czech doesn’t distinguish between “should [do]” and “should have [done]”. So my translation doesn’t do much justice to it, but oh well.

Game 3 against Pilsner IQuell is rather for fun. I beat Daniel Turek 294 – 419 without having to put in much effort, even though he had both blanks. It’s 4 – 0 for us.

“I just can’t make them bingos…” he whined at a crucial point of the game. “I’ll try and play one… it won’t be good anyway…”

Then he finds out his bingo won’t even fit on the board due to lack of room.


Round 4 against Leskoptve or the Superb Starlings: against their “mascot” Raul Kačírek (due to his surname which means “little drake”) I’m lucky: I get both blanks, play a bingo and eke out a win by eight.


Towards the end of the game he is so tired that you can hear him counting to himself in a level-headed voice: “Three and five makes seven…”

Unfortunately, this is heard by the amiable pretty Jana Vágnerová who has come to have a look at our game and who happens to be an accountant. She has a good laugh over that and so does he when she repeats what he said.

Aty last I’ve saved some time to eat! I fly to the kitchen to snatch some bread

In Round 5 against Nerobité or the Doing-Nothings I beat Josef Nerodil 300 – 358 mainly thanks to challenging off his bingo dronech, the local plural of a dron. “Too modern [to appear in the Czech scrabble dictionary],” I say.

I take out my cellphone to take a picture of the game. The 2016 National Champ and a double runner-up Břetislav Basta, commonly called Břeťa, sneers at Josef: “Smile – you’re gonna be in a picture.” 

“Mr Rodr’s taking a picture of the scrabble board, not me,” Josef grumbles.


Our game having been finished quickly, I go and have a look at how my teammates are going.

Zbyněk has just played a bingo and spells out the blank: “U.”

“One with a circle?” Břetislav Basta, his opponent, grins. There are two possible accents of an U in Czech – an Ů and an Ú (“an” because we read it [u:]), which we literally call an “U with a circle” and an “U with a comma” respectively, but basically they are pronounced the same way: the accents prolong the U sound.

“No, a U with nothing. An empty U,” Zbyněk grins back and I have to hold back the laughter. (We would normally call an accentless U a short U.)

It’s bad, though. Zbyněk and Pavel have lost, and Jirka, who has looked like he could make it, loses closely in the end too. I’m the only winner out of my team now, which means we’ve lost and we get zero points for this round.

Round 6: Poškoláci or The Detainees, multiple winners of the team league. Every member of the team being a challenge to play, I’d better get my chocolate at last, which I haven’t had time to do so far.

I kind of expect I’ll be taken on by the double Nationals bronze holder Luboš Vencl. He often challenges me in the team league…

And indeed.

“I like playing against you,” he says.

“Likewise,” I respond and I don’t even have to lie.

“You seem the strongest of your team to me,” he goes on with nice words. Hell, actually I am – just look at the Chart! (But only after this tournament – sorry for the anticipation – currently the Parnas team capo is ONE PLACE higher! But the more Luboš’s words are heartwarming to me.)

But this game is none of those interesting, thrilling, close fights of ours. He plays a pure bingo as early as his third turn, then a blanked one seven turns later, then gets the other blank too, and wins 413 – 285.


Luckily Jirka Kracík and Pavel Žibřid win, so we get at least one point for a “small tie”.

Round 7: Sirotci or The Orphans.

We get their lineup slip and discuss who will fight who.

“Out of those, I want nobody,” Zbyněk grins. “I might as well go home now. I got four wins and two losses, so what’s gonna follow is a row of losses…”

“Call a stand-in then. [Call the 2005 runner-up Jaroslav] Kodym [†2017] – pull him out of his grave!” Jirka pipes in.

I take on Michal Přikryl: one of my favorite opponents not only “live” but also online where we’ve had quite a few “scrabble sessions”, especially at night. Rated 1825, he’s currently 21st on the Chart and as I’ve let you know in my past stories, he’s hit the top ten at the Nationals three times, out of which he was once fifth.

So let’s live up a game even better than the ones we play online!

He plays a bingo as early as his second turn: the dark side (from his point of view) of it is, though, is the fact that it ends right in front of a triple word score field, so it enables me to play a double-triple – provided I have an I.

Which I do. So…

“Fifty-four,” I grin. What a beginning!

And his third turn is even better (from my point of view this time): he plays a phony. I challenge it off, but still I’m ahead by seventeen only.

On his eighth turn, he comes up with virblů for 38: I challenge, never having seen the word before.

Virbl is a kind of drum, he explains (a snare drum in English). The V is in a triple-triple lane, but it was sure worth it – it gets him ahead by 28 points.

Shortly after, the 2018 runner-up Jiří Kamín walks by: being one of the fastest Czech scrabble players, he’s done with his game and now just wanders about, observing other people playing.

Virblů… nice. Was it you who played that?” he asks Michal. The latter nods.

“Wait until a triple-triple flies in,” Jiří sneers.

No triple-triple does, but I still put a 33-pointer there, one of three 30+pointers in a row on my side. Four turns before the end it’s still close: 303 – 297 in my favor.

I rely on my “killer endgame” which one of my past opponents once said I’m infamous for. Checking for “big” letters on the board, I find out that the X is still unseen. Therefore, I decide to keep the E I’m holding – you can’t burn the X without a non-accented vowel in Czech scrabble (unless there is a floating one on the board).

I was right in my anticipation – here comes the X! Take that: TEX, 32 points. Whack.

This turns to be the right play: that’s to say, there is a verb on a triple extendable to a corner triple. Which is exactly what he does now. 355 – 354 in my favor now. What a thrill! Exactly one of those we regularly have.

Of course I’ve already thought through the going-out move. I’ve just been praying he doesn’t block the spot.

Which doesn’t happen. Ooooph. Twenty-four, out. I win 385 – 349.


It turns out two other Parnas members have won, so it’s a 3 – 1 victory for us.

It’s getting tough: Túzy a múzy or Deuces and Muses. And I’m challenged by their member I’ve got the most negative win – lose ratio against – the double runner-up Pavel Chaloupka. But I’m not afraid: on the contrary. I’m on a roll today, so come and take that!

“Games against you are a challenge… and I like challenges,” I tell him. I start by changing two, but no bingo-friendly letters come.

And whoops! My third-turn word turns out to be a phony, so it leaves the board. (Well, to be exact – it is made to leave.) But I tell myself to stay optimistic and do my best. And as always, the bag can feel it – I get a blank, play a bingo (he challenges and gets a second penalty cross – do challenge one more time!) and I catch up thanks to it. And what’s more – he’s just used a blank to play a 38-pointer. So the blanks are gone and he’s only ahead by ten! Come on, we’ll make it. I take a triple: twenty-seven. I’ve gotten ahead! (By a point, hah.)

After an even turn he retakes the lead (by eight), another two turns later it’s me who’s leading again (by two). Only now, two turns before the end, comes the crucial moment: I play a word for fourteen, which he may think is too much for him to catch up on, so he challenges. This surprises me: a double runner-up challenging a four-letter word I’m sure as hell of… but I understand this is the “drowning man clutching at a straw” in practice. On top of that, he’s already got two “penalty crosses” for challenging two good words of mine, although according to Czech tournament scrabble rules a third penalty cross incurs missing a turn. Probably he was thinking – if the word is good, I’ll be too much behind to catch up, so I’ll lose anyway even if I don’t have to miss a turn.

It is good. He has to miss a turn; I go out for four and I win 351 – 327.


And hell yeah – we’ve killed ‘em 4 – 0!!!

Last round! Against Ýáčci or the Eeiores, multiple winner of the team league.

“I’ve pinched your Leová,”  Zbyněk grins. He means Žaneta Leová whom you sure remember – the beautiful (that may be why he said “your”  – because he knows she’s beautiful to me) half-Vietnamese who has returned to the scrabble tournament scene after about eight years spent in Thailand.

“That’s good. She’s so beautiful that my win – lose ratio against her is negative.” (Actually not anymore – now 7 – 5 – but used to be for a long time.)

“That’s exactly what I had on my mind. God knows where you’d be looking all the time… so tactically I matched you up against the Old Shrew.” 

This is a nickname of Milena Filipová, the Parnas team capo’s mother-in-law and the oldest member of the team. “Moreover, she doesn’t like you very much, so she’ll be put off only by finding out she’s gotta play you.” 

A close fight halfway through the game. Then I double-double the seven-point Ó: forty-six and play a bingo on my very next turn: eighty-three. Only another two turns later, though, is the game mine: forty-one. I win 391 – 347.


We get a point for a “small tie” (two of us win, two of us lose and the opposing team’s combined score is higher). I hug Adéla goodbye, say bye to my other friends and run – if I want to go to the train station on foot, I’d better split. Especially if I want to buy me some grub on the way.

Of course I lose my way at least once, but I find it quite soon this time and I even find a few minutes to listen to musicians busking on the Charles Bridge. I even throw ‘em a CZK 20 coin (about $1) to show I really like their music.

The baguette I’ve bought is only like a tickle to my stomach, but at least it guarantees I don’t die of hunger within the first hour of the way back. Only in Poděbrady, about an hour’s train ride away from Prague, do I have the pleasure to see the food vendor. I ask for a baguette and a can of beer.

“I only have a chicken one and a Budweiser left.”

“OK, whatever – better than nothing.”

Of course she means the original Czech Budweiser; none of my faves, though. But oh well – as I said, better than nothing.

Had I known this had just been my last train ride, my last trip out of town and my last scrabble tournament for three and a half months, I may have lived ‘em all up better. Now, towards the end of May, I’m finally looking forward to the Hradec tourney and, even more, to seeing my old friends…

It did have an advantage – after this successful tournament weekend of mine my rating rockets to 1890. Sure a good number to look at for such a long time!

The Dolní Břežany Qualifying Tournament 2020

Dolní Břežany, CZ, Sat Jan 25th 2020

Alright, let’s forget the old season. Let’s start a new one: it will sure be better. I feel in my bones that this year’s gonna be a breakthrough one – not only in scrabble: after 14 years I have contacted a book publishing company and sent them a manuscript of a work of mine.
The very Thursday before the event Zbyněk Burda calls. I always go to this tournament in his car from Hradec (where I get by train).
“There’s nothing to go by this time,” he giggles into the phone. His old car needs fixing. He lets me know it’s manageable to get there in time by public transport anyway, as long as I take the first morning train. (Thank God he called after all – hadn’t the car broken down, I’d have forgotten I could’ve gone to Hradec one train later. Not to speak of what could’ve happened had the car broken down on the way to the tourn…!)
Since the beginning of the tournament is set so that you manage to get there in time by exactly the one Saturday morning bus from Prague, I instantly imagine myself not being able to find the right station and missing the bus because of that. Which is why I write on the Czech scrabble website a last-minute request for a ride share from Prague. The Association secretary Petr Kuča, the father of the three time National Champ and a six-time runner-up in one Martin, answers he could pick me up.
I sleep badly that Friday night: even worse than I did before those mucked up Nationals.
I meet Jirka Kracík and Zbyněk Burda on the train respectively. The former howls: “What if you (ie me and Petr) won’t find each other?”
“You betrayed us!” Zbyněk grins when he gets on.
“He’ll rather go with Kuča,” Jirka pipes in.
“He won’t, ’cause they’re not gonna find each other,” Zbyněk laughs.

I laugh back, but you bet there’s a shade of doubt gnawing: Petr Kuča told me to wait “somewhere on the street” next to a particular subway station. I imagine a crowded one: indeed – how’s he gonna find me? But let’s trust him – as a Prague resident he knows best.
He does. As I get off the subway at the designated station and find the adjacent street, I find there’s no living soul there. Soon a vehicle emerges from nowhere and stops near me.
“I knew there was going to be next to nobody here on a Saturday morning,” he explains as I get into his car. Soon we arrive at the venue where the challenge begins.
And I don’t mean the tournament yet: the first challenge begins right under the stairs of the school the canteen of which the event is held in.
You guessed it. The stairs are so icy that it takes quite a bit of courage to climb them. As someone who has broken his arm five times in his life, three times of which this happened downright on ice, I’m like “Oh my God.” But I manage – thanks to the railing.

I couldn’t wait to see old friends. I ribbit at Katka and hug and kiss Adéla, the scrabble friend of mine who you might remember helped me kill my blues after last year’s Nationals. She has brought a newbie to the tourn. And here’s another one I haven’t seen for ages – the beautiful half-Vietnamese Žaneta Leová, who you might remember returned to the scrabble scene last year after about an eight-year break during which she was living in Thailand.
“I just can’t get used to you after you lost so much weight,” she says to Raul Kačírek. I sit down at one of the tables to check the completeness of one of the sets, putting on one of the Bonnie Tyler tracks saved in my cellphone at a low volume – I left my headphones at home. Big thanks to the guy who shared the coupe with me on the train – seeing me turning the music off as he entered, he told me it can keep on playing. Soon, though Jirka called me from another train car so I went away to have a chat with him and get rid of the small cardboard box full of collectibles I saved for him before the beginning of the new season.

So who’s gonna be my first opponent in this new, promising season?

Kateřina Rusá, say the match-ups. What could I wish for more – I’ll start a season by a friendly game full of fun.
“Ribbit,” we greet each other again. I’m going first, so I dip my hand into the bag, grab a handful – exactly seven – and look her in the eye with a grin. “Ribbit,” I say again, this time meaning “I’ve got seven.” She almost bursts out laughing.
A close game halfway through. In the heat of the game, I once draw one too many tiles. As you might remember, when this happens, according to the Czech scrabble tournament rules the opponent draws one of the tiles at random (unlike in English where they pick three and select themselves which of them will go back to the bag). Now guess what – of course she picks the blank. On my sixth turn, my rack being all-consonant, I use three tiles to block an obvious bingo spot; a mere one turn later she bingos anyway, though, on a triple. Another two turns later I bingo back (I drew the blank back), with a tripled one too. I hesitate between two words: a 100% good one with a blank on the triple-double and a maybe-phony one with the 4-point Ý on the triple-double. I decide in favor of the former: ninety-two. (I check the other one after the game: really a phony! Ooooph.)
This puts me back in the game: 247 – 283 in her favor. I rely on my infamous “killer endgame”…
… but for one, you’ve got to have good tiles. Which don’t come. I lose 353 – 384.

“I kinda ain’t been doin’ good against you lately,” I say, congratulating her. Indeed. I used to have a positive win – lose ratio against her in the past, but since then this is my fifth loss to her in a row.
“I’ve noticed,” she confirms. Don’t worry, you’re still a dear friend of mine and you will always be. Even if I shouldn’t win a single game over you for the rest of my life.
As I’ve pointed out several times before, when you get matched up against a strong opponent and you lose, the system makes up for it by sending you against a weak one. I smash Gabriela Gugová 279 – 457 without even having to think much. She doesn’t even challenge my bingo, even though I myself express my doubts about it. She checks it after the game: it’s good.
“You’re lucky that he didn’t play gryfově with an Y for 150,” Niki Zgafasová, still beautiful at the age of half a century – no wonder she became a fiancée recently – tells her with a grin. Both grif (a germanism meaning a GRIP, both literally and figuratively) and gryf are good in Czech scrabble, the latter being a mythical creature so it can be put into the possessive case too, among other things. She still remembers how her eyes popped after I played it, she obviously knowing only the version with the I: “Is he shitting me? He spells it with a Y and on top of that he puts it in a possessive case…” The bingo wasn’t worth 150 – that was an exaggeration – but still quite a few points (ninety-four).

Round 3 against Martina Iliasová: I watch out – I even used to have a negative win – lose ratio against her recently. She’s now rated 1853 – she’s gotten drastically better than she used to be.
But today I’m determined to smash you. Thirty-four. Whack. Twenty-eight. Take that. Hey – a blank! On my sixth turn I use it in a bingo. She challenges; it comes back good (spékati – to shrink by baking). Ahead by fifty, I concentrate on blocking. Even so I make some more nice plays: double-doubling the 7-point Ó in ódu and ód (the accusative singular and genitive plural respectively of óda, an ODE) for 32 or zvlášť, SEPARATELY, with the 7-point Ť double-doubled: forty-two. I win 277 – 355.

Round 4: Věra Majtánová. You sure remember this currently 1758-rated 40-ish blonde lawyer who threatened to quit tourneying for some time in the past, saying “This is my last tournament” frequently. We are glad she didn’t mean it – last year she even qualified for the Nationals again after a three-year break.
A close fight all the way. About halfway through the game the only thing that changes is that until now it has been her who was in a slight lead, but after I play a tripled TOXIN for 46, the tables turn. I’m ahead until my very last-but-one turn when she catches right up: with our racks holding less than seven tiles, the score is 289 – 289. I’m afraid she’s about to go out, because she’s still holding a blank just like I am.
But she’s not. I go out with v(ý)fuk, EXHAUST, hooking it on ťat, a masculine singular passive form of the bookish verb tít, to cut, making uťat, the perfective form of the same. Twenty-nine. I win 329 – 278.

Jirka Kracík is also 3 – 1: he has just beaten Zbyněk Burda although the latter had both blanks and played two bingos. “So we may get matched up,” I grin.
“I hope not,” he grins back.

A quick look at the standings: from 9th place (out of 53) after Round 3 to the seventh! Howzat? Sure better than 21st after Round 2, not to speak of 36th after the loss in Round 1.

But the price to pay is obvious: the fun is over. My next opponent is Milena Filipová, a scrabble veteran rated 1889 who has hit the top ten at the Nationals five times – having gained bronze once out of that – qualified every year from 2007 until 2019. My win – lose ratio against her, though, is slightly positive: 14 – 13.
I’ve gotten back to top tables: now #5. My dear friend Katka Rusá is sitting at the adjacent one: “Looks like I haven’t sent you too far away to the back,” she grins.
“You’ve been my only loss so far,” I grin back.
A neck-and-neck fight until the eighth turn when I play a phony, adding an E to URD, thinking it to be its vocative singular. URD is good in Czech scrabble too, but it’s not the Asian legume like in English as I thought – that way it would be masculine and the E in the vocative singular would have worked – but the genitive plural of urda, a loanword from Romanian denoting a sweet cottage cheese-like product made from sheep whey. Luckily a five-link chain of 20+pointers on my side not only makes up for that mistake but also gets me almost 60 points ahead: 211 – 270. After one last try at putting together a bingo in this game – to no avail – I start concentrating on blocking: neither of us has used a blank yet (I have only recently gotten one) or played a bingo, and I know the latter is one of the few things that could save her now.
My blocking is effective. I win 289 – 333. She makes one last try to at least lower the spread by challenging my last play. “Tanko?” she asks, giving me a funny look after I extend the TANK on the board with an O and say “out”. The word turns out to be good – I was sure of that:
“[The vocative singular of] TANKA… a Japanese form of poetry,” I give her the meaning. While HAIKU has three lines, TANKA has five. I’ve written a few myself.
“That’s a female tank,” Zbyněk laughs when I share the story with him and Jirka. “With no gun.”
“It only has a chamber,” Jirka pipes in.

I walk about the room for a bit to clear my head. I stop at the neighboring table #6 where Martin Hrubý is sitting, the tiles having been arranged in a ten-by-ten square as is the custom in Czech tournament scrabble before the event and after every game to make sure no tile is missing.
“Game over; tiles arranged,” he “reports”.
“All right!” I say in a clerk-like tone, which makes him laugh.
Jiří Kamín, the 2018 runner-up and 2014 bronze holder, reads aloud a newspaper title (bring a jounralist himself, he sure knows a good one when he sees one): “People drop like stones! What a title…”
Of course it refers to the spreading virus. The Czech collocative simile here is even more eloquent: we say (and that’s what they literally wrote) “drop like flies”...

I make a pile of my things, ready to grab them all and move higher to a new table. Only to find out I’m staying here at #5…
Josef Nerodil. A 1618-rated tournament veteran who, as you might remember, first qualified last year after 19 years of tourneying and beat me by five points there, although my win – lose ratio against him is heavily positive.
The intro is highly tactical: two small moves and a change on each side. Then he plays a 79-point bingo (cepován, the masculine singular passive of to chasten, to discipline or to drill someone, with a blank for the Á) while I have to bear with one more tactical play before I put down one of mine (sektářů, the genitive plural of a sectarian, with a blank for the Ř). My bingo, though, leaves a free triple word field to take from two directions, which he does right away so he retakes the lead: 160 – 189. Not for long, though: a 22-point and a 33-point two-word combos on my side (a part of the latter of which he challenges – turning his ženo, the vocative singular of a woman, into mženo, the neuter singular passive of to drizzle, but it comes back good). I have to rely on my infamous “killer endgame”: this time two 22-pointers and a 16-point double-doubling the B in two directions, which finally wins me the game. He loses 368 – 331.

Third in the standings! Wouldn’t it be nice to keep it up and gain a medal just like I did here some six years ago, having then beaten two multiple champs and #1’s on the Chart of the past in one?

My eyes pop: my last-but-one opponent is Jana Vacková. How come?
Well, while she’s doing good and is 5 – 1 just like I am, both the six-time champ Pavel Podbrdský and the double champ Břetislav Basta have one win fewer than us.
She keeps me busy just like Josef did before her. After two changes in four plays and a 39-pointer with a blank, which makes it obvious to me that she’s most probably holding the other one as well.
She is. On her fifth turn, right after the other of the two changes, she puts down paličko, the vocative singular of a drumming stick (or any little stick in general).
Keep cool. She’s just about 35 points ahead.
When I full my rack after my seventh turn, I hold AÁMNKVZ. I wish she put down an Á, I say to myself. Vázankám, the locative plural of a tie (the clothes accessory), would give me a chance to catch up. The knack to it is that there are only two Á’s in the set, which drastically lowers the probability of her doing so.
However improbable it is…
… it happens. What’s happening today? And why wasn’t it happening at the 2019 Nationals? Vázankám, seventy-four, whack.
This puts me back into the game, turning it into a close fight until the very end. On my last-but-one turn I find my rack too vowel-heavy, but I find a nice solution by playing olei, the genitive plural of OLEUM on a triple. She challenges. It comes back good.
Great. If she doesn‘t go out, I should win.
She doesn’t. Yippee! Fifteen, out. I win 306 – 324. Knowing an unusual four has just won me the game! I guess I’ve deserved this one.

6 – 1 and second in the standings. I know pretty well Round 8 will be a medal quest for me – well, actually not so much, I comfort myself: if you win, you’ll be the runner-up; if you lose, you will take bronze. At least that’s what my secondary criteria say. Anyway, ain’t it sweet – to finish the tournament at table #1, knowing you will most probably grab a medal?
And it figures – my Round 8 opponent is Michal Sikora, the sinologist and japanologist and a double National Champ, who has been running the table so far: 7 – 0.
“You’ve already won the tourn anyway no matter what, right?” I ask him just to make sure, and he confirms that. Alright, that might help us play this one for fun.
It does. I draw a blank early in the game and on my fifth turn I play a bingo with it (nehozenu, the singular feminine complement passive of to throw, with the blank for the second E). I get so smart that I try out another bingo three turns later. It gets challenged off, as I thought it would.
Still over 60 points ahead, I start blocking the board. Five turns later there’s almost no room to play on the board, but I’m not opening it for you. Whenever I did so in such a situation in the past, I always lost.
There’s nothing left for him but to open it himself. Using a blank, he plays X(U) for 35. This word has a front hook – an E, but although I’m holding one, I think it over: this is the last one, so he can’t use it, and I got a better spot for it. I take a triple with it: twenty-six. I think through my three last plays in advance, but I find I can’t go out. Oh well. Deducting one will hopefully not influence my win – I don’t think he’ll catch up: he would need almost fifty points.
Not really: I win 377 – 333.

“Thanks… well, and congrats to you too, as a matter of fact.” As I said, he’s won this event.

Katka’s got six wins – that’s well enough for top ten, so I don’t have to look for her now to catch her to manage to say bye before she rides away. She stays since she knows she might still get a nice prize.

“You’ve beaten Sikora, have you? How do you do that?” Jirka wonders.
“But he’s won [the event] anyway.”
“You should’ve beaten him by more then,” Zbyněk grins.
“He’s done so good because he didn’t go with us,” Jirka sneers. Me, that is.
“I’m not going with you next time either then,” Zbyněk sneers back.

Third comes Milan Kuděj, Katka’s uncle and a double National Champ. Marek the organizer asks us – the medal trio, that is – to pose for a picture to be taken. “You may appear in a local newspaper.”
The six-time National Champ Podbrdský comes as “low” as fifth and the double Champ Basta does ninth, followed by Josef Nerodil who, as you may remember, qualified for the Nationals last year for the first time after 20 years of tourneying – looks like he’s gonna do so again!
There were three newbies to the tournament scene – the best of them was 3 – 5, while the worst of them only finished four games, not winning any of them. Hopefully she’ll show up again one day with better luck...

The 2019 Czech National Scrabble Championship

Prague, CZ, Sat & Sun Nov 23 & 24 2019

I’m looking forward to these Nationals more than I’ve ever done to any ones before. Why? I don’t even know. Maybe it’s the fact that these are going to be my jubilee tenth Nationals in a row. And I’ve practiced a lot and even studied, so I guess I deserve a hell of a good result!
How sweet that would be. Tenth Nationals in a row, and a medal at last…? Medal places have been reached by people my win – lose ratio against is heavily positive, so why not me?
What will the Nationals be like this time? With Josef Nerodil qualified for the very first time? (You sure remember how he came drunk a few times and once even fell asleep during a game. But he can be a challenge, too – he’s beaten me about twice already.) AND, moreover, with the Moon in Libra? This means it is an ideal time for art and creation, which – both – scrabble definitely is!

“What’s wrong with you? Are you ill?” my boss asks me at a meeting on the Friday right before the event. She just nags at me, seeing I’ve ordered non-alcoholic beer. I assure her that’s just because I need to keep my head clear the upcoming weekend.
“I can see you’re taking it seriously… responsibly.”

Rereading last year’s Nationals story, I can see I took the 8.43 AM train then. Which is just about the one to get you there on time, provided nothing unusual happens.
But what if? What if? I wonder why this question is bugging me this year, like some voice from above whispered, you should take an earlier train. ‘Cause what if…?
So I set my alarm for 6 AM, deciding to go an hour earlier.
Guess what. I wake up at four, not able to sleep anymore. Oh well, let’s take a nap on the train. And hey…
… what about taking the 6.30 train instead of the 7.30 one? This gets me there even earlier; I can take a walk to clear my head and calm down, put my things in the hostel, and the like…

And so I do. Glad that the trip went smoothly, I jump off the train at 9.40, almost three hours before I should be at the venue, and I take a long walk to the hostel. Prague, I love you! But only when I come to see you a couple times a year. I definitely couldn’t live here.
I land in a local coffee shop and I enjoy a cuppa and a cake. Why not? I’ve got a lot of time on my hands and coffee is right what I need to get myself going.

I decide to put my backpack in the tournament room before I do. I greet the Association pres and a handful of early-bird players who have already arrived, such as Martin Hrubý, and I vanish again.

“Eeeehh, sorry… cash only,” the receptionist grins when he sees me ready to pay by card.
I don’t have much of it on me, so it looks like another long walk to an ATM and back.
Why long? Shouldn’t there be an ATM on just about every corner?
Well, there is, but… believe it or not, in the city center of Prague they don’t allow you to withdraw an amount lower than CZK 1000. For a less demanding ATM I have to walk as far as the Old Town Square. So I do. Well, didn’t I want to walk as much as possible and thus clear my head before the event after all? The knack to it is I don’t have as much time as I wanted for lunch. But there’s still enough of it to manage. I drop by a local pub where I have a soup and, again, non-alcoholic beer.

“Where have you been? You showed up and then you disappeared again,” Martin Hrubý wonders. I explain and I seek to make myself a coffee. Milena Filipová is looking for those plastic sticks for stirring drinks.
“There are none,” Pavel the Association pres tells her. “Use a knife.”
“Can I have a coffee knife too?” I grin at him, which makes him laugh.
“Coffee knife! That’s the best!”
I sit down to verify the completeness of one of the sets, which is what some other players have already plunged into.

Looks like I’ll have to change pens as early as even before Round 1: this one seems to fail.

So who’s gonna be my first opponent at this jubilee event?

Martina Iliasová. Quite a challenge – don’t think I’ve forgotten our last Nationals game which I lost by four points. So it’s time for a revenge.
Seeing I’ve put down her name first, she wonders: “I thought you’re going first.”
So I engage in a “healthy walk” to the pinned-up sheet to find out again. She’s right.

A close fight: we run neck and neck for the first four turns, then we trade bingos (me: lejstra, an informal word for paperwork, a blank for the J, 73 points, which she challenges but comes back good; she: lampion, LANTERN, a blank for the A, 68 points) and the even struggle begins anew. Even on my 14th turn I’m like ten points ahead, so I tell myself in my mind it’s time I did something. So I count the H's and Ú's used and, concluding she can't use either, I set myself up for a triple with řad, the genitive plural of a row, and on my next turn I let her take the final blow of hóra, a church practice lesson, using my own setup and thus making hřad, a roost. Forty-nine! This is finally my winning play: I just block the remaining bingo spots and five turns later neither of us can make a move. She tries adding her Š to alt, an ALTO, making šalt*: I challenge it off.
“I'll try PHONY then,” I grin, trying to add my P to hony, HUNTS or CHASES. She laughs – it sounds like a Czech plural fo the English word PHONE – but I don't know if she got the real point: I've literally played a phony! Ha! Something that is possible in all scrabble versions but English...

End of fun. I know I'll now get a far more challenging opponent, and indeed: the double runner-up Pavel Chaloupka. You may remember his extreme ups and downs in scrabble: apart from becoming a runner-up twice, he's also had these two extremely unfruitful scrabble seasons where he finished below 30th place at qualifying tourns and then gave up his attempts to qualify. My win – lose ratio against him used to be very lousy – about 1 – 7 – but since then it has gotten better. I've even smashed him a few times.

The first half is a thrill: then he tries a 109-point double-double bingo, but I challenge it off. I start blocking the board: four turns later there is only one bingo spot left, but to use it he would have to make as many as three two-letter by-words.
Guess what: this is exactly what happens. I do what I can, but this is too much to catch up on. Even challening off another phony of his doesn't change this. I lose 337 – 352.

Oh well. 1 – 1? Once there was someone who wound up to be a National Champ from an initial 0 – 3 record.

And against my Round 3 opponent, Radek Mannheim, I've got a positive win – lose ratio, so let's get back up!

He starts with a phony. Yesss! I challenge it off. I use the gained time to change my tiles. A close game again: when he bingoes on his sixth turn, I respond with a 48-pointer. All our plays but one (not counting his phony and the exchanges) are two-digit so far. What a great game! He gets ahead, I catch up with a bingo. Říz, TWANG, gets extended into bříz, the genitive plural of a BIRCH and the latter into bříze, the genitive plural of that tree. I’m holding a K and the last O, so I devise a devilish plan: both blanks having already been played, let’s just play off the K, making břízek, the genitive plural of a diminutive of a birch for a change, and then use the O for obřízek, the genitive plural of circumcision, playing something across.
And so I do. On my last-but-one turn I hook toť, a bookish expression for “that is”, on the birches, turning them into the circumcisions. You don’t have to be a magician to turn a birch into a circumcision – being a scrabble player is enough!
“The circumcision stank there,” Radek says – he sure expected me to play it and he didn’t have anything to prevent me from doing so with (which I knew).
This play has helped me catch up: now it’s 351 – 345 in his favor.
I don’t have much to play anymore on my rack though. Luckily I see a spot to go out on by playing etuda, ETUDE. Let’s hope his last play won’t be worth enough.
Ouch. That’s too much. I go out with the etude – eight – and I lose 368 – 355.

Pissed off as I am, I go take a piss. I see Jarda Buksa there, the bronze medal holder from – just the right person to bump into now: “I‘m 0 – 3,” he takes my breath away and grins: “My time will only come.”
(It won’t. He will end up dead last with a 2 – 9 record.)

Round 4 against the youngest qualified, Vojta Vacek, starts out nice. Even though he sets himself up for a triple, I can’t do anything about that and he then eats it up for fifty, we’re still close. We trade bingos on our fifth turns. On his nine turn I challenge off a phony of his, but four turns later he challenges off one of mine. Since then I start getting crap so I can hardly catch up. I lose 329 – 368.

Round 5: Jana Vágnerová. Beautiful and gifted (rated 1820), I wonder how ever I have a positive win – lose ratio against her.
But now I’m determined to smash her. As if she knew, she fights me bravely. A close fight all the way. Even in the very endgame. She sees last two tiles on my rack.
“I hope they’re worth more than two,” she says and goes out.
“Two,” I grin, laying them out. Ooooooph. 364 – 365. I can’t believe that after all the bad luck I’ve been through.
“By a point then, eh?”

You afford to eke out a win by one point and here you are matched up against a top player again. Luboš Vencl – when we played a few days before, we promised each other a rematch, ideally in the finals.
“ I don‘t think we’ll play there,” he grins. Neither do I.
Soon it becomes obvious he holds both blanks, so I seek not to open the board much. On my seventh turn I play a pure bingo and from then on I close the board again so he can’t bingo back. Not long after there’s not much room to play so I end up putting down one-digit-point words, while he’s getting closer and closer and then ahead. Two 20-pointers towards the end and I lose 343 – 320.

“Your decision to play defensively was good.”
“Maybe I overdid it.”
“Hm… that may have been the case… well yeah, I guess you might’ve been too defensive.”

I don’t care anymore. I fall as low as table 13 (out of sixteen) to play against Zbyněk Burda. As our games are usually big fun, I try once more to forget everything I‘ve been through and do my best.
It works. On my third turn I plunk down a bingo, which puts me about 60 points ahead, and then I’m blessed with the other blank, too, which I use for a 33-point triple.
“Of course, as always – a thousand blanks,” he grins. I win 390 – 300.

Nineteenth in the standings. Oh well, something I can survive with until tomorrow morning. I remind myself that after the Saturday part of the first two Nationals in Hostinné I ended up in the bottom part; once even as low as 32nd . Dead last – but the following Sunday I was 4 – 0 and made it to the top ten!

But a prerequisite to that is to sleep well, which I don’t. Around 0:30 I wake up to the reception door bell and I don’t manage to fall asleep again. So the Sunday part looks accordingly – I eke out only one more win (340 – 358 over Martin Vacek, thanks to challenging off a phony of his and to knowing the word ganj, the genitive plural of GANJA, a slang word for marijuana) to end up with a lousy 4 – 7 record.

I even lose to first-ever-in-his-life qualified Josef Nerodil by four points, someone my win – lose ratio against is so very positive. He ends up last-but-one – at least I've done better than that.
4 – 7! I had this at my very first Nationals back in 2010. Ugh. And I practiced so hard!

Soon I find out something even worse: I miss my frog! To hell with my results, let’s go find my frog. I must have left it on one of the tables. I search a few of the last ones I was at and breathe a deep sigh of relief when I finally find it.
I talk with Katka, unburdening my frustration to her. She confirms that in scrabble practice may be useless: she only played at tournaments this year and still, she nearly hit the top three. That’s why she’s still staying instead of hitting the road by bike even before the result announcement like she usually does.
“I squeezed in there [in the 3rd place] at the last minute,” Pavel Vojáček the Association pres grins.
The two finalists are already known: the triple National Champ and two-time runner-up Martin Sobala and the one-time National Champ and one-time runner-up Břetislav Basta, commonly called Břeťa. I hope Martin will win 2 – 0 quickly so I can go home. I’ve had it…
During the break I go and get a beer to go from a pub across the road. As expected, Martin wins Game 1, although not even by fifty: 390 – 347. The computer program through which the games are transferred on the screen for us to see refuses to work, so when Game 1 finishes, the Association pres wonders why the silence in the auditorium.
“What are y’all waiting for?” He pops his head in. Only then Martin gets the deserved big hand…
They come out of the room for a break and greets Katka: “Hey, beardgrass.”
The Czech for beardgrass being vousatka, which doesn’t actually contain the word grass so the only thing that’s obvious from the word to someone who’s never heard it before is the beard (vous) and the feminine ending -atka, so it may well apply to a bearded girl or woman. So, understandably, she grins back: “I’m no beardgrass.”
It turns out he addressed her this way because it was her he learned the word from…

As always, in Game 2 Martin has it harder: no blanks, no bingos on his rack, but even so, he squeezes a five-letter word on a triple in such a way that he makes sixty-one points. Mere two turns later he plays another big five-letter triple word, this time for 51. Břeťa responds with a 44-pointer, so it‘s still a thrill. How unfair it would be for him to lose, I think. In this game he played at least two words that took our breath away, so he’d really deserve a 2 – 0 win and another champion title.

The 51-point word secured a good lead for him, so he wins 371 – 376. A bigger applause than the one before. A really deserved win… and a fourth champion title!

Pavel the Association pres pops in his head again: “Due to the computer program failure there were some mistakes in the records… in fact Martin won [the rematch] by one point only!”

A goodbye hug with Katka, farewell greetings with other scrabble friends… and let’s go!
Home...? Nope.
Do you remember our friend Adéla, the nice newcomer to the scrabble scene that became my friend right after we met? Well, she‘s come to watch the finals! I’m so glad to see her, and I’m even happier to go and have a beer with her afterwards. The chat we have helps chase the rest of the dark mood I’m in away. I’m so happy I tell her and her Slovak friend that joins us that it’s on me today. He refuses and pays for the food he had, only letting me cover the drinks. To hell with this season – the beer’s washed it away. I shouldn’t have expected so much from it. The next one will sure be better!

The Prague Qualifying Tournament & Double Championship 2019

Prague, CZ, Sat & Sun Oct 26th & 27th 2019

Due to some reconstruction works on the railroad en route from Trutnov to Prague you have to take a bus – well, not one: two buses. That’s why many Trutnov residents choose another option how to get to Prague – a train heading southwest, not south first and then west. So did I today. This way you don’t have to take the bus or risk that the bus driver won’t wait for you (which is what actually happened to me two weeks ago on my way to Prague to a Vanessa-Mae concert. Thank God I anticipated this might happen, so I took an earlier train-bus connection, thanks to which I was only five minutes late for the show). The only dark sides to that are that the train is due as early as 4.14 AM – 25 minutes earlier than the one I’m used to – and that you have to change trains in Chlumec nad Cidlinou, for which action you have about three minutes. “I’ve always managed [to change],” the lady at the ticket desk tells me and this helps me make my decision.

“Where are you?” a voice on the phone wonders around 6.33 AM. It’s my teammate Jiří Kracík who, when going by train, has no choice but to change for the bus.
“I’ve taken another direction,” I explain. “See you in Chlumec.”

hopefully, I want to add.

I do manage. I find the train car and coupé he’s in – I can see Zbyněk Burda here, too. Guess what – the two are solving puzzles again, which they do competitively, so they may be getting ready for their next puzzle-solving event. We reminisce about old scrabble games, too. There’s an old stranger with us in the coupé – what might he have thought about us? But we don’t care…

“It’s so damn cold,” they moan after we get off the train and go to the venue on foot as always. I don’t share their opinion – being the northernmost resident of the three of us, I’m used to that and right on the contrary, I enjoy it – it helps wake me up.

I separate from them at one point on the way without a word, which makes them wonder: I’ll be right back – I’ve just seen a plastic bin to throw away my empty bottle into. Jirka pops in a few pubs for a change – you guessed it: he’s on a constant beer coaster hunt. We speed up to make up for lost time, but Zbyněk tells us not to: “Where’re you hurrying to – [if we are early,] we will have to help carry the boxes [with tournament equipment] again.”

Which we do anyway – but what the hell, I do that gladly. A bit of physical work is the best thing to do before brainracking…
I enjoy poppyseed cakes for breakfast – one of my favorite ways to deal with morning hunger. I greet old friends: my dear friend and double National Championess Katka Rusá with a frog greeting of course; or Jaromír Buksa who is putting his pens in order. “There’s a strict hierarchy,” he explains. “A winning pen, a tie pen...”
He sure must have a “tie pen” – you sure remember how he once had three ties in a single tournament.

I have lured a newbie to this tournament, but the very morning of the event she texts me she can’t come. Oh well.
Pavel the Association pres asks me about the newbie; I tell him she’s not coming. He passes the message on to the IT staff.

The match-ups are pinned up; I get “mentally” ready to play Alexandra Willerthová, but as soon as I do so, we learn that the lot’s gonna be redrawn. Probably because of a latecomer. Good – I’ve gotten someone I like to play against far better: my teammate Jiří Kracík.
I still see in living colors how he beat me last time we played, but still, my win – lose ratio against him being heavily positive, I look forward to taking it out on him now.
Right his first play becomes fatal to him: after my opening he makes a play, creating AS below a triple-letter field at the same time.
I frown in my mind: if I had a Ď and something appropriate to it, I could play ďas, DEVIL, and something across starting with it, and the Ď would get sixtupled. I just hope he doesn’t have it.
It happens. Here’s the Ď… and an A and an S to it. Ďas plus ďas – two devils for 58! How do you like it? This is gonna go into your records!
It is: as always he takes a piece of paper and writes the play down, just like he does every 40+point one. He fights back with a 37-pointer, but he sets me up for a quadrupled double-double pure bingo wit it, posílena, the animate singular or neuter plural passive of to boost: eighty-six.
You guessed it. He goes “Oh my God”, takes that sheet of paper of his and puts the play down. I’ll give you a lot more to put down in this game, Jiří!
He, for a change, sixtuples the five-point G: thirty-seven, but that sets me up for a triple: forty-eight!
“Oh my God!” On the sheet it goes. He fights back: thirty-seven, but here comes my pure bingo: nehousti to an I on the board, a bookish infinitive of the (also bookish) verb meaning to make music. Seventy-two.
“Oh my God! Why do you do this to a friend? Challenge...”
It comes back good.
“… and to cap it all I’ve got a [penalty] cross for this,” he grumbles.

And on my 15th turn…
… yeah. A third bingo of mine. He challenges it off this time, but I manage to play a good version of it on my next turn, the only difference being that it is not tripled. This prevents me from reaching 500 – I “only” win 477 – 358.

“Congrats… not gladly, though,” he says one of his fave quips. “Good luck in the next rounds – I don’t care anymore,” he grins.
“Likewise,” I grin back.

I’m afraid I’ve used up all my luck and that I’m gonna miss it in the next round.
Exactly. Although I do what I can (tripled rýšků, the genitive plural of rýšek, a small stripe of cloth, for forty-eight, or double-doubling the 7-point Ó), what practically decides the game is her two-blanked bingo. I lose 383 – 319.

Losing to a tournament veteran and top player like her is nothing to be ashamed of. But when I lose to my 1600-rated Parnas friend Petra Miartušová in Round 3 by 13 points, I have a hard time keeping calm. I do only on the outside.

“[Round 3] standings! The tournament’s first place is occupied by Petra Miartušová… and Niki Zgafasová is third!”
Yeah. Even the Association pres confirms that the standings are a bit, um, unusual...

Niki is another friend of mine, this time from Prague, whose rating is similar to Petra’s. What the heck is happening today?

Round 4: Zuzana Pospíšilová. Another 1600-ish-rated Parnas friend of mine and she keeps me busy too. But I’m determined to win. I challenge off a 92-point pure tripled bingo of hers I know right away is no good. I play a 60-point bingo to punish her. She challenges; it comes back good, but I don’t like the fact that it ends right in front of a triple-word field, reachable by just about any vowel. Luckily, judging from her challenge, she may not have gotten what verb form it is (nepomlet, the singular masculine perfective passive of to mill) so she may not (hopefully) even think of extending it.
She doesn’t! I extend it with an É, making it the neuter singular or feminine plural passive adjective of the same, hooking pyré across, PURÉE. Another sixty. She challenges the former; it comes back good again.
However crushing this may sound, I only win by 47: 387 – 340.

Almost worth checking the standings: twentieth. Looks like I’m gonna have to plays a tough opponent again.
Indeed. Martin Vacek, the 1800+rated tournament veteran and policeman my win – lose ratio against whom is balanced: and last time we played I thrashed him, so I feel it might be the other way round this time.
I told you. A 74-point pure bingo right on his third turn. A 49-pointer three turns later. I’m doing my best, but to no avail. I burn a blank towards the end for 30 in (X)U. At least I shrink the spread to 22: I lose 384 – 362.

2 – 3 . Ugh! And even with such a record you get matched up against a challenging opponent: Michal Přikryl, with a rating in the 1800’s too and two top-ten rankings at the Nationals, one out of which has even been top five.
But I’m not afraid. I know I’ve killed him many times and I will again.
And we know optimistic attitude is one of the most important things in scrabble: luck is finally on my side now. I get both blanks, I play a bingo with each of them and I beat him 403 – 350.

Marcela Havelková, I read the name of my next opponent. Will I ever get to play an easy player at this event? Even in spite of her rating being around 1600, she’s a challenge too and I’ve lost to her a few times.
But now I won’t. You’ll catch it from me just like Michal did.
And the bag hears it again. I play a pure bingo right on my second turn: seventy-seven. I start blocking effectively (a 39-pointer and two 40+pointers) so my lead rises to 120+. I make sure I don’t open the game but that makes me make a bit thinner plays. I win 306 – 416.

Now it’s finally worth checking the standings: fifteenth! Let’s get even higher.

Jaromír Buksa. I knew I was asking for trouble: you sure remember the 1800+rated sexagenarian receptionist who was third at the 2007 Nationals. But again someone my win – lose ratio against is positive so I plunge into this game with verve.
And yeah – here’s the effect again! A 76-point pure bingo. Thirty-two. Forty-four. Thirty-six… while he’s apparently suffering crap in his rack. But as always he keeps a poker face – something I admire about him. On his 12th turn he opens a triple lane out of despair while I’ve got an almost-bingo on my rack. He plays a tripled bingo I know instantly is not good, but – as always again – he grins self-confidently to make me doubt and maybe retract the challenge. But I won’t. Off the board it goes and…
… yeah, I play one of mine on the triple instead. “Sorry,” I feel obliged to say.
“Why do you all apologize?” he wonders. A real gentleman player indeed – he bears the defeat with dignity. I destroy him 439 – 214 and the standings tell me I’ve reached the top ten.

“The following round is the last one,” Pavel the Association pres reminds us. “Put the tiles into a ten by ten square after you finish your games, but don’t put them back into the boxes – the Double Championship is going to take place here tomorrow at 8.30. Don’t forget about the DST. But if you do, nothing fatal happens – you’ll just be an hour too early. And if you put your clock forward instead of back, you’ll be two hours too early.”

A glance at the standings also tell me the six-time National Champ Pavel Podbrdský is 5 – 3 too. Although there are more 5 – 3 players at this point of the event, I instantly know he’s gonna be come my last opponent.
Murphy’s laws work.

They do.
Oh well. Let’s play this last one for fun. Unlike many others I’m not fighting to qualify – my qualiciation has long been secured. (For a few last rounds, not only the standings have been pinned up but also the current sate of qualification. In its last places a close fight has been going on.)
And as soon as I say this to myself, I feel much calmer and the game is a neck-and-neck one. About twice he responds to my good play by letting a laugh. Hope it‘s nervous one! On my sixth turn I play a pure bingo: snováni, the masculine animate plural passive of to spin (a plan or a cobweb). He challenges; it comes back good. Just after another good plaz of mine, where I get rid of an unwelcome letter and sixtuple a 4-point one at the same time, he bingos back with odc(h)ozím*, the instrumental singular of odchozí, a commonly used word for “sent” in e-mail communcation as in “sent folder”. As soon as I put down the subtotal, which is considered a “silent approval” of the opponent’s play, a thought goes through my head: You fool, this is not a word. Not in scrabble. You should’ve challenged. Although commonly used, from the lingustic point of view it is a nonsense, which is why it is not in the scrabble dictionary. You’ve just lost the game.
And indeed. Although I make it hot for him, playing a strong endgame, my last two plays being worth 54 and 34 points respectively, I lose 335 – 363. Oh well. By 28 and without blanks...

He immediately goes and checks his bingo.
“I don’t wanna piss you off, but odchozí is not good,” he grins at me.
“I thought so. It was too late when I realized.”
“What would be the correct form then?”
Odešedší?” I answer without hesitation. Definitely, but no one would say that today. Sounds too obsolete, and since people read less and less, they wouldn’t even know how to build such a word.

My dear friend Katka Rusá’s uncle Milan Kuděj wins the event: there are five 7 – 2 players today and his secondary criteria are the best out of them. He leaves behind the triple National Champ and six-time runner-up Martin Kuča, who last qualified two years ago – he now prefers family life to scrabble: he expects his third child. Bronze goes to Filip Vojáček – his third bronze this year already.
I come fifteenth (out of 49). I comfort myself that I want to save my top performance for the Nationals and that for about three hours’ sleep I’ve been though this is damn good ranking, but still… that loss to Podbrdský by 28 points due to not challening a phony bingo of his... this is gonna hurt, as my it goes in one of my idol Bonnie Tyler’s songs.

A goodbye hug with Katka and… now all I want is a good dinner, a beer and a bed.
The first two things are no problem.
But hell…
I’ve been here countless times. How come I can’t find that damned hostel? It should be right around here.

I shit you not – it takes me three hours to finally find it. I shouldn’t look for something when I’m tired and after an almost sleepless night. And if it weren’t for that guy…
Asking for direction in Prague is tricky. Four out of five people are tourists. The best people to be likely to be local are the elderly walking a dog. And when I finally find someone who knows…
“I’ll tell you, but don’t come closer.”
I understand. After three hours of fierce pointless walking to and fro I must look like a serial killer.
“It’s over there,” he points his finger right in front of himself and repeats I shouldn’t come closer. I must look really mad! “But you can’t get there by going straight on. You must go all around this area.”

Oh, so that was the knack! That’s why not even the map or cellphone navigation helped.
I finally find the place, I have a shower and I hit the sack. I’m alone in a ten-bed room for a great price within a stone throw’s distance from the venue. Great!

The next morning I wake up fresh and full of energy. Today we’ll kill y’all just like we’ve done a few times already.

“Nero’s qualified!” Pavel the pres announces stunning news.
Nero is a nickname of Josef Nerodil, a tourn veteran who has been tourneying since 2000, having missed very few scrabble events since then but never ever qualified before. In 2012 he was so close but didn’t make it in the end – and this year he finally did… by 0.3 point. Yeah, no typo – by three tenths of a point!
I wonder what this year’s Nationals will be like with him around. He can become pretty much of a challenge – my win – lose ratio against him is 10 – 2 – but it’s also happened that he fell asleep during a game due to drinking all night before the tourn or that he came drunk…

I enjoy a breakfast consisting of bread and the popular homemade garlic spread. Will the chemical weapon work this time? Well, but most players have had it too…

Round 1: Věra Majtánová and the double National Champion Milan Kuděj, the latter of which won yesterday’s tournament. Such a challenge right in the first round…!

This is the “Polish double” – i. e. the one in which the members of a player pair sit next to each other, can see each other’s racks and can set each other up. You, though, can’t give your co-player hints like “play this word”, “play it over there” or “don’t play that – it’s not a word”. All you can tell your co-player is things about your opponents’ play (“This is not a word – go challenge it”, “This is a word – don’t challenge”) or agree on who will come first.

The game is decided by one single mistake – Milan plays a phony and this costs them the victory: that’s to say, we win by a difference of less than an average single play… 320 – 332.

“What a fucking mess,” Jiří Kamín says: one of the strongest player pairs rating-wise has lost and the weakest one has won. No wonder – in scrabble double a far greater deal of luck is involved...

Round 2, though, is the opposite – after a close fight we lose to mother and son Vaceks by two points because of me not knowing a word Jirka set me up for. I must learn the fives properly before the Nationals (not that he knows them all)… I already know most of them, but you know Murphy’s laws – sometimes what decides is one of the few you don’t know!

Round 3, a Polish double again, against Michal Přikryl and Jana Vágnerová is a close fight too: at a crucial point of the game Jirka plays a phony. I hold as much of a poker face as I can, play a word of mine, and then wait with bated breath: they put down the subtotal! So they can’t challenge anymore.
“Don’t do that to me again,” I grin at Jirka.
“Playing a phony, [that is]. Onosit* is not a word.” The correct form is obnosit, to wear off (clothes); the B is sometimes left out in improper Czech, but this improper form is not good in scrabble.
We win by 15 points: 345 – 360. Had Jirka’s phony been challenged off, we would’ve lost!

But Round 4 is a bummer again. Against Adéla Svítková and Gabriela Gugová we lose by two points because of being too tolerant: they didn’t care at all about the communication limits in scrabble double, and as we didn’t want to escalate this by calling the judge, we lost 326 – 324. Next time we’ll demand adjudication in our favor. When we try and point out they’re breaking the rules, they even get mad and spit out something like “So next time we won’t talk at all” instead of admitting to their mistake. Wait until next time!

Not even Round 5 against Barbora Hrůzová and Radana Williamsová is better. The game is practically decided on 4th turn by their pure bingo. We lose 298 – 387. We make up for that by winning over one of the weakest pairs rating-wise, Lenka Böhmová and Milan Fišer, in the next round: 213 – 337.

Hopes for a medal being gone, let‘s play for fun now… we’re now facing one of the strongest opponent pairs, if not the strongest, father and son Vojáček, the triple scrabble double champions. The double championships are round robins, so there‘s no way to avoid anyone strong even if you’re doing bad.
They get into the lead quickly – we’re some 30 to 40 points behind. Just when we catch up, they throw in a bingo. When we play a 30-pointer, they put down one too, so there’s no hope for us anymore. We lose 333 – 370.
As I pointed out several times when writing about Double Championships, congratulating in scrabble double is almost an exercise – arms crossing in four handshakes.
“Congrats… not gladly, though,” Jirka says.
“Let there be more such congratulations!” Pavel grins.

And now an at least equal challenge to the one in the previous round: Petr Landa and Martina Iliasová.

“Prague [double] is on. Do we want the Polish one?” Jirka asks. We’ve grown fond of the Polish double over the past few years.
“The decision isn’t up to me. Martina’s the capo,” Petr says, implying we should ask Martina. We do.
“I’ll ask Petr,” Martina says upon being asked.

Again a close fight all the way. This time we can’t cooperate – we’re playing the Prague double in the end. A real thrill: after the last-but-one turn it’s 291 – 299 in our favor. I’m ready to go out, but a blank is still unseen: it’s more probable one of them’s got it.
Indeed – Petr’s just made a play using it. Luckily just for 19 – and no going out! I hastily play mrkvi, a dative/vocative/local singular of CARROT, for 12 points. We win 288 – 318.

Last round! At last – I’ve had it. But heck – one of the hardest opponent pairs is awaiting us: Luboš Vencl and Jiří Kamín. You sure remember the latter entered the Double Championship last year with Jana Vágnerová just for fun – neither of them having had played the double before – and they won the event.
And they make it hot for us today too. But so do we for them. A close game again: they play a double-double; we put down a 57-pointer. When we shoot a 63-point word another two turns later, but they catch right up with two 40-pointers. I do some thinking about how to escape them again. Inspecting both of our racks and the board, I guess I’ve found a way out: I’ll set him up for a triple. He’ll have even a few words to choose from to put there.
I can’t believe my eyes: out of the good handful of possibilities, he chooses a phony one! And of course, to tell him it’s not good would be forbidden communication. I hold a poker face, but I don’t think they’ll buy it.
They don’t. Off the board it goes and we lose by five: 363 – 368.

“You should choose a stronger companion,” Jiří tells me.
“No, thanks.” Don‘t we play the double for fun?

See you at the Nationals!