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…
“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!