Renewed with confidence after having held my own with world-
class players at Grand Canyon XX, I finished first place in my
next two tournaments in Dallas, Texas, and Atlanta, Georgia.
Then, in April of 2002, I reached an important milestone after
a tournament at Lake Murray near Ardmore, Oklahoma. I
passed the 1600 rating mark, a level considered officially
expert. After years of struggling to break free from the
intermediate ranks, I was finally there, never to go back.
That August, I got to attend my first national championship.
What an amazing experience! Over 700 of my Scrabble
brethren converged in downtown San Diego, California. My
rating wasn’t high enough to play in the top division, but
after five days and 31 games, I finished a respectable 16th
out of 103 players, breaking the 1700 barrier. Immortalized
by the hit documentary WORD WARS by Eric Chaikin, the
tournament will always stand out in my mind as a special one.
I got to meet my Scrabble idol, Nigel Richards, probably the
most brilliant mind in Scrabble. And I learned an important
lesson: never feel too confident in your lead. Fellow division
two play Iffeanyi Onyeanwu from Houston, Texas, started
red hot, winning 16 games in a row then nosedove, losing
his next 11. (I would later be involved in an amazing
record-breaking game with Iffy.)
I finished out the year going 7-4 in Austin, Texas, rising
to what would turn out to be a peak rating for the next
few years, 1754.