By 1998, I had a good enough intermediate rating that when I went to
St. Louis for a one-day tournament, I was the highest rated player there.
I finished 6-0, the only time in my career thus far that I have had a perfect
record. I emerged with a new rating of 1492, which turned out to be a pinnacle
for the next few years.
I stagnated in rating for the next few years, and I’m quite sure it has to do with
the fact that starting with the late 1990’s, the competitive Scrabble field got a lot
tougher. I think a lot of it has to do with more and more people having computers
and Internet access, which means more usage of computer word study programs
and more on-line honing of skills. Especially in Texas, where I played most of my
tournaments, the level of play accelerated quickly during that time. After going
up in rating for my first eight consecutive tourneys, I fell in rating for the next five
consecutive. Such are the altibajos of Scrabble.
Things finally turned around for me when I entered my first major tournament, in
Gatlinburg, Tennessee in March of 2001. Seeded 23rd of 24 players in division 2,
I wound up placing second to an eccentric character with a grandiose name:
William Lincoln Palmer III. It was at this tournament that I also met someone who
has become a longtime friend, Stu Goldman. Stu Goldman holds many records in
Scrabble, most impressive of which is most career games played. Stu and I are both
advocates of the United States joining with the rest of the world in using the international
English Scrabble word list, called SOWPODS (an anagrammed acronym derived from the
letters OSPD, Official Scrabble Players Dictionary (American) and Official Scrabble Words
(British)). He has come to visit me on a few occasions in my home in Arkansas. What
a great privilege that was for me! In Arkansas, I was quite isolated, the only expert in
the state, the only tournament player on the whole west end of the state, and certainly
the only SOWPODS Scrabble player. But when Stu would come, I would make up for lost
time. Despite his advanced age and declining health, one time we even played 20 games
in a single day! And it was I who tired out first.
Despite a 100 point boost in rating after that Gatlinburg tourney, I was still struggling in rating,
though I felt I was getting stronger as a player. Then, in November of 2001, I got a boost
of confidence that I really needed. I drove all the way from Arkansas to the south rim of
the Grand Canyon in Arizona to play in a tournament that featured a SOWPODS division.
(The World Championship was soon afterward and it was a warm-up session for some of
the representatives.) It was my first chance to play some of the greatest names in
Scrabble: Dave Wiegand, Joe Edley, Joel Sherman, my good buddy Bob Lipton. I’ll
never forget standing at the wall where the standings were posted when someone saw
my name among the leaders and said: “Wow! Travis Chaney? Who the hell is that?”
I took great delight in beating three-time national champion Joe Edley the first time
I played him. (It was even sweeter since about a year earlier, he had condescendingly
asked me, “Why are you studying SOWPODS?”) Bob Lipton’s wife gave me a special star
on my name button for beating him. I got two of them that tournament. It was a long ride
home, but I had a smile on my face, renewed with vigor.