Adventures of a Tournament Scrabbler, Pt 3

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.



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I moved here in May after 32 years on the Arkansas/ Oklahoma border. I love this town and already feel quite at home here. There is an amazing vibration here, to which I am happily contributing. I am a tournament Scrabble player, so I was quite pleased to find a couple of other tourneygoers here, forming the core of an official Scrabble club that meets Sundays at the Heartsong Chai Hut.

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