CSW makes its debut at the 2012 US National Scrabble Championship


The National Scrabble Championship (NSC) has been the pinnacle of tournament play in North America for well over 30 years. Unlike the World Championships which use Collins Scrabble Words (CSW) as the ultimate authority on word legitimacy, the Nationals have been governed exclusively by the North American dictionaries, first the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary (OSPD) and now the Tournament Word List (TWL). This however did not stop Nigel Richards, a predominantly CSW player from New Zealand and current world champion, from winning his fourth NSC and cementing his status as the game's most brilliant code switcher.

For this year's tournament, in a landmark decision, the North American Scrabble Players Association introduced a separate CSW division at the NSC, which was contested simultaneously by some of the best in the game including past world champion and NSC winner Joel Wapnick. However, no one could stop Sam Kantimathi, who put on a bravura performance on his birthday to win the division by a whopping 2.5 win margin over 2nd place finisher Brian Bowman.

Sam shares his insights on the tournament not only as the eventual champ but also as someone who has championed the CSW cause in North America:


Sam Kantimathi

A small handful of us had worked extremely hard to make this a reality. Ex-World Champion Joel Wapnick and I immediately shelled out our $175 entry fees last year, not knowing at that time if this was even going to happen. If there were not forty or more entries by May 4, 2012, it was going to get cancelled and we were at the risk of losing our entry fees if we didn't want to play TWL there.

Last year, immediately after NASPA announced that there would be a Collins section in this year's Orlando Nationals, I had started a Facebook page for that Collins section. There was an outpouring of support from many parts of the world, and initially, the CSW entries to the Nationals were outpacing Division 1 TWL entries. But the rate of CSW entries started cooling off, despite the fact the strict refund policy was relaxed significantly on January 3, 2012 to permit refunds in more situations, at the suggestion of fellow-Collinser Dave Koenig. In spite of frantic phone calls and emails, it looked like we were not going to meet the quorum.

Then came a shocking announcement from NASPA:On May 6, 2012, the Advisory Board ruled that the Championship Committee should permit the CSW division to go ahead with the currently registered 24 players.

This was an exciting development! Thank you John Chew, Chris Cree, the Advisory Board and everyone who helped on this. I was so happy. So I put my TWL lists away and started concentrating on Collins again.

I immediately flew to Malta and played their superlong event (including the European Championships) spread over ten days. This would be important to build up staminal experience required for a long event like US Nationals. I also played the grueling King's Cup and Penang as well as a few tourneys in North America with a good deal of success, which resulted in my top seed status going into the Nationals, ahead of stalwarts like Thevenot, O'Laughlin et al. I would end up maintaining an over 2000 rating at the end of every single game in this Nationals.

Here are a few of the highlights from my games at the tournament:



Game 7 vs Sam Rosin Game 7 (Day 1) vs Sam Rosin

Before our game started, my sharp-eyed opponent and namesake noticed that I’d already filled the game report slip by entering Sam in the winner’s column!

The turning point of this game was when I was down by about a hundred and thought for seven minutes before finally playing one tile to make REX. He responded with VI(V)O# for 28 to block the triple hook created. My rack was: TIMERS? (A SamTimer type rack!) I played MaR(V)IEST for 158 (+5 for challenge), to win 457-427.

At the end of first day’s play, I was the only undefeated player in CSW Division. Sweet.



Game 14 vs Marty Gabriel Game 14 (Day 2) vs Marty Gabriel

This was a huge game for me. I was down by 128 points and played ARMOZE(E)N for a 133 pts to level things up.

Marty bingoed a few moves later with (D)oWSABEL to go up by 38. I had MISRUDE on my rack, and had been hoping for an S or a G, but Marty's move left a hanging L 2 squares up from the bottom right triple word on the board, and I played MISRU(L)ED for a cool 158 points, ultimately winning 573-465.

I ended day 2 at 11-3, and was witnessed literally dancing in the aisles as a result!



Game 20 vs Geoff Thevenot Game 20 (Day 3) vs Geoff Thevenot

My favorite move of the event came in this game. I started the bingos with GANNETS for 75 points in my second move, before Geoff surged into the lead with back to pack plays of YARDLANd and DOVETAIl. I stayed on par with FLAX/AX and then DISK (hooking on to YARDLANdS) for 54 points each.

Down by almost 50 on a closed off board, with SINTERS on my rack, spotted TA on the left triple lane with 7 empty squares below it. I played (TA)RTINESS for 80 points (the aforementioned favorite move) and then blocked off the resulting triple lane to prevent Geoff from bingoing out with SPHERING. 467-390 for me and finished Day 3 on 16 wins, with one and a half games over the closest competitor.

The 5 wins I had today were against the top contenders: Polatnick, Wapnick, O'Laughlin, Thevenot and Bowman, so was able to build some more distance.



Game 27 vs John O'Laughlin Game 27 (Day 4) vs John O'Laughlin

Narrow win over John O'Laughlin, another come from behind win for me. John had 3 bingos: UNCOLTED, COrNETTI and pUN(I)TORY for 97, hooking the T to make BEAUT, which put him up by 90. I had played INFINITE for 94. I needed to bingo big to win, so played off the X one short of the triple line, hoping John would use the less complicated triple area of the bottom right side of the board. The spot was left open, and I managed to get down a late bingo, (F)ARADISE/AX for 98 points. The extra 9 points for AX were useful as I ended up winning 459-445.

At the end of the penultimate day of competition, I had maintained my 1.5 game lead over the nearest competition. Ended up staying up way too late after a night out on the town, and responded to over a hundred facebook and email messages wishing me good luck and happy birthday: it was already August 15 in Europe, Africa, Australia and Asia. For that matter, very soon, also in Orlando. I could not fall asleep.



Top 10 at NSC 2012 - CSW division
1. Sam Kantimathi24-7+481
2. Brian Bowman21.5-9.5+1528
3. Joel Wapnick20-11+972
4. Marty Gabriel20-11+95
5. Geoff Thevenot19-12+1375
6. Dave Koenig19-12+1072
7. Marcia Richards19-12+645
8. Andrew Golding19-12+395
9. Orlet Bullock19-12+331
10. Bob Lipton19-12-77

The final day

Guaranteed at least the second place even if I lost all the three games on this final day made me feel slightly better. But Sammy O and others quickly reminded me that was just crazy talk and I should go all out for the win. I agreed with them and had not forgotten that Joe Edley once saved three match point games to win a Nationals on the final day. I was very calm and focused almost through the entire event. This final day was no exception.

Though I lost my first game, I won my remaining two. I was Gibsonized for the first place but so was Brian for second place, and so we ended up playing all the games with each other on the final day. He had a great tournament as well.

24-7 was my final record in the tournament, the best record in the entire tournament of 338 players, but in a division that boasted in it a Nationals runner-up and 22 World Championship veterans, including the ex-World Champion Joel Wapnick.

What a great birthday present!

2012 NSC CSW Division winner Sam Kantimathi with NASPA's Chris Cree
2012 NSC CSW Division winner Sam Kantimathi with NASPA's Chris Cree

For a perspective on the tourney from another CSW division player, check out Dave Koenig's report here. You can access Sam's unabridged report at SamTimer.com

August 2012

   










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