SSSg Grand Final Report

By Toh Weibin

February 11 saw the 4th Scrabble Shootout Singapore (SSSg) Finals – a best-of-11 match between two of Singapore’s preeminent Scrabble players, Hubert Wee and Goutham Jayaraman. I was glad to be given the chance to commentate the first major Scrabble event in Singapore to be streamed live, joined by Jeremy Khoo who is now residing in the United Kingdom.

The contenders for the SSSg 2017 title, Hubert and Goutham – along with the technical setup

Hubert and Goutham have met frequently across the board, having played each other in local competitions almost 60 times, and internationally another 14 times! While Hubert is no stranger to the Scrabble podium and has won the SSSg event twice prior to this matchup (including beating yours truly in the finals of the 2016 edition), Goutham’s recent remarkable performances, including 4th at the 2017 MSI World Championships, have catapulted his profile internationally and elevated his status as a serious contender.

The Games

In the series, Hubert was the first to draw blood with a 110-point win, pulling ahead with TRILL(E)RS (66+5) and sealing the deal with SHAKERs (100). Not to be outdone, Goutham played 5 bingos in the next game – INS(A)NELY (74), HAI(R)IEST (65), TOTALED (66), INOSINE (70) and LOVAGES (71), to clinch Round 2 with an impressive 570-324 scoreline. Round 3 came to an edgy conclusion with Goutham winning the game with a slim 30-point margin; both players facing time trouble towards the end. With almost all the bingo opportunities restricted, Hubert could have wrested the game from Goutham’s hands at the endgame if he had spotted sIGIS(B)E(O) through disconnected letters for 35 points – but with the immense time pressure, neither Hubert nor the commentators spotted the winning play. Sigh.

Screen capture of Round 3’s live broadcast. Lee Guanhui in the background.

The broadcast team and players at Dylan’s house

The games continued after a much-needed lunch break. Round 4 was rather clear-cut, with Goutham seizing the advantage with DRONGOs (80) and ENSUITE (79), and never looking back. Hubert, on the other hand, was consistently plagued with a surfeit of ‘I’s, which took him a good three turns to resolve. Final score: 505-362 to Goutham, which meant that Goutham, despite being the relative underdog in this matchup, had a commanding 3-1 advantage after 4 rounds.

Hubert duly took revenge in Round 5 by cruising to a 578-307 victory, displaying flair with three bingos in a row – SAVELOY (91+5), (P)RUsIKED (95+5) and ARAIsED (87). On the other side of the table, Goutham struggled to balance his racks of CFLTUWW and INOOQRT. Game 6 turned out to be an exceptionally thrilling encounter – one where Goutham’s decisions towards the end of the game made the difference. Being 45 points up, Goutham attempted a wrong word which was quickly challenged off by Hubert. This gave Hubert the opportunity to fish and land (N)INEFOLD (98+5) in an unlikely position. Even with the bingo played, it was Goutham’s game to lose – it was his challenge of (N)INEFOLD which proved costly, as Hubert secured the high-scoring encounter 457-453.

Hubert’s bingo-bango-bongo of SAVELOY, PRUSIKED and ARAISED put him far out of reach in Round 5. PETRALES and TYRONES are also his

Board picture from Round 10. Goutham’s PAD(d)LER (79) and Hubert’s SUNKIES (87) were the only bingos played on this board.

Round 7 was yet another close game, where neither player was able to build up a 60-point advantage at any point. The game was won by Hubert, who showed commendable acuity in board management. Being 55 points down in a tight board, Hubert opened a crucial line with (ABY)EING (26+5), opening up the right-hand side of the board and providing opportunities for a comeback. Hubert eventually edged ahead with tactically sound moves of F(U)GATO (36) (over higher-scoring choices of FORGAT and GRAFT) and GRR (29), both of which scored respectably without giving away too much. Goutham’s decision to pass up PELITES nearing the end of the game to sustain a 19-point lead might have proven too conservative as he eventually ceded the game 385-404.

With Goutham losing three games in a row, his early advantage seemed to be slipping away. Thankfully, Round 8 was relatively smooth-sailing for him, as he played RIB(C)AGES (78) and NUMERAL(S) (70) on his second and third move. Goutham held on to the lead to emerge victorious, 495-410. With the series tied at 4-4, we were down from a best-of-11 final to a best-of-3 showdown.

The last few games were as exciting as the first eight. While Goutham’s miss of PARVO(L)IN lost him some tempo in the early stages of Round 9, he was able to stage a comeback partially due to a fortunate fit of FOrEIGN (85) after Hubert’s choice of ENGORES (77) (NEGROES in the same spot, which would have been an inferior option, would not have given Goutham the spot). After pulling ahead with SOUnDED (75) and J(U)RAL (36), Goutham was in a comfortable position, sufficient to stay ahead after Hubert’s last-gasp comeback of A(L)LANITE (59). With Hubert needing to win to stay afloat, Round 10 was a tense affair, with Hubert staying within striking distance throughout the game. Goutham eventually took the advantage with THERM (40) and (T)IREDLY (36), squeezing out a marginal lead on a tightly controlled board. Hubert’s attempts to score – AG (22) and BE(V)OR (29), were met with equal responses from Goutham – VI(N)T (29) and FU(B) (24). At the end of the day, Goutham clung on to a slender lead to emerge victorious in Round 10, clinching the SSSg 2017 title 6-4.

Screen capture of Round 8’s live broadcast, with Toh Weibin and Jeremy Khoo doing play-by-play commentary. The racks were propped up to ensure that the letters were visible on stream.

Many thanks to our viewers for tuning into the stream, and to Goutham and Hubert for gamely agreeing to have their games broadcast live, and patiently waiting for technical issues to be resolved before commencing their games. A special shout-out as well to the following people who were instrumental in conceptualising the stream and making it a reality – Ricky Purnomo, organiser of SSSg 2017; Dylan Sharma for graciously offering to host the match up and broadcast at his lovely house; Lee Guan Hui and Nathaniel Elijah Kumar for putting up the stream and working through various technical issues; and Jeremy Khoo, for basically pulling off an all-nighter to co-commentate the matchup. I personally enjoyed watching the games, doing the commentary and interacting with the audience where possible. With such a dedicated team, there is potential to bring these events to a larger audience.

The games are available for playthrough on cross-tables.com via the links provided above, and the videos can be viewed again on the SSSg Facebook page. From all of us in Singapore, we hope you enjoyed the stream and the games.

Article with thanks to Toh Weibin