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Round 15. Poker Player Goldstein meets Security Super Armstrong. Two classic profiles facing one another. Goldstein beats Armstrong. It is Security Super's first loss. He is 14 and 1. He is also a real gent. He smiles at Goldstein, shakes hands, no hard feelings. I talk to Gruber (no age listed, programmer. New York City). After 15 rounds, she is 12 and 3. "A long time ago," she says, "I compiled a lot of lists. But I didn't train for this match. I even miscount tiles." Then how does she explain her success? "I'm a much better tournament player than I am an everyday player. I do well under pressure."
After Round 16, Nabutovsky is 9 and 7 and "sinking fast." He radiates dejection. His mother and I sit down to play Scrabble at an unoccupied table, complete with time clock. The clock is nerve-racking, and she beats me in the first game. Then I beat her. I feel very good about that. Bubo, oogamete, goosier, gigabit.
DAY 5: WEDNESDAY
This is the last day of the tournament and the top-ranked people after 17 rounds now sit at tables nearest the stage. Tiekert looks good, as do Armstrong, Edley, Darrell Day and several others. Tiekert and Armstrong are both 16 and 1. They are locked in a titans' battle. Tiekert plays positron, a seven-letter bingo word (the letter N having already been on the board) for a triple word score and racks up 83 points. Armstrong plays bring for 39 points. They go back and forth until, finally, Tiekert plays unbe. Armstrong challenges. After much suspense, he loses the challenge. Unbe? I look it up in the OSPD. "To cease to have being."
During the final games, the room with the closed-circuit TV screen is crowded, and there is much kibbitzing. A woman says loudly, "Making a bingo is almost as good as sex." Everyone laughs, but I sense many of them think this is the absolute truth. Gaes, fordo, kop, duit.
By morning's end, Tiekert is looking strong. I talk to Tiekert's good friend Merrill Kaitz (38, writer, Bronx, N.Y.), and he tells me that Tiekert's main strength is "tactical and strategic analysis." He also says, "Ron is very shy. He told me he hoped he'd come in second so he wouldn't have to be interviewed on the Today show."
Going into Round 21, Nabutovsky has climbed back up to 76th place after having dipped into the hundreds.
Tiekert meets Armstrong again. The words are really weird now: probang, pe, fidge, miry, lignin, gooral, noo, tivy, acta, trona. Tiekert wins again. This clinches the championship for him—$10,000 plus a trip for two to Hawaii. Someone grabs the final winning board and rushes away with it. Each tile will be permanently glued in its place on the board—a relic for generations of Scrabble addicts to come.
The No. 1 woman is Carol Clarke (30, VP of client support, Bronx, N.Y.), who had a 16 and 6 record and comes in 12th overall. Clarke says, "I feel like I'm getting a lot of respect." There is, however, as with all women players, a sense of frustration as well as urgency about finishing so far behind the men.
Reporters, photographers and television men are swarming around Tiekert now. When asked how he views his victory, the champion says without a trace of shyness, "I don't feel I'm undeserving." Edley finishes in second place, with 17 and 4, Security Super is fourth. Poker Player is 14th, ex-champ Wapnick 18th, Gruber 24th, Nabutovsky 45th, Wade 80th. Dead last—302nd out of 302—was LeMay, the synchronized-swimming instructor who had to drop out due to illness.