And You Think Golf is Tough

Finally, I was free… at least for the summer. Laura had taken the boys home with her to the Philippines. I was left a bachelor.

On my first Thursday evening alone, I rushed to my Scrabble club—a place I hadn’t visited for years. Remarkably, nothing had changed. All the usual suspects were present and recruiting for The North American Championship, to be held at Reno this coming summer.

“Why don’t you come? We’re sharing a minivan and hotel rooms. It’ll be cheap.” Without a second thought, I complied. After all, a vacation in the desert would do me good.

All went well until the first day of the tournament. I hadn’t played Scrabble for a decade. Expecting to play in the fourth division, I was hauled to my senses by a colleague. “Congrats, you’re in the top division. You just made it in bottom place.” The organization had reinstated the rating I last had when I stopped playing tournaments.

On my first day, I entered a palatial casino ballroom—the largest in Reno. There were hundreds of tables, row upon row, regimented like an ancient Roman army phalanx beneath the over bright, overheated, overpoweringly mighty chandelier. It was my first tournament away from Calgary and I had drawn the top player. I began to tremble.

It was like the prelude to ‘Gunfight at the OK Corral.’ My opponent arrived with a swagger, offered a perfunctory handshake, then completely ignored me as he laid out his paraphernalia—tile tracking sheets, various felt pens and biro—then set and reset the time clock. I looked down at my own half-chewed pen, hoping it wouldn’t smudge or run out of ink. I willed my hands to stop shaking.

We drew for first. The champion drew an F. I drew an E. The player closer to A would begin.

I stared at my tiles in disbelief. No vowels. Now what? Convention dictated keeping at least two tiles. I exchanged them all, forfeiting my turn and any advantage in going first.

The champ glared at me, communicating his disdain for my decision. He played a 36 pointer.

My new rack—AUUIIIE. There was nowhere on the board to play more than two letters. The maximum I’d score was 6. I changed all my tiles again.

The number one player continued his annihilation, playing JOES for 40 points. Thankfully, despite an open board, he still hadn’t found a Bingo—using all his tiles to earn a 50 point bonus.

For the third time, I reviewed my new rack of tiles. Glory be! A blank appeared, which I could use as any letter. And I found a Bingo AND a spot to place it, provided my opponent didn’t block it. He didn’t.

A 92-point play! Now I was only 20 points behind.

Adrenalin rushed through me. I had a fighting chance. My tiles were improving. If I could score at least 30 points in the next two turns and prevent the champ from playing a Bingo, I could win.

Word by word, I advanced on him.

My final turn—I was 22 points behind. I had five tiles left: MYAF and O. I found it! And a spot to play it. FOAMY for 31 points.

The champion challenged.

On a challenge, both parties walk to the Word Judge to determine the word good or not— to avoid any tampering.

The champ refused to budge from his seat, making me walk all down the line of tables alone. The other players all turned to look at me, wondering what was wrong.

Of course, the word was good—even a novice knew it. The champ had deliberately insulted me in retaliation for his loss.

The champion could barely sign the official tally slip acknowledging his defeat. The man’s hands were clenched into fists.

“Where are you from?” he spat out in barely guttural American.

“From Calgary.”

“Where’s that?”

I told him and, in return, asked “ Where are you from?”

“New York!”

“Where’s that?“

My newest book ‘The Vanished Gardens of Cordova’ is available on Amazon and Kindle.
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Written by Emil Rem

An eccentric accountant becomes a writer of eccentric characters, in exotic locales, with each chapter taking us on a trip into the fascinating twisted world of Emil Rem. Born to a close knit middle class Muslim East Indian family in Dar-es-Salam in the 50’s, he is then moved to Maidenhead England at the age of five. The next twenty years are spent shuttling between England and East Africa, wearing a St. Christopher’s cross one minute and attending church, to wearing a green arm band and attending Muslim religious classes in Africa next minute. Moving to Canada, marrying a woman from the Philippines and having two boys only adds further texture to his stories.


And You Think Golf is Tough