PRE – TOURNAMENT
It is hard to ignore the calm soothing breeze that massages you when you arrive in Uyo. The roads are smooth as you would want and the only care is for the numerous tricycles that seem to escort you to your hotel. The welcome at the Le Meridien is green as can be, no wonder it is said to one of the best on the African continent nay the world. Indeed Uyo and Le Meridien is proving to be a beautiful venue for the delightful game called scrabble. I am almost reveling too much in the beauty of the environment when suddenly warm hugs and vigorous handshakes transform into a frenzy of pre-event games and the usual analyses that go with them. Everyone wins first prize here at least. I see that the sad news of the world champion, Nigel Richards, cancelling his participation due to visa issues has not dampened the spirit as Engr Ojior Osikhena and Lukeman Owolabi amongst others begin to flex scrabble muscles.
In the background there is the efficient team work of the organizers at play, finalizing everything from seating arrangements to logistics. It is easy to underestimate all the work that goes into the planning and coordination of an event of this magnitude and I notice all the usual faces are here already, the president has been in town since Monday! I am thrilled to see ‘The Champ’ who is also here early along with Mr Larry, Comrade Alabrah and others put heads together to perfect plans. Mr Faruq cannot get his hands off the phone, speaking to one caller after the other, arranging for players to be picked up from the airport and their hotels.
As I shake hands with the foreign players, I cannot but wonder if they will be strong enough to defeat the indefatigable home players who long for the Akpabio Classics every year like a pregnant woman yearns for the baby in her womb. Nicholas from Kenya and Phillip from Uganda arrive in style, and Phillip is quick to remind me that they call him ‘the phenomenon’. The presence of Sam Kantimathi, Austin Shin and Pakorn is striking, this is afterall the highest paying scrabble event in the world. Well done, Gov Akpabio!
After registration we move to the Pool Bar for the opening ceremony which started about 8.35PM with cocktails and a lively cultural troupe performance and of course the live band. The executive governor, who was away on national assignment, is represented by the Commissioner for Youth & Sports for the night, who assured us that the governor will be present himself on Saturday and Sunday. Chief Toke Aka pleads with players to maintain a noise free playing hall throughout the games and announces a new one: the Master’s table one games will be beamed live outside the hall to enable anyone willing watch without distracting the players. At exactly 10 minutes to 10 PM the GAIC is declared open by the commissioner. Let the games begin!
Pairings are out and before I could muster the word scrabble, bingoes are flying left right and centre. Eta karo and Akanbi Dipo already have a board with JAPERIES, YEASTING and the valid word DIVALENT which was challenged. The pairings see the champ square up against Sammy okosagah on table 12. I am attracted to the board as I see TRAGOPAN but quickly move to see Austin Shin play Mayuku Tuoyo, the only female player in the Masters. He’s played the tricky word LONGUEUR, but I see Mayuku is holding her own as he wins by only 45 points. As I approach table 19, I SHIVER at the word ACULEI and see Nsikan Etim gradually build up against Ojior Oshikena. Nsikan would go on to win by 189 points. Pakorn wins his first game against Balogun rasheed by 90 points and so does Sam kantimathi, Ogbakpa Rex and Okoroigwe John against Curtis John, Nicholas Mbugua and Phillip Mugisha respectively.
Table one in the opens category also looks pretty tidy with a few bingoes early on. I won’t say it’s the TIDIEST board but I already can see some BRUISERS in the game between Ofidi Emmanuel and Okuboyejo Damilola. All words seem JOINABLE on table 26 in the intermediate category and I just hope no one needs SYRINGES after a CRUSHING game between Enai Doubra and Quickpen Ben. The high gamers are Nsikan Etim (571) and the veteran Hakeem Kareem (559).
I notice the game of wits on table 4 between Olatunde Oduwole and Samson Asare. There’s the valid word ZENAIDAS tucked side by side with LAURIC and ATHERIDS, which I think is invalid. As I decide to check it out I watch the drama as Oduwole plays EYECOMER. It would have been his last move if Osare took the bait. The Ghanaian wisely gives no expression until Oduwole picks the tiles off the board. Talk about calling a word’s bluff. I am torn between going to table 12 and 14 where Moshood Sanni is playing Ikolo Anthony and Oshodi Sunday is playing Umujose Emmanuel respectively. TRISULAS on table 12 and OVARIES on VINYL on table 14 are dropping at the same time. I decide to instead see how Austin shin is doing on table 7. Turns out he has just won his second game against Akanbi Dipo narrowly with 16 points. At this point he says, winning is just enough for him.
I am watching Austin Shin and Ejiro Fuoye finish their game and notice some of the deft moves that saw Austin win by 132 points. His play of PETITIONS across the P and second T and GASALIER were eyecatching. I have noticed that the most played words are JEWIE and INERTIAS.
I am attracted to table one where Dennis Ikekeregor and Onota Oteheri are reconciling rather aggressively. I guess the cushion on the seats at table one are too comfy to leave! The close game has ended in a draw with the non-valid word EBERNEI played by Dennis probably the game changer. Olaiya Kabir has just won Pakorn by 10 points. As they reconcile scores at the end the words ECLOGITES and DEPONING stand out. I can see Pakorn is not happy about his last move. Asare is playing Nsikan on table 2. The board is spread nicely with the with RESEATED, BOGGIEST and FANTIGUE quickly following MERCHILD.
The phenomenon is playing on table 14 against Tetteh Julius and Phillip starts out with SYENITE for 76 points. I have a feeling interesting words are going to fly on this board. As i approach table 13, Akanbi Dipo DECLARES 86 points. There are a few catchy words on the board like AMIRATE and BONNE. Table 6 has an Ibibio looking word- NGWEE, played by Saheed Tayo which Nicholas quickly hooks to form SCENARIO. Nice looking board. John Okoroigwe on table 10 plays RANCHER on the triple accross CABLINGS which Charles adds the OX to for RANCHERO. The kind of hook players often overlook. Table 1 has 6 bingoes with Osare edging Onota by 103 points 4 of them: STEELIER, TROUNCED, ENTERING and FORMATS. On table 2 Austin Shin and Nsikan are squaring up. When a board has CELEBS playing, words like GOONDA, INORNATE and RODINGS seem common place. Austin has just lost his first game by 103, hmm, not too good for his cummulative. Players head for lunch after round five. As the results are being tallied I see a player approach the officials to say he has lost his meal ticket. I understand his plight, when there’s scrabble matters like food become secondary.
Players are just returning to their seats after the lunch break for round 6. It’s been a fiercely contested tournament and so far only 2 players have won all games. It’s still early days but it surely tells the story, no one will walk away with $15,000 with other deft scrabblers lying low. Let’s see how Nsikan and Omosefe Prince fare for the rest of the day. Ssh, both players on table one are heading to the restroom, I hear one wants to take a pee and the other is tagging along just to be sure, LOL. On table 6 Pakorn is the SCORER.
After round 6 Nsikan is the only player unscathed so far in the Masters category. Winning his game against Prince by 37 points guarantees he remains on table one. He is presently battling with Paul Sodje. For the veterans, 5 players have won 3 of the 3 games accounted for up till now. Gora Suleiman leads the pack with the highest cummulative, while Tom Otu, Balinwo Ofegobi, Paulinus Ekunke and Umondak Steve are cruising steady. Adigun Olatunde is on table one in the Intermediate category and remains unbeaten after five games. In the opens category, Ofidi Emmanuel is garnering a huge cummulative. With over 600, he is unbeaten. Perhaps the fear that Ayo Saidu will have an easy ride to the first prize was unfounded, but then, we have only just begun this marathon…
Austin Shin and Pakorn are squaring up on table 3, I am itching to see how this turns out. Pakorn begins the game with GUNGED for 22 and Shin responds with ENDEIXIS for 92. Hmm, not bad. Other interesting match ups in this round are Nicholas from Kenya and Phillips ‘the phenomenon’ from Uganda on table 5. Ghana’s Samson Asare and Lukman do their business on the table in between.
Sam Kantimathi plays TYRANES on table 18 and I see him and his opponent approach the adjudicating computer, turns out the word is not playable. On table 4 Austin and Olaiya are electrifying the board as I spot the word ANOLYTES, I figure we will need MAILVANS to carry all of the VERIFIED words on this board. Happens that COCAINE and LESBIAN are on this same board! I overhear Moses Peter say he’s tired for the day just as Pakorn plays OVERHEAT on table 1 for 92 points. Talk about so much firework on the scrabble boards…
It’s a tense game on table 1 as no one wants to SQUANDER the opportunity to be seating here tomorrow. GHERAOED, KIAAT, ICTAL, EXEUNT, PREPOSES adorn a tidy looking board. On table 12 Phillips isn’t looking too pleased to see CINEOLS (84 points) hooked on his RIZA. Bimbo and Ezekiel on table 43 in the intermediate category are playing back to back bingoes. I see Bimbo play OSTEOMA for 85 and Ezekiel plays GREAVES for 70. No wonder players say this is the most dangerous category.
AT THE END OF DAY ONE
When it started raining cats and dogs after the game, I suggested to an intermediate player seating next to me that perhaps it is just about what is needed to cool our temperatures. The battles have been fiercely contested and after 10 rounds, the results look like this:
- PAUL SODJE 9 +651
- NSIKAN ETIM 9 +510
- PAKORN 7 +634
- OGBAKPA REX 7 +501
- OMOSEFE PRINCE 7 +451
- OLAIYA KABIR 7 +411
- ETA KARO 7 +6
- EDEWOR BOBOR 6.5 +139
- OSHODI SUNDAY 6 +465
- LUKEMAN OWOLABI 6 +339
HIGH GAME: OSHODI SUNDAY – 612
- NWOSUOCHA SPACO 9 +823
- OMUERO OBORERHIRI 8 +527
- IDAHOSA BRIGHT 8 +463
- ADIGUN OLATUNDE 8 +432
- UMOGBAI ANDREW 8 +194
HIGH GAME: OLUEH GODWIN, OKORODAS PREYE – 631
- SAIDU AYORINDE 7 +930
- EZINORE GEORGE 7 +817
- OSAWE VICTOR 7 +627
- IBORO PHILIP 7 +622
- IGHOFIVWIONI PRECIOUS 7 +571
HIGH GAME: OKORIE BEDE – 685
- UMONDAK STEVE 9 +431
- HAKEEM KAREEM 8 +826
- OKORIDEM BOB 7 +499
- LANRE AGORO 7 +426
- UMOH BASSEY 7 +190
HIGH GAME: ADIGUN LANRE – 678