At the U.S. Scrabble Open ' held this year in Phoenix from August 4 to 9 ' Rafi Stern was pleased to come in first in his division.
'It was pretty exciting,' he said, but admitted 'I was tired. I'd been thinking for a long time.'
Seventeen-year-old Stern, who will be a senior at Nathan Hale High School in Seattle this fall, played for eight or nine hours that day before he won his final match.
The tournament is the biggest in the U.S. with six divisions and over 600 contestants. Games are timed and the standings change with each round, so players can track how they're doing, Rafi explained to me. The atmosphere is 'very, very quiet,' he says.
It's not just a matter of winning matches. The points a player accumulates over the course of the tournament ' the spread ' give a player his or her standing.
Rafi started the third day with a respectable 15 wins and six losses and a spread of about 1,600. Then, he says, he got a boost from Lady Luck.
'Out of seven games, I got 12 out of 14 blanks' (there are two blank tiles in each game). But skill clearly played a part, too, because he won three out of four games before lunch.
With three games left to play he lost the first, but managed to win both the second and final game, scraping by, ahead by just 29 points.
Rafi first learned to play Scrabble with his dad, Marvin, on Saturday afternoons after services at Congregation Beth Shalom. Following his Bar Mitzvah the family made a trip to Israel where a friend took him to the Jerusalem Scrabble club. He was hooked.
'I started playing online,' he says, but after a while those games became boring and he was frustrated by opponents who appeared to be cheating. His mom, Michele, suggested he look for local tournaments and he found one that meets on Memorial Day, where he was introduced to the Seattle Scrabble club.
'I improved a lot from playing in the club,' he says, as well as playing with a friend who also enjoys the game.
When he's not playing Scrabble and studying, Stern enjoys Ultimate Frisbee. Math and science are among his favorite subjects (Scrabble aficionados know it is as much a math game as it is a word game) and practicing 'anagramming' ' the art of scrambling letters to create new words.
A tournament in Portland is in the near future and he hopes to continue competing nationally.
'I'd like to go back every year,' he says.
Real estate appraiser Steve Shapiro of Bainbridge Island has been awarded the MAI designation by the Appraisal Institute, which according to the institute's Web site, 'is held by appraisers who are experienced in the valuation and evaluation of commercial, industrial, residential and other types of properties, and who advise clients on real estate investment decisions.' Shapiro works for Resolve, also on Bainbridge, valuing many different types of properties.
Originally from Long Island and Philadelphia, Steve came to the Northwest a few decades ago to visit friends on Vancouver Island. Because he couldn't work in Canada, he moved to Homer, Alaska, met his wife, Marilyn Place, and became a commercial crab fisherman. Eventually the family moved to Washington.
'When I had kids, I realized that they deserved to have a father,' he recalls, regretting the long absences required by his work. He went back to school for a degree in journalism and became the editor of the trade magazine Pacific Fishing. He began appraising about eight years ago, all the while continuing to fish for salmon in the summers.
'I had my first summer at home three years ago,' when he finally gave up fishing completely. 'I thought summer was a myth.'
Steve says he uses his journalism experience in his current job.
'Appraisal is a research and writing job. We do a lot of writing,' he says.
It takes a number of years of course-work and 16 hours of tests over three days to receive the MAI designation. Only 250 people are granted it each year.
Steve and Marilyn have two grown sons. Nathan is an artist living in Portland and Jeremy is a doctoral candidate at MIT.