Here, you’re not in a particularly good position with a tied score and a vowel-less rack. High valuation plays such as JO 14b and SWARF b6 don’t do very well: they keep a weak leave and don’t score particularly well. Quackle valuation has you winning less than 60% of the time after either option, especially after a fairly balanced range from your opponent (HAO).
However, there is an opportunity to increase your win percentage with a lower valuation setup that is very difficult to block: OF k13, setting up the OF-F hook. (Yes, there are other options, and we’ll get there later.) With an O or E, you can draw FJORD/FJELD next turn for over 80 points, giving you a stranglehold on this game.
Of course, in addition to the low valuation and undesirable entropy, there are two downsides to this play. The first downside is that you don’t yet have either FJELD or FJORD, and you need to draw them. While this might happen next turn, it might take several turns to draw one of these letters, and in the meantime your rack is completely hamstrung, relegated to low scoring options and likely falling slightly behind. You might need to exchange next turn or (more likely) a low scoring play using the W, committing to fishing for 15k monsters.
The second problem is that there is one (and only one) way to block this setup: the T. Since OF is an immediate setup, it is fairly obvious to your opponent that you have a big play (or will draw one soon) that uses that spot, so your opponent will always block with the T unless they have a huge play (like a bingo).
In many cases, T plays along row 5 will score 25 or more points, giving them a huge leave and leaving you with a huge potential of a vowel-less rack. And even if they don’t have the T yet, you often haven’t drawn a play in column 15 either: they can always draw the T on future turns.
If we are just looking at the next turn, these two factors alone make OF not worth it. You’re not going to get to play on row 15 often enough, and it gets blocked too often. However, there’s another factor we’re not considering here: recursion.
Approximately 3/4 of the time, your opponent is not going to have the T here. And when they don’t, they are extremely unlikely to draw the T *next* turn, giving you additional time to fish for a devastating (and basically game ending) fishing play.
Even if they draw the T or have the T, a lot of times they are relegated to a low scoring blocking play, and if you get FJELDS/FJORDS at b1, that’s a perfectly good tradeoff for you. While it’s obvious that your opponent can block with the T, a lot of people assume that they can block well, but it’s hard to make a 5 letter play starting with T. In addition, sometimes they will have to sacrifice major points to block this setup, or might ignore it entirely because of either a high scoring play or bingo elsewhere on the board. And your opponent has no reason to do something like play 5 tiles or exchange 7 tiles to hope to draw the T, assuming they don’t have it: from their perspective, you probably have the F play already.
Next turn you will often get to play 2 tiles, or maybe even 3 (and commit to picking FJELD or FJORD, probably FJELD) and if you miss, you get to fish again. Even after just dumping OF, you’ll get to hit FJORD/FJELD over half of the time due to this recursive threat, making you a huge favorite over your opponent.
Recursion is an extremely powerful tool, and while it does not show up very often, it has to be respected. When someone has a recursive threat, it has to be taken care of immediately and urgently. Even if he didn’t have the D (and the D were still in the bag), without the T blocking OF-F, FJELD/FJORD would probably come down eventually. Letting recursion go is a disaster.
We’ve now established that OF is a strong play: however, there are other options. Even ROW 6l is an option, as it scores okay and preserves the same setup possibility with a higher valuation, although the setup option is blocked too often to make it quite worthwhile. REF 14i does something very similar, setting up a diversion T-REF hook, and gunning specifically for FJELD. (Since you’re drawing two tiles and there are more Es out, you are more likely to hit this fish.)
While this is a slightly stronger version than the OF version, this is still essentially the same play with a few additional downsides to compensate for the additional odds of hitting FJELD: your opponent now might have a 15d play that scores well, or a T play like LUXATE that completely neutralizes FJELD even when you do hit it.
In addition, most top players (though not everyone) should sniff this out and block accordingly with the T. This is a really bad diversion: it doesn’t make sense on any level to be anything but a strong F setup where you’re willing to give your opponent a 40+ point play for free. Your rack is still fairly face up: you have to have the F, and it probably will be blocked. (Or you have the T, in which case your opponent is going to block T-REF, but they will score decently doing so.)
It’s the only thing that makes any sense at all, especially coming from a top player, and its results are potentially devastating and recursive. If they play the T, you’re going to get that F play eventually, and it will probably hit very hard. If they have EORTV, they are going to play TROVE for 33 and block the F rather than play VOTE for 40, and often they’ll even just make a blocking play (either a cheap 5 starting with T or even a shorter play) since any competent player who is capable of range-finding can figure out your approximate range fairly easily.
Of course, there is another option that is less transparent: WO 14b (10). This is far less transparent, as there is nothing being set up and it’s just not obvious what you are doing. This very obviously looks like a T setup, and your opponent in this case should (and will) broadcast whether or not they have the T, as they simply can’t leave it alone without having the T in their rack. If they don’t have the T, they will block since there are too many major threats with the T to leave it open.
While WO might bait out the T more often than REF, it won’t do it a heck of a lot, because again, we run into the same problem: it looks like a bait. There’s simply no reason for your opponent to ever spend the T because of recursion, and when it looks like a bait and you can use the T on a future turn, there’s no reason to spent the T unless you have a huge play (like LUXATE or a bingo). Even though your opponent won’t likely figure out what you are up to, elite opponents are still unlikely to use the T.
The problem with this option, again, is when they do have the T, because in this case, your opponent ALSO has recursion! This means that there is no reason whatsoever to spend the T for several reasons. The first reason is that there’s no where to go but up: no one is going to make a T setup only to block it next turn when it goes unused, as that makes little to no sense. The second reason is that it looks somewhat like a bait to draw out the T so that something can be set up, either as a bingo line or a scoring line (in this case, OF). Thus, your opponent should usually play elsewhere, and then you ultimately make the play that opens the F spot, your opponent should be able to still sniff it out and block accordingly.
The irony of this play is that both REF 14i and WO 14b should never (or almost never) flush out the T in the way you want. The same concept (recursion) that makes the setup viable also helps your opponent immensely. The strength of these plays relies entirely on how often the T is drawn out: even some top players will play the T too often, as illustrated in the previous positions. WO is more likely to work than REF in practice, but against players who truly save the T frequently enough, the correct option is to play REF or OF immediately.
Given this analysis, you might be wondering “What can I take away from all of this?” From this, I’ll list off the main points that I think are most important.
1. Recursion is important, and it is brutal. You can keep fishing for FJELD/FJORD if you aren’t there yet, while your opponent can fish and preserve the T endlessly and hit you pretty brutally in the meantime, since they only have to save one tile while you have to save 5.
2. Top, elite players are always thinking something, and even if you don’t get what they are thinking, you should take measures to protect yourself against their ploys and tactics. If a top player makes a play for a weird reason, you should think about the motivations even if it’s not clear and you can’t deduce those motivations definitively or immediately. Yes, if you’re well respected and at their level, you might get mind-gamed, but this is more the exception and not the rule.
3. Even very good players are not going to react to situations perfectly, especially if they are unusual and don’t fit the current equity paradigm. Computers are far away from appreciating WO as an option here even though it’s a good option, and even a lot of very strong players don’t understand the options well when they don’t fit the typical equity paradigm. Concepts such as recursion (and there are many other concepts that are like this, and this is not anomalous: positions that clearly break the equity paradigm happen all the time) are often foreign to even some of the highest rated players since there are many unique positions in Scrabble that are not best explained through the current equity/valuation paradigm.