Don’t Get Trounced at Scrabble

By Laura Lee

Learn your Qis and Zos and you’ll be ready to take on all comers.

Do Not Get Trounced at Scrabble

You have a master’s degree in English literature, and you were a spelling champion at school. Surely your stellar vocabulary gives you the advantage in Scrabble. Not necessarily. Scrabble is not so much about the words a reasonably educated person would use in conversation or writing; it is about game words – words such as zax (a hand tool used by a slater for cutting), zo (a Tibetan yak), seniti (a monetary unit of Tonga), and ka (to the ancient Egyptians, a spiritual part of a human being or a god that survived after death and could reside in a statue of the dead person).

The Players Dictionary is Scrabble Scripture

There are more than 100,000 words in The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, and even more words are allowed in international tournaments. If you’re offended by the concept of arf (the sound a dog makes) or hm (as in ‘I’m thinking’) as legal words, then Scrabble is not your game, because if it is in The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, you can play it.

Rack ’em Up!

Once you’ve mastered a few of the valuable uncommon words, it is time to play. Be strategic with the letters in your rack. The least-valuable letters in terms of scoring and playability are Q, V, W, B, F, O, and P. Try to get rid of them as quickly as you can, but hold onto S, E, R, D, and Y. These are useful as ‘hooks’. You can use them to turn someone’s ‘twerp’ into ‘twerps’ and build a whole new word with the S. The ideal ratio to maintain is four consonants to three vowels. The only duplicate letters worth keeping are E and O (O is better in pairs than on its own). Look for any letters that form prefixes (like ‘pre’) or suffixes (such as ‘ed’) and set those to one side.

Make Your Qi Short

The key to Scrabble triumph is in the two-letter words. Not only do the twos help you fit into tight corners, but they also help you line up parallel plays, where you form two or more words along two axes. The US National Scrabble Association says learning the twos will increase your scoring by an average of 30 to 40 points a game. Next, you will want to learn the 21 legal ‘Q’ words that do not need a ‘U’. Believe it or not, the typewriter word qwerty counts, as does qi (life energy in Chinese philosophy).

Advanced Play

Top players keep track of all of the letters that have been played using tracking sheets. This gives them an idea of what letters are left in the bag and on their opponent’s rack. You might also want to write down all of the tiles on your rack on each turn so you can see what words you missed, and improve for next time.

Top Mistakes

  • Not knowing all the special Scrabble words
  • Lacking a good strategy
  • Letting tricky letters linger

Scrabble as Sport

The champs make an almost full-time job of memorising tricky and useful words. Players at this level take their game seriously; in 2011, at the World Scrabble Championships in Poland, two entrants nearly came to blows when one accused his opponent of stealing a ‘G’ tile and asked the judges to strip-search him. They did not.

Top players are often computer programmers or mathematicians. They look at the board and the tiles and consider the probability that the symbols will come together in a way that will allow them to create high-scoring combinations, preferably over the coveted ‘triple word’ spots.

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