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Hi. Back in July I played in the North American Scrabble Championship in Reno, NV along with ~340 other players. I managed to win to earn a fun title for a year and a decent chunk of cash. I live in Ottawa, Canada, which has one of the strongest Scrabble clubs in North America. I'm not even the first one at this club to win this title!
I'm looking to help get the word out about tournament Scrabble in North America. I have a feeling there are a lot of people out there who would give it a try, if only they knew more about it!
So if you have any questions about the championship or about competitive Scrabble, shoot!
Have you ever gotten laid due to the fact of being a scrabble champion?
Oh God dammit, of course this gets voted to the top.
Come on, people, what if my mom finds this thread!
Did you know that I am dating your cousin?
Well I do now!
You get to go first, your letters are: UUUTJNZ.
What do you play?
JUN and JUT are the only words really worth playing, though I'm not happy about keeping two U's.
JUN is better defensively
I've read that top scrabble players focus on bingos, whereas the average best-among-your-friends focuses on tile placement for multipliers.
Any tips for transitioning from the latter to the former?
Improve your bingo-finding skills!
First, learn how to look for them on your rack. Most bingos include a common prefix or suffix. If you have -ING, -ERS, -ABLE, or -IEST on your rack, that's a good place to start. It's a lot easier to find the 8-letter words in EEGINRST if you start with the common suffixes.
Second, learn how to manage your leaves better. The "leave" is the leftover tiles when you make a play. We know that ERS is very powerful, so if we're not able to bingo this turn, it might be a good idea to make a play that saves those tiles for next turn.
Third, learn more words. There's no way around this one. You'll play more bingos if you learn more words. One of the most common 7-letter words in Scrabble is ANEROID. You have to know it to be able to find it!
What's the most ridiculous word you've put in a game?
Erm... do they have to be real words?
You're allowed to play phonies in competitive Scrabble and risk having your play challenged off. I've had some success in the past bluffing bullshit words onto the board in desperate situations.
Off the top of my head, I've gotten away with the following (non)words in tournament games: SPAMELLIAS, GUMWHITE, ARMYCLAW, DAKSA, HUVYKA, and more I can't recall at the moment
Can you define 'bingo' for those of us not well-versed in competitive Scrabble? thanks...
Use all 7 letters on your rack in one play. Earns you +50 bonus points. The best players average about 2 bingos a game, but playing 4-5 is not that uncommon
My friend made me a shirt
Do you ever play computer scrabble?
If so, what is your favorite one?
My wife loves computer scrabble. but can't seem to find a great one
If I want to play against a computer:
If I want to play against a human:
What word have you played that had the highest point value? Additionally, what weird word that you have learned through scrabble is your favorite?
I think my highest-scoring play was EXPENDER for 212 points.
And I wish I could answer the second question truthfully, but I can't because then you'd know my password for this reddit account.
Is there a separate French edition of North American scrabble to account for the Quebec people?
Can you give me a brief explanation as to why it's better defensively? I'm not great at scrabble, but im always interested in high level game strategies.
Simply due to the "hooks", i.e., the letters you can add to the front or end of the word.
JUT can hook an E or S to make JUTE or JUTS. Whereas JUN can only hook with a K to make JUNK. So by playing JUT, you're giving the opponent more options
All due respect sir, but your mother should not know your reddit name.
It's an anagram of my real name, unfortunately. So she could probably figure it out.
I don't have a question (although I'll ask one at the end as per the rules), and I'm not so interested in Scrabble, but this is one of the best IAmAs I've read in a long time. Every IAmA should aspire to such heights.
First of all, OP's answers are insanely informative. I can't recall the last time I saw an OP answering questions so well for genuine fans.
Second, the OP comes across as a great person. His answers are salted with humour, he's answering just about everything thrown at him, and he's engaging with people. It's a fun thread to read.
Third, it's absolutely fascinating. As I said, I'm not into Scrabble, but I've read all his answers.
To my question (so I don't vanish into the ether): your vocabulary is obviously very large. Do you need to use a thesaurus when you're writing, or do you know so many words that synonyms come in waves?
First of all, Scrabble players rarely use the word "vocabulary". Vocabulary implies you understand the meaning and usage of all the words you know, and actually use the words as part of your everyday diction. We just say "word knowledge", because oftentimes, all we know about a word is whether or not it's valid in Scrabble!
And my job is technical writing, so I rarely find the space to use exotic words. Mostly just plain English. But I do enjoy perusing the thesaurus from time to time!
My mom grandma and I have been playing scrabble at least once a week for over 30 years. I have become very good at spotting the "bingos" as described in an earlier comment. I still have problems coming up with words when I end up with so many vowels. What are some good tips or words to use when you end up with so many vowels and the board is already full ish?
The bag is inherently vowel-heavy, so it always takes some care to not end up with too many. Try not to unload as many vowels as you can each turn.
Also, it helps to learn some of the less-common vowelly words. Words like AUREI, MIAOU, UNAI, or ILIA can clean up those ugly racks quickly.
Your opponent didn't challenge a 10-letter ridiculous looking word??
Challenging a play isn't always easy, since you lose your turn if you're wrong. And there are plenty of ridiculous looking words that ARE valid
How thankful are you that Za is a word? And Qi?
ZA is handy, but the Z was a good tile even before ZA became a word.
QI is a godsend. I remember playing Scrabble before QI was added to the dictionary. The Q was an albatross that often decided games. If you got stuck with it at the end of the game, it was a huge point-swing. QI vastly improved the game, imo
Too long. Board is 15x15 :(
What happens if your opponent successfully challenges a word? Do you get penalized or do you just have to withdraw the word? Does the opponent still lose a turn?
I have to take the play back and they don't lose their turn.
Isn't competitive scrabble really about memorizing obscure words people never use?
I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but I think it's something people maybe don't understand.
If your answer is yes, what do you think the best way to go about learning those words is. I would like to make my friends and family members upset at me.
Learning the words is a big part of Scrabble, but it's only one aspect. You also need to be able to find plays over the board and have some sort of grasp on strategy. I'd say it's similar to chess or poker, where you can get pretty good by memorizing opening sequences and hand values, but can't win on that alone.
A new player should start by learning all the 2-letter words, since they are crucial. Then they should move onto the 3-letter words and short JQXZ words. Then, learning a few of the high-probability bingos can help a lot.
Here's a cheat sheet:
In chess, it has long been the case that a computer will always beat a human. Is this also the case in Scrabble?
Are there any insights from how computers play the game that inform the strategies that human players use?
Nah, a good player can beat the best computer a decent percentage of the time. Computer can draw bad tiles, too.
Do you ever try to play QUIJIBO just mess with your competitors?
I believe the correct spelling is KWYJIBO :)
And I haven't yet been fortunate enough to draw that rare combination of letters. Though one of my opponents once laid it down against me as a joke before picking it up and making an actual play.
Yeah but do you get to place down another word on the same turn, or is that turn over for you if the opponent calls the bluff?
I lose the turn. So it's a pretty big gamble.
So is using fake sounding words a strategy in comparative games? Like using a word that looks absolutely fake just to get your opponent to lose a turn?
Sure. Bonus points if it looks like you simply flubbed the tiles. STRONGYL is a good example, since it looks like you just misplaced the letters for STRONGLY. But STRONGYL is a word.
How did start playing scrabble in the first place? Were you introduced to it by a friend or did you simply discover it on your own one day?
Well my Dad taught me how to play chess when I was really young, so I've been hooked on board games for as long as I remember. I played chess on a website which also had a game called Tangleword (Boggle variant). I tried it out and got hooked on word games.
I played Scrabble online for a good six years before I played in my first tournament, though.
on the rare occasion that your tiles are all consonants, what are some solid word options with no vowels? Also, what are some cool words with no vowels?
CWM and CRWTH are some bizarre words that made it into the dictionary from Welsh. Also some onomatopoeic interjections like HMM, PHPHT, or BRRR.
I'd love to know what your opponent was thinking an armyclaw might be when you played that word.
Haha, I dunno. He was probably thinking he can't afford to challenge in any case. He ended up winning, so I guess it didn't matter in the end.
You forgot my favorite, FAQIR!
Ack, you're right!
How prevalent are focus-enhancing drugs in competitive Scrabble? What is your opinion on the subject?
Not that prevalent, as far as I know. And if you think it gives you an edge, go for it. There's no urine test.
Do you ever think about entering the french tournaments?
Yeah I've thought about it! There's a French language club just across the river from me in Gatineau. My conversational French is just so-so, but I imagine I could study the words and play a decent game if I had to
Do you socialize at all with any of the other competitors at the tournaments, either before, during, or after? I'm friends with the 2014 Nationals winner and some of the other guys from the west coast (USA) that are competitive Scrabble players, and I've always wondered what the scene is like because it sounds like a really diverse group. I'm pretty decent at Scrabble myself (although I haven't taken the time to memorize all of the 3s and 4s like my friends have), but I've never been able to take time off of work to make it to any of the events.
Sure I do. Scrabble people are hilarious and lots of fun to be around. Some people like to party at every tournament, and some just like to hang around and play board games. And yeah, it's a really eclectic subculture of people, spanning all age groups and backgrounds. It's cool that I've been able to meet so many different and interesting people!
What is your favourite word to use?
I definitely play QI more than any word, since it's such an easy way to unload the Q when you don't have a U. That's a boring one, though.
I seem to have an affinity for the less common U-less Q words, though. I've landed QWERTY in a few tournament games. That's a fun one to see on the board. (And fun to type, too)
How many of the less common words do you use in your daily lexicon?
Do you mean outside of Scrabble? None. I try to act like a normal person when I'm not at tournaments
What's a typical score in tournament play? Club play?
They vary pretty significantly. Two expert players can play a 370-350 game and then a 490-475 game right after. These scores aren't necessarily indicative of the level of play. Sometimes it just depends on how the board develops and how well the players are drawing.
But to give you an idea, I averaged 435 or so in my tournaments this year (with a lot of luck). A strong club player would be happy with 400+, I think.
other than the word 'QI', what other U-less Q words that are legal in Scrabble? How often are they the best option and how frequent do you use them?
QAT, QAID, QADI, CINQ, TRANQ, QANAT, QIBLA, QABALA
I'd say if you have the Q and no U, you should be looking for one of these words. Keeping the Q is a big disadvantage, so if one of these options is playable, you probably want to go for it.
Did you play tangleword often, and what was your username if you did?
Haven't found a great replacement ever since it was shut down... Closest is Serpentine.
I was pretty hooked. And I was 11-12 years old, so I had like 6 handles and they were all Pokemon...
I used to go to camp with a kid who got on espn for scrabble. He would read his scrabble dictionary during rest hours. Were you passionate about scrabble as a kid?? Ever been on tv? How was the experience?
I did a few camera interviews after this tournament, but I have no idea if they made it onto TV. I'd be too embarrassed to watch anyways.
Are there any rule variations that you favor? Maybe alternate dictionaries?
Are you satisfied that the competition structures even out whatever randomness is introduced by the tile draw, or is that not really a factor?
Luck is a part of Scrabble. Sometimes it evens out and sometimes it doesn't. But it's no coincidence that the best players win major tournaments consistently, so I like to believe it's not a significant factor in the long run.
As for the first question, I think Clabbers is my favorite variant. Basically, it's the same as Scrabble except you can make any play that anagrams into a valid word. So you could play TOQINSUE or SUNQITEO or ETSUIONQ or any combination of those letters since they anagram to the word QUESTION.
What do you think about the TWL not including a significant number of words that are actual English words? Off the top of my head, I remember being surprised to find that grimoire is in CSW/SOWPODS, but not the TWL—it's not a specifically British word, and yet you're technically bluffing if you play it in the US or Canada because it's not on the official North American word list.
GRIMOIRE was added to TWL in the most recent dictionary update.
Would you say you are a more offensive or defensive player? As in would you lay down a high scoring word that opens up the board for your opponent, or would you rather play a not as good word that really leaves your opponent in a pickle?
I usually prefer the board to be wide open so I can keep scoring points. Though there's always a time and place for defense, so I try to be flexible.
Would the fact that you have a U make it more worthwhile to hold on to the N so you have the UN prefix? I guess it might not in this case, since you probably won't be bingoing next turn with that leave anyway. It's decisions like this that separate great players like you from decent ones like me!
The U is a horrible letter. There is a disproportionately high number of them in Scrabble simply because of the Q. If you draw a U, you should try to play it off if possible.
What did you think of Word Wars?
It's a pretty awesome documentary! I've showed it to a few of my non-Scrabble friends and most found it pretty entertaining.
Have you met Nigel Richards? Thoughts on him and his game?
Yeah I've played him before. He's pretty friendly and personable. His play style is almost robotic. He almost never misses plays or makes word knowledge mistakes
Have you ever played a word as a bluff, had an opponent challenge it, and then found out it was a real word?
Yeah a couple times... that's when I pretend I knew it all along.
What's a word that you guarantee nobody in the state of Michigan has said in the past year?
Super Bowl? I guess that's two words
What are your thoughts when you get a blank tile?
Making a bingo (play using all 7 tiles) as soon as possible.