by Emma Snow
So you think you are ready to take your Scrabble game to the next
level? You are considering membership in a Scrabble club, or entering
a local tournament? How do you know if you are ready? You may be
the family champion, having mastered the basics, but will your reputation
hold up in the competitive arena?
Scrabble experts each have their own styles and opinions about
what makes a champion, and this article covers four skills all agree
are necessary to survive the cut.
The first advanced skill appearing on every expert's list is rack
management. A play is good if it considers first, the points earned,
and second, the leave. To play competitively, one must keep a balanced
rack. While there is an element of luck in any draw, a player of
skill knows when to sacrifice a higher point value for a better
leave. In general, one should try to play longer words, in order
to keep tile turn-over high, increasing the chance of getting the
best letter combinations for bingos. Consonants and vowels should
be kept in balance in order to avoid difficult scenarios. Tile tracking
is one way players may decide between two good plays. If you know
there are still several Os in play, you may opt to keep that I instead.
And even after following the guidelines for the best rack management,
an expert knows when to trade in tiles.
Second on the list is a player’s relationship with two special
tiles: the blank and the S. Everything Scrabble authors, Joe Edley
and John D. Williams, suggest players remember that “Blanks are
for Bingos and S is for Scoring.” Although almost worthless at face
value, these two tiles are in reality the most valuable tiles you
can draw. Nothing is better than a blank for building a bingo. Good
players use their blanks and high point tiles to lead them to bingos.
(If you can’t find a bingo, but have a play that scores at least
20-30 points higher, only then should you play your blank.) As the
saying goes, S is for scoring. It pluralizes most nouns, singularizes
most verbs, and is invaluable as a letter to add in front of other
words, all of which makes the S the best hook in the bag.
The third necessary skill mentioned by experts is vocabulary building.
There are a number of ways to do this, from mnemonics, to wacky
definitions, to memorizing anagram clusters. After the two letter
word list, experts advise taking on the 3 letter words, emphasizing
the words created with front and back extensions from the twos.
Computers have been used to compile lists of words most likely to
occur given the letter frequency in the game, and some players have
memorized these lists to their benefit. Other bingo-hungry players
memorize the 7-8 letter words, although some criticize this practice
since the opportunities to use these words are so limited. Still
others focus on words containing high-value tiles, or difficult
letter combinations. The best advice when it comes to vocabulary
building is to let your natural curiosity guide you, and learn words
in small sets that you can master well enough to recognize when
you can or cannot anagram a certain combination.
One final note that every Scrabble expert will point out involves
using challenges and phony words appropriately. This may have never
been a big deal when playing with friends and family, but in the
competitive arena a game can hinge on this skill. First of all,
get to know your opponent. Some players will put down a phony right
at the beginning of the game just to see if you challenge it! There
are some good reasons you may even want to play a phony, although
you should never risk a win for it. This is a skill that requires
good judgment, finesse, and style, and maybe even a poker face!
Working on these skills will certainly improve your game. If these
suggestions are old news to you, maybe you are already prepared
for the Scrabble circuit. Go ahead, sign up for a match. There is
no better practice than the real thing.
About the Author:
Emma Snow works a pragmatic puzzler at the Puzzle Place http://www.puzzle-place.net
and Chess Strategies http://www.chess-strategies.net
leading puzzle portals.