I used to be an expert scrabble player. Until this month I hadn’t played in a tournament in 4 years. I stopped going to tournaments out-of-town in 2005. I studied the game. I memorized a lot of words. I knew all of the 8 letter words with no high point tiles and had 3 vowels. I knew these words in order starting with aaa: saladang, galangal, astragal… I also knew all of the 7 and 8 letter words with no high point tiles that had 4 vowels: galatea, anatase, gastraea… I knew a lot of mnemonics (study aids for letters you could add to a 7 letter word to make an 8) and even wrote a bunch. I knew all of the unusual short words, and every single word that contained a J, X, Q or Z. I studied strategy and read about the game. I highly recommend this book by Joel Wapnick. Then I stopped studying, got too busy and eventually stopped playing.
This year I realized that I kind of missed the game, so I started attending the Toronto Scrabble Club on Wednesday evenings if I wasn’t playing music or had a big concert I was preparing for. I remembered why I enjoyed the game and the friendly competition at the club. I decided that I would need to study, but I’ve confined myself to just casual anagramming (although recently I found my old folder with the mnemonics.) I enjoy anagramming. I use karatasi. I’ve abandoned memorizing.
Yesterday I played in a one day 8 game tournament in Mississauga. On the way over there I gave myself a pep talk:
1. drink lots of water
2. stay away from heavy carbs
3. count your score before putting the tiles on the board. Let your opponent check it on their time
4. pay attention to adrenalin rushes. remember to breath through them if you want to have energy for the next game
5. always double-check before hitting the clock
6. try not to be too fixated on one spot
7. when you find something good, look for something better
8. better to pass some tiles than spend more than 5 minutes looking for a low scoring play
9. be sure to save time for the end game
10. did I mention the water?
11. get up between games. walk around.
12. try not to pay attention to coffee housing before the game. if it happens during the game, warn them and then call a director
13. bring fresh fruit and dark chocolate
14. always consider rack leave
15. in addition to hot spots look for extensions and hidden plays
16. track on their time, and make a small mark next to the word to remind yourself where you are
17. don’t get attached to the score. big turnarounds can happen very late in the game
18. look for 9’s. sometimes they just magically appear
19. don’t be afraid to open anything if you can score well
20. keep the board open unless you’re really ahead. then shut it down
21. coffee first thing in the morning, then stay away from it during the day
22. try also to stay away from sugar – unless it’s dark chocolate
23. be gracious. let them know if you think they played well
24. don’t try to get away with anything even if you think your opponent doesn’t play as well as you do. never underestimate anyone
25. don’t get discouraged about the tiles.
26. always double-check your opponent’s score and once in a while verify your overall scores (on your time)
27. it’s polite to correct them if they’ve underscored, but you actually don’t have to if it happens a lot. However, just know on a close game there could be a recount
(note: I have just been corrected about the rules on this point. It is considered cheating to allow an opponent’s incorrect score to go unchallenged)
28. on a close game, if you’ve lost, always ask for a recount
29. take a minute to check words between games. serendipity really happens
30. stay relaxed and focused and don’t take it too seriously
31. have fun and enjoy the camaraderie
32. have I mentioned water? (and healthy noshing)
In the end I won a class prize, a word prize and stood 4th. I even got to play SAVELOYS and IGUANIAN. I really did have fun.