Playing on an entirely different level


Competitive Scrabble® is another game entirely. For example, here's a game from the 2001 World Championship. You can follow it move-by-move, or you can read the game commentary.

The name "Stefan" you see in the commentary is Wall Street Journal reporter Stefan Fatsis, author of Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players, a book that is on my list of "books I really want to read".

Comments (11)
  1. Eric Lippert says:

    When Stefan was on his book tour, he did a reading at Microsoft. Stefan was kind enough to invite six random people to lunch-and-scrabble with him before the talk, and I was lucky enough to be one.

    I didn’t get a chance to play him myself, but it was very amusing watching an expert go up against a novice. I think it was on his third move that he bingoed with DESTRIER. "What the heck is a destrier?" asked his opponent.

    "It is an entry on a list of highly probable eight letter words which I have memorized." (We checked later; it’s a medieval war horse.)

    A couple moves later he bingoed again with ELECTORS. I rarely get one bingo in a game, and here he was with two in the first five moves…

  2. Karl Barrus says:

    Stefan makes the point is his book that the top players stop thinking of the words as "words", they just see them as valid scoring combinations. Remembering the definitions just takes up brain space that can be better used for storing more valid scoring combos.

    I’d like to see the obsolete words tossed out in favor of modern words.

  3. Raymond Chen says:

    I remember Stefan mentions one top player who doesn’t even speak English! That player merely memorizes lists of "strings of letters" and plays them.

  4. Zirakzigil says:

    Stefan makes the point is his book that the top players stop thinking

    > of the words as "words", they just see them as valid scoring combinations.

    > Remembering the definitions just takes up brain space that can be better

    > used for storing more valid scoring combos.

    I believe it. At one time I was very interested in Scrabble, and started memorizing the 2-, 3-, and 4-letter word lists. It’s amazing what a difference even those make in your gameplay.

  5. Mabster says:

    Can I ask someone what the story is with move #5? Player "B" issues a ‘challenge’ move and scores five points? What’s that all about?

  6. Raymond Chen says:

    Rule 5.iii describes how challenges are scored in tournament play.

    http://www.msosingapore.org/rules-scrabble.html

    Here, player J challenged "irately" and failed. The penalty for a failed challenge is 5 points per challenged word.

  7. Marc Wallace says:

    It’s always fun to browse the official Scrabble player’s dictionary. There are some winners in there.

    My favorite is "cwm". Cwm is defined as "a cirque". A cirque is apparently a square well or ditch, from 11th century Welsh.

    We play sometimes at work. One person memorized all the two-letter words, which gives him an insane advantage. I’m just not willing to let words like that into my brain.

    I did memorize "qat", though. Qs can be tricky to get rid of.

  8. Mabster says:

    Ah – I get it. The turn log confused the issue by putting ‘B’ as the player.

  9. Peter Evans says:

    I think scrabble should be forced to adopt Neal Stephenson’s fictious "qwghlm" from "The Cryptonicom" just for the fun of it. It was such a hilarious use of a label, ethnic group name and story telling device. Almost as good as how the adults talk in the original peanuts cartoon videos. For that matter maybe it can be introduced into the OED. Bah hah hah.

    Here’s an idea for someone with too much time on their hands, the MSDE scrabble dictionary and memory tool! :P

    As always Raymond great finds and posts.

  10. Raymond Chen says:

    Commenting on this entry has been closed.

  11. Mabsterama says:

    I love Scrabble. I’ve been trying to get Sal to play with me, but she ph33rs my mad vocabulary skilz0rz….

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