My "Low" Lights In Scrabble

By Larry King


Alan Kantor introduced me to Scrabble in the mid-1990s at the Boardroom Gaming Club in Washingtonville, NY. I did not play well and "retired" until joining the defunct Tri-State Scrabble Club, which met every other Friday night in Port Jervis, NY. I was next to the worst player in the club because the players had more experience and I did not know what I was doing. The last game of the fourth meeting, I played against, at the time, the worst player. I had won the previous three games against her by very wide margins. The game was unusually close. After there were no tiles in the bag, I pulled away by 30 points. She then used all her remaining tiles, including an "X", and a juicy triple-letter-square to make a 50-point play. I felt like World Chess Champion Kasparov after he blundered against 3DX Fritz computer in game two. I was shocked and needed to take Scrabble 101.

The next day, I went to Barnes and Noble and purchased a book titled Everything Scrabble. The book discussed the following: the history of the game; how to make plays and score bonus points; the importance of knowing the two-letter words; tile management; rearranging your tiles; words starting with Qs without the Us; when to exchange your tiles; defensive plays; looking for bingos and hooks; and rated Scrabble tournaments.

On Friday, November 24, 2000, the day after Thanksgiving, I played in my first rated Scrabble tournament, which took place at the Rye Town Hilton Hotel in Rye Brook, NY. While driving on I-684 South, I saw the "Hardscrabble Road" exit sign. Little did I know that was an omen. I arrived about one hour before the start of round one, checked in at the registration desk, and relaxed.

Before the tournament started, some participants were playing Scrabble speed games, others were using hand-held computers to hone their anagramming skills, and several people were studying word lists.

The event was a twenty-one-game, three-day, round robin affair. Unlike casual play, a person played against only one opponent. The participants were put into descending order of ratings and grouped into eight-player sections. Since I had no rating, I was put in the bottom section. The highest-rated person in my section, I believe, was about 800.

Players use a chess clock in rated Scrabble tournaments. The time limit is 25 minutes per player per game. Thus, time management is part of the game. If a player uses more than 25 minutes, he or she loses 10 points per minute or fraction of a minute that the player exceeds the time limit. If neither player has a clock, then the dreaded three-minute-per-move timer is used.

Also, point differential is important because it is the first tiebreaker. Point differential is the difference between the number of points you scored versus the number of points scored against you.

I thought I was ready. The operative word was "thought." After eight games, I was 0-8 and my cumulative point differential was minus 1,749. The competition was much tougher than at Tri-State Scrabble Club. My time-management problem added to my terrible play. In seven losses, I exceeded the 25-minute time limit. One of my opponents, whom I had the "pleasure" to play twice, really criticized my play while the game is in progress and was obnoxious. After the eighth game, I withdrew from the event and drove my sorry butt home.

I did not like (and do not like) to quit. However, since the event was a round robin, I had to play my "favorite" opponent twice. If the event had used the Swiss format, meaning people with similar scores playing, I might have played all my games.

I'm planning to participate in rated Scrabble events. I will prepare, and I know how to handle obnoxious opponents.

Highlights: In game seven, I played "gliders" to score my first tournament bingo….Several of my opponents gave me pointers after the games…I purchased the "OWL" (Official Tournament and Club World List, which is only sold to the National Scrabble Association members)..I saw some games involving the higher-rated players and was amazed how quickly they played and how many bingos were put on the board…The hotel was also the venue of the 1,000-plus-player National Junior High School Chess Tournament held in the mid-1990s. I was one of the chief tournament directors.

More Scrabble-related bits: Moe has again dominated in Scrabble games played prior to bowling on Friday nights. However, the season is long and the balance of power can change. So, watch out Moe!

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