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April 8, 2011 1:59 AM   Subscribe

What's the best bang for my buck when it comes to improving my Scrabble game in a very limited time period?

I used to be a very obsessive Scrabble player. I didn't consider it a real game if I didn't break 400 and get multiple bingos. I haven't played for over a year, for various reasons, but have just been challenged to a game by a new friend who I think is as obsessive as I used to be.

I want to be a worthy opponent.

The game is in five days. Let's assume I can devote two hours a day between now and then to getting my skills back up to scratch. What's the best use of my time?

I already know all the two letter words, and most of the three letter ones (I used to know them all). I know all the q words that don't use a u. I know the top 20 most frequent seven letter words.

Am I going to improve most by spending those two hours a day actually playing games? (probably against a robot, because I'm not on Facebook and don't wish to be). Or should I learn as many more lists as I can? (Hooks? Words with j, z, q, etc?) Playing texttwist or related anagram games? A combination of these things?

If you recommend lists, tell me which ones and bear in mind that they've got to be realistic to memorise in such a short timeframe.

Incidentally, if anyone has a recommendation for an online site to practise at, that would be great. It needs to use SOWPODS, and have a decent robot. I am too shy to interact with real people.

I don't need general tips for improving my game. I've read just about every strategy book and website there is.
posted by lollusc to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
There are scrabble cheat sites that allow you to input the letters you have, the letter you want to cross on the board, and any wild cards, and will then list all possible words and their point values. People who use these sites in real online games are evil, but when playing against a robot it can be a way to see new, unusual words and letter combinations you won't have thought of before.

Also, if you have a smartphone, Words with Friends is a great way to play tons of games. Yes, it is with real, random people, but the only interaction is putting words on the board.
posted by cilantro at 2:21 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Note that Words With Friends has a different board layout, different scoring (bingos are 35 not 50), and different letter scores. I think the letter distribution is the same though.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:27 AM on April 8, 2011

Response by poster: I don't have a smartphone, unfortunately.
posted by lollusc at 2:28 AM on April 8, 2011

Best answer: Play games against Quackle and use the Game Report feature to see where your plays differ from Quackle's top options to identify leaks in your game.
posted by 0xFCAF at 3:35 AM on April 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a bit of a scrabble nut myself (I only wish I had more time to devote to it). What I would do in your shoes is to split my time between:

1. Using zyzzyva (a free program) to practice fast anagramming of common letter combinations (to learn common bingos as well as some of the high-point ones).

2. Playing with an actual time limit (remembering to keep score myself, assuming your game with your friend will involve keeping score and the time suck it entails).

Given that you already know all of the 2-letter and many of the 3-letter words, I think this will maximise your improvement in a short time. You'll quickly remind yourself of a lot of the low-lying-fruit bingos, but also get back in the swing of the strategies and time pressure of actual games.

Good luck. :)
posted by forza at 3:41 AM on April 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Memorize bingos that are uncommon words but come from high-probability racks (TRIENES, DELAINE, AROINTS). Here's a good list: just remember that the words marked with a # are valid only in the UK, and those with a $ are valid only in the US.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 4:43 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, Ralston: I have the top 20 of those already memorised (and yes, we play SOWPODS, so it's the # ones). Do you think it would be worthwhile to use some of my time to learn more of those? The frequency drop-off is pretty sharp, so I'm unsure about it.

0xFCAF and Forza, those suggestions are awesome, thank you! Exactly the sort of thing I'm looking for, especially Quackle!
posted by lollusc at 5:52 AM on April 8, 2011

As a competitive Scrabble player myself, I'll second the recommendations for Zyzzyva and Quackle, particularly Zyzzyva. Both are SOWPODS compatible, and both are free.

Zyzzyva acts like a flash card set, showing you the stuff you miss more often than the stuff you get right. As time goes by, you get more of the wrong stuff right, and you need less brushing up. That way, you can add new words and start to learn them, too.

Speaking of which, I've got a tournament starting today. I should study! LOL
posted by skitchen at 7:22 AM on April 8, 2011

Best answer: I have had some decent luck with reading lists of animonics. If your brain works that way you might find it useful too.
posted by jessamyn at 8:34 AM on April 8, 2011

The top Scrabble players in the world (along with mere mortals) play online at the Internet Scrabble Club. Robots are available and I'm pretty sure you can specify SOWPODS.
posted by Wordwoman at 10:04 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have you seen this 5-minute Ignite Talk about how to fight dirty in scrabble?
posted by moons in june at 11:32 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

A professor of mine published a three-minute Scrabble tip a while ago. It is surprisingly handy.
posted by tellumo at 1:22 PM on April 8, 2011

Do you think it would be worthwhile to use some of my time to learn more of those?

Well, I find myself using a lot of these in games, or I do when I'm not as rusty as I am now, but I'm not sure which ones the top 20 are, so maybe the ones I've been using are mainly those! (I play with the US dictionary.)
posted by Ralston McTodd at 2:56 PM on April 8, 2011

If you were studying to be a good tournament player, where you wanted consistancy, then you would be practicing a variety of tactics to make sure that the likely delta between your and your opponent's score was as high as possible, or, as you've read most strategy books, you would be looking to actualize the difference between a 1300 rated player and a 1600+ rated player.

However, this is a one off game.

Will you be referring to the SOWPODS dictionary? Are you playing under tournament rules? (i.e. are there challenges which result in the loser of the challenge losing their turn?). Is there a timer, like SAMtimer? How long is the game? Will you be using tile tracking sheets for scoring? Will there be people watching? Kibbitzing? Is talking allowed? Drawing from above the head? Is your opponent nervous? Do they like closed or open games?

All important. You can identify weaknesses in yourself from the above list and work on them; if you can identify weaknesses in your opponent, you should capitalize on them.

I would split: Practice playing the game under the conditions you will be playing, and studying on quackle, playing on isc.ro etc.

Be careful w/too much computer play. I think my obsessive computer play (I have played more than 14,000 3-4 minute games over the last 8 years) has buggered my real-world play: there's something about a real 3d embodied board+ having to place tiles and score yourself vs a 2d autoscoring board on a screen.

Actually practice putting down the tiles, actually practice real rack shuffling so you can spot words. Practice rack balance....track tiles and work on not digging yourself into a hole. Learn some obscure phonies and some obscure words and if you feel ballsy, slap 'em down.

Good luck! Crush this person into lexical dust.

twitches, off to isc.ro, ohh baby it's good to be back
posted by lalochezia at 3:58 PM on April 8, 2011

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