Lets play scrabble
August 20, 2012 1:44 AM   Subscribe

I'm pretty good at Scrabble. I'd like to get even better and maybe play in tournaments. What does it take to get to this level? And how can I tell whether I have what it takes? Is there any chance of making a part-time income from this or would it just be for the love of Scrabble?

I play words with friends and wordfeud obsessively on my phone and I pretty much always win (over 99% of the time) against everyone I play - I know that sounds like I'm bragging and I totally suck at a lot of stuff, like chess, I just happen to have a bit of a talent for scrabble. But I don't know whether this means I'm good or that I just am not playing the right people to give me a challenge.

I also love to analyse games. I'll write down the letters that I have and likely places on the board, and after the game I'll plug these into word finders to see if I could have done better. I would never cheat while playing, though.

Is there much point in going further with scrabble? I live in an area without any kind of professional scrabble association and although I did actually try to start one, it was an exercise in frustration because no one wanted to play by the rules. I'd have to travel somewhere in order to play in a tournament. I'd like to know whether this would be worth it and what to expect. If you have any experience with this kind of thing I'd love to hear about it.

Also if any mefites want to play I would love that - email me at mefiscrabble@gmail.com or post your scrabble name here and say whether you play wordfeud or words with friends (I won't post my scrabble name here because too many IRL friends know it and I don't want to link it to my mefi account). But maybe this thread could also be a focal point for mefi scrabble matchups for anyone who's interested?
posted by hazyjane to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: And yes I've seen the epic Scrabble thread. This question is more about tournaments. I know the two-letter words and have a book called Everything Scrabble that I study from already. The epic Scrabble thread helped a lot, too.
posted by hazyjane at 1:50 AM on August 20, 2012

Best answer: I play wordswithfriends.net. It's a tournament with every level of player. I'm "justtaffy" if you'd like to play me through the Tourney or just as a known opponent.

I'm a bit shite, but I play it a lot. And I'm always hanging to find people to give me a sound drubbing. I'll play anyone.

Here is a linky link.
posted by taff at 2:05 AM on August 20, 2012

Response by poster: Oh man, how did I not know about those tournaments? Looks perfect for me, i'll definitely join after the exams I'm currently procrastinating studying for, thank you!
posted by hazyjane at 2:14 AM on August 20, 2012

Not to encourage your procrastination, but you should get hold of Stefan Fatsis's "Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players," in which the author rises from kitchen table wins to nationally ranked Scrabble expert. (It's about a lot more, of course, and is a fascinating, fun read.)
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:39 AM on August 20, 2012 [6 favorites]

Word Wars streams on Netflix and is about tournament Scrabble.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 4:33 AM on August 20, 2012

Lexicon Valley did an episode on language and Scrabble, and it had an interview with Stefan Fatsis, among other things: The meaning of Scrabble
posted by monocultured at 6:17 AM on August 20, 2012

Before the age of Words With Friends and Scrabulous, there was the Internet Scrabble Club. This place used to be crawling with competitive Scrabble players (Word Wars-level). Who knows if it still is? Worth a try. Playing here will make you really good, really quickly.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 8:37 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm an expert-rated tournament Scrabble player, so I can hopefully give you some experience. Feel free to send me a message too.

It really depends on what level you want to get to. I've spent the last 7 or so years studying nearly every day, between 1/2-1 hour. If you want to get to the point where you're competitive in the big tournaments (like BAT, NSC), you're going to need to know the 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s, a good chunk of the 6s, and at least the top 10,000 7s and 8s. Doing this will let you hang with the big dogs, but you're still not going to be a favorite.

Word knowledge is obviously critical, but there is a strategic element. If I'm playing a computer program that simply chooses the highest-scoring play, I'm going to win at least 60% of the time.

ISC (thanks Miss T.Horn) is still very much alive and active.

The best - the very best - players in Scrabble have made over 100,000$. Your average expert probably will finish lifetime in the 10,000$ range. Don't forget, though, that that doesn't include airfare, tournament entry, hotels, and such. So unless your name is Nigel Richards, you're not going to make a lot, if any, money at the game.

Outside of the money, though, it's a fun, intensely strange, and aesthetically-pleasing hobby for people of a certain bent.
posted by iftheaccidentwill at 8:59 AM on August 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

Both the Work Freak book and the Word Wars movie give really good insight into the world of professional Scrabble, and what it takes to compete at that level. One thing I walked away with, though, is that you can be exceptionally good at Scrabble and ranked world class and still not win, because of the luck of the draw. It's one of those games where being exceptionally good at the skills required to compete will definitely help you, but they may not be enough to guarantee consistent enough wins to make decent money at it. You'll find that people often play at that level because they are compelled to do so based on the nature of the game, and not because it provides a financially glamorous lifestyle.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:23 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm an expert-rated tournament Scrabble player

I still think you shoulda played more tourneys outside of MB.

OP, I recommend sandbagging your first tourney. As a first-time tourney player, you could always push to be slotted into a higher-level division, but I always recommend playing in the bottom division the first time around. You'll get a sense of how tournaments work and you'll probably walk away with some money.

As a player in the bottom division, you don't need to learn everything that iftheaccidentwill suggests. You do need to know all the 2s off the top of your head, and most of the 3s. Learn the useful 4s and 5s first -- those with a lot of vowels or containing power tiles. Learn the top ten bingo stems; in the bottom division you won't really need to know more than those.

As you progress in the game, you can add to your knowledge.

Work on your strategy. Know when to close down the board and when to open it up. Understand your rack management; when to divest yourself of tiles. Try to use up the tiles that are unlikely to give you a bingo, but simultaneously use them to get you a good score.

I never recommend ISC or any other online Scrabble game or system, simply because everyone cheats. You might as well be playing against a computer. And the computer will play faster, so you can play more games.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 11:41 AM on August 20, 2012

ten pounds: OP wasn't asking about being a beginner, was s/he? It's pretty clear s/he doesn't simply want to play, but to possibly "[make]a part-time income ".

And I think you're just being an ass, but what's with the comment about MB? 7/11 tournaments have been outside of MB. Your comment has nothing to do with OP's question.

Everything I said stands if you want to be a good player. Also, it's completely ridiculous to claim that everyone cheats on ISC. That's entirely false.
posted by iftheaccidentwill at 12:30 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

A side note, and I'm sure you know this, but Words With Friends creates all kinds of bad habits that could create problems for you if you want to play Scrabble with people in person. Most significantly, the dictionary on WWF is bizarre and lets through all kinds of words that are not in the Scrabble dictionary (including 2-letter words that are not valid Scrabble words). Plus, it changes the experience of playing the game when the game rejects your play if it isn't in the dictionary, rather than you having to gamble on something that you're pretty-sure-but-not-certain is a word.

I play WWF all the time and hardly ever play Scrabble, but my guess would be that if you want to get serious at playing Scrabble, continuing to play WWF might actually make it harder for you to progress because the games are so similar and yet aren't actually the same.
posted by jessypie at 12:43 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Gotta start somewhere. Nobody's going to make a part-time income in tourneys from square one. Whether she's asking about being a beginner is orthoganal to the fact that she is one.

And unclench, guy. I thought you were the other Manitoba expert, mea culpa.

And I agree 100% with jessypie. Quit playing non-Scrabble Scrabble-style games.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 12:46 PM on August 20, 2012

One addition: ten pounds is correct on playing in a lower division. Once you reach more competitive divisions it's going to be increasingly hard to cash, so take what you can get while you're able. Club play is also helpful, though that doesn't sound like an option for you. Playing with a clock, tracking tiles, and thinking through an end-game are all necessary skills.
posted by iftheaccidentwill at 12:47 PM on August 20, 2012

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