Advanced Scrabble Techniques

So you think you are ready to take your Scrabble game to the next level? You are considering membership in a Scrabble club, or entering a local tournament? How do you know if you are ready? You may be the family champion, having mastered the basics, but will your reputation hold up in the competitive arena?

Scrabble experts each have their own styles and opinions about what makes a champion, and this article covers four skills all agree are necessary to survive the cut.

The first advanced skill appearing on every expert’s list is rack management. A play is good if it considers first, the points earned, and second, the leave. To play competitively, one must keep a balanced rack. While there is an element of luck in any draw, a player of skill knows when to sacrifice a higher point value for a better leave. In general, one should try to play longer words, in order to keep tile turn-over high, increasing the chance of getting the best letter combinations for bingos. Consonants and vowels should be kept in balance in order to avoid difficult scenarios. Tile tracking is one way players may decide between two good plays. If you know there are still several Os in play, you may opt to keep that I instead. And even after following the guidelines for the best rack management, an expert knows when to trade in tiles.

Second on the list is a player’s relationship with two special tiles: the blank and the S. Everything Scrabble authors, Joe Edley and John D. Williams, suggest players remember that “Blanks are for Bingos and S is for Scoring.” Although almost worthless at face value, these two tiles are in reality the most valuable tiles you can draw. Nothing is better than a blank for building a bingo. Good players use their blanks and high point tiles to lead them to bingos. (If you can’t find a bingo, but have a play that scores at least 20-30 points higher, only then should you play your blank.) As the saying goes, S is for scoring. It pluralizes most nouns, singularizes most verbs, and is invaluable as a letter to add in front of other words, all of which makes the S the best hook in the bag.

The third necessary skill mentioned by experts is vocabulary building. There are a number of ways to do this, from mnemonics, to wacky definitions, to memorizing anagram clusters. After the two letter word list, experts advise taking on the 3 letter words, emphasizing the words created with front and back extensions from the twos. Computers have been used to compile lists of words most likely to occur given the letter frequency in the game, and some players have memorized these lists to their benefit. Other bingo-hungry players memorize the 7-8 letter words, although some criticize this practice since the opportunities to use these words are so limited. Still others focus on words containing high-value tiles, or difficult letter combinations. The best advice when it comes to vocabulary building is to let your natural curiosity guide you, and learn words in small sets that you can master well enough to recognize when you can or cannot anagram a certain combination.

One final note that every Scrabble expert will point out involves using challenges and phony words appropriately. This may have never been a big deal when playing with friends and family, but in the competitive arena a game can hinge on this skill. First of all, get to know your opponent. Some players will put down a phony right at the beginning of the game just to see if you challenge it! There are some good reasons you may even want to play a phony, although you should never risk a win for it. This is a skill that requires good judgment, finesse, and style, and maybe even a poker face!

Working on these skills will certainly improve your game. If these suggestions are old news to you, maybe you are already prepared for the Scrabble circuit. Go ahead, sign up for a match. There is no better practice than the real thing.

Copyright (c) 2006 Emma Snow