Noel's Scrabble Tips

New players

Most peopleís experience of Scrabble is - sadly - restricted to playing with the family at Christmas-time.

The worst possible time!

Grandma turns up late for Christmas lunch, the turkey is burnt, everyone is tired and irritable, and Auntie Mabel will insist on scouring the largest dictionary in the house before, finally, after 20 minutes, coming out with her move, ARISTAE, say, around the second A. She proudly announces the score to be 7, no - 8 (mustn't forget that double-letter square) points. You darenít ask what the word means for fear she will pick-up the dictionary again. Hoping to get things over with as quickly as possible, you take the most tiles you can - always the more the better - and throw down a similarly low-scoring collection of letters.

A not unreasonable thing to do in the circumstances!

You won't be surprised to learn that most Club players would feel like turning the board over in just as much disgust, at Auntie Mabelís antics, and not just because competitive games are expected to be over in around 50 minutes. Rather, Auntie Mabel clearly has no idea what the object of the game actually is!

Scrabble is not a race to see which player can get rid of the most tiles first. The tiles have scores on them, and the object of the game, is - rather obviously - to outscore your opponent. It might seem that the more tiles you play, the higher your score will be, but it will very rarely be a good tactic over the whole game.

I wonder, for example, what Auntie Mabel's 7th tile was? She had AEIRST. If she had looked in "Chambers' Twentieth Century Dictionary" (the accepted Bible for Club Scrabble players in the UK) she could have found 7-letter words with the A, with the B (BAITERS), the C (RACIEST), the D (TIRADES, to name just one), indeed with any letter apart from the J, the Q, the U, the X, the Y and the Z. In fact, it would have been a pretty good bet that she had the opportunity to play off all her letters, so getting a 50-point bonus and guaranteeing herself the chance to be insufferable right up to New Year. Even when the word won't go on the board, there are few competitive players who can resist the desire to "fish" - to play off the one awkward letter and have another try.

No. Scoring, or preventing your opponent from scoring (which is why the game works best in its 2-player form) is what the game is really all about. And whether you play 1 tile or 7, knowing more words than the other player will count for nothing, if you don't have some idea of why one word might be preferred over another.

The first skill that Auntie Mabel needs to acquire, though, is that of spotting high-scoring moves. The beginner's game which follows is intended to introduce the new, or almost new player, to a number of different types of move which will normally yield a good score. Established players, who feel happy that they already understand these things might wish to jump ahead to the Advanced section.

New players

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J.W. Spear & Sons Ltd., Maidenhead SL6 4UB