Noel's Scrabble Tips

New Players

Noel's Tips
Rack Management
Learning Words
Tile Turnover
Changing Tiles

Possessing the Initiative
Triple-Word Squares
Defensive Play
The Endgame

Tips for More Advanced Players
- Changing Tiles

On occasions, the difficulties within your rack become impossible to resolve whilst playing tiles onto the board, and the option presents itself, for a change of tiles. In high-score Scrabble, this option is limited to three changes during the game. Such a rule is necessary, to prevent players from simply changing until their rack produces a bonus. In Matchplay Scrabble, a change has obvious attendant disadvantages. You will not score at all, and will be leaving your opponent a free opportunity to push forward his score. Just as with every other aspect of the game, it is possible to offer advice, but nothing is ever cast in stone. Situations which might suggest a change of tiles are:

  1. You have 6 or 7 vowels on your rack.

  2. You have 7 consonants on your rack.

  3. The board is very difficult for you to get your tiles onto, and you cannot see yourself getting a score, without, possibly giving your opponent an even better one. Remember to recognise that a board onto which you cannot get your tiles is just as likely to be giving your opponent the same problems. Do not allow yourself to be bullied into making an opening, when it can only be to the benefit of your opponent. Changing your tiles to improve them, so that you are better ready to exploit an opening that your opponent might make is, possibly, in this sort of situation, a much better option.

  4. Your opponent passes on the first move. Just as in 3), your opponent is expecting you to make him an opening. Perhaps he has worked out that he can get an 8-letter word around practically any vowel you are likely to play. He knows your word is likely to contain a vowel. Again, do not allow yourself to be bullied. You are being given an opportunity to improve your rack, without losing ground. Take it.

Of course these rules are mere guidelines. In 1), for example, you might be able to find a harmless place to play the wonderfully useful EUOI, for a useful score, and without offering your opponent any careless scoring opportunities. Similarly, in 2), you will be rather less likely to, but you might find yourself able to play a word like CRWTH, always assuming you have learned it! But there is a greater chance, with consonants, of disposing of a large number of them, around a loose vowel, and making a score in the process. You must always be ready to weigh-up the possibilities of putting off the change, in the hope of things improving on their own, against the likelihood that you are going to continue to be hampered by problems.

Once you have decided to change, what should you change? I have squirmed when looking over a shoulder and seeing a player with a rack of consonants, put only three or four of them face-down on the table to be changed. When asked why, the reply has come back, "Oh, I donít want to end up with a rack of vowels!"

In terms of rack management the same rules apply to a change, that apply to choosing what to play in any ordinary move. Only more so, because, having decided that a change is necessary, you can afford to go for it, uncompromisingly. You have no need to base your decision about what is to go back in the bag, on any factors other than the desirability of keeping what is left, on the rack. You do not have to worry about whether or not the letters which you are getting rid of make a word, or a score. Your sole criteria must be to get a sight of as many new tiles as possible, in the hope of picking up "goodies". The only letters worth keeping back are the "goodies" themselves, i.e. any blanks, Sís, the 4 high-scoring tiles, or, if you have the nucleus of a bonus-group, then the letters that make-up that group. Anything else should be ruthlessly disposed of. All things being equal, this is a time for maximum turn-over. Perhaps the main exception comes when you are sitting on a rack like AEEQRST, and there is nowhere on the board to dump the Q. You might, then, choose to hold back 6 tiles, and change the Q. Beware, though! Alarm-bells will be ringing - loudly - inside your opponentís head. Only do such a thing if you are happy that there are enough openings for your bonus-word. If not, then you are not likely to getaway with the ploy.

Possessing the Initiative