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
- Playing Near Triple-Word Squares

One sense in which you might be said to have the initiative, is if you are forcing your opponent to react to the move that you have just played, instead of affording them the luxury of being able to do just what they want. Such moves might be aimed at forcing your opponent to make more compromises in rack management, and disrupt their building-up of bonus words. To be able to exploit such possibilities you must be able to properly assess the risks involved in making a particular move. This is, perhaps, best illustrated in the appraisal of plays near the Triple-Word-Score squares.

When, in the Rack Management Section, you were happily sitting on FAIREST, but could not get the bonus on the board because of a need to end the word with an S, it was suggested that you should be able to play IF for a good score, leaving the extremely powerful AERST on the rack, with a very good prospect of making another bonus-word. The luxury of being able to carry out this neat plan was based on the assumption that your opponent was offering no threat in return. Suppose, though, that your opponent is being not nearly so co-operative. Suppose, instead, that he/she opens up a triple-word-score, with all its attendant threats. Now what do you do?

Board 1.

FAIREST will still not go down, and there are no eight-letter words around the T or the A. Most players operate an undiscriminating policy of always taking off triple-word-scores, whenever they come up. But, if this strategy is to be followed, unquestioningly, then you have a serious problem. You need to use 3 tiles to reach the corner, and you really want to be rid of the F. Three words exist which could be considered, but none of them are everyday words, so that the problem set by your opponent could cause you real difficulties if you have any holes in your word-power. The words are TERF, TIFT and TREF.

Let us assume, for argumentís sake, that you know these words. Two of them require you to use your E, leaving a rack of AIST, with no real guarantees that you are likely to be anywhere near a bonus, again. The third word, TIFT, leaves AERS, which, happily, is one of the 10 four-letter sets mentioned earlier, so that you just, might, have the chance of recovering the bonus potential of your rack. Whatever you choose to do, though, unless you ignore the threat, you are going to be forced to make more of a compromise than you would have wanted to make, because your opponent has made an effort to seize the initiative.

But, unless your opponent was psychic, and knew what your predicament was going to be, did it make sense for him to make such a move? What factors had he to take into account before being so bold?

The first fear usually raised about opening up triple-word-scores, is that of the triple-triple. More often than not this fear is irrational, and the player who gives into it will unduly cramp his own style, game after game. Even when things are going well, a player is only likely to have a bonus on his/her rack on 1 move in 3 or 4. Still rarer will be the times that there happens to be an 8-letter word through the letter that has just been put out. In this case, your opponent would have been extremely unlucky if you had had a word that just happened to need the extra letter in just the place he had given you, for the triple-triple to come off.

Your opponent, in this case, will have asked himself whether or not the blanks have been played, and whether or not the letter he is putting on the top line appears very commonly in eight-letter words, in just that position. For example, an E placed third letter from the end of a potential word would fit nicely with common endings like -ERS or -IEST. An I placed fourth from the end would suit endings like -IEST and -INGS. Otherwise, the odds may be well in his favour.

The second fear is that of giving away a large score. This again, is often overrated. Given that you will usually find a score of between 20 and 30 points somewhere on the board, the T that has just been placed near the Triple-Word-Score in this example is only likely to give away a higher score if you can get a high-scoring tile onto it. The Q, or the J, from the Triple-Word-Score to the left (H1) is a threat, as is the Z to the right, in a word like TREZ. A word placed to the right is not likely to end in an X, and a word like TAXI will, probably, give away just as many points on the Double-Word-Score just below where the X would be. Generally, depending on which, if any, of these letters have been played already, the chances of you making a good score in this position might be slim, and your opponent might, rightly, consider the risk to be worth taking, since the worst case may still be only 10 or so points above the average score which you might make, anyway.

The reason why this particular example is so much in favour of the player trying to arrest the initiative, is that the Double-Letter-Score between the Triple-Word-Scores, has been covered, with a low-scoring tile. Obviously, there would be a far greater chance of your opponent giving you a gift if the position created is more like that in the following example.

Board 2.

Here the threat of the much-feared triple-triple is, if anything, reduced, but the score being given away will usually be gratefully accepted since, even a 4-point tile placed on the Double-Letter-Score will probably yield a score of 33-plus points.

Board 3.

On the other hand, a play like this one is much less likely to be to your liking, since there are few high-scoring tiles which will go in front of a T to make a good score.

Try to think of the consonants as "hard" and "soft", where "hard" consonants, usually high-scoring, like the F, are often seen in front of "soft" consonants such as the L and the R. If the "soft" R replaces the hard T at M1 in the above example, then your opponent would, once again, be asking for trouble.

This kind of approach to the playing of letters near Triple-Word-Scores is an example of risk assessment. It means that, instead of responding with a knee-jerk reaction, every time your opponent plays near a Triple-Word-Score, you should weigh up the pros and the cons, and assess the real danger. A sensible appraisal of the situation in Board 1, above, might well suggest to you, with FAIREST on your rack, that there is no real threat at all. Your opponent would then have failed in his attempt to seize the initiative. The reason why it is still worth trying to persist in such attempts, is that so few players seem to stop to properly think about what is really threatened. Most will simply panic, especially if a player that they perceive as better, is the one who is opening-up the threat. Such an appraisal of their ability when gauged against that of their opponents, then becomes rather self-fulfilling, precisely because they panicked.