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
- Defensive Play

Board 1.

Your Rack: CEINOSV

Consider the following board. It is your turn. You are 48 points ahead, and your opponent has just played LAD/LIN and opened up the Triple-Word-Score in the top right-hand-corner. What do you do next?

There is nowhere to play the bonus-word NOVICES, and there are no eight-letter words using the floating letters. Frustration creeps in, because you had found the word already, and had half-hoped that your careless opponent would make you an opening, so that it would go down. Just one more bonus, a 120-point lead, and you felt sure you had him! Your first instinct is to get him next time. Just one little gamble and the game might still be yours. Perhaps you should get rid of the C and the O, onto the D heís just given you, making COD. You begin to justify the move on the grounds that it will take off that dangerous Triple-Word-Score, and, well, EINSV is quite a nice set to leave on the rack. Just pick-up something nice (youíre not sure quite what), and you might have a bonus-word ending in an E to go on the front of that WE on the left, or perhaps it will be a noun, and will make an eight-letter word ending in the blank "s", of PAsTRIES? Or perhaps heíll do the work for you, and make you an opening? The more you think about it, the more it seems like a really good move. What can go wrong?

A little look at your tile-tracking sheet might tell you. Two-thirds of the way through the game, and what is there left? A blank, two Sís, a nice sprinkling of vowels, including Eís and 1-point consonants. Heís only been playing off one or two letters for the last two or three moves. That HI in the bottom corner. That X, across and down, on the Triple-Letter-Score which youíre still kicking yourself that you left for him. Still, you got him back with that QI, both ways. But why has he just let you in for the Triple-Word-Score? Is he sitting on the J, U and Y he needs for JUDY and 57 points? Or is he bluffing? Could he just be trying to keep you from cutting off all the options he has for that bonus heís been carefully assembling? His behaviour now seems to suggest that itís odds on heís got that last blank? What do you get for COD? 18 points. That makes a lead of just 66 points. And he will probably get more than that if he suddenly comes out with a bonus, himself, finishing with an E on WE, or on that same "s", in PAsTRIES. Precisely the places youíd been eying up for yourself. And then where will that hoped-for bonus go, the one you are looking to get by keeping back VINES? Will you be ready to protest (hopefully to yourself!) that you were just unlucky, and you could have had him - "it just wasnít your day!"? Or will you really admit to yourself that you had had all the clues, you had seen it coming, and you just hadnít the courage to believe you could still win by banking on that 48-point lead? Such decisions are there to be made all the time in Scrabble, and it can be how you deal with them, and with how much confidence you press home the strategy you finally decide upon, as well as what you learn from them, when things go wrong, which, as much as any difference in vocabulary, separates the good players from the average. I believe that the right solution to this particular problem (which, after all, I set, with a particular purpose in mind!) is to defend against the bonus, and forget the Triple-Word-Score, and even the rather dubious prospect of the bonus you might get for yourself. 48 points is, after all, 48 points, and, unless your opponent gets a bonus-play onto the board, he will probably not catch you. So those places that you felt were the ones where you were most hoping to get your bonus, now become the places where you must assume that it is most likely he will be looking to play his. Consider now, for example, the option of playing NOVICE onto the WE on the left. This scores 25 points, which puts you 73 points in front. It takes off the opening on WE, and makes it much more difficult to play on the blank s in PAsTRIES. If the bonus is his real threat, then he can still start with an S on LOCH, he can possibly get a more difficult eight-letter word through the P, A, and the blank s of PAsTRIES. He can start with the D or the O of UNDO, or the A of RAIL, but these will all be much more difficult plays for him, than the ones you have removed. Then again, if he really is only threatening to play JUDY in the top right-hand corner, then you will still be in front. And, if that turns out to be all that he had in mind, then the blank and the other Sís may still be in the bag. The more letters you play, the more chances you have of getting to them first. Then again, if he really has the bonus, it follows that he probably doesnít have the J, and you might be giving yourself an extra chance of picking that up, instead. Now that sort of thinking really is a plan!

Whatever happens, if he somehow fits in the bonus, then either the Triple-Word-Score at O1 or that which you are now opening up at A1 will be available for you to score on, next move, thus ensuring that you keep your lead. (Note that the C, in NOVICE stops any worries about the Triple-Word-Score at A8.) And you still have that S! So you are probably picking the strategy (defence against his bonus) which is most likely to keep you in front, and give you further opportunities to stay there.

You play NOVICE for 25 points, whilst he replies by playing OE at N9, for just 7 points. Your lead, after his move, has extended to 66 points, and you have picked up the rack shown below.

Board 2.

Your Rack: GILNRSY

You feel a great sense of relief, and satisfaction; he has given himself away. Obviously he doesnít have JUDY, and he is chasing a bonus-play. You have cut-off two of his options, so he has had to open up another. And, as so often happens when one player is forced to make openings, he has sacrificed points to do so, and you have been able to pull further ahead. What now?

He has only played 2 tiles. If he didnít have the J, before, then he probably still doesnít have it. You can forget the threat from the Triple-Word-Score in the top right-hand corner. Meanwhile, he has made a very dangerous opening, which should allow him to play virtually any bonus onto the DO, especially if he has the blank. You must continue with your strategy, and block his new opening. Remember that the J is probably still in the bag. The more tiles you play the better the chance you have of picking it out, and, by this stage, the faster you bring about the end of the game, the sooner must your opponent find a way of pulling the rabbit out of the hat. You must play onto the DO at N10, playing as many letters as possible to the left. As well as turning over the tiles, this also has the virtue that it makes it more unlikely that he will manage to play his bonus alongside, and underneath your word. It also means that you can cut down his options even more, by making it more difficult for him to play a bonus beginning with S, onto the end of LOCH. Fulfilling all these requirements, is LYING, which plays 5 tiles, and keeps the useful RS. Perhaps there is the threat of an F or a P, or the obscure C, in front of LYING, allowing a bonus to come down from I9, but this will not be easy for him, and the bonus would not score well, and would almost certainly open up good scoring opportunities for you, on the Triple-Word-Scores at the bottom. You would, again, still have a significant lead.

More on Defensive Play