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Possessing the Initiative
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Tile-Tracking
Defensive Play
The Endgame

Tips for More Advanced Players
- The Endgame

The latter part of the previous section has, essentially, focussed on an example of the "Endgame", a concept which exists in Scrabble, just as it exists in chess. The endgame can be as worthy of such a lengthy discussion in itself, as the whole of the rest of the game put together. It is best, perhaps, learned by experience, much of which will, inevitably, be bad! There is no part of your game that can better benefit from self-criticism, once a game is over. If you did not win through the endgame, then why didn’t you? What else could you have done? An example would only be as good as the situation presented. Many examples would still not cover everything there is to learn. For the sake of brevity in what, after all, is supposed to be a fairly broadly-painted document, I will restrict myself to outlining some of the most general aims.

Two aspects rule over the endgame. The first is that the first player to clear his/her rack will both be making the last scoring move of the game, and be benefiting from the final rack adjustments, subtracting the total score of the tiles on the other player’s rack from that player’s final score, and adding it to his/her own score. This may mean that it might not be an unreasonable hope that the player who is trailing by some 20 to 30 points, after their opponent’s move, could make-up the difference in one, final push. The second is that both players, if they have been tile-tracking, will have a good idea of what the other has on his/her rack.

Given enough time, then, most endgames will have a best solution, whether it results in a win, or simply in not losing by a greater margin than necessary. Unfortunately, you will seldom have the luxury of spending a great deal of time on the endgame. Unless the rest of your game has gone extraordinarily easily, you will normally have no more than 5 minutes or so to consider your options. In such a case, then, it is probably fair to say that you will be unable to do more than instinctively apply the broadest principles.

Given that your objective, when approaching the endgame, is to be the player who goes out first (there will rarely be any other solution which gives you a better result), you have two alternative courses, as the letters in the bag dry up. Either you can aim to be the player who leaves the last tile in the bag, for the other to pick-up, or you can aim to clear as many letters from your rack as possible, so that what you have left, plus the tiles in the bag, which you are about to pick-up, amount to such a small word (say, no more than 4 letters), that you can reasonably hope to be able to play it out on the next move. The choice is up to you. The latter option involves more unknowns, but holding, unquestioningly, to the former option may be severely restricting your score on the moves leading up to the endgame. The decision will be influenced by the tightness of the board (are you likely to be able to play your last tiles onto it, even if they do make a word?), and by the letters which your tile-tracking suggests are likely to be in the bag (will they, taken together with what you are holding back, be likely to make a word?). Generally, on a tight board, it might be better to try to arrange to leave your opponent the last tile. On an open board, the decision about whether or not to leave your opponent the last tile will be based on whether or not the tiles which you cannot account for, look likely to make a bonus-word, allowing your opponent to clear his rack in one go. Making him pick-up that last tile, will ensure that you get one more turn. You will have to measure the risk against the difference in the scores, just as you did at the end of the example in the previous section on Defensive Play.

Note that, from the point-of-view of your opponent in the last section, leaving you the last tile in the bag was very important. If his last opening had involved his playing 3 tiles, so that he cleared the bag, you would have known whether or not he had the V, and you would have been able to make much more certain calculations about the consequences of any of your moves. The point in leaving the last tile in the bag, is as much about increasing your opponent’s uncertainty, as it is about ensuring that you will get one more move, even if your opponent plays a bonus.

Generally, once the threat of bonus-plays has been discounted from the endgame situation with which you are faced, your objective will be to clear your rack in two moves, whilst, at the same time, trying to prevent your opponent from doing so, before you. This is where knowing your opponent’s tiles becomes most important. If you have the time, you must try to anticipate what your opponent will be trying to do. If you can prevent one of his moves, whilst, at the same time, playing one of your own, then you will usually be doing yourself a big favour. Is one of your opponent’s moves the only way in which he can get rid of a particularly difficult tile? Usually the options for playing the Q, in particular, but also, just as often the C and the V, say, will be very restricted. If you can be absolutely certain that he can only play the difficult tile in one place, it is almost always the right move to block that play before doing anything-else. Conversely, if you are the one with the difficult tile, then play it, in the first of your moves, while you still can, if you still can. Ideally, if you have found two moves which will clear your rack, and you have the luxury of being able to ignore your opponent’s plays, then try to leave yourself more than one option for the second move. That way, if your opponent can see what you are up to, he will not be able to stop you.

Perhaps you can see no way of preventing your opponent from being the one who goes out first, and you are reduced to finding the best single move with as many of your letters as possible. If there is no overriding reason why you should play in a particular place, to stop an especially good score for your opponent, then, when assessing your best move, don't forget to make the adjustments for the tiles that you will have left on your rack, at the end, and include them in your calculations. Usually it is best to look for a play which gets your highest scoring tiles off your rack, and onto the board. There is no point, for example, in getting rid of 6 letters, leaving a four-point H on the rack, if you could have rid yourself of 5 letters, including the H, leaving 2 one-point tiles on your rack, unless, of course the difference in the scores of the 2 moves swings the argument the other way.

More often than not, of course, especially if you are under time-pressure, things will happen which you do not anticipate. All other things being equal, if you are planning to go out in two moves, and your opponent does not appear to be able to stop you, the wise player will still play the move that has the highest-scoring tiles in it, first, just to be sure of not being caught with them.

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