The Calgary Scrabble® Group wants new members to feel at home when they come to play at one of our events. To prepare prospective new members, we have provided this page to tell you where to go and what to expect. Though this page was intended for prospective Calgary club members, it should be useful for players in other areas as well.
New Player Introduction
The Calgary club is one of the biggest and most diverse clubs in North America. We have members from countless nationalities. The ratio of females to males is about 60:40. A large portion of our club is in their senior years, largely due to extra exposure to seniors' clubs over the years. However, we welcome players of any age, and you will find players as young as 14 years old who regularly attend the club. Our players' skill levels range from novice to seasoned expert, and about everywhere in between. Though our club could be classified as "competitive", there are also a lot of players who don't play in tournaments and just play for sheer enjoyment.
This page tells you what you need to know before coming to a club or tournament session. It also tells you where you can go if you don't feel ready to join just yet, or merely want to have an upper hand when you join.
For those looking for specific information this page has been indexed. Select one of the links below to jump to the corresponding session. For those who want an introduction to organized Scrabble®, it is recommended you read through this page top to bottom.
Introduction to Organized Scrabble®
The average reader of this page has probably playing what we call "Kitchen Scrabble®" for years, perhaps decades. This is the kind of Scrabble® played in the kitchen (hence the name) or living room, with family members or friends -- the kind played by millions of people all over the world. While this is a great way to play the game, it is kilometres away from even the mildest form of organized Scrabble®. (I am avoiding the more common term of "competitive Scrabble®" because fierce competition is not a requirement at our club.)
Word List (the OWL)
Organized Scrabble® has numerous key differences. The most important is the word list. Most people are used to using their family dictionary to adjudicate words. In organized play, however, words are strictly judged from a word list based on five major American Collegiate dictionaries. This word list is called the Official Tournament and Club Word List (1998 Edition), or TWL for short. (The acronyms OTCWL or OWL are also sometimes used.) It is available only through the National Scrabble® Association (NSA).
However, TWL's predecessor, the Official Scrabble® Players' Dictionary, 3rd Edition (OSPD3 for short) is sold in major book stores throughout North America, and contains most of the words (and some extra ones) used in organized play. The OSPD3 is missing words deemed to be offensive for use in casual or school play. In addition, the OSPD3 also has brief meanings! The word list included with the 50th Anniversary Scrabble® set is essentially the same as TWL, except root words longer than eight letters and offensive words are missing. (There are word lists available online to augment the OSPD3 and other non-official word lists. See our Word Lists page.)
As mentioned, the OWL is a word list, not a dictionary: There are no meanings, just words. It is not uncommon for a player to know thousands of words and not know their meanings. If this shocks or offends you, take comfort that most of the top experts do in fact know the meanings and use this information to their advantage. The reason most players don't learn meanings right away is because they choose to learn by quantity (a large number of words -- often organized into special groups -- in a short amount of time).
The second biggest difference between organized Scrabble® and "kitchen" play is the use of a clock to time moves. All club and tournament games are played with chess clocks. Chess clocks are simply two clocks in a single housing, with two buttons on top to change the player being timed. (Digital clocks are now very common and have largely phased out the traditional analogue chess clocks.)
Each player is given 25 minutes to complete their moves for one game. Players may divide the time as they see fit, and it is not uncommon for a player to make several quick moves in order to bank time for later. Novice players usually make more moves per game than experts, but on the average the time works out to about 2 minutes per move. If you use more than 25 minutes, you lose 10 points for each minute (or portion thereof) that you are over time. This is a significant penalty indeed!
Many players have trouble getting used to the clock. If you are one of those players who frustrates your opponents by taking ten minutes to make a move in a kitchen game, expect to lose a few games on time penalties in organized play. It usually takes about five games to get used to the clock's presence, and then a few dozen more to shave enough time off your moves so that it doesn't become much of an issue. The clock problem never goes away, though, and you can take comfort in the fact that at the World Championship in 1997, each of the players in the final best-of-five series went over time in one of the games.
The last major difference with organized Scrabble® is in some of the rules used. Don't worry - there are no fundamental changes from the game you have likely already played. However, the rules used in organized play go into a lot more detail about procedures, behaviours, etc. One of the most important of these is that you're not really supposed to talk to your opponent, except to verify the score (which both players must do) or a blank. This means that you won't be able to psyche out opponents like some players do at home, by saying "That's not a word!" or "Is that good?" This rule is relaxed somewhat in a club session, but is strictly adhered to in tournaments.
Most of the other rules are minor, but should be learned during the first few tournaments. Many tournament players are often ignorant of some of the more obscure rules and have learned them the hard way: by breaking them. Knowing the rules is like knowing your rights, so you know if you have a case when somebody does something you don't like. If you're planning to get into organized Scrabble® or simply curious about the differences, you can view the Official Tournament Rules on the NSA's web site.
The rules are recommended reading at least once before a tournament. It will make sense after a few club sessions.
Getting a Leg Up - Preparation
If you are experiencing reservations (especially after reading the above), don't worry. It's not hard to prepare to come to a club session for your first experience with organized Scrabble®. In fact, it's not even necessary to prepare, so you can skip this section if you like. Most of our club's members joined without any preparation up front.
If you do want to prepare a little, here's what you can do:
If you try the suggestions above even just once or twice, you will have that extra "leg up" when you first play organized Scrabble®, and can focus more on the experience instead of being overwhelmed by new information.
Attending a Club Session
Now that you know what to expect, it's time to attend a club session! Attending a club session is the "soft" way to introduce yourself to the world of organized Scrabble®. The atmosphere is friendly yet structured, there are refreshments for your enjoyment, and there's lots of time to socialize.
Here are the steps involved in joining the Calgary Scrabble® Group:
The most important thing to go in with, however, is a positive, open attitude. Many people who seek out clubs do so because they vastly outplay their kitchen opponents, and think they're good enough to face some stiff competition. In reality, most of them are -- but not right away. The majority of people that come to our club lose all three games on their first night, and many continue to do so for several more sessions if they return.
If you lose all three games, it does not mean you are a bad player. If you are clobbering your kitchen opponents then you definitely have what it takes to become a good club player, you just need some time to adapt. The new words, the clocks, and the more formal atmosphere are enough to throw anybody's game for a loop. Once you learn some words and get used to the clock, you'll find you start to win on a more consistent basis.
In short, on your first night, be prepared to lose, but more importantly to learn from your losses (and your wins, should you get any). All of our members are friendly and most are quite knowledgable and can point out mistakes or better plays. Some won't do this unless you ask them to, so don't be shy. Many of the top experts in the world regularly ask other experts what they would have done, so the learning process never stops.
Attending a Tournament
Like most games and sports, tournaments are the ultimate in Scrabble® competition. During play, it's all business. This is where the big plays and big mistakes are made.
Not everybody who plays organized Scrabble® will like playing in a tournament, but it is definitely something that should be experienced at least once. If you have a friendly but fiercely competitive side, it will shine through at a tournament.
Although no previous experience is necessary to play in a tournament, our club usually will find a way to get you some beforehand. The best way is at the weekly club sessions, but if it's not possible for you to attend, we'll find another way to get you some practice. This is mainly so you can get exposed to the rules and procedures so the lack of knowledge doesn't hurt your (or anybody else's) play.
Here in Calgary, we hold at least one tournament every two months. Most of our tournaments are either one day (8 rounds) or two (14 rounds), with a couple of exceptions. However, any tournament (with the possible exception of our Marathon) is suitable for new players. Pick the one you are most comfortable with from our Tournament Schedule and then contact one of the directors to enter. (We hope to offer direct online entry at some point, but this is not possible right now.)
Tournaments are divided into skill groups so players play opponents with similar skill levels. New players are placed in the lowest division for their first tournament. Most of our tournaments use a round-robin (you play every opponent once) with a kind of playoff at the end.
After a tournament, players receive a numerical rating based on their performance. The rating is used to give an approximate indication of players' relative skill. The lowest initial rating one can receive is 500, although players can go lower after their first tournament. At our club, experts have ratings above 1500, though the official North American standard is 1600, and depending on the tournament may be 1700 or 1800. To move up from the lowest division you'll probably need a rating of at least 1000.
Lastly, if after attending a tournament you find it's not to your liking, don't worry. A significant percentage of our club's members don't ever play in tournaments. Others play in only one or two a year. The most important thing is to have fun and play when you can. On the other hand, if you love the tournament experience and want more, you can attend all of our tournaments and try to qualify for the two annual team tournaments. For the extreme tournament player, you can join our members that make regular trips to tournaments in Western Canada and the Western US.
Where to Go From Here
Once you've attended a club session or two and found it to your liking, you'll no doubt want to improve your play. Since you'll no doubt get a pile of suggestions and tips from players, this section will focus on Internet resources.
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