Calgary Scrabble Group


Scrabble® School - 1

Posted by Randall T on Fri August 22, 2008 at 20h02
Our love of words and games brought us to Scrabble® in one way or another, but if we were satisfied with just playing
the game, we probably wouldn’t seek out an organized club. Competitive Scrabble®, whether at the club or in tournaments,
provides an organized and challenging venue to test our love of words. At the competitive level, the end purpose, after all the
excitement of word play and enjoyment of finding words, is to win the game. We achieve this result through our vocabulary,
strategy and analysis.

The main focus of these classes will be on the strategy aspect, because even with weaker word knowledge than your opponent,
games can still be won simply by making better strategic plays. Some considerations will also be given to vocabulary and
analysis, when the topics demand it.

Please bear in mind that the concepts covered are not hard-and-fast rules but general principles with which to improve
your game. Such principles may be ignored or broken if a certain game-situation warrants it.

Lesson 1 - Opening

1. The player going first has about a 12- to 17-point (or half turn) advantage based on the idea that they get to use the
centre bonus square -- a Double Word Score. With that advantage, and the lead after the first turn, it is the responsibility
of that player to maintain that lead or try to broaden it. (Also, there’s a 1/7 chance that your opening rack will have a
7-letter word. With the doubled word score and a 50-point bonus, this makes the task of keeping pressure on your opponent
a little easier.)

2. One of the ways to extend your lead is to limit your opponent’s chances for counterplay.

	• avoid placing vowels adjacent to double-letter scores (DLS)
		unless you are creating a space for your own tiles

	• think about what letter will be placed at H8 (the centre square).
		It's easier to bingo to/from an S rather than an I.

	• be aware of front- and back-hooks and extensions.

3. Part of what determines your opening play will be what you can play next turn. Without getting into rack-management
in too much detail (a later lesson), what is left on your rack is just as important as what you play. Should you play a
3-, 4-, or 5-letter word? What does it do to the board? Will the tiles left on your rack be useful after that play?

4. Learn the 5-letter words which use high-point tiles. These are just as important as the 2-letter words, because the
board is full of places to capitalize on this scoring. Particularly in the opening, a tile like the “W” can be worth
4 times it’s face-value by using the DLS and the DWS simultaneously.

5. Should you play you word to the left, the right, or in the middle of the centre square? Should You play vertically or
horizontally? Consider what we’ve discussed: where do the vowels fall?; are there hooks or extensions?; what falls in the
centre line?; what other bonus squares are opened up?

6. With all these considerations, it’s easy to see why newer players will resort to a defensive style of play first.
This usually means 3-letter words overlapping one another. What can happen, though, is the development of a
stairstep board. These boards can be very difficult to break out of, especially if you are behind and need to make
room to play. The games can be very frustrating for both players. I won’t say don’t do it, just be aware of the
nature of the game you’ll be playing.

7. If you play 2nd, ideally you want to score enough to take the lead, but also limit your opponent’s chances. If the opening
was a 3-letter word designed to make it difficult for you, you have 3 options: exchange, play parallel, or play perpendicular.
Many factors come into play -- rack leave, score, and openings on the board are a few. Generally, parallel plays can be more
restrictive (and can also lead to stairstep boards); perpendicular plays present more options for you opponent.

If the opening was a 5-letter word, consider the options for scoring. Triple-letter scores (TLS) and double-word scores (DWS)
are open to you, but at the cost of opening the board more. Also think of extensions to the word just play. Common ones are
 - ING, - IER, - IEST, - ANT.

8. What can be learned from the opening play? A shorter word is probably played to manage the rack and limit counterplay.
The optimum length seems to be 3-letter words, because the front and back hooks are usually fewer and no new DWS are
opened up. A longer word generally means, all things considered, that the points scored outweigh other factors like defense
and rack-leave. ALSO, Is there some attempt to take your attention away from another part of the board?

9. Finally, take your time, especially if you have many options of equal validity. Above all, look for a bingo. It's worth
using 1-2 minutes at the start in case you find one. While no single turn will usually win or lose a game, missing a couple
of plays in the early going which cost you 10-20 points per turn may make the difference in who wins.


-Randall Thomas