Welcome to the intriguing world of competitive SCRABBLE.
Many people are familiar with SCRABBLE from games at home or with friends. Club and tournament SCRABBLE shares many similarities with this style of game play, but has some important differences. First, the game is played head-to-head, with two competitors. A timing device is used (like a chess clock), and each player receives 25 minutes in which to make his/her moves. Your clock runs during your turn, and your opponent’s clock runs during his/her turn. If a player runs over this time limit, points are deducted from his/her cumulative score. Each player is required to keep score throughout the game, and challenges are adjudicated using an official word source, described below.
In club and tournament SCRABBLE, word adjudication is a structured process. Word adjudication is generally performed using computers with software self lookup programs loaded on them (the most popular program is Zyzzyva), so that players can adjudicate challenges independently. The player who is challenging the play types in the word(s) being challenged, and then the other player presses the button (usually tab) to call for adjudication. If a computer adjudication program is not available, manual adjudication can be performed, in which a third party looks up each word challenged, and rules the play acceptable if all words are found in the word source, and unacceptable if any of the words is not found in the word source.
Most North American club and tournament play uses the NASPA Word List (often referred to as NWL). School play uses the Official SCRABBLE Players Dictionary – Sixth Edition (OSPD6), which is similar to NWL, but does not contain a number of words deemed offensive by the publisher and has some other differences. Some North American play, and most international English play, uses the Collins Official SCRABBLE Words 2019 (often referred to as Collins or CSW), which is more expansive and includes colloquial language from most English speaking countries, and a number of archaic English terms.
There are players who favor the adoption of this expanded word list in North American play, and others who oppose this change. It is beyond the scope of this page to present extensive arguments on this issue.
In North American club and tournament play using the TWL lexicon, someone always loses a turn when there is a challenge. If the challenged play is acceptable, the challenger loses a turn. If the challenged play is unacceptable, the player who attempted to play a phony word loses a turn, and the play is removed from the board. This is commonly called “double challenge.”
In North American play using the Collins lexicon, double challenge can be used as well. However, it is more common to use a 5- or 10-point per word challenge penalty. Under this penalty, if the challenged play is acceptable, the challenger does not lose a turn, but is assessed a penalty of either 5 or 10 points per word challenged. As with double challenge, if the challenged play is unacceptable, the player who attempted to play a phony word loses a turn, and the play is removed from the board.
Part of Tournament SCRABBLE is a rating system, used to assign a numeric rating to each player, based upon performance in tournament play. In each rated game you play, application of the rating system takes into account your rating, your opponent’s rating, and whether you won or lost the game to determine the change in your rating as a result of that game. In your very first rated event, you will receive a rating equal to your “performance rating,” which is the rating you would have needed at the beginning of the tournament to have an unchanged rating at the end of the tournament, given your performance.
Because ratings can be more volatile early in a SCRABBLE player’s career, ratings changes are subject to an increased multiplier during the first 50 rated games. A different ratings multiplier is also used for very high rated players.
The North American Scrabble Players Association (NASPA) maintains a system of Player Titles for highly rated players. Players with an overall performance rating placing them in the 25% of rated players over a rolling 5-year period earn the title SCRABBLE Expert, the top 6% achieve the designation SCRABBLE Master, and those in the top 1% are accorded the honor of being dubbed a SCRABBLE Grandmaster.
How to Get Better at SCRABBLE
If you have been playing SCRABBLE with friends and family, and you are looking for a greater challenge across the board, club and tournament SCRABBLE might be the answer for you. You may find, though, that the competitive level is higher than you anticipated. If you are looking for ways to improve your level of SCRABBLE play, here are some tips:
First and foremost, learn every word on Mike Baron's Cheat Sheet (and, if you wish to play Collins, the additional words on the Collins Cheat Sheet part 1 and Collins Cheat Sheet part 2).
Visit Kenji Matsumoto's website, and work through his basic Scrabble strategy methods.
Get the book How to Play SCRABBLE Like a Champion, by Cleveland resident and World Champion Joel Wapnick, and work through it.
These are excellent tools to help you advance as a player. For word sheets, publications, and equipment information, please visit the Resources page.
Photo Credit: Patricia A. Hocker (NASPA)
Photo Description: Jason Idalski (left) and Dan Stock (right), Division Leaders at the 2015 North American Scrabble Championship, pose together, as Dan wears a very tall, purple hat.