Why North Americans resist 5-point Challenge

         In Scrabble, North America uses a rule called double: if player 1 plays a word, and player 2 challenges the validity of the word, then if the word is invalid, player 1 removes their word and loses their turn.  However, if the word IS valid, then player 2 forfeits their turn.

         Internationally, the rule is much for lenient for player 2: instead of forfeiting their turn, they forfeit 5 points but get to make a play next turn.  (This is known as 5-point challenge.)  This penalty is a complete slap on the wrist: it does enough to prevent fortuitous challenges, but that’s basically it.  There’s also single challenge (no penalty whatsoever) although this is now played less frequently than 5-point challenge.

         Many people have suggested that North America change its rules to fit the international standard, arguing that the penalty is draconian.  I do sympathize with this issue somewhat, and if it takes changing the challenge rule to accommodate new players and that’s what it takes to grow the game, I understand.  I do hope we stick with double, but if we must switch,  I’d just rather play void (my preferred alternative, neither player is penalized for an invalid word) or even free challenge (player 2 is never penalized for an incorrect challenge).

         That being said, my overall preference, especially as a competitor, is to play double, and I think this is the best challenge rule available.  Lately, double has taken a bit of a PR hit, with many players pressuring us to get rid of this rule.  Therefore, I decided to write this article to share five reasons why I believe that double is a better challenge rule than 5 point challenge:

         1.  The 5 point penalty still feels draconian.  

         The best argument against double is that it’s draconian, and that weaker players will feel like they’re being taken advantage of.  This remains true for 5 point challenge.  The resent of weaker players stems from the existencerather than the extentof such a penalty.  And it’s that feelingwhich drives players away from the game, even if the penalty itself is less severe and doesn’t affect game play.  Those who feel gypped from the double challenge rule will likely still feel gypped playing 5-point challenge.

           2.  You’re dissuading people from experimenting, and sometimes even from making cool plays they’re unsure of.

         Let’s say it’s turn 2, and your opponent opens with DID, and you have DEIJRRU.  You have JURIED at 7c or 9c for 30 points, but then you spot the possibility of DIDJERIDU for 60.   Now, you’re not sure this is how the word is spelled.  After all, this word doesn’t come up in print much, and you haven’t studied all the 9s.  In addition, you’re not even sure that this word exists at all.  Maybe this is just a made up word and doesn’t exist in the dictionary.

         Taking the chance on a word like this is much more viable in double challenge for two reasons: if it’s valid and your opponent challenges you get a significant reward, and your opponent might not challenge even if it is invalid.  These factors make this sort of risk-taking far more valid in double than in 5 point challenge on behalf of player 1.

         3.  You’re increasing the skill level of the game by giving player 2 a genuine decision.

         At 5 point challenge, there really is no decision for player 2: whenever he’s not sure, he challenges.  Heck, even if he thinks it’s good, he’ll challenge, and certainly in the DIDJERIDU example I’d expect a challenge.  When challenging you’re usually laid approximately 8-1 odds on your challenge, meaning if you’re right one out of 9 times, the challenge will be correct, meaning that there’s less strategy involved in your decision.  

         Meanwhile, in double you have a much harder decision.  Your odds aren’t nearly as good: you need to be correct about your challenge almost half of the time to make your challenge worthwhile, and the consequences for losing the challenge is much more severe.  This makes player 2 have to think and makes the game more complex, and thereby increases the skill involved in being a winning player.

         4.  It makes comebacks more likely, especially for better players.

         Double challenge is an excellent way to create an artificial comeback mechanic.  This is because as player 1 falls behind, he should be playing more phoneys (and words that might draw challenges) while player 2 should be challenging less often (as it risks his lead).  For this reason, it’s much easier to stage a comeback in double challenge as opposed to 5 point challenge.

         This is significant, especially in the current metagame where winning that extra percentage against the weaker players is so important.  Because of the way tournaments work, beating a weaker player 80% (as opposed to 75%) means just as much as beating an elite player 53% (as opposed to 48%). Double gives stronger players a significant edge needed to deal with variance, which is one of the reasons why the same players consistently perform well in major tournaments.

         5.  It encourages phoneys.         

         One of the most appealing parts of games is the ability to deceive or outmaneuver your opponents.  In fact, these gambits are commonplace in lots of games. While poker is the most obvious example, deceit is an important part of many games, including most sports (What is the next pitch?) and e-sports (games like Magic the Gathering for example). Games allow this type of mischief.  Phoneys require a whole new skill set and allow more variation in what is possible, resulting in a game that is a lot more fun, and expands the scope beyond just words. 

The North American Dictionary Wars

         Throughout Scrabble, many players describe Scrabble as a religion, and the dictionary as their bible.  Scrabble players are extremely devoted to their dictionary, and have spent hundreds if not thousands of hours memorizing the words. Unsurprisingly, players have an everlasting affinity for their dictionary of choice, and will defend their dictionary at all costs.  Thus, the dictionary debate is considered one of, if not the biggest debate in all of Scrabble.   

         In North America, players use a dictionary called OWL (Official Word List).  OWL is a smaller dictionary, compiled from 5 regional dictionaries that reflect North American English and spellings.  As a result, OWL focuses on English as spoken in North America, and as such neglects English words that are primarily spoken in other countries. (such as many -ISE British spellings or various foods, plants, etc. from English speaking countries around the world).  For a short list of intuitive CSW-only words, click <a href=”http://www.breakingthegame.net/blog#commoncsw”>here.</a>  OWL proponents prefer we keep the dictionary as reflective of the English language even if it leaves some reasonable words out.

         Internationally, players use a different dictionary entitled CSW (Collins Scrabble Words).  This dictionary allows significantly more words than its OWL counterpart. While CSW includes intuitive words that OWL does not (such as birthdate, muppet, and immersive) it also contains many obscure words that are not a part of most people’s working dictionary (such as EUOUAE and WAQF).  CSW proponents prefer having a larger dictionary that includes as many legitimate words as possible, even if doing so requires accepting many words that the average English speaker has never seen before.

         For those who are new to the debate, I’ve outlined what I believe to be the best points on both sides of the debate below:

         Why we should stick with TWL

         Why we should switch to Collins

“When you find a good play, look for a better one.”

Anyone who knows me knows that I think there are a lot of bad heuristics in Scrabble. Some of them are just mathematically insubstantiable: i.e. taking away the star, blocking double-double lines as threats, or emphasizing turnover early in the game.

However, there are other old-school heuristics that I object to: not because they’re wrong, but because they’re not useful. “When you find a good play, look for a better one” is one of those heuristics. Despite the fact that it’s one of the most common pieces of advice in all of Scrabble, it’s also one of the most useless.

I realize that on the surface, this sounds like reasonable advice. After all, so many people miss good plays simply because they play too quickly. We all have moments where we made plays, hit the clock, and then soon realized we missed a better option.

It’s just not effective at helping players find plays. I strongly believe that most players don’t find enough candidate plays, but this heuristic just doesn’t help. While it’s certainly a useful observation that players overlook plays, this heuristic fails to help players improve their game for two primary reasons:

1. You can’t keep looking forever.

As played in tournaments, Scrabble has a fixed time limit, and as a result, we have to find the best play in a short period of time. As such, we need to have some metaheuristics: some subconscious rules that help us determine not just when and how to think, but also when and how to stop thinking.

In some cases, this is easy: we can find the best theoretical play that fulfills all our goals. (Certainly we’re not going to improve from a double-double or QI for 64 in most cases.) But other times, this is harder, and we have a much harder time knowing when to keep looking and how. We need a more specific set of parameters to tell us when to look and when to stop.

The best way to evaluate when to stop thinking is to determine whether you’re making progress. For example, if you have a blank on a bingo rack, are you finding new bingos that don’t play, or new “almost” possibilities? Are you running into the same obstacle over and over, indicating you should stop (such as seeing no spot available for the bingo, or the G being too big of a nuisance) or are your roadblocks changing?

A better heuristic would be “Keep looking for better possibilities until you’re no longer finding anything new.” As a general rule (and this follows outside of Scrabble as well) if you’re repeating the same thought pattern, you’ve reached a dead end. Over time, we can develop conditions and parameters on this rule, based on the amount of time left and the difficulty of the position.

2. The rule is not actionable.

While everyone has advice, sometimes advice is not useful. This is especially true throughout the self-help world. Saying something like “work smarter, not harder” or “reach for the stars” might make a good quotation, but it’s vague advice that’s very difficult to implement.

Simply saying “look for a better play” does not help you during the decision making process. While this rule describes a common problem for many players, it’s not actionable, and therefore, it’s not useful, other than in really obvious, unsophisticated ways, similar to ideas such as “Analyze your options” or “Play slower”.

While it’s clear that we make mistakes by overlooking plays, pointing this fact out isn’t the way to improve our Scrabble play or decision making. It doesn’t tell you how, where, or when to look for better plays.

A Better Way Forward

If we were to streamline this rule of thumb, we’d instead be saying something like “When you find a play, continue to look for plays until you’re convinced that you won’t find a better one.” And that is a better heuristic. But what’s really needed here isn’t a better heuristic: it’s a better guide to finding plays.

It turns out we’re better off using a multi-pronged approach to finding a better play. Play finding is a difficult process requiring several heuristics and techniques to be performed effectively. Like any heuristics or heuristic set, they need to be tailored to the individual based on their traits, habits, perspective, and biases, but here is a significantly better set of heuristics for finding plays:

1. Develop a set of criteria for evaluating plays. (It’s not always about scoring or playing a bingo on your next turn, although that’s usually what it is.)

2. Find at least one play that you’d be content making as a fallback option.

3. Once you’ve found that play, search for a minimum of 2 reasonable alternative plays, preferably in different parts of the board. For the next step, you want to have three plays in mind whenever realistically possible, so always try to generate a list of three candidate plays.

3a: Focus on plays that could hypothetically be better than your baseline. Look around the board for different options: while one spot might look the most appealing, evaluate your options in other potentially lucrative bingo lines, parallels, and scoring areas. If you can quickly rule out that a theoretically better play exists, go ahead and make your play.

3b: Remember to also look for similar plays and minor improvements to your baseline play. If you can keep an A instead of an O, or move that C to the DLS square, those improvements are meaningful.

3c: Also look for different types of plays, especially those that achieve different objectives or have different concepts. Even if a bingo exists, that’s not necessarily the best option. Remember to consider setups, fishing options, defensive plays, etc. that may not achieve the same options as your baseline play.

4. If the best play is not apparent, evaluate your plays (strategize). This obviously is easier said than done: it involves a rigorous process, and would be its own separate article.

At first, this may seem pretty daunting, but this heuristic set is simple. Your mind can perform amazing feats if you simply believe in yourself and train yourself to do so. At the end of the day, becoming better at Scrabble is like getting better at anything: it’s mostly about optimizing yourself, and teaching yourself a better way to think.

It’s also worth noting that sometimes this heuristic set can fail, but it’s okay. People don’t follow heuristics religiously. We’re not computers. To some degree, we have a basic idea of what we should do: guidelines like these just help us improve our instincts and streamline our intuition.

WSC position from the 2018 WSC stream

This is from a World Scrabble Championship game between Brett Smitheram and Nigel Richards. To be fair, Brett was fairly low on time so it’s understandable he didn’t play this correctly, but I think it’s very instructional and useful to illustrate how to play these types of games, so I created the following puzzle:

From the WSC stream: (CSW lexicon)
You’re down 4: the pool is AEEEINPS. You’re playing Nigel Richards, whose last play is TIFT. What’s your play? Why?
(Yes, there is an unequivocally best play here. It’s not close.)

Take some time to try to figure out what you’d do in the following position before reading the solution.

This is a classic one-in-the bag endgame, which for most players is very hard,. Normally, you’d have to analyze this position by playing all 8 endgames with every candidate play, such as ELF, ULTRA, TAV, VAT, etc. and this could be a total nightmare. However, this pool, provided with the last play makes this a bit easier.

Analyzing this position starts pretty easily: What do we do if we draw an E? Figuring out a win after an E draw is by far the most important priority, since we know at least one E is in the bag before TIFT (and likely 2 Es). So what can we play that wins with an E draw?

Before we answer that position, let’s look at what Nigel’s options are with this pool: in short, not a lot. PAEDO and SPEEDO are the highest scoring options, but they give back outplays against the blank, and PISHER just ruins Nigel’s racks. Nigel has some setup options if you burn the blank (PA, PIT, etc.) but the biggest threat is actually just endgame timing, with stuff such as SEEP o3 (which doubles as SPEEDO) or RESEEN.

The first play we can find that wins with an E draw is HAuLAGE. This leaves two outs with ERV, and really nothing good for Nigel: nothing he has can outrun VERA and he can’t block and score enough. since VERT still scores okay (and it’s very hard to block VERA: PAEAN just doesn’t work) Unfortunately, there’s really nothing else that wins after HAuLAGE, but this is at least a start.

The next play that wins is ULTRA, as you have VEEP next turn and the blank allows decent blocking options next turn. Unfortunately, while you can go through all of these endgames and they’re closer, they still don’t quite win either. RESEE(N) o1 and SEEP still plays parallel to ULTRA and eats you for breakfast, and even drawing the N doesn’t win you the game: in fact, the only tile that you additionally win other than the E is the S, and it’s difficult to see Nigel playing TIFT without an S.

This forces us to search for other plays with a secondary purpose: what if we can block RESEE/SEEP/etc. and also counter plays like PAEDO/SPEEDO? The first most obvious play that we can do is something like TAV, saving the blank to block the S setups. While this looks good, this just doesn’t score enough on future turns: it loses to stuff like PIT. However, there is another alternative: AXLE/AXEL 5k.

AXLE wins with the E, and in fact with all the vowels, preventing PAEDO/SPEEDO because of out plays such as AVERAGE or AGRAVIC and scoring threats such as GRAVES. Meanwhile, with any vowel you also prevent PIT/PA setups, since VASE/VISE scores too many points and allows multiple out plays. It wins with the A, E, I, and S: 6 endgames, which is even greater since it’s hard to imagine Nigel played TIFT without PNS in his rack, since playing TIFT for 7 leaving a vowel-heavy rack makes little sense. Because of this, AXLE will win overwhelmingly often in reality: over 90% of the time given Nigel’s previous play.

Favorites to win the 2018 National Scrabble Championship

Hey guys! For those of you interested in following, I’ve decided to make a brief description of the players to watch in this year’s National Scrabble Championship. Enjoy!




Nigel Richards

He’s been untouchable in CSW lately and has by far the best long-term results of anyone in this field.  He’s been experimenting a bit lately, and he’s amazingly had a pretty long drought in terms of both Nationals and Worlds, but he’s still the biggest threat in the entire tournament, and still strikes fear into any opponent he faces.


Question Marks: Has he lost a step?  Does he still want to win in TWL?



Will Anderson
Will Anderson


The defending champion, and the top seed.  Renowned for his word knowledge, but very solid strategically, he’s definitely a top threat to win.


Question Marks: Hasn’t been playing a lot lately.  Will Will’s recent affinity to Collins detract from his ability to remember TWL?   Are people going to have a better game plan against Will since he’s the defending champion?



Mack Meller
Mack Meller


Probably the sentimental favorite to win the tournament, as Mack’s just finish his freshman year at Columbia University, and many of us remember Mack from his days as an innocent School Scrabble player. Likely the best word knowledge in the entire tournament, Mack’s fast speed and extremely aggressive play style combine with his youth and stamina will make him a force to be reckoned with.


Question Marks: Expectations for Mack have never been higher, as his past results make him the crowd favorite, and his prior finishes of 7-7-3-2 naturally lead to only one finish to continue the pattern.


Strong contenders:

Matthew Tunnicliffe

Champion in 2015.  Hasn’t been playing much lately and had a rough previous tournament, which will likely just add fuel to his fire.  That being said, he’s still a significant threat to win and has just the type of well-rounded toolset needed to win this championship.


Rafi Stern


Rafi hasn’t played many tournaments as of late, spending most of the last year in Israel.  When Rafi’s on point, he’s one of the strongest and scariest players in the field, and can go an entire day without making major errors.  Rafi has an extremely strong technical understanding of Scrabble, capable of playing various styles and adjusting his style based on the situation.

Ian Weinstein


After many years of middling Nationals results, Ian’s finished 2nd and 4th in the last two years, and significantly leveled up his game.  Known for his dominance of Florida for over 2 decades, Ian combined a highly offense style with his experience in playing out of difficult situations, yet somehow despite all this, he’s flown under the radar.  Will this be his year?


Orry Swift


While he might not have the same name recognition, Orry has been recently trying to rededicate himself to Scrabble, and has one of the most strategic and analytical minds in the game, with the ability to be a winning player at games such as poker and Magic in addition to Scrabble.  Even though he has some tough matchups, he still has some of the best results of any player in the field.


Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 3.16.33 PM
Joel Sherman


Infamous for his depiction in the hit book Word Freak, the former National Champion has a setup-heavy style that plays well in the current metagame, and has been in strong contention for most of the recent Nationals. Can he finally break through?


Joey Krafchick
Joey Krafchick


After a brief foray into Collins, Joey’s back to TWL and has refocused his efforts on studying, flying up the rating charts in recent years after winning a handful of touranemnts.  Joey also tends to cram studying in before Nationals. Can he manage to overcome his head-to-head struggles against other, tactical top players?


Jason Li


Jason’s probably the most unknown of the contenders who can win Nationals, making him a likely candidate to sneak up out of nowhere, although he was in strong contention at Buffalo in 2014. Perhaps one of the most analytical players out there, and recently reaching a new peak rating. Can he finally break through and win in a major Division 1 field?


Eric Tran


Recent winner of the Canadian Scrabble Championship, Eric like Orry has amazing game acumen, and is also an amazing poker player.  Amazingly, Eric’s never finished in the top 20 in the Nationals, but recent evidence shows that he can be a major contender.  Will he be able to conquer America in addition to Canada?

Jackson Smylie


Jackson’s another player who has been skyrocketing up the ranks, and leads in Division 1 tournament wins as well as multi-day wins.  Can he catapult his way to winning this years Nationals?

Scott Appel:


After a few year slump, Scott’s finally starting to regain his form with a strong performance in Atlanta, not to mention numerous BAT premiers and four top 10s at prior Nationals. While he doesn’t have the name recognition or overwhelming personality of the other top players, he’s still a major threat to win.


Joe Edley


By far the most decorated Nationals player in the field, with 3 titles and many other 2nd and 3rd place finishes, not to mention countless other tournaments and over $100,000 in career earnings.  While he finished 6th in 2016, he hasn’t finished in the top 10 before then since 2005.  Does he still have what it takes to win?


Other candidates include: Alec Sjoholm, Avery Mojica, Josh Sokol Rubenstein, Cesar del Solar, Charles Reinke, Joey Mallick, Thomas Reinke, Chris Cree, Laurie Cohen

Credit to photos:

Dan Reiner (Will Anderson)
NASPA (Scott Appel,, Joel Sherman, Joey Krafchick)
http://www.rowecenter.org (Joe Edley)
http://www.cross-tables.com (Mack Meller)
Conrad-Bassett-Bouchard (Jason Li)
Emily Dowgialo (Rafi Stern, Matthew Tunnicliffe)


Words with Friends: Differences in Lexicon

As many of you know, Words with Friend uses ENABLE, which bears a lot of similarity to OWL 2.1 or the 4th edition of Merriam-Webster.  (This means that new Scrabble words are not words.)  However, there are some important differences.

Here are some useful words that are only valid in Words with Friends:


Here are some words that are not valid:

KIS (and some other plurals)
GYP (and other ethnicity terms, JEW, ABO, etc.)

BAT main event day 2:

Some plays from today:

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get all of the names, but here are some of the notable plays I saw:

In Division E, I see a series of 4 boards in a row that all have at least 3 bingos on them. Who said lower divisions were full of staircases?

Christina Damron has won a game in round 10, meaning that every player throughout the entire field has won at least one game at this point!  Christina hasn’t won a lot of games over her tournament history, but she still keeps on playing!

In Division D, one board had CONNIVED through an E with CDINNOV and TYRANNY above it through a T: some pretty good way of getting rid of some letters!

I see another board with a whole medley of cool longer words mid-game, including AIRFIELD, EBOOK, JOISTER* TASTIER, and QUACKED.

Not all the words are acceptable, though, as I see the phoney FARTIEsT* on another board 🙂

I see another nice bingo: someone has found the word in DEFILER.  It’s FLUORIDE!

In Division C, someone played a nice 5-tile overlap of AVIATOR over FLOWERS, scoring 81 points!

I see a slew of blanks used to get rid of some ugly racks for bingos.  Art Moore played Nancee Mancel and I see MURKIlY on the board, while I see TWEEZInG on another board.

In a game between Art Moore and Judy Newhouse, I see the word CEIINU? on the board! It’s a common word… can you find it?

On Judy Horn’s board (the tournament organizer!), I see she’s played the word MAHARAJa.  After the game, Judy comes up to me and shows me she also playing BADINAGE as a triple triple through that blank A!

In Division B, I saw a really nice bingo of PEEKAbOo on the TWS for 89!

The attack of the duplicate words in division B has happened for the third time, as earlier it was UNEXCITED, then MINIVANS, and this round I see OVERNEW happen multiple times: a bit weird especially it has an anagram (REWOVEN)

Connie Creed has just tried HOTPANTS*.  Frank Tangredi challenges it off immediately, as another player in the division starts laughing.  Later on another board with anonymous players I see the word YOUZA*: although words like YOWIE/ZOWEE/ZOOKS are word, there’s unfortunately no YOUZA.

In a game between tournament leader Ken Kasney and Jeffrey Nelson, I see MUZJiK for 105 to a Triple Word!  MUZJIK is known as the highest scoring 7 letter word on the opening rack, and has a ton of variant spellings, but it’s an extreme rarity to see it actually played!

In DIvision 1, Joey Mallick has finally won his first game!  It’s been a rough go for Joey as the top seed of the top division, but I think everyone’s relieved that variance has finally begun to subside for Joey.  Joey wins a second game, and a third, and a fourth, and is playing spoiler, as he will continue to play contenders for the next few rounds.

Joel Sherman calls me over and tells me he’s played EPONYMIC with a blank twice this tournament.  Very rare!

Between Joe Edley and Chris Kulig, I see the obscure word bOBECHES on the board.  Tough find!  In another game I see the weird word FaRTLEK, which is a Swedish training technique for runners.

In the CSW division, I see two boards next to each other, each with triple-triple blank bingos!

On another board between Sam K and Chris Sinacola, I see the word TOETOES.  It’s a Maori grass: an alternate spelling of TOITOIS.  There’s a few similar words to this, such as PIOPIOS, MOOLOO, GOOROO, and HOOROO!

In a game between Dan Milton and Lynda Woods Cleary, I see the word UNAVAILING: a ten letter word!


Current standings with 2 rounds left:

In Division A, Joey Krafchick and Cesar del Solar are the only two in contention, with Joey having a small lead.

In Division B, 5 people are still in it, but Joel Horn is leading by a game over Ricky Sirois and Ken Kasney.

In Division C, Yvonne Lobo is leading by a game and spread and looks to be in a great position to win.

In Division D, it’s a two-horse rase between Steve Sikorski and Marvin Kraus, with Marvin holding a slim spread lead.

In Division E, Emmanuel Aronie has a 1 game lead over Harolyn Mayer.

In CSW, it’s a 3 horse race between Jacob Bergmann, Sam Kantimathi, and Jason Broersma, who are 10-2, 10-2, and 9-3 respectively.  Good luck to the contending players!

1 round left:

Division A: Joey Krafchick vs. Cesar del Solar

Division B: Joel Horn vs. Ken Kasney

Division C: Yvonne Lobo vs. Paul Avrin

Division D: Steve Sikorski (-79) vs. Marvin Kraus (+79)

Steve must win by 80 to win, 79 to tie

Division E: Emmanuel Aronie has clinched first.  Congratulations to him!

Division CSW: Sam Kantimathi vs. Jacob Bergmann

BAT main event notes:

Highlights of day 1: (ongoing)

I’m talking to Cesar del Solar, division 1 player, who has ceremoniously blown another game to Karl Higby, a player rated over 2000.  He’s complaining about how badly he’s playing.  He’s currently in first place.  Scrabblers 🙂  Cesar also noted he won a game when his opponent mis-tracked and let him play a 107 point out bingo to win by 10.

I see a game with ENNASES* on it in Division 1.  It stayed.  Everyone makes mistakes 🙂

Bradley Robbins in Division 2 has played OXIDIZE for 85 with the X and Z.  You don’t see that every day!

Wes Eddings got to play NOSEDIVE from an N, parallelling three letters in the *middle* of the word: the E, D, and I, paralleling TO/EL/RE to make TOE/ELD/REI.  I later saw a game against Ben Schoenbrun which he won that had a lot of cool words, including TOEpIECE and ARPEGGIO.

In another round, I see a game between Bradley Robbins and Carol McDonald, I see the word UNEXCITED.  In the same division just across from them, I see a game between Jeffrey Nelson and Frank Tangredi also with the word UNEXCITED!

News has come out that someone played a bingo, but it was in the wrong spot: they could have triple-tripled!  Names have been omitted to protect the innocent.

Joel Sherman’s played a 9: OBVERSION, against Chris Kulig.  Not every day do you see one of those!

In the bottom division, I see Stella Russell play MANAgES for 92 points, hooking FINERS, and her opponent, Harolyn Mayer, instantly challenges!  FINER looks like it can be a noun, and there have been several 1900+ players who have played it as a phoney and had it accepted, but not today!

Chris Sinacola played HEREdES for 120 points, with the first H and E as a parallel as well as the S hooking PUNNET-S.

James Krycka in the bottom division found the only bingo in HLOOPS? which is very impressive: I guess that’s what all the hoopla was about.

There’ve been some very weird standings today.  After three rounds in Division A, there was only one player who was not either 2-1 or 1-2, and it was the top seed (who has had a very rough tournament so far).  After 5 rounds in division B, last place was 2-3 -280, yes 2nd place was 3-2!  Some tight divisions early on, even in a 14 player field.

Margo Kuno has won the Judy prize!  She might be having a tough tournament, but she used a blank to capture the award, so she definitely will get her moment of glory at the award ceremony tomorrow!

The highlight for me so far has to be by Colleen Shea in division D, who found AEERRTW? through a T in the 6th spot as a triple triple!  The word was ThWARTER for 149 points: an incredibly difficult find especially considering the blank and the awkward ThW ordering of letters.

BAT Social Media Updates

This space will be open for social media content!

Earlybird 1:

Division A winner: Cesar del Solar

Division B winner: Judy Cole

Collins winner: Richard Buck

Interview with Division A EB1 Winner:

Earlybird 2:

Due to the reporter’s incompetency I unfortunately was not able to get the winning boards in divisions D and C.


Division D: Russell Mckintry

Division C: Diana Spiller

Division B: John Karris

Division A: Wes Eddings

Collins: Sam Kantimathi


Collins EB2

Division B EB2

Division A EB2

Solution to Facebook position:

Original facebook position can be found here.

New position: You’re up 20 with EFGIINS. What’s the best play?
Last play: QUBIT

In this position, there are quite a few options: FIFE 11b (31), FEIGNS 1d (44), FILING 13i (28), as well as numerous fishing plays (DIF, FIB, FIG, and others). You can also find a list of all the words you can create with your tiles with a Scrabble word finder. Since you are ahead, you probably don’t want to select any of the fishing plays. They don’t score very well, and while they do hit some bingos, they also give away a fairly high number of bingos, and the reality of the situation is that FIFE is just a much better version of all of them. EGINS is really not a better leave than GINS with this pool, and the extra points of FIFE just really outclasses all of the other fishing plays.

FEIGNS seems to be the thematic play: it closes the blatantly obvious and dangerous row 1, which can be used for scoring and bingos, and scores the most points, potentially even outrunning several bingo options. However, when we look a little deeper, we find this decision to be a bit deceiving. First off, when we look at the tiles in the pool, we discover that row 1 isn’t as good as it first appears, as there really aren’t that many tiles that play in that spot, and thus, not that many bingos fit there either.

Sure, there are some Z plays that go there, but they are only so threatening, especially since we have no way to know they have the Z, and we’ll still be a tempo ahead with endgame timing, an even score, and an S in hand. Sure, there are -ATE bingos, and a few -NT bingos, but other than that, there’s really not a lot that goes in row 1. In fact, when we look at the bingo percentage, we’ll find that FEIGNS doesn’t really do much to stop our opponent from playing a bingo, even in comparison to FIFE:

In addition, although we’ve blocked row 1, we’ve created new bingo lanes that will allow our opponent to fish for bingos even if they missed, and while not all of these bingos win for your opponent, more than enough of them will prove to be a problem. Thus, FEIGNS might be a weaker play that it first appears; there aren’t a large number of threats available.

FILING creates a case S-hook which appears very attractive, although it’s not an incredibly useful hook. Since your goal with FILING is to maintain a lead, you’re not likely to use the S next turn unless you have a balanced scoring rack: a rack that is very likely to win anyway. FILING-S does allow you to counteract an opponent’s bingo, but the vast majority of your wins will come from preventing bingos rather than getting a counter-score or bingo yourself.

However, FILING does have one primary benefit: it blocks more bingos than any other play, both in the short and long run. While columns n and o are not usually threatening, they are threatening in this pool, since row 1 is so weak and the number of vowels make bingos beginning with vowels (or using the T in column o) more likely.

In addition, FILING segregates all of the bingo options into the top left quadrant of the board, making it difficult for your opponent to bingo on future turns. When your opponent does not have a bingo after FILING, they have much worse options: opening another bingo line is difficult and often impractical, and trying to hit one of the alternative bingo lines is extremely difficult. After FEIGNS, they have the option of hitting whatever remains open between columns d and e (or whatever they open on the left side of the board) as well as columns n and o for bingos: discreet bingo lines that cannot be opened simultaneously. This makes FILING a much stronger defensive option than FEIGNS.

Even if the bingo does come down next turn, the game becomes something near a coin flip, because of the potential of column o for big Z plays and bingos. The Z has a lot of potential for ~60 point plays in column o which is quite difficult to block, and FILINGS increases your bingo potential immensely in such a way that you can compete with your opponent by fishing for bingos both in column o and elsewhere on the board, especially as any opponent’s bingo in row 1 will open new bingo lines and space. For these reasons, FILING is a better play than FEIGNS.

A side by side breakdown of FILING vs. FEIGNS in terms of board potential

Finally, we need to compare FILING to FIFE. And it’s close. FIFE clearly results in more bingos for your opponent, but gives you much better options to outrun those bingos. It can outrun your opponent with most Z draws, as your opponent has no firepower after a bingo and a really limited pool.

Despite this board, bingos also occur very, very often: around half of the time. When they don’t occur, you’ll often get another chance, and another, and another. Columns n and o are strong bingo lines as well as the obvious row 1, and even if row 1 is used for an opponent’s bingo, it will create other bingo lines you can use on future turns. Fishing plays also score well, and EGINS scores well enough on the board that a tile like the H can let you abandon ship and outrun most bingos, or score 25 points while still maintaining both scoring and maintaining bingo chances.

Even without a bingo, there are plenty of ways to create new opportunities for future bingos. It’s easy to create an S hook in column o, any bingo in row 1 should allow you to open column a or b, etc. And of course, there’s the overwhelming likelihood that your opponent never gets a bingo down in the first place.

About 60% of the time, we either draw the Z or play a bingo. Thus, we only need to think about what to do the other 40% of the time.

After FILING, we can approximate that we’re just over 90% favorites. About 7% of the time we encounter a bingo immediately or some other devastating play and we’re underdogs, but we’ll still win about 3/7 of those games. Another 2% of the time or so they don’t hit something immediately, but we try to block row 1 and they somehow hit some other big play to win the game. Another 4% of the time we play FILING but we get outrun: either because we draw almost exclusively vowels or because our opponent gets a Z play and balanced racks: while a 48 point lead is safe, it’s not ironclad.

FIFE almost never gets outrun (even Z plays are going to have trouble) so it’s merely an analysis of how often our opponent is going to bingo while we don’t. Since we still win some of the time that the opponent bingos and we don’t, we can thus round and say that we’ll bingo about half of the time next turn, and of the times we don’t bingo next turn, we’ll bingo about half of the time the turn after.

Between this turn and next turn, our opponent should bingo about 20-25% of the time. Our opponent will bingo more often with an additional turn to improve their rack. Of that, about 70-75% of the time, we’ll draw a bingo ourselves. Even if we take the lower half of each scenario (25% and 70%) that still leaves us as a 92.5% favorite after FIFE.

It’s for this reason that I think FIFE is the best play. Even if you tweak the numbers a bit, it’s very hard to get past this conclusion: FILING has a lot of ground to make up, so either FIFE must be worse than ~92.5% or FILING must be better than 91%, and it seems unlikely to me that either is the case in this situation.

You might be wondering: “Okay, so what can I take away from this situation?” Here are the main takeaways:

1. Themes are themes but they need to be ignored from time to time.

2. Especially in CSW, a lot of times you really just need to take the points and leave over the defense. Outrunning is usually better than blocking except for some pretty unique circumstances or unless the sacrifice in points and leave is small.

3. It’s important to look at pools. While row 1 looks immensely dangerous, it’s not because of this pool.


Some interesting positions (with solutions)

Position 1:


Position 2:


Position 3:

Simple Endgame Puzzle (TWL & CSW)

Here’s an endgame puzzle that I encountered over the weekend. The position is somewhat similar in both lexica; although there are some minor differences.

Score: 344-369


What is your best play? How should your opponent counter?


Which book should I buy?

So I get it. You’re on a budget, and books are expensive, and there are so many books you can buy. Which book is the best bang for your buck? As always, the answer is: it depends.

There are two different questions you need to ask yourself.

The first question is your country of residence. Players within the United States and Canada play using the OWL dictionary, while players in the rest of the world use the CSW dictionary.

The second question is your current skill level. Within each lexicon, I’ve written two books.

The first book is dedicated to the fundamentals of Scrabble. This book describes basic techniques that are useful if one wants to win, whether you’re playing casually, with other students, or in the lower division of a tournament. While this book covers the fundamentals, the content is not simplistic: it contains information useful for even the best players.

The second book is dedicated to understanding upper level tournament Scrabble. This book focuses more on technical information and adjustments that you need to make to succeed in tournaments. It focuses on the adjustments necessary based on the score, leave, and board positioning if you want to succeed at tournament Scrabble.

North American school or casual players should read Breaking the Game. This book focuses on fundamental OWL strategy.

North American tournament players should read Words of Wisdom, which focuses on high-level OWL strategy.

International school or casual players should read Word. This book focuses on fundamental CSW strategy.

International tournament players should read Words of Wisdom, which focuses on high-level CSW strategy.

Extensions: is it worth it?

While they don’t show up too often, extensions are one of the more interesting and “cool” components of Scrabble. Players like the aspect of playing long words, and associate a link between word length and stronger anagramming skill and vocabulary.

Sadly, in most cases, extensions are not worth the effort. Usually, extensions don’t score enough points and provide too much counterplay to be considered. However, one common exception is extensions to the opening rack, since these extensions often use the TWS square. Opening rack extensions can often be worth 50 points or more, making these plays worthwhile.

That being said, while extensions are often sweet, lucrative plays when drawn, that does *not* mean that you should fish for them, even if your fishing play has a high likelihood of success. The reason is that extensions just don’t have enough upside. Even if an extension scores, say, 54 points, that’s often just 15-20 points higher than an average turn.

And that’s assuming your opponent doesn’t block, doesn’t make an equivalent setup of their own (setups are a great way to counter extensions fishing) doesn’t make an extension themselves (they have first dibs), AND that you draw your extension (without drawing a better play). When you take all of these things into account, it means that sacrificing a significant amount for an extension is not worth it.

Fishing for extensions, just like fishing for bingos is a bad play unless you have a high likelihood of success and are sacrificing an extremely small amount to do so, and there really aren’t many better options. To illustrate why, let’s take a look at some examples of racks that some experts might choose to fish with, and why doing so is generally a bad idea.

The first thing that you need to do is estimate a worth of extensions. The approximate worth of an extension can be determined by the formula:

Probability of hitting extension x [(Score of extension) – (average points without extension) – worth of leave].

So for example, let’s say you’re looking at playing OXID at 8h keeping DIZ. This will inevitably be either blocked or taken quite often: let’s say 70% of the time, and you’ll draw the E about 40% of the time, so approximately 12% of the time you’ll get to play OXIDIZED next turn. OXIDIZED scores 81 points, the average score is about 39 after OXID, and the worth of the leave is 4, so 0.12(81 – 39 – 4) = ~ 4, meaning that the worth of the extension in that case is about 4 points.

On the opening rack, this ‘Score of extension’ number is often somewhere around 36, although it should be adjusted based on the things that you are opening immediately. On other boards, you may have to adjust the number based on the tiles remaining and openness of the board.

Unwarranted Extensions

As you can see, most extensions really aren’t worth very much. In addition, there are usually many ways that extensions can lose value: they can be used or blocked, or your opponent can make other setups somewhat freely. Let’s take a look at some examples of situations where people might play an extension but it is not warranted:



Here, you’re drawing to 6 tiles in the bag for MISPRIZE/DISPRIZE, which you will hit approximately 25-30% of the time. This will only be occasionally blocked. That being said, this effect is somewhat small: both plays score about 20-25 more points in average, so the extension is worth about 6 points.

However, this play does have some severe downsides. First of all, PRIZE gives your opponent much better options than ZIP for scoring, resulting in a reduction of 7 or 8 points next turn.

Second of all, you’re severely limiting your bingo potential severely by keeping IS instead of EIRS. This is substantial, especially since bingos will score more than extensions will score next turn. This alone mitigates the potential upside in drawing an extension and then some, since you’re likely to bingo an additional 15% next turn and an additional 10% the turn after. (That alone is worth about 12 points)

When you add in smaller factors (your opponent might extend the word, block DISPRIZE with PRIZER, board shape, etc.) ZIP is a significantly stronger play than PRIZE.



Here, you are drawing 5 tiles drying to hit an E for HONEYDEW, which will happen about 45% of the time. This adds about 15 points to the expected score, so that’s about 7 more points, so the extension doesn’t even make up the difference in score between HOWDY and HONEY, not to mention the difference in leave or defense, both of which are substantial.



In this case, you are giving yourself 5 chances to draw an I, which will happen about 35% of the time. This gives you a play that’s about 25 points higher than average, but since you have the X and S, that amount is narrowed to closer to 12, giving the setup about a 4 point edge, which is honestly about the same as PENNY 8h (+2 and the EX setup). Meanwhile, PYX scores 4 more (negating the setup) but also has massive defensive value (approximately 8 points) while keeping a decent leave (ENNS is about -3 to SX) making PYX a stronger play.



In this case, you are considering sacrificing 4 points to hit the BEMIXING extension. You’re over 50% to draw the E, and BEMIXING scores 60 points, so if it was never blocked, it would definitely be worth it.

The problem is that BEMIXING gets blocked occasionally by overlaps, but more importantly it frequently just gets taken by your opponent first, with extensions such as AD, RE, UN, BE, and IM. This happens over 1/3 of the time, and scores over 50 points, leading to a huge increase in opponent’s score, making the 8c position completely impractical.



In this case, your options are mediocre. On the one hand, you have WORK which scores 22 but keeps ORV, but the other option scores 20 and keeps KOR.

WORK will hit an E fairly often: about 40% of the time. Your opponent has a myriad of extensions, that will hit about 20% of the time, but also will block a decent percentage of the time with parallels over WO: not too often, but more than usual in marginal situations. In addition, your opponent can also make setups in this position, since they know that you have three tiles that are kind of confined to the setup, and that strongly negatively affects your play. (In CSW, they also have AWORK#, completely ruining any semblance of a reasonable position). Each of these factors is only worth a few points, but combined, they accumulate to be more significant than the OVERWORK extension.


Warranted Extensions 

While most extensions are not worth fishing for, some definitely are, and they are a factor that can sometimes tip the scale when choosing between two close plays.  Let’s now take a look at when opening rack extensions *are* worth fishing for. As you can see, opening rack extensions are only worth while when the sacrifice is extremely small and/or the reward is overwhelming.



This is a small sacrifice, since TAXING is 8 more but keeps a slightly worse leave. You’re around 50% to hit EXACTING, the A also gives you AX plays if ACTING is blocked, and it rarely will be, and even if blocked, you’re still going to have an X. The setup is worth about 10-11 points, so the 8 point sacrifice is just barely worth it.



COCKSMAN/COCKSMEN scores 57 points and is extremely likely to be drawn, allowing you to hit over 60% of the time, giving you about a 10 point increase, but since it uses the S, it’s closer to only a 5 point increase, since the average is about 45 with S plays. In this case, your sacrifice isn’t actually in points, but defense, especially the Y hook, and there’s only 2 Ys in the bag. (COCKS still gives you COCKSM_N). While this is significant and Y plays score a lot, it’s not enough to compensate for the potential upside in setup.



In this case, while you’re giving up bingo potential, you’re maintaining the C which is such a valuable tile for extensions to ZONES (ECOTONES, CANZONES, and CALZONES) and scoring an additional 18 points. On future turns you can keep the Z, and the OZONES hook actually helps you get ECOZONES down, which makes the extension even more lucrative, making it very likely that you’re going to get a 50+ point play with the C in addition to the additional 18 points this turn. This pushes ZONES to be a slightly better play than COZ, but even still it’s only by a few points. In this case, the worth of the extension is more valuable, since it’s likely to be recurring.



In this case, you’re only sacrificing a meager 2 points for the prospect of an A draw, which will happen over 1/3 of the time for ANNEXING. Although this isn’t a huge factor, it outweighs the 2 points that you are sacrificing.



In this case, DIGIT is a strong play not just because of the DIGITIZE extension, which you are likely to draw, but also because of ZIG for 33 as a strong backup play, clearing the rack. Thus, it’s not only the extension that is appealing: you also have a secondary option in addition to the prospects of the 5 tile draw. Although the extension is only worth 5 or so points, when you add in the ZIG possibility it overtakes ZITI as a potential option.

Hopefully, this guide will serve as a template for helping players understand when they should and should not play extensions, especially on the opening rack.

Archived 3-part series on Advanced Scrabble Strategy

Post 1:

You’re in a close game with one of the best players in the world. Your rack is BEEMOTY. You’re down 281-291, and your opponent has just taken 2 minutes and then played WO 14b for 10 points. Your last play was HAO, and before that, they exchanged 6. The pool is AAABCDDEEEEFFJLLLNNOORRRUUVXY.  What is your play? I’ve attached a GCG: Feel free to use Quackle if you want, but again, please do not use Championship Player.



Post 2:

First, if you have not done so, please look at part 1 of this series below (as that is extremely relevant to this position) and make your play selection! Again, while the lessons in these diagrams are geared towards experts, the themes and strategy can also be understood by lower rated players.After YEP has been played, you seem to be in good shape. You’re now up and you’ve got the T for TWO, and you’re sweating a bingo from the I. Your opponent doesn’t bingo. Then, in another plot twist, your top player decides to make another baffling move, blocking the I, and making another T setup!


2-2Score: 316-302

Last plays: [Opponent exchanged 6, you played HAO, opponent played WO, you played YEP, opponent played REF 14i (11)]

What’s your play? In this position, please also indicate which spot, as many of the candidate options has multiple placements at this point. Again, please don’t consult Championship Player. Results will come on a future post (after Post 3). Thanks!


Position 3: What do you play?

p-3Rack: DFFJLRW
Score: 281-281 Last play was HAO.

Assume your opponent is rated somewhere between 6-600 in the world.Please state your reasoning 🙂 There are actually numerous options available here, but I think we’re about to uncover something fairly interesting here…


Archive of Facebook Strategy Posts

Post #1:

So the previous positions have been more complicated, and I want to start doing simpler positions that are more accessible to more players, while still illustrating useful Scrabble concepts. The next few positions are going to be a bit more basic: they will be positions with a clear best play, but still not so obvious that I think everyone will make the correct decision.Find the best play!





Post #2

This is somewhat strategically related (though not really) to the series of prior positions. Unlike the last position, this is actually a position or concept that happens frequently that I’ve seen a lot of people mess up countless times. Can you spot the best play?



Post #3:


200+ Common CSW-only words

One of the most common misnomers of CSW is that it only consists of ridiculous words that have no basis in any native English speaker’s vocabulary.  While there are certainly many words in CSW that are very obscure (and perhaps CSW needs a purge), there are also a significant number of words that I think are also quite intuitive.

Here’s a list that I made below (with the help of the Scrabble community)


Scrabble Variants

Here are some commonly played variants of Scrabble:



Anagrams is a word-finding game using two or more sets of Scrabble tiles.  In anagrams, you can do either two things: Grab a 7+ letter word using the pool of tiles in the middle, or steal an already existing word using the tiles remaining in the pool.

For example, if EHIMORSVZ is in the pool, someone could form the word HEROISM.  The pool would then become VZ.  If the next tiles are I and P, someone could steal HEROISM with IMPOVERISH, leaving a Z in the pool.

With the blanks, you can either form a 9+ letter word in the pool, or steal but also using at least 2 other tiles in the pool.  Thus, to steal a 7 letter word using a blank, the steal must be at least 10 letters long.




Clabbers is Scrabble with one basic rule change: any word that is an anagram of a valid word is also playable!  For example, not only is the word FUN valid, but so is FNU, UFN, UNF, NFU, and NUF!  This allows for many more overlaps, extensions, bingos, and significantly higher scores as you get to play long words with ease and show off your word-finding ability!




Rather than a competitive game, Phoneyz is a somewhat cooperative game where the objective is to play the raunchiest or most hilarious “words” imaginable that you can find. (Phoneyz is generally not a competitive game: dictionaries are not used.) An additional rule is that any blank on the board can be replaced by the letter it is designated for, allowing for an infinite number of turns where blanks can be used in one’s rack.

Players can also add strip variants or other variants to this game, adding instructions (i.e. take off a piece of clothing whenever someone plays anything alluding to stripping)


Strip Scrabble



  1. Each player starts with only 6 articles of clothing of their choice. (One game of Scrabble would be about 6 articles of clothing. Plan accordingly: multiple games are optional!)
  2. Phoneyz lexicon preferred (no dictionary), playful words desired
  3. For every 100 points, the opposing player strips.
  4. Each person must take off a piece of clothing when opposing player plays a word below. Words can only be added once the game starts. Once a word is played, it cannot be used again.
  5. The winner of the game gets one request of the loser.
  6. Feel free to add your own words, such as player’s names, pet names, etc.


Word List:




  1. Plan on two quick games: 1 minute per turn maximum (use Iphone or timer). (Each game should take less than a half hour)
  2. Plan for ~8 articles of clothing per person.
  3. Word validity is decided via consensus!

Stripping Conditions:

  1. Any bingo allows the player to pick two people to strip.
  2. Players are force to strip if the player before AND after them both outscore them.  In the case of a tie score, BOTH players have to strip.
  3. For every 100 points scored, that player can choose one other player to strip.
  4. Feel free to add your own words, such as player’s names, pet terms, etc. as well as keywords that act as bingos (forcing another player to strip)



Player 1 scores 28 points                            Player 2 scores 20 points

Player 3 scores 24 points (P2 strips)            Player 4 bingos (chooses P1 to strip)



Previewing the 2016 Nationals

Hey guys! For those of you interested in following, I’ve decided to make a brief description of the players to watch in this year’s National Scrabble Championship. Enjoy!




David Gibson

Probably the consensus favorite to win the tournament, with the highest rating and most experience out of anyone in big events. Many of the top players in this event have limited experience dealing with Gibson’s unique style, and he has unprecedented results against the 1800-1900 range, which consist of the majority of this field.


Question Marks: Can he adapt to players who have seen his style through annotation? Can he hold it together at the end of the tournament?



Will Anderson
Will Anderson


My pick to win the tournament. Ranked #2, with excellent results at the last three Nationals, and probably the most technically sound player in the tournament. Will is able to play a multitude of styles, has a good matchup with every player in the field, and has been the most consistent player over the last few years.


Question Marks: Hasn’t been playing a lot lately. Doesn’t have the name recognition as some other top players, and as such might not incite the same number of mistakes as other top players.



Mack Meller
Mack Meller


Probably the sentimental favorite to win the tournament, as Mack’s not even in college yet, and many of us remember Mack from his days as an innocent School Scrabble player. Likely the best word knowledge in the entire tournament and the highest ISC rating, Mack’s fast speed and extremely aggressive play style combine with his youth and stamina will make him a force to be reckoned with.


Question Marks: Expectations for Mack have never been higher, as this is the first Nationals he’s been considered a sizable favorite, as well as likely the crowd favorite. How will he deal with the pressure?


Strong contenders:

Matthew Tunnicliffe

The defending National Champion. Enough said. Can he repeat?


Jesse Day


Jesse burst onto the scene about 5 years ago, having one of the sickest years ever recorded in Scrabble history.  Since then, he has finished in the top 10 in the last 5 straight Nationals and a runner-up last year, Jesse Day has to be considered a major contender for any Nationals he enters.  But with Kings Cup a month prior and Lille looming, is he focused on the American lexicon?


Rafi Stern


Rafi hasn’t played many tournaments as of late, instead choosing to devote more of his game-playing efforts towards poker.  When Rafi’s on point, he’s one of the strongest and scariest players in the field, and can go an entire day without making major errors.  Rafi has an extremely strong technical understanding of Scrabble, capable of playing various styles and adjusting his style based on the situation.


Orry Swift


While he might not have the same name recognition, Orry has been recently trying to rededicate himself to Scrabble, and has one of the most strategic and analytical minds in the game, with the ability to be a winning player at games such as poker and Magic in addition to Scrabble.  Even though he has some tough matchups, he still has some of the best results of any player in the field.


Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 3.16.33 PM
Joel Sherman


Infamous for his depiction in the hit book Word Freak, the former National Champion has a setup-heavy style that plays well in the current metagame, and has been in strong contention for most of the recent Nationals. Can he finally break through?


Joey Krafchick
Joey Krafchick


Currently the 4th seed, having won 14 tournaments in the last year. His fast, aggressive style makes him extremely difficult to deal with, and he tends to cram studying in before Nationals. Can he manage to overcome his head-to-head struggles against other, tactical top players?


Jason Li


Jason’s probably the most unknown of the contenders who can win Nationals, making him a likely candidate to sneak up out of nowhere, although he was in strong contention at Buffalo in 2014. Perhaps one of the most analytical players out there. Can he finally break through and win in a major Division 1 field?


Scott Appel:


After a few year slump, Scott’s finally starting to regain his form with a strong performance in Atlanta, not to mention numerous BAT premiers and four top 10s at prior Nationals. While he doesn’t have the name recognition or overwhelming personality of the other top players, he’s still a major threat to win.


Joe Edley


By far the most decorated Nationals player in the field, with 3 titles and many other 2nd and 3rd place finishes, not to mention countless other tournaments and over $100,000 in career earnings.  While he finished 6th last year, he hasn’t finished in the top 10 before then since 2005.  Does he still have what it takes to win?


Panupol Sujjayakorn


A strong Thai player with amazing fundamentals, Panupol finished 4th at last year’s Nationals, not to mention having a 2-0 lead in the 2005 best of 5 Nationals against eventual champion Dave Wiegand and a World Scrabble Championship title.  Could a Thai finally win a Nationals?




Other candidates include: Cesar del Solar, Charles Reinke, Ian Weinstein, Joey Mallick, Matt Canik, Thomas Reinke, Chris Cree, Mike Frentz, Laurie Cohen

Credit to photos:
Hannah Lieberman (David Gibson)
Dan Reiner (Will Anderson)
NASPA (Scott Appel, Panupol Sujjayakorn, Joel Sherman, Joey Krafchick)
http://www.rowecenter.org (Joe Edley)
http://www.cross-tables.com (Mack Meller)
Conrad-Bassett-Bouchard (Jason Li)
Emily Dowgialo (Rafi Stern, Matthew Tunnicliffe)
Jesse Day (himself)

What dictionary should I play?

Many players have asked: What dictionary I can play?  The answer is as simply as geography.

If you live in the US, Canada, Israel, or Thailand, you should play with OWL.  OWL is a smaller, restricted list that focuses on American English.  The dictionary is more provincial, and as such rarely includes entries such as Maori, German, or Indian rooted words, and is often viewed as a more intuitive dictionary.

If you like in any other country (including the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Nigeria, and others) you should play with the CSW dictionary.  The CSW dictionary includes many obscure words (such as EUOUAE, YDRAD, and VOZHD, but also contains common immigrant words from other languages (such as CHIHUAHUA DUBSTEP, and NIGIRI) as well as other common words that are inexplicably not in the American dictionary, such as RAINFOREST, SEEDINGS, REFOREST, and IMMERSIVE.

Please subscribe for more updates!

Strategic Differences Between Words with Friends and Scrabble

Despite the obvious similarities between Words with Friends and Scrabble, there are some key differences. Bingos are only worth 35 points. The tile distribution and point values are slightly different.  Phoneys are no longer an option.  Tournaments don’t exist for WWF (yet).  And the board is somewhat different. This results in some key notable strategic differences between the two games:

• Consonants used for bingos are less useful in Words with Friends. They are still okay tiles because they allow you to use higher scoring consonants in conjunction with each other, but they are still slightly below average.

• Fishing (the act of playing or exchanging one or two tiles in hopes of a bingo) is nearly non-existent in Words With Friends. Since bingos score less, and scoring plays score more, there is rarely a purpose of fishing. Making any extra effort trying to play a bingo is often fruitless.

• While it is harder to build a lead in Words With Friends, it is also harder to make up a deficit. Scores do not vary nearly as widely because of the increased scoring bonuses and decreased bingo bonuses available.

• Setups are more valuable in Words with Friends

• Opening the board leads to higher scoring plays in Words With Friends, due to the board configuration and slightly higher point values of various tiles.