Q & A with Edward Okulicz

Credit to Gerry Carter for most of these questions and answers.

Introduce yourself!


Edward: I’m 36, and am unmarried partly because my country is still run by bible-thumping bigots (though that problem should correct itself soon) and partly because I don’t wish to marry anybody at this time. I have no children. I work for the regulatory authority that oversees child care centres in my state in a sort of team leader role.


What are your top three achievements in the game of Scrabble?


Edward: I’d say coming runner-up in the 2008 Causeway has to be number one – I’d had a nightmare series of events to even get to the tournament (missed plane, 24 hours in Perth airport) and no sleep, and nearly won a major event in a huge field. Also was the amazing team spirit, as team Australia won the team event handily against even the might of Thailand and Nigeria.

Then probably back-to-back wins at the Australian Masters in 2011/2012, which is a 19 game round robin of the 20 best Australian players, after coming 2nd in 2010 before amid some controversy – I still think I was the deserving winner that year too and was a bit pissed off at the organisers.

Third, I’m quite pleased to have been part of the world record combined score in a tournament game, even if all the words I played were quite simple ones. I mean, it took me 11 minutes or something to find one of the triple-triples, which is a bit embarrassing.

(Editors’s Note: this was before Edward won the Australian Nationals)


Who or what was your inspiration for playing Scrabble, when did you start and at what age?


EO: My first opponent was my grandmother, who must have shown the game to me when I was about eight.  For years after that I only played my mother and over the next few years it went from her beating me 70% of the time to me winning nearly every game. I went to a club once when I was 16, but the players there weren’t that interested in tournaments so didn’t encourage me in that regard so it was about 6 months before I went to a tournament, where I won the D division.

What is your favorite play, and when and where did you play it? What is your highest score, and word in tournament play and practise?


Edward: In a WSC against Allan Simmons – 2009 I think? – I was down  by 150 points with a rack full of unhelpful dreck (the rack was AGIOPUY) but there was some good stuff to come, so I dumped to open a triple in the right hand column, plus a triple-triple on the bottom row. The funny thing is the word was a phony, but it was accepted. Funnily enough I not only picked up a seven next turn – DEGAMIS from my keep of AGI, it went ever so nicely around the P I’d just floated for MEDIGAPS. Allan, with seven consonants, wasn’t able to block either play and I went on to win by about 50. So my favourite move is the false four letter word that got me into that position which you can guess from my rack.


If we’re talking legal words, one good one that comes to mind was in 2015 at the City of Sydney Masters. I nearly exploded when, holding CHHINOT, Alastair Richards opened with a word starting with C enabling me to play CHTHONIC for 92, no blanks.

My highest word and score in tournament were MONAZITE for 221, which featured in my 721 high game. I did once have a 750 but I don’t count that because once I’d got to a 500-150 lead, my opponent just kept passing because I wouldn’t open up for his bonus. I don’t think I’ve ever got anything higher than 221 for a word in a practice game, or 721 for a game.





What advice would you give to new players starting in the game?


Edward: Learn from better players, but be clear about your goals. If it’s to just have fun, then have fun but don’t expect to get better and accept that the winning word might just be out of your reach because of that. If you want to be good, don’t be afraid of hard work, learn from the wisdom of experts, and don’t empty the bag unless you’re damned sure it’s the best move.



Is there something that you think could be improved about the way the game is organised?


EO: I’d like to see less ‘Balkanisation’ of the organisation(s) that we have. Two events billing themselves as a World Championship is such a bad look and the two parties should sit down together and make a plan and see what each can do for the other.

I’d also like to see WESPA disbanded and replaced with a democratic players’ association that admits individual members, not associations… I don’t want to have my opinion filtered up through committees to my association’s president who then sends it up to a committee that gets stuff from a bunch of other presidents. I want direct democracy, damn it!  If I want change at my local level, I can advocate at that level. If it’s about international stuff… I want to (go) straight to an international body without having it mediated at the local level.


Is there a change in the rules or in the makeup of the game that would make it better?


Edward: I’d like to see a lot of the changes to word eligibility rolled back. Some of the words we added when we went to Collins because they were part of phrases are bullshit. So, no “regia” as in “aqua regia” because it’s Latin (poppycock, it’s indisputably an English noun to refer to something that has no other name), but we can have GUNG from “gung ho”, as if that isn’t obviously Chinese in origin (and it is)…

Some of these decisions were made by people that I don’t think had the expertise or training to be making them. I accept that while Collins is a shithouse dictionary we’re stuck with it and the days of Chambers are over, the decision about what words should go in should be done by learned professionals.


Gerry: What is your favourite way of practising?


Edward: I like to blast through 5 minute games on the computer where no better alternatives exist. I play twice a month with my club in a more laid back environment which is often more fun because it’s a terrific group of people. Getting together with a player of a similar level and playing for 5-6 hours is good, or if you can have 3 other players and do a bit of a round robin so much the better.


Gerry: If there is one thing you could wish for in connection with Scrabble what would it be?


Edward: I like how the game is growing around the world, but it’s dying where I am. Top players have declined, numbers have dropped and new stars are hard to find. So I wish for 200 new players in Sydney to keep me on my toes.


What is your biggest regret in Scrabble?


Edward: Losing the momentum I had in my 20s by not continuing to study. I got to a point where I was a big fish in a small pond as I was easily the best player in the city I lived in (Brisbane) and I could win 85-90% of my games no matter how much study I did.  Should have kept going with the same zest I had up to that point.


Gerry: Who is the person you most admire in Scrabble?


Edward: I really admire (Canada’s) Adam Logan for his obvious mathematical mastery of the game, because that’s an area I’m not very schooled in so have to sort of intuit my way through and I can’t imagine how great it would be to have such a command of numbers alongside word knowledge. Hearing him commentate on live games is a privilege.


Gerry:There has been a lot of news recently about cheating in Scrabble. Do you believe it is widespread in different forms of the game? What do you think should be done about people who are caught cheating in tournaments?


Edward: Well, I’ll say that all of the high profile accused players who have had, or are in, ban periods had widespread suspicion about them. People were pointing to gulfs in observed word knowledge or strategy. People were looking at major improvements in results that weren’t borne out in improvements in standards of play. They didn’t come completely out of the blue. And the incident where a player was ejected from a tournament about 10 years ago after a general warning was given about holding the bag up to all players… everyone knew exactly who that was directed at.

So my hope is that the latest high profile incidents won’t turn our game into a witch hunt where everyone is suspected for no reason, but does embolden us to take action against people who do the wrong thing, particularly those who are unrepentant. I wouldn’t say that I want them to be gratuitously named and pilloried on TV news or in major news media, but I would like their reputations to take significant hits within the community rather than being protected from exposure…

Most of the top rated players, I have seen them play or played them and observed that they are great players who win games with brilliant skill. I think cheating is rare at the top level, though I observe some unethical play.  Locally, I think cheating is not widespread in Australia, and really unethical play isn’t too common either, and is usually corrected by telling the person “Hey, that’s really not the done thing. Instead, you should do this instead”.


What are the top five things you consider as you attempt to determine the optimal play per move ?

Score and leave always 1 and 2, the board, obviously but specifically whether there’s anything I can do that influences the board in my favour which can be fairly subtle. I.e if I have a small lead and the board is wide open, there’s often little point in blocking down, whereas if I have a 150 point lead with say 2 spots open it may be worth blocking. Tile turnover is a minor consideration. And in some rare cases I might consider doing something unexpected or considering what inference my play might cause to be made. But really, when it comes down to it, it’s always score, leave, board.


Gerry: What would you like to achieve in the game that you have yet to accomplish?


Edward: I’d like to at least score a top 10 finish at a World Championship, in as much as we have such a thing now. I had a 13th and an 18th and have never finished outside the top third or so, so it’s just a matter of getting some more data points before variance gets me into the money. I hope.