Q&A with Mark Nyman

Transcript from Gerry Carter.

Gerry: Mark, can you please tell us what are your top three achievements in the game of Scrabble?


Mark: World Champion (once), World Runner-up (twice), UK National Champion (4 times)


GC: What is the favorite move you have ever played and when and where did you play it? What is your highest score, and word in tournament play and practice?


MN: Favourite move probably NY interlocking with MAN in the crucial game of the 1993 World Championship final in New York’s Plaza Hotel – appropriate even if it took someone else to point out after that I’d spelt my name! MUTAGENIC (through UT) in the same final was a little better but I lost that game! Highest score I think was 841 in the ‘high score’ days – it was briefly in the Guinness Book of Records but I half wished it wasn’t as they gave my name as Mark Hyman! Highest word CONQUEST on a triple-triple for 302; I once played EXCRETED as a 9-timer in the London League – I received a certificate for it saying “Mark Nyman Excreted 203”!

(Gerry: High score days means when the game was played with the aim of getting high scores over several games, not match play as it is now. This led to conniving with an opponent to leave things like triple-triple lanes open).


GC: What is your favorite method for learning vocabulary?


MN: It changes from year to year but generally pretty random to avoid getting too bored. Most recently I’ve been learning 3’s and derivatives, then 4’s and derivatives. I much prefer learning the longer words but the 3’s, 4’s and 5’s are more important just because they’re more likely to come up. One thing I would say is you have to be in the right frame of mind to study – there’s no point in forcing yourself to if you’re not in the mood as you probably won’t remember anything.

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


MN: It would be nice to win another 3 World Championships to overtake Nigel – more realistically to start running him close regularly would be good – not quite ready yet but aiming to be by Alchemist Cup. Just as interested in giving back these days – I’m due to start a Women’s Prison Scrabble Club next week and would love to be a ‘Scrabble Prison Pioneer’.


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


MN: Read my ‘Scrabble Secrets’ book!! It will improve your game – I received an email the other day from Stephen Fry’s sister Jo saying they both loved it – there’s a plug if ever there was one! Also for the younger players, slow down a bit and definitely don’t be too cocky – enjoy it and be a good loser!!


GC: What benefits do you think playing Scrabble has brought to other areas of your life?


MN: Apart from winning a few quid, it has allowed me to travel the world, visit amazing places, meet some wonderful people and make some fantastic friends.

GC: When you go to an important tournament what are the key things that you try to do before the tournament and during it?


MN: Lots of word study before if I have the time. I try to relax during an event (beers, sauna, sunbathe, swim and suchlike) but almost invariably do more panic word study – I look forward to the day when I feel I’ve done enough study before a major event but don’t think that will ever happen!


GC: Is there something that you think could be improved about the way the game is organized?


MN: I think event organization is getting better and better. There’s definitely something missing about the Schools’ Scrabble set up in the UK and in lots of other countries – maybe there should be more liaison with the Thais and Nigerians who know what they’re doing on the schools front. It would also be good to persuade more of the online players to play face to face tournaments – I hope the ‘tablet tournament’ initiative will convert some.


(Gerry: Tablet Scrabble is a big feature of Scrabble International and its founders Austin Shin and Dadid Eldar).


GC: Mark, you have been at the top or near the top of the Scrabble tree for three decades and more. What is the secret of your staying power? When would you say you were at the peak of your powers?


MN: I think an innate anagramming ability, competitive edge and genuine love of the game – most of the time! I guess I was at my peak in the 90’s – my best ever World Championship performance I think was ironically when I came 5th in 1997. Results definitely dipped when my kids came along in the noughties – not their fault but your priorities do change. Now they are older and would far rather spend their time with their friends than their parents, I don’t feel so bad about devoting more time to Scrabble again – maybe the best is yet to come….


GC: Do you play any other games apart from Scrabble?


MN: Old age has put an end to 5-a-side-football and squash, but I still like the odd game of badminton and ping pong.


GC: Who is the toughest opponent you have faced and why?


MN: Harvey Freeman (the ‘Supreme Countdown Champion’) – the greatest natural ‘anagrammer’ I have ever met.


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

MN: To be instrumental in getting it into the UK School Curriculum.



GC: Some people have a love hate relationship with Scrabble. How would you describe your relationship with the game?


MN: It’s like supporting QPR – it’s a cruel mistress, but underneath it all I love it really and think I always will – it’s like a marriage but, unlike most marriages, the passion goes on and on!



Gerry: And that, my friend, is why my own book on Scrabble that should be out in a year or two will be called “My Wicked Mistress”! For me it was rather like supporting (the old) THFC!  Mark, thank you so much for those brilliant, amusing and perceptive answers. You are an inspiration and a legend.


Mark: Thank you, Gerry, and see you soon.