Q&A with Mike Frentz

Q: Give me a memory of Scrabble you think is powerful:

Mike: I have heard from a sportswriter I enjoy that losing hurts worse than winning feels good. And I remember winning a big tournament… and that is a good thing… but the close heartbreaking losses at the end of tournaments… those stay with you. I’ve often said the day that winning stops feeling good is the day I consider quitting, but the day that losing stops hurting is the day I actually do.

Q: What makes Scrabble tournaments what you think they are today?

Mike: What makes Scrabble a great game is that you never see the same game twice. No two games will ever develop the same way. You might see themes and patterns… but the infinite variety is what keeps you going. And the next tournament… this could be the time everything aligns and works in your favor, or it could be time everything breaks against you. There are times I question why I put myself through that. All of that and the community, the friends I’ve made… you can’t put a value on that.

Q: What are your hopes for the future of Scrabble?

Mike: Well the scene is very fragmented at the moment… I would like to see everyone under the same umbrella, pulling in the same direction, and not fighting over how big a slice of a pie they get, but working to grow the pie and making sure there’s enough for everyone.

Q: Can you describe the melting pot of characters in (tournament) Scrabble?

Mike: I know friendships that span 40 years of ages, and people who have known each other a long time. And you get people who come in book smart, street smart, from gaming, gambling, from all walks of life, doctors, and unemployed, everyone comes together because they know this is the one thing they can do better than pretty much everyone.

Q: Do you think Scrabble is more art or more chaos?

Mike: There are definitely elements of both. There is a chaos to it, just as there’s chaos from drawing random tiles out of the bag, but there’s also an artistry. There’s seeing possibilities no one can see, or words that are difficult to see. There’s the art of reading people, the art of how the English language works, which can get you in trouble on occasion because if you look for logic in the Scrabble community you’re on a fool’s errand, but there’s elements of everything, art, chaos, probability… everything’s there.

Q: What are things that you think about when you think about the Scrabble community?

Mike: I think about a group of people who are smarter than they give themselves credit for. There is a lot of pettiness there, and I don’t know where it comes from… I’ve discussed why the politics are so nasty, and the reason is why Henry Kissinger said about academic politics… and that’s that the stakes are so small. And the smaller the pond is, the greater the need to be the biggest fish, and there’s a fair amount of ego. And I hope I can be one of the ones who can steer clear of indulging in that, but I’m not one to make that judgment.

Q: Describe the competitiveness of the Scrabble community.

Mike: Where do I begin? I’ve seen… I’ve done… Hats similar to this have gone a very long distance after particularly bad games, people swear like drunken sailors, throw things, blow up at people they’ve been friends with for a long time. When you put any prize on the table and tell competitive people to play for it. Whoever loses?

I don’t care about your internal equanimity, whatever your faithful, inner beliefs, your inner Zen, whatever keeps you centered… when your opponent bingos out on you to win a game by 10 points to win a tournament, you are ticked. And the people who play this game at the highest levels know that winning is the end goal.

Playing well and making the right decisions are all well and good… but at the end of the day, people focus on the results, And people who are focused on the process… you are always making mistakes. And so you ‘re mad at the fate you’re mad at your opponent… you’re mad at yourself, there’s always something to be mad at and people are.

Q: What is it about Scrabble that you love?

It is something that no one is ever going to truly master, but something you can always see incremental improvement at. One of my professors in college told me that one of your goals in college is to find something at which you can be excellent. And this is the thing which I am good, the thing which I am and continue to be excellent. And the fact that this brought me into a group of very good, fun-loving people who, temper tantrums aside, are friendly, fun, good hearted people, makes it all the worthwhile.