A couple weeks ago, my girlfriend and I took our first dip in the waters of competitive Scrabble. We go head-to-head semi-nightly and the battles are always intense (sometimes, possibly too intense). We figured it was time to put our skills on public display.
The Singapore Scrabble Association was hosting the 2009 Yew Tee Scrabble Open Championship, which, as it turned out, was a warm-up for the biennial World Scrabble Championships (WSC) that was being held the next week in Johor Bahru, Malyasia, just across the strait from Singapore.
We were just there for a little fun, of course, full embodiments of our "Recreational" division (she finished 7th, I finished 9th out of 16 players). But others were there for some real-life Word Wars.
We didn't mingle much with the players in the Masters division. They had a pretty intense palate of games -- eight that day (compared to our six total) and eight the day before. But we chatted briefly with a guy decked out in short shorts and a Metallica "Ride the Lightning" T-shirt. (Didn't catch his name but the T-shirt was sick.) He had flown in from Hungary where he's among the elite, a top-rated player in both English and Hungarian versions of Scrabble. How someone can master all the arcane words required to be a world-class Scrabble player in just English is incredible. To be able to do it in multiple languages just makes my mind hurt. He was in Southeast Asia for the next weekend's WSC and was in Singapore to practice.
Also competing at the Yew Tee Open was New Zealander Nigel Richards, who cooly strolled up to the community center auditorium sporting jeans, a Scrabble T-shirt, a pair of thick glasses and a bulging fanny pack. I noticed him because of the fanny pack, of course, but little did I know that he is, or at least has been, the top-rated Scrabble player in the world, as well as the the reigning WSC champion. He crushed the competition in Singapore, winning 13 of his 16 games by a combined margin of 1575 points. He would go on to finish as the runner-up to Thailand's No 1 player, Pakorn Nemitrmansuk, at the WSC.
The WSC pitted more than 100 players from 40 different countries against each other over three days and 24 games worth of high-powered letter crunching. Turns out Thailand is a Scrabble powerhouse of sorts; Pakorn, who was the runner-up in 2003 and 2005, was one of three Thais to finish in the top 5. He won US$15,000 for his efforts. He secured his victory and a score of 670 by playing the word "botanica", whatever that means.
And here is an interesting little blog posting from the Wall St Journal several months ago about Scrabble.