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Competitive SCRABBLE play

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What is competitive Scrabble play and what draws people to it? Stefan Fatsis wrote a best-selling book about his personal experience entering the world of Scrabble tournaments, but let’s see if we can cover the key points in a brief webpage.

So you’ve been a Scrabble player for fun for a while. Maybe you get together for a regular game with some friends, or spend a few hours a day playing online. You think you’re pretty good at the game and get to wondering if there’s more to it, or maybe you hear about a local club or tournament. A web search brings you to our website, so now what? Here are the things that casual players first notice about competitive play.

Competitive play

One-on-one play
All competitive play consists of two-player games. When more players are involved in a casual game, there is an advantage to having your turn after a weaker player.
NASPA Word List (NWL)
Many websites use this lexicon too, but you may be used to using either the slightly abridged Official SCRABBLE Players Dictionary or a non-Scrabble dictionary. The NWL was compiled from several college-level dictionaries, and is therefore more inclusive than any one of the source works while being more restrictive than a large unabridged dictionary. On first glance, most people think it has either too many or too few words, but it's our best compromise against the chaos that would ensue if every club used its own dictionary.
Timed Games
Some people are naturally fast players, most people are a little deliberative, and a few people are extremely slow. There are some game positions that require very little thought, but others that experts can debate for days. To keep everyone to a schedule, club and tournament directors require the use of timers, typically limiting each player’s total thinking time to 25 minutes per game. A game is typically 12–15 plays each, so you could safely spend a minute or two on each play, or spend ten minutes on one and then a minute on the rest. If you go overtime, you lose penalty points but do not immediately forfeit the game as in chess.
Our official rules are fairly long, and are the result of decades of experience in trying to come up with the fairest way for players to compete. They can be intimidating, especially during your first game, when you’re trying to remember the sequence of actions needed to correctly end a turn (place word, announce score, record any blank designations, start opponent’s timer, record your cumulative score, draw replacement tiles, record anything else you want). A better place to start is our Newcomer’s Handout, and the most important rule to remember is to always ask the director if you’re not sure what to do.

Go to a club

Many players try their hand at competitive play at a NASPA club before taking on a tournament. The chances are good that you live near a NASPA club. Take a look at the club roster for the club director’s contact information and give him/her a call or send an email. Almost all clubs are extremely welcoming to newcomers, and give them a lot of help with the transition to competitive play.

A club is a good place to learn the basics of competitive play, and to get regular practice facing better players. We strongly recommend that players attend at least one club session before attending their first tournament. At a tournament, players play more seriously and directors are busier, with less time to help out newcomers.

If you live in an area not served by any of our clubs, it’s possible for even a newcomer to start a new club. Doing so involves paying a small fee, taking an open book test about the rules, and then being apprenticed to an experienced director until they’re sure you know everything you need to know. Please contact our Club Committee to learn more about this process.

Attend a tournament

Some clubs run a monthly one-day tournament on a Saturday or a Sunday, most clubs run a larger multiday once a year, and then there are very large events like the annual championship where several hundred players compete for tens of thousands of dollars in prizes.

All of our open sanctioned tournaments are listed in our tournament calendar. If you don’t see one listed near you, ask your club director: some events are listed as far as a year in advance, but others may not appear until several weeks before they take place.

Each director sets his or her tournament’s entry fee. Players may compete in separate divisions according to their tournament rating, and divisions may have different fees. Be punctual at tournaments: if you are a first-time player and do not arrive in time for registration, your director may think you are not going to show up and remove you from the event. On the other hand, if something comes up and you have to cancel at the last minute, always inform your director

To play in a tournament, you must also have a paid NASPA membership. You should sign up online, and may either pay at the same time using a credit card, or pay your director cash when you arrive at the tournament.

If you have any questions about competitive Scrabble play that are not answered here, please email us.