Sunday, December 19, 2004

Why Aren't I Playing Scrabble Well?

Sacha Chua's recently posted the results of our most recent Scrabble game on her blog. It's the one where I lost to her by a measly 28 points.

What it doesn't say, though, is the fact that I've dropped two earlier games to her, the most significant win margin being a nasty 260 points. (She's pretty good at the game, yes.) And in an earlier game today against another skilled player, I bit the dust about 50 points behind my erstwhile opponent.

I find that odd, somehow. I'm a writer - aren't I supposed to be good with words?

I've already mentioned a few possible explanations during my games with Sacha: I'm less likely to challenge words based on the fact that I've seen and used quite a lot of them in my time, and I'm more likely to place words on the board that usually won't be found in the standard Scrabble dictionaries. (The very first word I ever placed, "Skirge", was promptly challenged and removed... not a good sign, if you ask me.)

That, and I seem to get too many vowels. But that's besides the point at the moment.

If there's anything I've noticed, there's a marked difference between my play style and that of my opponents'. I have a habit of finding words of five letters or more in my tiles, and tend to place those on the board. Sacha (as well as quite a few others, it seems) makes a lot of short words each turn by appending two or three letters alongside an existing row. Where I'm scoring 12 or 15 points a shot, they're getting 20 or more.

It could explain why I'm losing my games, I think. All the colored squares on the Scrabble board cluster together, yes, but almost never on the same row or column. The more I look at it, the more I see that placing a long word would obviously score less on average than placing a short entry that registers multiple words. Long words usually hit only one colored square. Multiple short words can easily hit two or more, jacking up the resulting score.

I've also realized that I tend to run into problems when my opponent is clustering his words together - the resulting mixture leaves me little room for which to connect my longer entries. I've been forced to discard potential seven-letter words more than once merely because I couldn't find a place to put them. And even if I do manage to place a long word, it gives my opponent an easy opening for her own entries.

Interestingly enough, I have to conclude that, in order to improve my Scrabble, I have to set aside my intuition for long words and concentrate on identifying the shorter words that can mesh with others of their kind. That'll have to include knowing which words actually exist (like "ti" and "qat"), and which don't (like "ut").

It's strange, how I've been playing this game for decades and yet never got around to looking at it from a more strategic angle.

If you're around the website, do head for the Scrabble boards and see if 'wintermarch' is around. I'll be happy to oblige you with a game.

Just don't beat me by 3000 points or something. That would really damage my ego.

1 comment:

Sean said...

Turns out that "ut" is actually a real word. It refers to Universal Time, which is the local time at the 0 meridian passing through Greenwich, England.

I guess you learn something new every day...