Intense Wordplay in Reno: The North American Scrabble Championships

By  John Potter
KTVN Reno, Nevada
July 28, 2019
Read the full article here

It’s one of the world’s most iconic board games, known for its blend of language and strategy. Today (Wednesday), the Reno Ballroom was nearly silent…total concentration, with just the sound of thousands of moving plastic Scrabble tiles.

Think ‘Scrabble’, and you picture a leisurely family game night. But for these folks playing in the North American Scrabble Championship, the iconic board game is a competitive, adrenaline-filled, highly cerebral discipline…worthy of a lifetime of obsession. As players during their game breaks told us, “On a scale of one to ten, I love it! 11.” And, “It’s great, and its luck. It’s just a fun game.”

They came from around the world for intense wordplay…a marathon of 31 games in 5 days. Even the strongest players have trouble staying sharp after so much Scrabble. John Chew, the co-president of the organization told us, “It’s a grueling endurance effort to play Scrabble at top level for 5 days.” Added player Debra Komatsu, “Some days I feel I could do this all day, and then the next round I’m losing my mind and in a fog.” Another player, Manop Psipsatboonserm told me, “In Thailand we normally play 8 to 9 games a day, so…it won’t be a problem!”

Player Andy Hoang got hooked, by a tempting invitation: “I started when I was in 5th grade when I played with my best friend. He told me, ‘Come out to the Scrabble club, we’ve got pretzel sticks.’ And for a 5th grader, snacks are what you need to get them hooked.”

For Andy, mastering the game is already a lifelong pursuit. The same goes for Manop. He told me, “I’ve been playing Scrabble for more than 30 years.” But Manop started with a handicap. English is not his native language. How does he compete and win? “Actually we need to memorize the word by using and reading the dictionary.”

If you’re hell bent on dominating your next family board game night, here are some winning tips from the pros. One told us to “take advantage of the double and triple point values.” Player Cheryl Kagan had this advice: “The balanced rack is really the key, having a reasonable number of vowels and consonants.” Cheryl is a Maryland state senator, here in Reno because….scrabble. As she puts it, “It’s social, it’s strategic, its intellectual. It keeps your brain active.”

And Scrabble is the one board game that changes every year, as new words are added. Chew said, “The old folks who don’t like the new words grumble a bit, but we need to keep new kids coming in so we keep adding new words.”

But one thing stays the same…the typical “that’s not a word…yes it is!” disputes. Chew says, “That doesn’t really happen here, but speaking as chairman of the dictionary committee of our association…I would say ‘Our word is final!’”