Tucson Desert

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Information for New SCRABBLE® Players

introduction | coming to club | numbers and stats | improving your game | what's next


Introduction

Welcome new players!

Unlike the Scrabble games you grew up playing against your friends and family (what we call "Kitchen Scrabble"), most players in a club setting take the game very seriously. Because of this, we recognize that attending an organized Scrabble club for the first time can be a bit intimidating. Despite their seriousness, though, all members of the Southern Arizona Scrabble community are passionate about this game and eager to welcome and encourage new players.

Most people who attend our clubs for the first time have usually played kitchen Scrabble for years -- and usually won their games on a pretty regular basis. These more casual kitchen Scrabble games are one of the best foundations for attending an organized Scrabble club. In fact, almost every one of the experienced club players you will ever meet started out as a kitchen Scrabble player. However, game play in the world of organized Scrabble is vastly different from the more relaxed style to which you might be accustomed.

It is not uncommon for experienced kitchen Scrabble players to lose all their games when they first start attending an organized Scrabble club. If this happens to you, don't be discouraged! The more formal setting, unfamiliar rules, timed games, and stronger level of competition take some getting used to. Keep an open mind and don't be afraid to ask questions. As you become more comfortable in this setting and start to appreciate the nuances of organized Scrabble games, you will improve!

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Coming to Club

Before coming to club, we strongly encourage you to read our Club Introduction page for some basic information about the setting and how we work. Since the most common confusion about organized Scrabble is often related to the words we use, we also encourage you to check out the article A Word About the Words We Use, which gives a brief history of the Official Tournament and Club Word List ("The OWL"), the agreed upon dictionary for organized Scrabble play in North America.

When you come to one of the Tucson Scrabble clubs, make sure to bring some paper or score sheets and a pen or pencil. If you have a Scrabble Deluxe set or any other suitable equipment, we appreciate you bringing that as well.

Either a club director or an experienced player will take the time to make sure you have a basic familiarity with how the club operates and some of the basic rules. Then start your games! A club director will pair you with different opponents throughout the night. Although some of the players against whom you are paired might be more advanced, we will do our best to pair you against all strengths of opponents.

In order to help familiarize beginning tournament rules players with some of the more important aspects of tournament play, Tucson's NASPA Clubs permit any player who has played less than 50 games at our club (and who does not have an NASPA rating) to play his or her games with the following handicaps:
1. NASPA "IMPORTANT WORDS" or Mike Baron's "CHEAT SHEET" may be used as a reference during play.
2. New Player is allowed unlimited challenges per game without penalty.
3. New Player is allowed 30 minutes to play his/her game without penalty (i.e. a time penalty does not occur until clock reads -5:01)
4. New Player may neutralize clock to have a club veteran or director explain a point of procedure or rule at any time.

Rules

The Tournament Rules Division will play using the Official Tournament Rules established by the North American Scrabble Players Association. We understand these take a bit of getting used to, and experienced players will be understanding as you familiarize yourself with them. We encourage you to review these Official Tournament Rules at your own leisure.

Recreational Division rules will be determined by the players involved in the games.

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Numbers and Stats

Club Statistics

Once you begin Tournament Division play, we will track your progress throughout the club's season, which starts in August and runs through July of the next year. We maintain the following statistics in the club results page:

We maintain these statistics to allow you to track your performance and improvement as well as to foster a sense of competition amongst the local players.

Using the Ratings System

One of the focuses of our club is to prepare Scrabble players for tournament play. NASPA uses a ratings system that adds or subtracts points based on your performance and the skill of the opponents you have played. The scale runs from a low end of about 400 to a high end of about 2050. The system takes your entering rating, your won/lost record in a tournament, and the ratings of your opponents into consideration. The points you will gain or lose are dependent on the skill level of your opponents and the statistical probabilities of your winning your games against them. The number of games you would statistically be expected to win in the tournament is compared to your actual number of wins, the difference is then multiplied by a Multiplier. The result is the number of ratings points you will gain or lose in the tournament. If you win more games than statistically expected, your rating goes up. If you win fewer games than statistically expected, your rating goes down. The Calgary Scrabble Club maintains a very good in-depth explanation on how the ratings system works.

We independently maintain a club rating using a variation of the system used by the NSA. When a person attends our club for the first time, he or she will be assigned a rating based on one of three conditions:

  1. If a new player has an NASPA rating (i.e., he or she has competed in a NASPA sanctioned tournament before), we will adopt that rating as his or her club rating.
  2. If a player does not have an NASPA rating, that player's initial rating will be determined by his/her performance during his/her first club session. Should the new player win a game (or more) against a rated opponent during that session, his/her initial rating will be determined by the statistical probability of someone winning that particular number of games against his/her opponents in that session.
  3. Should the new player lose all of their games in their first session, they will be assigned a rating of 750. Following their fourth club session, the director may adjust the new player's rating as performance indicates. If that player later on competes in a tournament and establishes a NASPA rating higher than his current club rating, we will adopt that new NASPA rating as his or her club rating. Once a player has a club rating, it will be used to track his or her performance for games played at the Tucson NASPA Clubs only. To clarify, this club rating is maintained independently of a player's NASPA rating and does not apply outside of our club's setting.

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Improving Your Game

Improving your Scrabble game is a gradual process. However, doing so will increase your ability to be competitive against experienced players and ultimately result in your gaining greater satisfaction from the game. Although each player has his or her own methods of absorbing new information, we suggest the following to improve your game.

Learn the “Four Foundations”

We suggest you start out with the following "Four Foundations" for improving your Scrabble game. Players with club ratings at or below 700 are allowed to use the NASPA "IMPORTANT WORDS" list during game play.

Learn Some Basic Strategy

First rule of defense: Avoid playing a vowel next to a colored bonus square. The big points are on the consonants. If a vowel is next to a colored bonus square, it makes it easier for your opponent to play a consonant two ways on a bonus square.

Note the odd plays: If your opponent plays an obscure word with which you are unfamiliar (YEUKY, for example), it is in your best interest to know whether it is good or not. Of course, the fastest way to find out is by challenging the word, but depending on the skill level of your opponent this might quickly backfire. At the very least, make note of odd plays and look them up after the game.

Don't waste your blanks: As a rule of thumb, don't play the blank unless you score at least 30 points more than your next best score. Most Scrabble experts rarely play a blank without making a 7 or 8 letter bingo play.

Don't waste your S's: As a rule of thumb, don't play an S unless you score at least 12 more than your next best play. If you have 2 S's then the value should be placed at about 8 points.

Look for 50-point bonus words, or "Bingos.": Start off by separating common prefixes and suffixes from the rest of the letters in your rack — i.e., -ED, -ING, -IEST, -IER, OUT-, UN-, etc. You'll be amazed at how often you'll be able to find those high scoring words.

Watch what you DON'T play: What you leave on your rack is almost as important as what you play. Play off those inflexible tiles quickly in hopes of getting a bingo next turn. It is very hard to bingo when you have a Z and K on your rack at the same time (there are only 30 playable 7-letter words containing both Z and K, in fact). Leaving 2 or 3 of the same tile on your rack invites the tile gods to leave you with 4 or 5 next turn. It also cuts down on the flexibility of your rack. Break up those doublets and triplets.

Play more tiles: You CAN influence luck. The more tiles you "turn over," the more chances you'll have at drawing great replacements. Playing just 55 of the 100 tiles yields you a 10% advantage over your opponent in the search for the blanks and powerful S, X, Z, Q, and J tiles.

No Fishing! Play each turn as if it were a riddle to be solved, looking for the best possible play on your rack. Don't play 1 or 2 tiles in hopes of drawing the perfect tiles to play a word like WATERZOOI. Every turn you waste like that puts you farther behind. After a few low-scoring turns, even WATERZOOI won't help you win.

Board management counts: When you are losing, don't close down bingo lines. You'll never catch up. Likewise, when you are winning, don't make bold openings that can let your opponent make that big comeback play.

Stems, Fours, Fives, and So On

While the "Four Foundations" are of extreme importance, other courses of study include moving past the two and three letter words and into the four-letter and five-letter words.

Additionally, being able to identify word stems is of great value. A stem is a group of letters that have the high probability of being a part of a bingo. The most common stems are prefixes such as RE-, PRE-, PRO-, etc., and suffixes such as -ERS, -ING, -IZE, and so on.

Beyond that are stems that are entire words into which letters can be anahooked to create other words. For example, one of the best stems to have on one's rack is the word SATIRE. There are 69 different seven- letter words that can be formed by adding one letter to SATIRE. Each of those 69 words would give you the 50-point bonus should you be able to place it on the board.

Tile Tracking

Tracking is the act of keeping track of tiles that have been played during the course of a game — usually by crossing them off of a preprinted score sheet. Most competitive Scrabble players Tile Track, and doing so is acceptable for organized Scrabble play.

The benefits of tracking include knowing what is (and sometimes what isn't) remaining in the tile bag. Tracking usually pays off more towards the end of the game but can help out at any point in the game. For example, consider that towards the end of a game, you have a Q on your rack. There are only eight letters remaining in the tile bag. Should you exchange tiles and get rid of the Q or hang in there and hope to draw a U or an I or a Blank? By tracking you would know whether all the I's, U's and Blanks had been played. If they had, exchanging tiles might not be such a bad idea. Moreover, towards the end of a game that has been tracked correctly, you will know exactly what is on your opponent's rack.

Tile Tracking is an easy concept, but it is not as easy as it looks. Organized Scrabble has a lot of other elements to get used to — playing on a clock, keeping accurate score, the varied rules — and you should only start tile tracking once you are comfortable with organized play. You might want to start off slow by tracking just the power tiles (J, K, Q, X, and Z), four S tiles, and two Blanks. After you are comfortable with that, move up to tracking all tiles.

The only rule of thumb in regards to tile tracking is this: Don't tile track while your clock is running! While your clock is running, you should be using that time to look for your best possible play. Tile track while your opponent's clock is running, tracking as many plays as you have time for and noting you have tracked them by putting some type of notation next to them (a dot, a check mark, etc.).

You'll develop your own style of tile tracking, but one of the more common ways of tile tracking is to write down the words played with the tiles that were actually played in capital letters and the previously-played tiles in lower case. For example consider that you play ANODE, your opponent plays through the O with the word DoOMED, you then play a parallel play of AX, and your opponent counters by playing dEFAMES off the D. When you track these tiles, you'll know to cross off only the tiles in upper case (ANODE, DOMED, AX, EFAMES) and not the ones in lower case (the "o" and the "d").

Scrabble Terms

Like any other sport, organized Scrabble has its own unique terms that are not common outside the game. We have done our best to document them in a Scrabble Glossary. We encourage you to check it out. —Learning the lingo will help you achieve a better understanding of the game.

Join NASPA

At some point you should consider joining the North American Scrabble Players Association (NASPA). Joining NASPA won't make you a better player and is not necessary to play in an organized Scrabble club, but membership allows you to play in sanctioned NASPA clubs and tournaments anywhere in North America.

Several different categories of membership are available to you through either the NASPA website or the Director of your local NASPA Scrabble club. To contact Ed Saunders, your local NASPA Director in Tucson click here.

A Regular Membership lasts one year from the time of purchase and costs $30. Multi-year menberships, up to a total of five years, purchased at the same time cost $30 for the first year and $25 for each subsequent year.

A One-Week Membership is available for those players who normally play only one tournament a year. This type of membership costs $19 and is normally purchased at, or the day before, the tournament site.

Trial Memberships are available to first-time tournament players (those who do not already have a NASPA tournament rating or a tournament rating from the now defunct National Scrabble Association or NSA). The Trial Membership is for a six-month period at a cost of $15 and can be extended to a full membership by paying an additional $15 at any time during the six-month trial period.

Youth Memberships are available for players who are younger than eighteen years old on the first day of the membership and cost $15. Additional years, up to a total of five, may be purchased at the same $15 rate as long as the player will not be older than eighteen years old on the first day of each new membership year.

Vanity Memberships and Life Memberships are also available through the NASPA website. Click here for more information on joining NASPA.

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What's Next

Play in Tournaments

After you are comfortable with the basics of organized Scrabble, the sky is the limit. Once you have become used to organized Scrabble in a club setting, consider playing in tournaments. Tournaments are held all over the country, some over a single day and others over the course of several days. In them, you will be placed in a division with similarly-rated players. Playing in tournaments provides the opportunity for prizes, to be nationally ranked, and (most importantly) fun. We will advertise some tournaments in Arizona on the TucsonScrabble site, and NASPA maintains a list of all upcoming tournaments.

Learn Other Methods of Study

As your games start to improve, you will probably work out your own method of absorbing new words. However, several books that outline Scrabble study systems are available as well. Check the links section of the site for a list of them.

Enjoy!

Organized Scrabble is a lifelong passion. The more you play it, the more you'll appreciate it. Enjoy!

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