Sunday, December 02, 2007

Becoming an Expert

When I first went to Scrabble club last year I was impressed by a couple of things. Firstly, almost all the players were old ladies; but secondly, that the champions were all younger men. Not like gymnastics, of course, you can be considerably older than that to be a Scrabble champion. You can have gametes, for one. You can even have grandchildren. But Brian Cappelletto is 3 years younger than me. Anyway, this is a game where I fit the profile of a champion, and it's a game that I really like. That's encouraging.

Of course, to become any good you need an opponent. With me unable to make Scrabble club regularly, and being single at the time, and being friendless to boot, finding a regular Scrabble opponent seemed unlikely. Times change though, and the wonderful Scrabblette arrived, as did the wonderful scrabulous.com. And indeed, the wonderful Jane started coming along to Critical Mass and she'll always play Scrabble. That (well, mostly Scrabulous on Facebook) has led to Scrabble becoming my most played game of the year, and in fact of all-time. I have several games in progress at any one time, so if there's any game I have the opportunity to practise, it's Scrabble.

Of course I could play against a computer, but I really don't like computer opponents. First of all, they don;t have much of a personality. You can't say "TELERANS! How did you know TELERANS was a word!?" to a computer opponent. Also, often they play way too well (e.g. GF1) and just depress you instead of giving you a good game. CyberKev points out that I like to play humans because humans are fallible. Yeah... you're all just imperfect opponents to me!

Now don't get me wrong... it's not just Scrabble that I desire to be good at. There are many great games I'd like to become an expert at - Hex, Go, Kropki, Zertz, Checkers. I presume those old guys playing Dominos in the Buena Vista Social Club see skill in that game that has so far eluded me. I'd love to one day be an old guy playing the same game over and over, if I can see the beauty of the game and always learn new things about it.

I think with Scrabble I've reached the level where I can see what it is I need to know. That takes a surprisingly long time! Obviously anagramming is an important skill, and although I consider it one of my strengths at the moment I can see I need to be a lot better. There are twenty-odd thousand seven letter anagrams in Scrabble, and I can't find most of them. Add in blanks and a board to play on and I'm a babe in the words.

There's also the ability to deal with bad racks. Scrabble is legendary for its ability to produce never-ending sequences of impossible-to-play racks. Just when you think it couldn't get any worse, you draw another two Us. Experts know the words to deal with those situations. I know ZEX, ZAX, EUOI and JIVE. I hope UBUNTU is a word :-). I have a lot of work to do learning short words containing high point letters, and vowel dumps.

There's also the difficulty of playing with closed boards, i.e. one of those boards where your only options for play are to end a word in C, start one with X, or to make any two letter word with a V in it. I find those situations very very difficult, and need to learn to play them better.

If you have an open board, of course you're looking for a bingo. Good players either make a bingo or play a word which will prepare their rack for a bingo soon. In the recent world final match 7 bingos were scored between the players. That's almost half the tiles in the game being used in 7 turns. And there were only 24 turns in the game. I did notice that the top-left corner of the board was hard to get into, but in general there were enough places to play for the few words the players needed to make. Words like BEZ, LEE and WOW were made as the players adjusted their racks looking for bingos, which they found about every 3.5 moves. OMG.

I may never be as good as those guys. But at least I am good enough to appreciate their skill, and I can see what a huge gulf there is between me and them.

1 comment:

scrabblette said...

A Blab Bi Center Get Tryst!