Alright, so your mother-in-law, a PhD in English Literature, has challenged you, a lowly salesclerk at the local bookstore, to a "friendly" game of Scrabble. Sound like a hopeless case? Certainly not!
More than just a rivalry of vocabularies, Scrabble is a game of strategy. Equipped with the right tricks, even a child could give your mother-in-law a run for her money!
This article will give you five proven tips guaranteed to transform your Scrabble game. Whether you are a novice to the game, or looking to increase your skill in order to compete in clubs or tournaments, a little practice with these techniques will bring instant results!
Tip #1: Two-by-Twos
Experienced Scrabble players agree that the first key to success is memorizing the list of acceptable two-letter word combinations. This sounds harder than it really is. There are only 96 two letter words, and you undoubtedly know 23 of them.
Some lists include 120 two-letter words, depending on which dictionary you refer to. The 1998 Chambers Dictionary, as well as the Chambers Official Scrabble Words qualifies 120 words, while the Merriam Webster Official Scrabble Players Dictionary includes only 96. A good word of thumb would be to decide at the outset of a game which dictionary you will be using. I'd focus on the list of 96 words, as they are universally accepted in almost all dictionaries.
Why is this word list so valuable, considering you only use two tiles? Knowing the two letter words helps you to build parallel words, enabling you to count your letters twice for each word you form. This dramatically increases your score!
This skill is absolutely essential when the board is "closed," (meaning that there are no wide open spaces to build new words in), as well as at the end of the game, when you must empty out your rack.
Memorizing this list only takes minutes if you associate each letter with the number of words it forms, (for example, there are 16 "A" words, 5 "B" words, etc.). Going through the lists and becoming familiar with the lesser known words is usually all it takes to commit the list to memory. It's nice to know there are a few words that don't require vowels!
The 96 words are: aa, ab, ad, ae, ag, ah, ai, al, am, an, ar, as, at, aw, ax, ay, ba, be, bi, bo, by, de, do, ed, ef, eh, el, em, en, er, es, et, ex, fa, go, ha, he hi, ho, id, if, in, is, it, jo, ka, la, li, lo, ma, me, mi, mm, mo, mu, my, na, ne, no, nu, od, oe, of, oh, om, on, op, or, os, ow, ox, oy, pa, pe, pi, re, sh, si, so, ta, ti, to, uh, um, un, up, us, ut, we, wo, xi, xu, ya, ye, yo.
Tip #2: "Racking" up Points by Anagramming
The difference between an average and an advanced Scrabble player has to do with the number of options a player can find in a given rack. Don't just find one word and give up-keep moving those tiles around. There may very well be a better option than the one you find initially.
Even if you end up using the same tiles, one word may score a higher value than another based on the location of the bonus squares. In addition, you may opt for one word over another because it is harder for your opponent to build on.
For instance, if you have a hunch that your opponent has an S you should avoid laying down a noun, as this would allow him/her to "hook" on, scoring points for both words!
Tip #3: Keep it Hot
This hint may seem obvious at first, although there's a bit more to it than first meets the eye. As you formulate your options on the board, focus on the "hot spots," or the squares which award you double and triple the value of your tile and/or word. Use these squares to even better advantage by building parallel words, allowing you to use the bonus square two times (once for the horizontal word, and again for the vertical.)
This is where that list of two-letter words comes in handy, particularly the words that contain high-scoring letters like J, Q, X, and Z. For example, the word "ex" used in a parallel position where the X lands on a triple would score at least 26 points.
The other side of this equation is that you must be careful not to make these hot spots available for your opponent! However, if you have a great word that opens up a triple, don't throw it out the window. Weigh up your score against what your opponent may likely get. You may still come out ahead. Who knows? Your opponent may even pass up the triple, giving you a shot!
Tip #4: The Q-boon or bane?
No doubt about it, the Q is one of the most difficult tiles to play; therefore, it demands attention. There are a few tricks that can help you turn the Q to your advantage.
First of all, it's advisable to commit to memory a few Q words that don't require a U. Yes, they exist, and they are worth a lot of points, besides! So, here is your second (and final, for now) list of words to memorize: qaid, qanat, qat, qindar, qintar, sheqel, tranq, qoph, qwerty, faqir.
The words "aid" and "at" are particularly helpful for those looking to dump a Q, and this goes for your opponent too! Take care not to lay down either word if you suspect your opponent of having the Q on his/her rack, particularly at the end of the game! (I know this from sad experience; this oversight cost me an important match!)
Whatever you do, don't hold on to Qs for more than a turn or two, hoping to draw a U. (This also goes for holding onto Us in case of drawing a Q.) Try to get it off your rack as soon as possible, as you lessen your chance of playing a good move when you're only using six of your tiles.
And if the game is close to the end you may want to consider trading it if there aren't any options on the board. You certainly DO NOT want to get stuck with an unplayed Q at the end of the game, as it automatically adds 20 points to your opponent's score.
Tip #5: Plan for BINGOs
Our last tip can be quite satisfying once it is mastered. It has to do with creating BINGO words (words which use all seven tiles) and is remarkably easy, once you know how to do it. Start by sorting your rack according to common word endings and save these letter combinations.
One of the most valuable sets is "ING." This takes care of three of your letters, and it's much easier to form a four or five letter verb that works with "ING." Voila! You have a BINGO!
Some other common endings you want to watch for are -ed, -er, -ier, -iest, and -ies. I've even used -ation to good advantage. Un- and re- are good letters to set aside for word beginnings. Laying down your first BINGO is almost a rite of passage in the Scrabble world.
Now you are prepared to take on that grandiloquent mother-in-law; put that palaverous brother in his place. With practice, you may soon be able to join the ranks of the real Scrabble champions.
Emma Snow works as a pragmatic puzzler at the Puzzle Place and Chess Strategies leading puzzle portals.