A: ‘Cause I’m an intermediate player. I can’t give expert advice. Those people are nuts.
Q: Wow, this is pretty esoteric, even for THIS blog.
I: First Things First: Basic Scrabble Strategy
1. Scrabble is not a word game. Oh, sure, it’s a fun game for people who like words. And, I hope you never lose your appreciation of cool and interesting words as a nice adjunct of the game. If you persist in trying to come up with the most interesting, innovative, or esoteric word, that’s your choice. But, you are going to lose. Badly. Always.
2. Scrabble is a game of spatial relations. What really matters in this game is where you put your tiles in relation to (a) the bonus squares, and (b) other words.
Bonus Squares. When I was a little kid, I thought it was smart to put low-scoring letters on the letter bonus squares, because that made them less worthless. I almost had it right.
Listen: double and triple letter squares double and triple the value of a letter. Double and triple word squares double and triple the value of the whole word. These are not bonuses you can afford NOT to have. Here's a general principle for you: Every word you play should either be on a word bonus or have a high-scoring letter on a letter bonus, unless there is a damn good reason why not.
Other Words. Why would you want the points from one word, when you could have the points from two or more words? You should always be looking for opportunities to modify the words that are on the board to your own advantage. This is what makes the four S’s so very, very precious. More precious than gold. Stick an S on the end of most nouns or verbs, and you’ve got a perfectly legit word; meanwhile, you are running a new word with an S in it perpendicular to the one you just modified. Sweet. D’s and R’s are good for this, too.
3. Scrabble is a two-player game. It’s a fine three- or four-player pastime. But two things happen when you pull more than two chairs up to the table. First – and this can be shown mathematically – the luck factor goes up enormously. With every additional player, there are fewer turns to sort out the statistical noise of tile selection and board placement. So, whereas the two player game is almost a pure game of skill, four-player Scrabble is all but a game of chance.
Second – learned through much experience – the winner in four-player Scrabble is not likely to be the best player. It is likely to be the person who plays immediately after the weakest player, who constantly sets her up for killer plays (see #1, below). So, enjoy multi-player Scrabble, but don’t get too concerned about the score, which is basically meaningless.
Several years ago now, I made a quilt Scrabble board. The letters are pieces of juvenile fabric, bonded to little scraps of wood. It's fully playable. WHAT!?! WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT FOR?!?
II. OK, Now Let’s Get Intermediate
1. Never give your opponent the red squares. For to do so is suicide. If you make it easy for your opponent to use one of the eight triple word bonuses, you are essentially saying “OK, I took one turn, now you take three!” If she’s got some high-value letters, you may have just handed her the game. General Principle: Never make it easy for your opponent to get to the triple word bonus, unless you have a damn good reason for doing so.
2. Exchange your letters. If you’ve got crap on your rack, trade it in. It’s better than playing just one or two tiles, after which you will likely still have crap. It’s better than playing some weakass 9-point word that gives your opponent access to bonus squares. Remember, you can hang on to good letters (never turn in an S or a blank!) and exchange the others.
3. Know thy two-letter words. To have the most flexibility in where you can place your words, you need to know the list of allowable two-letter words. Many of these are frankly bullshit words (“xi,” “em,” “ti,” “ed”). Get over it. To be honest, it took me many years to get over the ridiculousness of the list and just start using them. But, it has made the game more fun, and me a more competitive player.
Why does knowing the two-letter words make you more flexible in word placement? Well, it simply opens up more “hooks” that you can hang a new word on. I’ll let MyDogIsChelsea show you with an extreme example.
4. Mind the leave. The leave is what is left in your hand after you’ve played your word. Often times, it is worth it to play a word that is worth four or five points less, if it leaves better letters in your hand. Partly, this is just to combat the accumulation of crap letters – if you are holding three I’s, a big priority is for you to play a word with at least one, preferably two I’s in it.
More importantly, you always want to be grooming your rack towards playing bingos. Bingos (which are when you play all seven letters) are worth a 50 point bonus, which is very often enough to make the difference in a game. At the Intermediate Level, Scrabble is largely all about the bingos.
So, if you’ve got E, R, S in your rack, you should be looking at the rest of your letters to see if you can make a seven- or eight-letter word out of them. If not, you might want to hang on to them, to see if you can put together a bingo next turn. Similarly, I N G is a powerful combo. In general, the letters in the (bogus) word “starline” are said to be the ones that are easiest to combine into a bingo, although I like O’s as well. So, all other things being equal – or, if it’s just a matter of a few points – err on the side of keeping those letters in your leave.
III: Want to play?
I love this game. If you want to play, I do too. Get the "Scrabulous" ap on Facebook, find me (or Email me, whatever), and challenge me!
Mrs.5000 celebrates a triumph. The paper she is holding says "438." Yoyo the Cat probably helped.