Tips & Strategy

A few words on basic strategy…

Scrabble is so simple that your goal can be summarised in a single sentence: The object of the game is to score more than your opponent. Of course, if you play some nice words in the process, that’s an added bonus. But it’s by no means a prerequisite. If you can win the game by playing CAT and DOG, that’s all you need to do.

Remember, there are three important things you have to consider before you play your word:

  1. Score – you want to score as many points as possible. This can be done by aiming for the premium (coloured) squares, especially trying to place your high scoring tiles there. Of course, playing all 7 tiles in a single move – a bingo – is the best way to score well, as you’ll get a 50-point bonus!
  2. Leave – you want to leave yourself with manageable letters (VVGC are not considered manageable…) so you’ll be able to score well on your next move. A couple of principles to follow:
    1. The more a letter is worth, the quicker you must get rid of it (don’t hold on to Qs and Vs…).S’s and blanks must be “saved” for good moves, allowing you to “hook” words off words on the board and, possibly, to play a bingo.
    1. Try to keep an even number of vowels and consonants – too many of either is not a good thing. Also, don’t hold on to duplicate tiles, if possible.
  3. Opening – scoring well is important, provided you don’t open up too many scoring opportunities for your opponent. What’s the use in scoring 20 points if you give your opponent a potential 50-point play? Remember – the objective is to score more than your opponent, not merely to score well.
Other Tips

This week’s tip: Reading your opponent’s play is extremely important. Of course, your opponent may be trying to mislead you, but what your opponent does might reveal their rack. For example, if your opponent changes 7 tiles – they probably had rubbish. But if they exchange 1 tile, they’re probably leaving themselves with a superb rack. If your opponent plays an ‘S’ for very few points, they may have another. And so on. So remember to look at your opponent’s play very well before deciding what to do.

  • A Courtesy rule – NEVER discuss your thoughts on a word played in order to draw a challenge from your opponent or to intimidate your opponent. Also, if your opponent plays a word, say nothing until his/her move is over and then, and only then, can you decide whether to challenge. It’s considered extremely unethical to mislead your opponent by saying or doing things which could affect the challenges.
  • Hooks are very important to know. Whenever a word is played, quickly go through all the letters which can be played before or after it. Make a mental note of them – you may need the “hook” spot later on. Sometimes, hooks are not obvious. For example, and “I” in front of SLANDER or a “T” after GRAVES aren’t the first things that spring to mind. Of course, there are several obscure hooks. For starters, you should be familiar with all the possible 2-to-3 hooks. In time, you’ll pick up some of the weirder ones J like T-AKIN or ZINC-Y.
  • Fishing, or playing tiles hoping to draw a specific tile, is very often not worthwhile. If, for example, you have a J and there is an excellent JO spot, you may ask yourself whether you should fish for an “O” or not. The answer of course depends on your chance of drawing an “O” (how many O’s are left, how many tiles are left?) and whether you are ahead or behind and by how much. Generally speaking, don’t fish.
  • A little lesson in psychology – the most important thing when sitting opposite an obviously superior player is to function as well as possible. Nothing less will suffice. You have to do your best to ignore the identity of the opponent and play against the board. Remember, even excellent players get bad tiles and make mistakes. What’s more, if your opponent knows you’re intimidated, they will probably take advantage of it by playing obscure words or trying words they’re not sure of, confident you won’t challenge. Don’t let this be off-putting and focus!
  • Learn words as you play. During the game, write down any words and letter combinations you’re not sure of, whether they were played or you just thought of them for no apparent reason. Check them after the game.
  • When you play a word, pay attention to what you’re opening on the board. Sometimes it may be worth your while to play for fewer points if that means you don’t have to open a Triple Word Lane. On the other hand, sometimes it may be better to open a Triple Word Lane if you think your opponent’s chance of using it for a high score are slim and/or your score justifies the opening of the lane.
  • Don’t be so quick to challenge a word you don’t know. When your opponent has announced his/her score and you’re considering a challenge, just say “hold” or “wait” in order to prevent him/her from drawing new tiles. If you’re 100% sure the word is wrong, a challenge is probably your best bet – though not always (the phony might allow you to place a bingo you couldn’t have otherwise placed). So replenish your rack and consider your options with and without the word in question. Either way, consider the fact that you might lose the challenge. If you can definitely win without challenging and you might lose if you lose the challenge, you should probably let an almost-definite-phony go. But above all, remember you should never challenge a word, but rather challenge the whole play (all the words formed) because one of them may be wrong while the others may be right – you don’t want to challenge the “wrong” word!
  • Over and above prefixes and suffixes, there are other ways to “find” bingos on your rack (besides memorizing lists). Try forming compound words by forming two three or four letter words. Many words are formed precisely like this. Over 350 words begin or end with “HEAD”, almost 600 words end with “MAN” and almost 700 end with “LIKE”. There are also around 150 “FISH”s, 50 “BOAT”s and 80 “BIRD”s too.
  • Don’t only look at the places you can “hook” onto (i.e. extend an existing word by one letter while playing another word across it). You can score quite a few points by extending existing words, especially as the game nears its end. This requires word knowledge, of course, but also quite a bit of imagination. Look at words ending or beginning a couple of spaces away from a triple/double word square. There are, of course, the obvious UN-, RE- or –ING extensions. But there are cases where you might easily miss a possibility. For example, if your opponent opens the game with JUDGE (with the “J” on the double letter), you could extend it leftwards to the triple word square with MIS-, FOR- or PRE- for 57-60 points or extend GRAVEST by adding –ONE to the end (think about it…).
  • “I can never find bingos” is often said by players. How does one find all those lovely bingos? Balancing your rack is very important. Also, try playing around with the tiles on your rack, arranging prefixes (OUT-, RE-, OVER-, DE- etc.) and suffixes (-ING, -ED, -ERS, -OUS etc.). But first and foremost – look at the board and check out all the potential hooks and bingo spots. That way you can focus on what to start/end your bingo with and you won’t take forever looking for a bingo when there’s nowhere to put it!
  • There are several things to take into account when playing the opening move in a game (and, indeed, any move in a given game): Placing high-scoring tiles on the double-letter squares (re-doubling their face value), maximizing turnover to fish for blanks, S’s and other goodies, minimizing the openings you give your opponent (especially by avoiding placing vowels adjacent to the double-letter squares) are just three.
  • Your “turnover” means the number of tiles you place on the board. If the S’s and Blanks (and perhaps a specific letter you’re waiting for) have yet to surface, you should maximize your turnover in order to increase your chances of getting them. If you play one or two tiles per move, your chances of drawing good tiles decrease.
  • Certain tiles are more bingo-prone than others. The 7 letters in RETINAS are considered “above average” (alternatively: the nine letters in ORIENTALS). Assuming your rack is balanced, holding onto any of these may increase your chances of getting a playable bingo.
  • How does one manage the Q? Well, try to learn the U-less Q words and the short words with a Q. Don’t hold onto U’s “waiting” for the Q, unless it’s right at the end of the game and the Q is still not out.
  • Try to maintain a balanced rack. This means keeping a Consonant/Vowel ratio of approximately 4/3 (or 50% of each). Play off excess vowels/consonants if possible, reducing your chances of having a vowel-heavy or vowelless rack.
  • Be cautious when placing vowels adjacent to the premium squares (double/triple letter/word). An unwary player could easily have his/her opponent scoring over 50 points with a simple XI/AX play.
  • Rack management (i.e. the importance of what you keep on your rack): S’s and blanks are not to be thrown around for too few points without good reason. Try to keep them for high-scoring plays (some say 30 for an “S” and 50 for a blank – but this depends on your rack and the situation of course).