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A play on words
Lewis Martinez might not be the best guy to invite over for family game night. Unless you're looking for a ringer.
As the most senior member of Fresno Scrabble(r) Club (# 377), Martinez knows his words the Qs that don't need Us, the two-letter game savers.
Of course, he's been playing rather seriously since 1994. The group meets 6:30 p.m. each Thursday at Round Table Pizza on First and Bullard avenues and they play several games a night.
Of note: Scrabble was created by an out-of-work architect during the Great Depression. It's part crossword, part anagram, but with an element of chance. It has been called the most popular board game in the world and can be found in one in three American homes, according to wikipedia. Just check your closet.
And the play can get serious.
There are world, national and Canadian scrabble championships (this year's national event will be in Florida), a school Scrabble Championship and the Thailand International tournament.
But don't be intimidated by the Fresno group. They welcome players of all levels, Martinez says. You'll get good in no time.
Here, he gives Famous readers a few quick tips.
How long have you been playing? How did you get into the game? What's the attraction to words?
I've been playing for about 14 years or so. When I started I was a chess player, and, at the time, the Fresno Chess Club met at the same place as the Scrabble Club. I saw a flier for the Scrabble Club and thought I'm good at games, and I have a good vocabulary (I was getting my master's in English at the time). I ought to do well at this. I lost something like 25 consecutive games over a number of club meetings. But I liked the game and the club members enough to stay. Eventually, I studied some words and learned some strategy, so I got good enough to start winning. I'm not sure the words are the attraction rather, it's the game itself. There's enough skill to reward the player who works hard at the game, but enough luck to give the underdog a fair chance. Games are short (about 50 minutes or less each) compared to chess, meaning you can get in a lot of games in one day. Many tournaments have eight rounds a day.
What's the most you've ever made on a single play? Do you remember the word (was it a triple-word score)?
I honestly don't remember my highest-scoring word ever. I do remember it was several years back, it was over 180 points, and it was a fairly common word. I did it by playing a triple-triple, which means I played all seven letters off my rack through a letter on the board to make an eight-letter word that hit two triple-word scores at a time. Because I hit two triple-triple squares at a time, my score was multiplied by 9; and because I played all the letters off my rack at once, I got a 50-point bonus. I should note that I probably play one or two triple-triples a year, or more that just happened to be my highest-scoring one thus far.
I usually score around 250 points if I'm lucky. How would I stack up with you guys?
Hard to say. Most good club players will probably average around 350 or so, maybe more, maybe less. Expert players may average around 400 or so. Another way to look at this is average points per turn. A club player might average 25 points a turn or so. An expert might average 30 points a turn, or a little more. One way to find out how you stack up is to come and play us.
Rules wise, I know you can use words even if you don't know what they mean and I'm sure you can give me all sorts of examples. But seriously, is that really fair?
Looking at my score sheets from a recent tournament: BRANT, OP, TUN, QADI, ATT, FE, PUJA, and TEL. I don't know the definitions to any of these words, yet I played them. Yes, it's fair, because the person you're playing likely doesn't know all the definitions to the words he or she plays, either. Seriously, if I asked you to come up with a definition for OF or THE, you might have some trouble doing so off the top of your head. Does that mean you shouldn't be able to play those words?
Do you have a favorite word, one that you know scores well and you can usually play?
Some very important bread and butter words are XI and XU, and the newer words, QI and ZA. These get played a lot, and can really swing a game. But favorite words are usually a little less common than that. One of my personal favorites is LEKVAR, a prune butter. I like the word because it is an anagram to the phony word Kevlar. Because Kevlar is trademarked and capitalized, it's not acceptable in Scrabble play.
Any strategy tips for the newbies?
A.) Learn some of the most important words, like the two-letter words and the U-less Q words.
B.) When you play, look for ways to get rid of your bad letters, like the F, W, U, V and Q. Keep good letters, like the blank, S, E, R, N or T.
C.) Avoid duplicating just about any letter on your rack, except possibly the S or blank. Two Is or two Us are particularly bad.
D.) Keep an even mix of consonants and vowels. Avoid getting stuck with
all consonants or all vowels.
E.) Look for longer words by looking for common endings and beginnings, such as RE- or UN-, or -ING or -IEST. If you have really good low-points tiles, such as a lot of the tiles in the word DEREGULATIONS, look for a way to play all seven tiles off your rack at once, which will get you a 50-point bonus.
So, how easy is it for you to do the Jumble in the paper?
It generally doesn't take that long to do the short jumble words in the paper, say about 15 to 30 seconds for each word. However, I don't generally solve the phrase because that would involve writing out the letters, which would take too much time when I'm already late for work; or solving it in my head, which would take too much concentration when I've just woken up.
People take this game pretty seriously. There's an official Scrabble Dictionary and a bunch of strategy books from top players? Any you would suggest?
I'm not aware of too many Scrabble strategy books still in print, other than Everything Scrabble, by Joe Edley, so beginners might start with that. Mike Baron also has a book out that contains the most useful words to study. Two computer programs out there on the Internet are Zyzzyva, a word study program, and Quackle, a program that plays a good game that you can use to analyze a position to find the best play. By the way, Internet is capitalized and not an acceptable Scrabble word. However, ZYZZYVA and QUACKLE are both acceptable, as is INTERNET.
What can you spell with FFAMOUS (it's no fair to use Famous)?
Without using any computer programs, I'm not seeing too many words. The following come to mind: AFF, OFF, MUFF, OAF, FOU, FOAM, AMU, MO, MU, FA, MA, AM, US, OS, and SO. Note that all except AFF, FOU, AM, US, and OS will tak an S on the end, as well. SO is a musical note, so it is a noun and takes an S.