Tips for Improving Your Play
Some Quick Tips
Scrabble is a game of logic and probability as much as it is a word game. A little time thinking about the strategy beyond having a big vocabulary can go a long way to improving your score. Here are my personal tips for improving your skills in our Meetup group, from play and from reading the advice of others:
- Play a lot of games, against different players. You'll see their strategy and probably learn a lot of new words. It's also the most fun way to improve your skills. Don't give up if you are soundly beaten your first game. Luck is a part of Scrabble, and getting beaten may be the best way to advance your skills.
- Study the two and three letter word lists. I linked to one place to find them, but they're available elsewhere. The 101 words on the two letter word list can be memorized in a few concentrated hours, and the payoff is huge. The three letter word list takes more work, but is worth memorizing as well. You already know many of these words, more than you think. A few two-letter words you should memorize right away: JO, QI, AX/EX/OX/XI/XU, ZA, KA/KI.
- Don't always choose the first good play you see. Practice taking a second after finding a good play to see if you might have an even better play.
- Look for outstanding parallel plays. Knowing the two and three letter word lists is crucial to use this tip. Sometimes it's possible to play a long word parallel to a second long word, forming several two or three letter words at the same time. If you are used to living-room play, you may not have seen this, but keep an eye out to see if it may score you more points.
- Maximize your use of the bonus squares. Look carefully at your plays. Is there a way to use a triple letter score twice by making a parallel play? Can you use a double letter score, and a double word score in the same play? Try to line up your highest-scoring tiles to take advantage of these bonus squares. Sometimes a play with two triple letter scores may make more points than a play with a single double word score.
- Think about the tiles left on your rack after each play, not just the points you are scoring. If you have a play that leaves you with two vs, or one that leaves you with ier, and the first play is only worth 5-10 additional points, it may be worth sacrificing the extra points now for a chance at a high-scoring play later.
- Save the S and the Blank tile for high-scoring plays. The blank is the best scoring tile in the game, and should usually be saved for plays of fifty points or more if it can't be used in a bingo. The S is the next most valuable tile, as it can often be added at the front or end of a word to form two words at once. It's especially helpful when it lets you play a bingo! Of course, if there is no possible place to play your S to form two words, or to play a bingo, you have to modify this general rule.
- Doubles of any tile--even an S--will be hard to play. Try to avoid keeping duplicate tiles in your rack. One exception might be the blank, and another might be an e, as both will help find bingos.
- As a general rule, don't hold on to high-point tiles too long. It is usually better to play them off for 20-30 points, and keep a rack with the lower point tiles that are more likely to form a bingo. This is especially true for the Q, which is found in very few words, even taking into account the recent addition of QI to the Scrabble lexicon. It is often better to play it for an 11 points QI than to let it clog up your rack for two or more turns.
- Defensive play is overrated. Should you open up the triple word score for a play worth 20 points? Probably not if the same points can be scored elsewhere. But playing defensively will hurt you as much as the other player. This may be dictated by your score and your opponent's score. Usually, if you are far behind in a game, you will want an open board with lots of chances for you to score points. You'll want to open up high-scoring bonus squares and open places for you to place a bingo. If you are evenly matched: if a triple word score is open, but you know that the tiles left won't be able to score a lot of points, it may be better just to leave it open rather than to block it for a low scoring play of your own. Conversely, if you're far ahead, you may want to play more defensively and avoid opening up too many opportunities.
- Consider studying a few other word lists. The Cheat Sheet is a good start. Study the vowel dumps, short JQZX words, and the most probable bingo lists. You don't need to do it, but it will help you without too much more time needed. Word study may seem intimidating but it can be fun, and it can be easy to fit in a few minutes at a time in most people's days.
- Everything Scrabble: Third Edition, Joe Edley and John D. Williams. Pocket Books (2009). This book is amazing--full of winning strategies and puzzles to hone your Scrabble skills. It's also fun, and available in local libraries. I may buy a copy to share with the club--let me know if you are interested.
- Official Tournament and Club Word List, Second Edition. This is the bible used for competitive Scrabble play, and includes many words left out of the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary (genericized trademarks and offensive words).
- Official Scrabble Players Dictionary. This book leaves out lots of words, but it does include the definitions omitted by the TWL.
- The Internet Scrabble Club is a good place to play online using the tournament dictionary.
- Zyzzyva is a polished word-study and anagramming tool. It can help you to write down your rack and then run it through Zyzzyva when you get home if you were positive you had a bingo that you missed. The word study features are a little hard to figure out at first, but very powerful. You can quiz yourself on any list, and there are a few built in quizzes for the JQXZ words, 7 and 8 letter "stems" (lists of 6 or 7 letter racks where adding one tile makes one or more bingos), and the two and three letter word lists. It's simple to add your own quiz, too.
- Quackle is the hardest of the tools to figure out, but it is worth it. Quackle is the best computer Scrabble player in the world right now. The first puzzling feature is that you need to create the Scrabble board layout from scratch, as it is omitted to avoid infringing the Scrabble trademark. Once you've set up the board, you can play directly against Quackle, but it is most powerful as a tool to analyze a game. It takes into account the highest scoring words, but also analyzes the tiles left on your rack after each play to predict which play will net you the most points in the long run, not just for a single turn. If you're really nerdy, you can set up your rack, the board, and have it analyze what your best move would have been. Fascinating to see its analysis.
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