Strategy to Improve Your Score Ana Valdez

Strategy to Improve Your Score
Ana Valdez
English 314
October 17, 2006
Introduction to the Game
A History
Rules of Play
During the Great Depression, an unemployed architect named
Alfred Butts developed the first version of what he titled
“Lexico” - a game that combined the element of chance with
skill. Players formed words using letter tiles and placing them
on a board crossword-style. Originally, word length determined score, but after Butts’ careful study of letter occurrence
on the front page of the New York Times, he gave individual
letter tiles point values according to how often they appeared.
After five years of no commercial success and rejection from
both Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers to manufacture
Lexico, Butts’ friend James Burnot bought the game, simplified the rules, rearranged premium squares on the board, and
renamed it Scrabble. The game was Copyrighted in 1948, but
was still produced through low-scale operations. Then Jack
Strauss, the owner of Macy’s Department Store, discovered
and fell in love with game. After he began selling Scrabble at
his store, the game became a must-have for every household.
Since then, 100 million sets of Scrabble have been sold in 29
languages and 121 countries, making it the most popular language game ever produced.
Scrabble is a word game for two to four people. Players form
words using up to seven letter tiles to score. Certain spots on
the board are bonus squares that multiply letter or word point
values. Words must be interconnected and placed on the 15
x 15 board left to right, top to bottom in crossword fashion.
Words are only valid if they are in The Official Scrabble Players
Dictionary. After a player makes a word, he draws random
letters to replace those he used. Instead of using a turn to
make a word, a player can exchange up to seven of his tiles
and redraw new letters. Players can also challenge the validity of words opponents spell. If the word is incorrect, the
player who made the word must remove it and his turn is over.
Play continues until one player has placed all letters on the
board or until no player can make a word after three successive attempts. The highest score wins.
The key to playing Scrabble is developing strategy. Knowing
which letters to use when and where is critical. This manual
provides instructional methods for beginners to improve game
tactics and maximize points.
Letter Usage
Power Tiles
The easiest way to improve your Scrabble strategy is to exploit
the power tiles. These are the Q, K, Z, X and J tiles, the highest scoring individual letters, shown in Figure 1. Even if the
letters are not played on a bonus square, their point value
alone can boost your score. However, these coveted letters
are best played in short, easy-to-memorize words (and on bonus squares—obviously). It’s much easier said than done, but
this can greatly improve your ability to create power-tile words.
Words that contain Q but not U are always handy. Some easy
ones include qat, qaid, tranq, qanat, and qindar. They are
short and contain common letters to combine with Q.
Whether the Q is played on a double letter bonus square or
the word is placed on a triple word square, you’re guaranteed
to score 22-48 points with just those words. Other words to
learn include short words that combine the power tiles. Try
using jax, zek, kex, zax, jinx, or quiz. They’re easy to spell and
short enough to have space on the board for playing them.
Keep in mind that using short words also blocks power tiles in
tight areas, making it difficult for them to be reused. See the
Appendix for additional power-tile words to play.
All good Scrabble players need to know how to get rid of a
rack of vowels. Two out of every five letters drawn are likely to
be vowels, so it’s a good idea to know words that contain
mostly vowels in case you’re faced with letter combinations
like those in Figure 2. These words may sound strange, but
they’re great tools for dumping vowels: eerie, aalii, louie,
cooee, zoeae, and aquae. Note that the last two words contain Z and Q, respectively. If these power tiles are open on the
board, try to get rid of your vowels next to them and score
even more points. If you’re not overwhelmed with vowels, you
can still make use of this tactic. For example, any vowel can
be added to the letter X to make a two-letter word. These are
ax, ex, xi, ox, and xu. You can almost always make a play with
one vowel if you’re stuck, but make the most out of that vowel
and tack it onto a power tile. The Appendix contains other
two-letter words that use a vowel and a power tile.
Figure 1
Did you know?
A qindar is a
subunit of
Albanian currency.
Kex are dried,
hollow plat
A cooee is a
call to attract a
person’s attention.
Xi is the 14th
letter of the
Greek alphabet.
Figure 2
High Score Moves
High Points
High scores absolutely require good use of the
bonus squares. Doubling or tripling word and
letter scores can win a game. The best use of
letter bonus squares is certainly with a power
tile. The word squares give a high return for
playing power tiles as well, but also highly reward
adding stems to words to create new words.
Figure 3 shows this: adding mis– to fired on a
triple word square scored 42 points. This tactic
is key for high-scoring players. Look for letters
already on the board that are close to double or
triple word squares. Consider using those letters
while you try to create words from the letters on
your rack. This will help you find a word to play
in a premium location. Remember to protect
premium squares for yourself as well. Do not
leave a vowel on the board next to an open bonus square. This allows your opponent to easily place a consonant (with a good probability of having a high point value) next
to the open vowel on the bonus space.
Figure 3
Discussing high point strategy introduces an important concept: adding stems to words to create longer words. This an
excellent way to benefit from letter values already played on
the board. Shuffle your tiles often to find potential stems. This
helps you see more play possibilities. Look for common letter
groups, like non-, mis-, mid-, dis-, -able, -ful, and -ize, to add to
words on the board. These prefixes and suffices are simple
ways to expand root words. Another way to add onto words is
to look at the letters in STARLINE. This combination of eight
letters can easily be rearranged into hundreds of stems and
even whole words (see Figure 4 for some ideas). Always try to
keep at least two letters from STARLINE on your rack. They are
the most common letters used in stems and can usually make
a play if your other letters can not be used. In addition to learning common stems, familiarize yourself with common root
words. Some of the best include light, stag, aqua, and tax.
Figure 4
Light: alight, backlight, delight, skylight,
enlighten, highlight, jacklight, twilight
Stag: hostage, postage, upstage, stagecoach, wastage, staggy
Aqua: aquade, aquaria, aquatic,
paraquat, aquarist
Tax: ataxia, ataxy, eutaxy, overtax,
taxon, pretax, subtaxa, syntax, taxicab
The Appendix contains a helpful list of common word stems and roots.
Thinking Ahead
Rack Management
To make the most of your letters, manage them! Learning to
save letters can be hard to do, but you must master the temptation to play them before considering your options. Keep
blank tiles for words late in the game when there is less flexibility with word placement. However, longer words are best
played early in the game when there is more available space.
The following tips are particularly helpful for managing the letters S and Y:
♦ Add the letter in front of or after a word already on the
board to create a primary word.
♦ Also use the letter to create a secondary word perpendicular to the primary word.
♦ Try to save a valuable consonant to play in the secondary
♦ Ideally, make this play over
a bonus square.
Figure 5 shows an S being
added to pat to make spat, the
primary word. The S also spells
a secondary word, sex, vertically, using a power tile and covering a triple word square. This
scored 36 points. Either word
alone would have been only 6 or
10 points.
Figure 5
You may not realize it, but every play in Scrabble is both offensive and defensive. How so? The word you play is offensive,
because it scores you points. The play is also defensive if
you’ve considered word location, proximity to bonus squares,
and the leftover letters in your rack. Figure 6 shows a play that
does not incorporate defense: wok is left unguarded, adjacent
to an open double word square. Your opponent could easily
pluralize this on his next turn and create a secondary word,
perhaps tripling the points you earned for wok originally. Do
not make your play unless you’ve considered what your next
play will be. If you neglect this, you may have to exchange your
letters and sacrifice scoring points on that turn. Do not leave
vowels or valuable consonants open next to bonus squares,
either. Be conscious of these things before every word you
Figure 6
Game Time
It’s your
Now that you’ve been exposed to strategies for playing Scrabble, it’s time to put what you’ve learned into action. Try these
tips next time you play a game to see how much they affect
your score and the way you approach choosing which letters to
play. Are you shuffling your tiles to find as many words as you
can? Do you find yourself keeping track of words and letters
close to bonus squares? Are you considering what your opponent will play after you, and what you will do next? You should.
Perhaps the tactics in this document inspired other strategies
you would like to try. This is excellent. Skills are meant to build
on themselves. If you practice playing Scrabble with strategy,
you will certainly become a better player. Good luck!
Check out these helpful resources for improving your Scrabble
Memorize word lists under Tips and Tools at:
Type in letter combinations to see word outputs at:
Choose a word to see possible expansions at:
Play Scrabble on CD-ROM for practice against the computer (available at, Best Buy, and other gaming stores).
Purchase The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary (available
at Barnes and Noble, Target, and other bookstores).
Last but not least, buy a Scrabble game set if you do not
already own one! (Look for one online or at any department or gift store.)
Appendix: Word Lists
Vowel + Power
Common Stems
Q without U
Power Tile
Vowel Swamp
Common Roots
These words, and many others, are all in The Official Scrabble
Players Dictionary, which contains all the words legal in a game
of Scrabble.
“A2Z WordFinder: Scrabble Word Lists and Tips.” 2006. http:// 15 October 2006.
“All About Scrabble.” 2006.
home.cfm. 12 October 2006.
Hammond, Christina. Personal Interview. 8 October 2006.
Hammond, Christopher. Personal Interview. 8 October 2006.
“Scrabble.” 6 October 2006.
“Scrabble History.” 2006. 7 October 2006.
Stern, Linda J. “Doublecross/Wordox Lists and Tools.” The Word List. 2001. http:// 14 October 2006.
Photographs courtesy of Christina Hammond.