The Secrets of Scrabble i

Scrabble Master
Scrabble Master
The Secrets
of Scrabble
Table of Contents
Scrabble Master
Table of Contents
Preface ................................................................................................................................. i
Introduction......................................................................................................................... I
Chapter 1: Word Knowledge.............................................................................................. 3
Chapter 2: Finding Words ............................................................................................... 21
Chapter 3: Bonus Squares ............................................................................................... 39
Chapter 4: Decision Making............................................................................................ 51
Chapter 5: Leaves............................................................................................................. 71
Chapter 6: The
..................................................... 89
Chapter 7: Fishing ......................................................................................................... 111
Chapter 8: Setups ........................................................................................................... 125
Scrabble Master
When most people think of Scrabble, they think family, fun, and words. They
think of a wholesome game around the dining room table while going through the photo
album and watching football. Scrabble isn’t considered a “smart” game like chess or
poker: rather, it is thought of as a social game like charades or Monopoly.
Among strategists, Scrabble has a bad rap. Whenever I mention Scrabble to other
game players, I’m treated with a dismissive attitude. “Why don’t you take up a real
game?” I was once told. To them, Scrabble is just a word game. But those who ridicule
Scrabble are missing out on one of the best strategic games ever devised.
I wrote this book to share my enjoyment of the strategic side of Scrabble.
Scrabble combines vocabulary and anagramming (rearranging scrambled letters into
words) with mathematical knowledge, spatial skills, bluffing, and a variety of interesting
tactics and strategies into one glorious game.
I’ve always loved the strategic aspect of Scrabble. Ever since I was a small child,
I’ve played games with a strategic element, such as chess, backgammon, gin rummy, and
hearts, but found Scrabble to be my favorite game.
I started playing when I was 12. I would play my parents twice a week for ten
cents a point. Since this was my allowance, I decided to read the dictionary and learn
basic words that I thought were useful for Scrabble play. By the end of the month, I
easily beat my parents and made over forty dollars.
Over time, I became fascinated with Scrabble. I played Scrabble for two hours a
day against the computer program, Maven. During high school, I spent my time studying
word lists and thinking about new Scrabble strategies instead of listening to my vapid
high school professors.
My obsession with Scrabble carried on to college, where I studied game and
decision theory. I wrote papers about Scrabble: analyzing its statistics, psychology,
mathematics, computer applications, and theory. Through my studies, I not only learned
how to play, but how to think about Scrabble.
Scrabble Master is the culmination of my theoretical studies combined with
experience from playing tens of thousands of games. While rooted in a deep theoretical
understanding, its ideas are presented simply and unambiguously. I hope this book helps
you learn about Scrabble in a fun, interesting, and informative way!
Scrabble Master
A Brief History of Scrabble
In 1931, an architect named Alfred Butts was laid off from his job, one of the
many victims of the Great Depression. Like many downtrodden Americans, Alfred
worried about how he would survive. He tried to carve out a living by creating art,
writing essays, and producing plays, but his efforts failed.
Alfred invented a word game, reasoning that few word games were on the market.
He perused the New York Times and the works of Edgar Allen Poe, counting the
frequency of each letter used in the English language. From this, he developed a word
game called Lexiko.
For the next five years, he tried to sell Lexiko with limited success. People
simply did not have the money to spend on word games, and Alfred had no means of
marketing his game. Despite numerous tweaks, Lexiko never caught on.
Alfred was then approached by a businessman named James Brunot. Brunot
made Butts an offer: Brunot would buy Lexiko and Butts would receive a small royalty.
Disheartened by his inability to sell the game, Alfred agreed to the deal and stopped
working on his game. Lexiko became the project of James Brunot.
Brunot made some minor adjustments. He added a 50 point bonus for playing all
seven of your tiles. He altered the board configuration, and changed the name to
Scrabble. For the first four years after the sale, Brunot had little success selling Scrabble.
Then, in 1952, sales suddenly began to soar. It is believed that the president of
Macy’s discovered the game and decided to sell them in his store. By the end of 1952,
two thousand sets were sold every week. In 1953, sales had increased so much that
Brunot had to license out production to the company Selchow and Righter. Over a
million sets of Scrabble were sold.
Scrabble began to boom. Eventually, Brunot sold the game to Selchow and
Righter for millions. Over time, Scrabble has changed hands many times, and is now
owned by Hasbro.
To date, over 150 million Scrabble sets have been sold in over 20 languages.
Approximately 1 in every 3 homes in the US owns a Scrabble set. Scrabble is now the
most popular word game in the world.
Scrabble Master
Who plays Scrabble?
Somewhere, people are playing Scrabble at a neighborhood game night,
competing in a spirited game while gossiping about office politics and trying to impress
each other with their word savvy. Players battle for the respect and admiration of
spectators, hoping to obtain the status of being the best Scrabble player around. Money is
exchanged as players bet on who will win. A vibrant feeling of competition emanates
throughout the room, both in the Scrabble game and in the repartee of wits.
At a university, a game between two English professors begins. Professors enjoy
a scholarly conversation while expressing their appreciation for words through a game of
Scrabble as though it were an artful dance between two lovers. For them, Scrabble is not
just a game, but a subtle way of conveying their appreciation of words, and glorifying the
poetic beauty of eloquent words such as ‘ethereal’ and ‘visage’.
In their rundown apartment, a young couple plays Scrabble every week. They
spend the evening playfully flirting, finding different ways to spend time together. For
them, each game is new: it brings upon new possibilities and new opportunities for them
to learn about words and about each other. For them, searching for a word is like
panning for gold: each rack has newfound riches waiting to be found.
The reasons that people play Scrabble are as diverse as the people who play.
Whether you are old or young, a lawyer, a housewife, or a construction worker, you can
find a way to enjoy America’s favorite word game. Ultimately, you play Scrabble for the
same reason you should play any game: It’s fun! The mysterious nature of words lures
people to Scrabble.
On one hand, words are logical and symmetric: each word has a definition, a
pronunciation, and an origin, and people have an innate sense of which letter
combinations comprise a word. Each word has a history and a meaning: a unique
character that is meant to be loved and appreciated.
On the other hand, words are chaotic and bizarre. Over time, the definition and
even the pronunciation of words evolve. Many words are not spelled how they sound,
and other words look completely bizarre to the human eye.
Scrabble gives word lovers the ability to celebrate, learn, and share words with
other people in a way few other activities can. It gives beautiful yet forgotten words a
chance to take center stage, and allow word aficionados to share their profound love of
words with others. For word lovers, language is like music: while its impact is profound,
its true nature remains mysterious and intangible.
Scrabble Master
Tournament Scrabble
For most people, Scrabble is all about fun. Most play Scrabble with no desire for
competition -- they want to have a good time with their friends or family. However,
other people think of Scrabble as a contest, and they want to win! These players take
Scrabble very seriously. For these enthusiasts, there is another level: tournament
Scrabble. Thousands of players play Scrabble tournaments annually.
Tournament Scrabble began as a hustling game. Players would play Scrabble in
the backrooms of New York, trying to make a quick buck off unsuspecting tourists.
Some would play Scrabble in well-known game rooms, using their game-playing skills to
win money off weaker opponents.
As Scrabble’s popularity grew, it became more civilized. People played
tournaments in hotel conventions. In 1972, an organization was established, and the
National Scrabble Association was created.
In 2009, the National Scrabble Association gave way to the North American
Scrabble Players Association (NASPA). NASPA runs tournaments in various venues
across the country. A few lucky NASPA members have made over $100,000 playing the
game they love.
You might imagine tournament players to be eccentric, nerdy or intellectual.
Some Scrabble players have difficulty looking you in the eye, and others post daily on the
internet about words they have studied or positions they have encountered. Some players
obsessively recall games years after they happened. I recall asking someone how they
knew that HOGLIKE was a word, and they told me: “I invented a farm in my head for all
the animals that took -like at the end, and I even invented a song. Want to hear it?”
While some players are weirdos, most are quite normal. They lead perfectly
normal lives and are still capable of playing Scrabble at a high level. You will find that
most Scrabble players are both friendly and approachable.
However, successful tournament players do think about Scrabble differently. To
become a Scrabble master, the first thing that must change is your attitude. You need to
forget any preconceived notions or skills that you’ve acquired, and change the way you
approach Scrabble. Becoming a Scrabble master requires analyzing your thoughts brick
by brick; then setting those pieces to build a strong foundation.
Scrabble Master
Concept #1: Scrabble is more than just a word game.
Scrabble’s allure stems from the way it celebrates language. The word lover in
each of us is fascinated by what is possible over the Scrabble board. Scrabble allows us
to use language creatively while sharing our knowledge of words with other people.
Thus, you may be alarmed to learn that not all Scrabble players possess the same
“feelings” towards words. In fact, many Scrabble players memorize words without
definitions; they study words solely to improve their Scrabble play.
Most great Scrabble players are not wordsmiths. One top Scrabble player has
claimed not to have read a serious book in ten years. Few players know the definition of
all the words that they play. Many top Scrabble players reside in Thailand, and speak
little to no English.
For Scrabble players, it is far easier to anagram a rack like AEINORS
(ERASION) than to anagram a more common word like ACILMSU (MUSICAL). Many
players memorize solutions without doing any anagramming at all. Instead, they say to
themselves: “Oh, AEINORS! I’ve seen that before: that anagrams to ERASION!” For
most tournament players, finding bingos such as ERASION is accomplished using
memory rather than anagramming skill.
Successful Scrabble players spend time looking at word lists. They memorize
words such as FOY, ZAMIA, and QADI because they know those words are likely to
show up in future games of Scrabble, but may be unfamiliar with common English words
since they are “less useful”. A Scrabble player’s vocabulary is not developed based on
eloquence or interest, but on word utility.
While most kitchen table players are elated to find a cool word, tournament
players are more concerned with strategic components. They look for ways to use high
scoring tiles to score well and keep tiles so they can play a bingo (a word that uses all 7
tiles from your rack) next turn.
Many Scrabble aficionados frequently play words without any interest of
definitions. They learn words not because they love them, but because they want to
become better at Scrabble. As one world class player said in a recent interview, "All the
words are just letter strings that I use to score points."
Here are some essential ways that a word lover may differ from a Scrabble player:
Scenario 1: Opponent opens the game with the word KHEDA, a word that you have
never seen before. You challenge, and the play is ruled acceptable.
Word lover’s thoughts: “Cool! What does that mean?”
Scrabble Master’s thoughts: Can I add an S to form KHEDAS?
Scrabble Master
Scenario 2: Player has opening rack ABCILPU and are trying to decide between
Word lover’s thoughts: “Ooh, ABULIC. That’s a nice word! PUBLIC is an everyday
word, but ABULIC (relating to abulia, a neurological disorder) is a lovely word! I’m
going to play that!
Scrabble Master’s thoughts: PUBLIC is 4 more points than ABULIC and the P is about
as good as an A. Also PUBLIC seems better positionally. I’m going to play PUBLIC.
Scenario 3: A player wants to learn some bingos.
Word lover’s thoughts: MRIDANGA: ooh, that’s an Indian musical instrument!
Scrabble Master’s thoughts: AADGIMNR = MRIDANGA. That’s a tough word to find.
Oh, what does it mean? Probably some African thing. I don’t know. Next word!
Concept #2: Scrabble proficiency takes practice and work.
You must spend time away from the board to work on your Scrabble game. If
you want to improve your golfing, you go to the driving range and practice your swing,
paying close attention to your swing until you consistently hit good golf shots. After
your round is over, you think about the positives and negatives, and then you go back to
the range and work on your weaknesses so that you can do better the next time.
The same type of scrupulous attention is necessary in Scrabble. You must
critique your thought process and learn from your mistakes. You need to practice
anagramming, board vision, rack vision, and decision making. Without practice, you will
never win consistently, even if you have all the basic tools to succeed.
When a casual player makes a mistake, they treat the error as an isolated incident.
When a serious player makes a mistake, they think of the error as a deficiency that needs
to be corrected. Whether it’s learning a new word list or fixing a strategic flaw, serious
Scrabble players become proficient because they are honest with themselves and willing
to do the work necessary to correct errant Scrabble behaviors.
Scrabble Master
Concept #3: You don’t know all the words (yet).
“What does that mean?” they ask.
“I don’t know.”
“Let’s look it up.... (pause, looks it up) it’s a shrub.”
“Okay... if you say so.”
(Five minutes later...) “How can ______ be a word? That’s not a word!”
This is a common reaction newcomers have to tournament Scrabble. Indeed, the
dictionary contains words that may strike you as objectionable. OE is a whirlwind off the
Faeroe Islands. QOPH is a Hebrew letter. PHPHT is an interjection that describes every
player’s reaction upon hearing that it is a word. Admittedly, a lot of these “words”
don’t intuitively seem to belong in a dictionary.
To make matters worse, some “everyday” words are NOT in the dictionary.
Seemingly common words such as SEEDINGS*, CHIHUAHUA*, and GOUDA* are not
acceptable. (Throughout the book, unacceptable Scrabble words are denoted by an
asterisk.) In addition, offensive words like the F-word may be unacceptable at home, but
ARE acceptable in tournament play. These plays can be challenged: your opponent can
question the validity of a word at any time. The player who is unsuccessful during a
challenge will lose their turn.
However, despite the dictionary’s shortcomings, the vast majority of words
played are everyday words, even if you have not encountered them before. While words
like SEREIN, ROUILLE, and DICOTYL aren’t common to everyone, they are extremely
common words in the fields of chemistry, food, and botany respectively.
Knowing these words doesn’t require that you become an expert in all of these
fields: it merely requires changing the way you think about learning words. Words are
like heirlooms, passed down from player to player. While some learn words by thumbing
through encyclopedias or dictionaries, words can also be learned by playing over the
board or studying from a word list.
Players can also learn words by studying them from a word list. While this may
cause some players to groan, studying words from lists is no different than studying chess
openings or practicing on the golf course. As long as there is a competitive aspect to
Scrabble, word lists will be a necessary (and fun!) part of Scrabble.
Concept #4: The goal is to try to make the BEST play.
Many players sitting at home are content to make the first “nice” word they see.
They value winning less than the aesthetic and cultural impact of words. They view
making Scrabble plays not as instruments to winning games, but as self-expression.
While there’s nothing wrong with playing Scrabble “for fun”, tournament players
will turn down eloquent, beautiful words for simple commonplace words that score more
points. Competitive players focus on making the best decision that will help them win
the game. They develop a methodical way to approach every decision, and treat each
decision as a mathematical problem instead of an artistic display.
Scrabble Master
Scrabble Master is a strategic insight into the top levels of Scrabble strategy. It
shows you techniques used by the best players in the world, and provides a blueprint that
anyone can follow if they want to play championship level Scrabble. After reading this
book, you’ll never think about Scrabble the same way again!
To get the most out of this book, you will need some experience playing Scrabble.
This book assumes that you have a basic familiarity with Scrabble: you should know the
rules as well as basic terms such as bingos (plays using all of your tiles) and bonus
squares (multi-colored multipliers you can use to help you score). If you are unfamiliar
with these terms, I would suggest familiarizing yourself with Scrabble before reading.
This book takes you into the mind of tournament Scrabble players and teaches
you how Scrabble is played at the very highest level. Because it teaches top-level play, it
will necessarily contain weird words. Although I have made a concerted effort to keep
the obscure words to a minimum, you should get used to seeing new words on the road to
becoming a Scrabble Master.
Section 1 lays out the essential skills you will need to play Scrabble at a high
level. This section helps you develop your word knowledge, anagramming skills, playfinding ability, board awareness, and decision-making skills over the Scrabble board.
Section 2 illustrates how to save good tiles and look ahead to your next play. It
shows you different ways to ensure that you score well on future racks by keeping good
tiles and good tile combinations on your rack. It introduces concepts such as leaves,
duplication, fishing, setups, and synergy and teaches you how to integrate these concepts
into your Scrabble game.
Section 3 shows how to take the score into account. It teaches you when to take
risks and how the score should affect your play. It also teaches you how to use the score
at the end of the game, using the tile pool and score to make good plays.
Section 4 focuses on how to control the board and play defense based on the score
and remaining tiles on your rack. This section will teach you how to create a board that
is useful for your tiles while aggravating your opponent, and can help you protect your
lead. It will teach you the fundamentals of board dynamics so you can shape the board
like a sculptor shapes his clay.
Section 5 teaches advanced Scrabble concepts. It explains how to make advanced
plays and break the “rules” of basic strategy, showing you how to analyze Scrabble at the
very highest level. Since no book can teach you what to play in every position, Section 5
teaches you how to think about Scrabble.
Scrabble Master
As a preview, I’ve outlined eight important concepts that will be covered throughout the
book. Mastering these concepts will help you in your quest to become a Scrabble Master.
is for Studying
Ultimately, Scrabble is a word game. Word knowledge is a significant part of
becoming a great Scrabble player. To improve your game, you need to study new words.
One benefit of studying is that it allows you to enhance your appreciation of
language. By learning new words, you learn about new concepts, foods, cultures, and
ways to express yourself that enhance your life. Learning new words can teach you about
different cultures and experiences that you never knew existed.
The other benefit of study is that it can develop your anagramming skill. There
are plenty of everyday words that are very difficult to anagram, and you won’t be able to
find them in a game without great effort. As a test, see if you can find these common 8
letter words: (Answers at bottom of the page)
Not so easy, is it? After studying, you will be able to find these words
is for Choices
Human thought is mysterious. At times, people are amazingly brilliant: the ability
to speak a language, solve a physics problem, or build a car requires an amazing amount
of sophistication and ingenuity. At other times, human thought can be confusing,
illogical, contradictory, or erratic, even in situations that seem simple. While often
brilliant, human thought is inconsistent.
Success depends on your ability to harness the power of your mind. This requires
using your cognitive ability to make good choices. Scrabble choices are easy when one
play significantly outscores another. However, there are other cases when several moves
initially seem equivalent, or when different plays accomplish different goals. Your
ability to evaluate different candidates will determine your Scrabble success.
Scrabble Master
is for Rack Vision
Imagine you are playing a game of Scrabble. You have a rack that looks good,
but don’t see anything worth playing. However, an inner voice tells you to keep
searching. All of a sudden, Eureka! A word pops out of your rack! Wouldn’t it be nice
to find those plays consistently?
By developing your rack vision, you can find words faster and more frequently.
Finding words in your rack is like playing a musical instrument: while someone can tell
you how to look for words, improvement only occurs through practice and repetitive
play. Rack vision is a combination of the Daily Jumble that you might find in the
newspaper and flashcard memorization that people use to learn foreign languages.
is for Anagrams
Anagramming is the essential of Scrabble. Without an ability to find words in
your rack, you cannot be successful at Scrabble. Players need to find words using all the
letters in their rack (finding the 7 letter word in CEEHILV) as well as find shorter words
in their rack that can score points. (for example, CHIVE, VICE, or EVIL)
Newcomers are often impressed at how quickly expert players can find words in
their rack. Experienced players can find words such as SENARII and GEOIDAL almost
instantly. Non-Scrabble players have trouble finding everyday words such as DOOR and
APPLE in their rack: never mind finding obscure 7 letter words they can’t define.
Scrabble players practice anagramming by using a computer program to sort a
word’s letters in alphabetical order and then trying to find the solution. This method is
called alphagram* study. Alphagram study is useful as for developing a consistent way
of finding bingos as well as building a mental familiarity between an alphabetized rack
and its corresponding bingo. Experts use this mental link alongside their anagramming
prowess to find words.
Anagramming skill can only be improved through practice. For most players,
anagramming is not an innate talent, but rather something built over time: you are
training your mind to see both long and short words in your rack and on the board. If you
gave Scrabble players words that were longer than 8 letters (ACDEELNOST =
ADOLESCENT), names of countries (ACDEORU = ECUADOR) or proper names
(AEILORSTT = ARISTOTLE), they would largely be unable to do so. However,
experienced players can anagram 7 and 8 letter words with one-point tiles fairly easily
since they have practiced finding those Scrabble-valid words several times.
Scrabble Master
is for Board Vision
When players are first introduced to Scrabble, there is often a look of both
anticipation and terror. On one hand, there are so many neat and creative possibilities;
the Scrabble board is like a canvas waiting for an artist. There are always many new,
exciting plays waiting on the horizon.
On the other hand... there are so many possibilities. A new player can become
overwhelmed; terrified by the thunderstorm that surrounds them. New players initially
need guidance to find the various plays available to them over the Scrabble board.
There are many different types of plays that you can make over the Scrabble
board. For example, if the word FATHER is on the board, you can make a play that
overlaps FATHER, forming several two letter words. You can extend FATHER into a
longer word, such as GODFATHER. Or you can add an S, forming FATHERS, and
make a perpendicular play. Illustrations of these possibilities are shown below:
is for Bingo
There is little more thrilling for most amateur players than playing a bingo,
scoring an extra 50 points for using all your tiles. Playing a bingo is fun and rewarding,
and often impresses your friends.
Bingos are the core of Scrabble. Much of Scrabble strategy involves trying to
play bingos while also prohibiting your opponent from playing a bingo. The player who
plays more bingos is much more likely to win the game.
While bingos are unusual when you first start out, they will become commonplace
once you gain experience. Finding 7 and especially 8-letter bingos will become easier
after a healthy diet of practice and study.
Scrabble Master
is for Leave
When I first started playing Scrabble on the internet, computer opponents were a
popular way to practice playing. Observers marveled at the words that computers played,
and wondered how anyone could ever beat the computer.
However, beating these computers became possible once you observed their
strategy. If the computer has an S, it would often use the S to score one additional point.
If the computer had AAIIIOU, it would play AIR for 9 points. These computers could
score, but they had no idea how to keep a good leave. A leave consists of the tiles
remaining in your rack after a move. By keeping a good leave, you can ensure that you
score well on subsequent plays.
Good players will either keep tiles that will often score 30-40 points or more next
turn (scoring leaves), or tiles that will often become a bingo after you draw your other
tiles (bingo leaves).
is for Exchange
Sometimes in Scrabble, you will have a very bad rack. In these situations, you
don’t have to make a play: instead, you can trade any or all of your tiles, scoring zero
points. Exchanging can be a quick and effective way of dealing with hopeless racks.
Many players don’t like exchanging, and would rather take their chances with
trying to play through their garbage racks. However, playing with bad tiles is a detriment
not only to your next rack, but often for many racks to come. Exchanging gives you a
fresh start so that you can play a bingo sooner in the game.
Tile Values:
The tile values are not listed throughout the book, and you will need to try to
remember them throughout the book. They are the following:
Q = 10
Z = 10
(Note: The ? signifies the blank. Blank tiles have squares around them, such as the S in
OEsTRUM on the next page. As part of a word, blanks appear in lowercase type.)
Scrabble Master
A Note about Notation:
There will be a set of coordinates accompanying each play consisting of a letter
and number set next to each play which describes where the word is played, as well as a
number which tells you how many points the play is worth.
Rows are described numerically, while columns are described alphabetically. In
the example below, a play hooking ATOLL forming ATOLLS would be made in column
i, while a play using the N in NEXT would be played in row 3.
The coordinates are stated in the order of the direction that the play is being
played. If the play is horizontal, then the row is mentioned first, but if the play is vertical,
then the column is mentioned first. For example, FLY d4 (34) means that there is a
vertical play FLY that has the first tile (F) at coordinates d4 that scores 34 points.
Scrabble Master
Section 1:
Scrabble Essentials
Section 1 introduces the fundamental skills that all Scrabble players need to
compete with their friends and family. By mastering these skills, you build the
foundation necessary to play top-level Scrabble.
Chapter 1 gets you started learning the words you need to know to become a
Scrabble master. It teaches you the usefulness of the two and three letter words, and
provides you information about challenging off phoney words and bluffing phoney words
yourself. Chapter 1 helps you develop study habits that fit around your lifestyle and level
of ambition so you can learn words in an organized, efficient manner.
Chapter 2 helps you to find spots to play your words on the board. It will develop
your board vision by teaching you the importance of looking for hooks, parallel plays,
and extensions to score as many points as possible with the words you can find.
Chapter 3 teaches you the importance of using the multi-colored bonus squares,
and how to maximize your ability to use the bonus squares on the Scrabble board while
limiting your opponent’s ability to use them.
Chapter 4 teaches you how to think your way around the Scrabble board so you
can make the best decisions possible. It teaches you how to make decisions in an
organized, methodical way using score, leave, and board construction.
By the end of this section, you’ll have all of the tools you need to excel at
Scrabble. You will learn how to increase your word knowledge, find words, score points,
and make decisions that will help you play Scrabble the way it was meant to be played.
Word Knowledge
Scrabble Master
Chapter 1:
Word Knowledge
Across the US, parents use Scrabble as an educational tool to teach their children
an appreciation for language in a fun and engaging way. In Thailand, this is taken to a
whole new level. Many of their schools use Scrabble to teach kids English while
improving their spatial and anagramming skills. As a result, Thailand is home to many
strong Scrabble players.
Thai players think about learning words differently than their American
counterparts. Some words are learned as English words: words that are necessary to
succeed in the English-speaking world that are also valid in Scrabble. However, Thai
Scrabble players also learn other words as “functional” words; words that are rarely used
in English but are useful in Scrabble.
To become a good Scrabble player, you need to study “functional” words. Think
of studying like any other skill, from dribbling a basketball to hitting bunker shots. It’s
something you must do if you want to be proficient at Scrabble.
Studying starts with the two letter words. The two letter words are essential to
playing Scrabble at a proficient level and understanding the lessons in this book. There
are only 101 two letter words, many of which you already know. By learning just 5
words a day, you can learn all of the two letter words in two weeks. The two and three
letter word lists are available in the appendix.
Word Knowledge
Scrabble Master
The Value of the Two Letter Words
Learning the two letter words will enable you to make more exciting plays!
Without knowing the “twos”, many of the fascinating words that attract us to Scrabble
are unplayable. Learning two letter words allows you to play your exciting words!
Diagram 1:
Diagram 2:
In Diagram 1, you have found the word CANOE. Wouldn’t it be great to play
that word on the board? By learning the word ER, you can play CANOE at 8a, forming
OF and ER for 32 points!
In Diagram 2, you have found the bingo RAINBOW in your rack! At first, you
might not see any place to play your bingo. However, by using your knowledge of the 2
letter words, play RAINBOW at k9 (forming OR, FA and AI) and score 85 points!
You might be asking yourself: “Why would I want to learn words without
learning their definitions?” Unfortunately, not all words have eloquent and useful
meanings. ER is an interjection of hesitation similar to UM (another valid Scrabble
word). FA is the 4th note of the musical scale (DO-RE-MI-FA-SOL-LA-TI-DO), all of
which are acceptable. AI is a three-toed sloth.
While some of you may find these meanings interesting, most of you will be
disappointed. If you feel that learning definitions will enhance your enjoyment of
Scrabble, then feel free to learn them. But if your goal is merely to improve your
Scrabble game, then feel free to skip learning the definition.
Word Knowledge
Scrabble Master
Learning the Three Letter words
The three letter words are also crucial to your Scrabble success. Three letter
words help you to get rid of unwieldy tiles while scoring well. Three letter words also
allow bingos or other high scoring plays to fit on the board. A list of useful 3 letter words
can be found in the appendix.
Diagram 1:
Diagram 2:
In Diagram 1, playing MOA/GOA at 6f, forming OBE, ALA, and MAD/GAD
scores over 20 points while keeping a balanced set of tiles so you can score or play a
bingo on your next turn. In Diagram 2, playing FAY/FOY, forming ABA/ABO and
DEY at 15a can get rid of your high scoring tiles for 39 points.
Diagram 3:
Diagram 4:
In Diagram 3, knowing the words BEN, AVA, NEB, NIB, AGA, and DEB are all
helpful, as GIVE, VEGIE, or LEVEE all fit at h1 for over 40 points. In Diagram 4,
knowing AMA and YAW will allow you to play RAYON 8k (46), while knowing the
words ODA and AWA will allow you to play RAYA 11j (36).
Word Knowledge
Scrabble Master
Vowel Dumps
Another important list of words is vowel dumps. While learning the vowel dumps
is not essential to understand this book, vowel dumps can help you balance your rack
without exchanging so you can score well on future turns. A list of vowel-dumps can be
found in the appendix.
Diagram 5:
Diagram 6:
In Diagram 5, you can either play MIAOU 9c or AMIA 5j. Both plays score well
while getting rid of several vowels. In Diagram 6, you can get rid of your vowels by
playing either TAIGA 8a (26) or ADAGIO o4 (27).
Diagram 7:
Diagram 8:
In Diagram 7, you can get rid of four vowels by playing either ADIEU h11 (26)
or ROADIE f6 (31). In Diagram 8, you can balance your rack by either playing GOOIER
14j (22) or AGIO o1 (28).
Word Knowledge
Scrabble Master
Short words contain JXQZ
Another word list that many amateurs find useful are short words using high point
tiles. While these words are not essential, these words can result in big points with
otherwise lousy tiles. A list of these short words can be found in the appendix.
Diagram 9:
Diagram 10:
In Diagram 9, knowing the words JULEP 1d (66), PUNJI 15a (66), or KANJI 15a
(72) can lead to a big score with otherwise poor tiles.
In Diagram 10, you have two high-scoring options: ORYX 15a (66) and ROUX
o1 (57)
Diagram 11:
Diagram 12:
In Diagram 11, you can score well by playing QUAG 15a (42) or even better by
playing TRANQ o8 (72). TRANQ is one of only a handful of valid U-less Q words.
In Diagram 12, you can play MOZO 1a (45) or OYEZ o5 (48), but learning the
jackpot word of ZOOEY at o4 will net you a whopping 81 points.
Word Knowledge
Scrabble Master
Learning Words
While Scrabble is one of the most popular games in the US, relatively few people
take Scrabble seriously. This is because Scrabble requires more work than any other
game at the introductory level: you have to learn words. Most people think that learning
makes Scrabble work instead of a hobby. However, the process of learning words can be
a fun and enjoyable activity!
There are several ways to learn words. The most common way that Scrabble
players learn words is by osmosis. By playing Scrabble, talking with other players, and
observing different boards you will pick up new words that will improve your play.
If you want to get serious about learning the words, you can use various studying
techniques to improve your word knowledge. Some players like to peruse the dictionary,
picking up words they find interesting or unique.
One technique to improve your word knowledge is by using alphagram puzzles.
Alphagrams are words whose letters are placed in alphabetical order, where players are
challenged to find the acceptable word in the alphagram. For example, a player might
test themselves on the alphagram of ACILPST and come up with its anagram, PLASTIC.
Alphagram puzzles force players to find words, thus improving their rack vision.
When a person finds the solution, they feel a sense of accomplishment called the aha
effect. This positive feeling helps players log a specific solution into their long-term
memory so they can remember the words they have previously solved.
Some words are more conducive to alphagram puzzles, while other words are
more conducive to word lists. Words such as JAMLIKE are better learned by using a
word list since anagramming AEIJKLM is not too difficult, but most people are not
certain that JAMLIKE is actually a valid word. On the contrary, words like OBSTACLE
are clearly better studied using alphagramming, since OBSTACLE is a common word
that is difficult to find with tiles such as ABCELOS on your rack and a T on the board.
Most players use a combination of both methods to learn new words. I prefer to
use alphagram puzzles to learn seven and eight letter words and word lists to learn two
through six letter words, but some people may find it helpful to use different methods to
learn words. You should select the method of studying that piques your interest and
works best for you.
Word Knowledge
Scrabble Master
When most players first see a rack of seven tiles, the first question they ask
themselves is “Do I have a bingo?” And for good reason: bingos score extremely well
and are going to be the best option almost every time they are available. For intermediate
players, the feeling of finding a good bingo is almost as important as winning the game.
If you want to improve your ability to find bingos, the best approach is by using
alphagram puzzles. Alphagram puzzles are useful for learning new words since they
provide a link to associate with your discovery of that new word: when you learn the
word RETIARII, you also associate it with the alphagram AEIIIRRT.
Alphagram puzzles can also help you find common difficult-to-anagram words
more consistently. While you might know a word such as SCLEROMA, finding this
word during a game can be quite a challenge. However, once you’ve had the experience
of solving ACELMORS, finding this word will become much easier.
Another benefit of alphagram puzzles is that they help you differentiate between
valid and phoney words. Since valid solutions to most alphagram puzzles are found
quickly, you won’t find phoney words on your rack. With tiles such as EFIKLMOR, I
won’t see FORMLIKE* as a possibility. Instead, I immediately see the obscure solution:
Once you become proficient at alphagram puzzles, the solution will feel
memorized instead of anagrammed. Anagramming will become so natural that it feels
like you are merely recalling the answer to a trivia question. Top players anagram seven
and eight letter words lightning fast: at the same speed they add 6 and 9 to sum to 15.
Some people find it helpful to make flashcards. Making your own flashcards
helps you learn alphagram solutions during the process of making the flashcards and
allows your study to become portable so you can study at any time or place. There are
also several computer flashcard programs available that make flashcards efficiently.
Some bingos are better learned by word list. Obscure words with prefixes and
suffixes are generally easy to find, even in alphagram form: the problem is not in solving
the word, but in remembering whether or not the word is valid. With these types of
words, your familiarity with the word is the only tool you have to assess its validity: if
you’ve seen the word before while studying, you can safely assume that it is a valid word.
Other words such as common brands, similar looking bingos, or proper names are better
remembered through word list.
Word Knowledge
Scrabble Master
Short words
While four, five, and six letter words don’t score nearly as much as bingos and
don’t show up nearly as often as two and three letter words, these words are still vital for
their ability to score mid-game. Playing short words for 20-30 points may not seem
important at first, but these medium-scoring plays add up quickly.
Many players learn short words the same way they learn bingos: through
alpahgram study. However, this is a mistake. With bingos, alphagram study simulates
the thought process that occurs during a game: you have to find words using all the tiles
on your rack. However, with shorter words that is not the case: many people struggle
finding the 5 letter word with AIOSV because they don’t look for that word in a rack of
AEIKOSV. Thus, using alphagram study is not an effective way of finding short words.
The best way to learn short words is by using a word list. Word lists allow you to
learn categories of words. For instance, if you know all of the 5 letter words with a Z,
you can confidently challenge any 5 letter Z play you don’t recognize. Learning words
this way is much faster than using alphagram study, since you no longer have to go
through the process of anagramming the word.
Many people have various techniques they use to memorize words. I like to close
my eyes and visualize the word, mouthing and spelling the word before I open my eyes.
Some players like to write down the word several times, or try to encounter the word
several times in a short time frame. Another effective technique is to learn definitions.
Each player must test different methods to figure out what works best for them.
Word lists allow you to learn sets of words and avoid confusion. For example, if
you know the words FUSIL, FUZIL, and FUSEL, you might become confused and think
FUZEL* is also a word. By learning these words as a set, you’ll avoid confusion
between words that look alike.
The difficulty in finding short words is twofold. The first problem is learning the
words. Words up to 6 letters are best studied using word lists. Word lists allow you to
learn words while avoiding redundancy. Since you don’t have to worry about finding an
alphagram solution, you can focus on recognition, giving you the ability to challenge
phoney words while avoiding playing phoney words yourself.
The second difficulty is finding short words on your rack. Unlike bingos, finding
short words is not just about anagramming: it’s also about trying to figure out which
letters will form a word in the first place. Finding the only 5 letter word in a rack of
DHILNTW is difficult since you don’t know which 5 letters form a word, but if you
know that the five letters are DHITW, most players can find the word WIDTH. When
you add open tiles on the board, finding short words becomes even more difficult.
The best way to improve your ability to find shorter words on your rack is by
using permutation. First, pick a starting letter randomly, then look for all the words in
your rack that are playable that start with that letter. (It can help to think about the
second letter: for example, if the first letter is a V, the second letter is probably a vowel.)
Once you find all the options starting with a specific letter, select another letter, and
continue this process until you’ve found words starting with every available letter.
Word Knowledge
Scrabble Master
Finding Words
Because shorter words are learned by word list and don’t use alphagram puzzles,
you will need a different way to find shorter words in your rack. While alphagram study
is formulaic, shorter words require a more dynamic approach:
Look for letter combinations, such as prefixes, suffixes, or shorter combinations
such as CH, ER, BL, ED, NT, ATE, etc.
Look for words that use problematic tiles. If you have 5 vowels in your rack, look
for a word that begins with a vowel, and if you have three Rs, look for a word that
uses an R. If you can’t find a word resolves your problems, you’ll probably have
to exchange.
Try to find complements tailored to the best scoring options. If there is an open
vowel in a Triple Word alley, you will likely need to use consonants to build a
word. Conversely, if there is an open consonant you will likely need to use
vowels to build a word.
Start or end with high point tiles. Most high point tiles are located in the first or
last position of a word. Look for words that start with tiles worth 4+ points.
Pick the first letter. You can make finding words much easier when you try to
find all the words starting with a specific letter. When you find those words, then
choose another letter and find all the words starting with a different letter. Look
for words starting with each letter on your rack.
Alternate vowels and consonants. While not all words alternate between vowels
and consonants, most words do. If you are looking for words that start with a W,
look for the next letter to probably be a vowel.
If the next letter is not a vowel, try a versatile consonant. If you’re looking for a
word that starts with a C and you can’t find anything that starts with C-vowel, try
looking for words starting with versatile consonants, such as CL, CR, or CH.
Once you have your first tile in mind, shuffle your other tiles slowly. This will
allow you to scan your rack for words, looking at both your rack and the board
Trust your instincts. Most people have a genuine “feel” for finding words even
without listening to advice or following a rote method. Subconsciously, your
brain already has an idea how words are organized.
Practice makes perfect. Anagramming is a skill that is developed by practice: the
more you put in, the better you’ll become!
Word Knowledge
Scrabble Master
You’re sitting down, playing your favorite board game, when all of a sudden,
your opponent plays a word you’ve never seen before. “What the heck is that?” you say
to yourself. And then you have a decision: do you want to look the word up and risk
losing your turn, or do you trust your opponent?
Everyone faces these decisions. Unless you’ve spent hundreds of hours learning
the entire dictionary, you will occasionally encounter a word that you’ve never seen
before. There are over 100,000 words, and learning every action, tree, animal, and
chemical compound is impossible for most people. Sometimes that unfamiliar word will
be an actual word, and other times it will not.
Because you don’t know all the words, you need to use your intuition, making an
“educated guess” to assess the validity of words. However, human intuition is fallible.
Figuring out which words take a RE-, UN-, IN-, prefix or an –S, –ER, -ED, -EST, -ING,
suffix can prove to be a challenge. Many inflections are intuitive yet invalid, while other
inflections are not intuitive and yet valid in Scrabble.
Non-inflections can also prove to be a challenge. Take a look at the following
words, and try to figure out which words are valid. Answers on page 66.
Guess the validity!
Detecting invalid words is difficult, as all of these words are plausible. Many of
these “words” you could probably define, whether or not they are in the dictionary.
Many are also easy to find in your rack.
There are many ways to figure out if a word is valid. The first one is by using
recall, focusing on a play and trying to correlate the word to another word, idea, or
alphagram. Since words are often learned in conjunction with other information, “words”
that fail to bring about these sorts of links in your head are likely to be phoneys.
The second method is logic. Although logic is not always effective, many times
you can deduce a word’s validity. You may not *know* that NETTINGS is a word, but
it should “seem” reasonable after some thought. You might not know TROUTY is a
word, but if you know TROUTIER, then TROUTY is very likely a word. Using
deduction is often very useful.
The third method is to observe your opponent. By watching your opponent, you
can judge their comfort level and gauge their thoughts on the word’s validity. You can
also pick up on key information, such as their opinion of you and their level of stress that
can lead you to the correct decision.
Lastly, you should use your intuition. While intuition isn’t precise, your first
impression is especially powerful in assessing the legitimacy of a word.
Word Knowledge
Scrabble Master
Phoneys can be categorized into four types:
1. Alien words: For example, banitsa* is a Bulgarian meat or vegetable pie, and
merbau* is a type of tree. While both of these words are known by food
experts and botanists, these words are not common enough in everyday
society to make it into the Scrabble dictionary.
Alien words are often difficult to challenge because your opponent rarely
pulls a word out of thin air. If your opponent makes a play that doesn’t even
remotely look like a word, they probably got that word from somewhere.
Sometimes alien words are foreign words, last names, brand names, or cities.
2. Bluffs. Occasionally your opponent will try to bluff you, intentionally playing
a phoney hoping that you will accept it. This tactic is especially popular when
your opponent is behind or thinks that they are a much better player.
Some bluffs are also simple mistakes, such as misspellings or transcriptions.
Occasionally, your opponent will accidentally play a phoney two letter word
or transpose tiles.
3. Wishes: Your opponent may not know if it is a word, but is wishing that the
word is valid since they feel as if they are in a bad situation. This is often the
case with inflected words, such as FRIDGED* or PIDDLIER*.
Wishes are more situational phoneys and either occur when your opponent is
desperate or feels in control. In these situations, players often feel as though
they have nothing to lose. Phoneys are more likely when people feel they are
not taking a substantial risk.
4. Word confusion: This occurs when your opponent is confusing two words and
making up a third word. For example, someone might confuse the words
ENTASIA (a disease involving spasms) and INTARSIA (a knitting technique)
and play the word INTASIA*.
Word confusion is especially common when a word has many alternate
spellings or there are multiple similar words. For example, since FUSIL,
FUSEL, BEZEL, BEZIL, and FUZIL are all words, you might think FUZEL*
is also a word.
Word Knowledge
Scrabble Master
What is the game situation?
When deciding whether or not to challenge, you should also take the game
situation into account. In many positions, the score or your rack can dictate whether or
not you should challenge a word, especially if you are unsure of the word’s validity.
Diagram 1:
Diagram 2:
Score: 146-158 if challenged off
146-325 if accepted or valid
Word in question: ACTRESSY o1 (167)
Score: 407-394 if challenged off
407-421 if accepted
Word in question: OUTLY* 1a (27)
In Diagram 1, your opponent has just played ACTRESSY. ACTRESSY looks
very much like a “wish” phoney, since no other bingo is available. Because it scores so
many points, you should challenge ACTRESSY unless you are positive it is valid. While
you may lose your turn, you stand to gain significantly more by making a successful
In Diagram 2, your opponent has just played OUTLY* to take a 14 point lead.
Unless you are absolutely positive that OUTLY* is not a word, you should accept the
phoney and play WIN at d8 to win the game. Even if you suspect a phoney, it is not
worth risking a loss to challenge a phoney word.
Word Knowledge
Scrabble Master
Diagram 3:
Diagram 4:
Choices: Challenge, VIRTUOUS j1 (64)
Choices: FUMBLING g4 (70)
In Diagram 3, you are positive that GOLLIeS* is phoney, but can play the word
VIRTUOUS at J1 for 64 points. In this case, you should accept the phoney and play
VIRTUOUS. While it is undesirable to accept phoney bingos, your prospects after
challenging GOLLIeS* are worse than after accepting the phoney and playing
VIRTUOUS since your tiles are much worse than your opponent’s.
In Diagram 4, you can accept the phoney FUNLY* and play FUMBLING, but
you should instead challenge off the phoney and play FUMING 8d. Although
FUMBLING gives you a bigger lead, challenging forces your opponent to use the
mediocre F, L, N, U, and Y next turn scoring few points and may lead to your opponent
playing worse over the rest of the game. (You can also use the knowledge of your
opponent’s tiles to your advantage. See Chapter 17)
If you are unsure that FUNLY* is a phoney, then you should accept it. Accepting
FUNLY and playing FUMBLING is a small mistake, but making an incorrect challenge
would be devastating, since it allows your opponent an extra turn and will often result in
FUMBLING being blocked next turn.
Word Knowledge
Scrabble Master
Playing Phoneys
A dark side of us comes out whenever we play games. Games allow us to express
characteristics that violate social norms. One of these characteristics is deception: it is
part of human nature to mislead others for personal gain. However, social contracts
frown upon lying and manipulation.
But over the Scrabble board, it is okay to deceive your opponent --- in fact, it is
encouraged! Playing phoneys against your gullible opponents is an important part of
Scrabble. Outwitting and outmaneuvering your opponents is part of the fun!
Some players believe that playing phoneys is “dishonorable.” Others feel that
playing phoneys is unnecessary and they should be capable of winning without them.
However, playing a phoney is an essential skill, since phoneys can score well and playing
phoneys may elicit your opponent to challenge valid words in the future.
Other players are afraid to play phoneys, since they fear their opponents will
challenge. They fear that their opponents will always make the right decision. However,
your opponent is only human – just like you. Opponents will also be afraid of making a
mistake, and might be gun shy on challenging a phoney.
Phoneys should only be played if your opponent is unlikely to challenge. Playing
phoneys successfully is a matter of human psychology. Players who recently lost
challenges/games or seem intimidated are more likely to accept phoneys.
Sometimes you will want to play a word that you are unsure of; you think that it
might be a word but you aren’t sure. This is a different type of phoney: a phoney that
might be valid. Although the word might be valid, you should still think of it as a
phoney: you definitely don’t want these words to be challenged.
If you are going to play a phoney, you need to sell the phoney using your body
language and actions. You should appear as inconspicuous as possible, acting like you
are just as confident that your phoney is a word as you would be if you played APPLE
instead. You should play your phoney quickly and confidently so that you leave little
impression on your opponent that you might be pulling a fast one on them.
Often, players will indicate that they can be phoneyed. Statements such as “I’m
just going to play and hopefully I don’t look like an idiot,” or “I know that I’m a good
player even though everyone else might not think so,” are signs that a player may be
willing to accept a phoney, as they are insecure about their word knowledge and don’t
want to lose games by making incorrect challenges.
Plausible phoneys are intuitive and require understanding of the English language.
While some opponents will accept nearly any letter string you might play, some phoneys
are more likely to be accepted than others. Some players are more likely to take
conjugates such as FLOCKER*, RECLIMB*, and EGGIER*. Other players are more
likely to take alien words, figuring that you are unlikely to make up a word out of thin air.
Yet other players will accept phoney alternate spellings since they are unable to keep
acceptable and unacceptable spellings straight.
Word Knowledge
Scrabble Master
Heuristics and Improvement
Throughout school, kids would acquire information at different rates. Some kids
learned almost instantly, while other kids lagged behind and learned information slowly
through meticulous effort. Whether it was math, English, social studies, or any other
subject, some students would excel while others would inevitably struggle.
However, there’s one thing that school didn’t teach: it could not teach students
how to think, or how to learn. Understanding how people acquire skills and information
can help one become more proficient in school, hobbies, work, or Scrabble.
There are primarily two ways that people learn. One method is memorization.
Memorization involves learning rules or facts: we learn that Lima is the capital of Peru or
that red and blue form purple. Memorization helps you learn facts as well as the steps
necessary to master technique.
While memorization can be effective, it has many drawbacks. Information is
easily forgotten since there is no simple method of reinforcement. Also, memorization is
a slow, cumbersome process. Without a narrative that helps you internalize the
information, memorization becomes tedious and uninteresting.
The second way that people learn is through heuristics. Heuristics are
internalized thoughts or behaviors that do not require active attention. Typically,
heuristics are expressed as rules of thumb but are primarily process driven: they are basic
thought processes developed and refined through life experience. Processes like tying
one’s shoelaces or playing a musical instrument are examples of heuristic learning.
Heuristics help people think and behave accurately and efficiently. They allow
you to make accurate approximations and judgments, understand and predict human
behavior, and act more “automatically”. Heuristics enable people to drive a car, estimate
time and location, or perform motor tasks with little effort and attention.
Heuristics also have downsides. They can make it more difficult to find words
like CHINOSU (CUSHION) because our brain tries to use shortcuts to anagram more
efficiently (e.g. creating letter combinations such as CH and OU). Sometimes, these
shortcuts fail. Heuristics make finding words like QUBIT, JNANA, and SMARAGD
difficult because they violate our internal conceptions of how words are formed.
Most behaviors result from both types of learning. Initially, nearly all learning is
done by memorization, and as one becomes more experienced, one internalizes the
lessons. People learn basic skills such as driving a car or typing by initially memorizing
rules until they are internalized into heuristics.
Whether you should learn by using heuristics (practice) or by memorization
(studying rules) depends on what you are learning. Memorization should be used to learn
data, such as words, anagrams, leave worth, trivia, and other tidbits of information.
Heuristics should be used to memorize technique. Scrabble heuristics include
endgame, strategy, and defense. While technique must be initially learned using rules,
they are internalized through practice. Over time, the need for rules subsides since the
rule is understood. Once the rule becomes internalized, the technique has been mastered.
Note that heuristics are more firmly engrained than memorized data. Erroneously
memorized data can be overridden fairly easily: however, once a heuristic is understood
incorrectly, it is far more difficult to unlearn since those bad habits have seeped into
one’s intuition.
Word Knowledge
Scrabble Master
Improving your ability to learn
One of the main reasons that people struggle to learn is because they approach
memorization and heuristic learning similarly. However, the process of learning through
memorization is very different than heuristic learning. The methods used to learn rules
and data should vary drastically from how you learn technique.
Memorization is a very meticulous process. It requires one’s complete, undivided
attention, since it is easy to confuse different pieces of data: one can easily imagine
confusing the capital of Bolivia (La Paz) with the capital of Uruguay (Montevideo) when
you are learning hundreds of world capitals: the memorizer must both sort and
accumulate data. By trying to memorize too quickly or while distracted, you will
adversely affect your recall ability.
Memorization of words and ideas are best performed by focusing on the object
and linking it to an image, idea, definition, or alphagram. By doing so, you attach a
significance to what you have learned, transforming it into something of “value” rather
than a meaningless piece of data.
Memorization is best refined through constant exposure over time. Repeated
exposure allows you to slowly absorb information, reinforcing facts until they become
second nature. Since your retention rate decreases as more information is absorbed,
repeated exposure is necessary to learn the information that you failed to fully absorb.
Heuristic learning is less precise than memorization. Heuristic learning is best
learned by performance, using trial and error to refine your technique. Heuristic learning
requires self-supervision to avoid straying from the lessons initially learned, as many
people oversimplify lessons in hopes of making these rules easier to apply or digest.
Heuristic learning must be achieved quickly through repeated immediate
exposure. While memorization requires continuous exposure, heuristics are refined by
repeated attempts over a short period of time. Skills such as board and rack vision are
best practiced in short spurts, as your repeated successes and failures subconsciously alter
your heuristics.
In Scrabble, the goal is to make learning as heuristic-laden as possible. While
word knowledge will always need to be learned through memorization, making skills
such as board vision, anagramming, and rack vision second nature should be an important
goal for any Scrabble enthusiast.
Word Knowledge
Scrabble Master
Puzzle Break #1
Answers on page 66.
Diagram 1:
Find the best play with the following racks:
AADNOTV (column o)
EEGLMNO (15d and 8a)
Diagram 2:
Find the best play with the following racks:
AHINOTU (a4, o1)
Decision Making
Scrabble Master
Chapter 2:
Finding Words
After traveling through stormy weather, a boat’s navigation system malfunctions.
The captain calls in the crew and asks them how to find their way back to land. One
crewmate tries to construct a compass on board, and tells the boat to travel straight ahead.
Another crew member tries to use the stars as navigation, and suggests turning the boat
slightly east toward the sun. The boat turns. A third member uses the ocean currents and
examines the seafloor and recommends a significant turn westward.
The boat is lost. The captain moves onward, picking a direction arbitrarily and
hoping that he’s right. The captain no longer wants advice. It’s easier to focus on one
path rather than accept input from the rest of the crew.
This is how many novices feel on the Scrabble board. They are overwhelmed by
all the factors they have to consider: while they search scrupulously, they reach a
breaking point and give up, making a play just to get to the next rack. After a few racks,
they are so frustrated that they refuse to give any rack more than a cursory glance.
Learning how to find plays is like learning to play an instrument; it can only be
developed through practice. By developing an understanding of the types of spots and
words yield high scores, finding good plays can become second nature to any Scrabble
Decision Making
Scrabble Master
Rack Vision
One important Scrabble skill is the ability to find the words available in your rack.
This is often known as rack vision. Rack vision requires players to anagram their tiles:
rearranging the tiles in their rack to form words. The anagramming part of Scrabble
excites word lovers and is distinct from other popular board games.
The process of anagramming is much like solving a jigsaw puzzle. Many people
have different rules or heuristics for solving jigsaw puzzles, but improvement comes
largely from the process of solving those puzzles. The same goes for anagramming:
while there are good methods that can help new players anagram more proficiently, the
best ways to improve your anagramming skill are learned internally through repetition.
Because of the complex nature of the English language, some words are much
easier to anagram than others. The above groups contain anagrams of birds. For most
people, anagramming the list of birds in group 1 is much more difficult than
anagramming the birds in group 2. This is because most words follow patterns: patterns
that are already subconsciously hard-wired into your brain. Just as your brain has
mechanisms for facial recognition, it has mechanisms for analyzing word patterns. By
practicing anagramming, you unlock your potential to employ and develop those patterns
so that anagramming becomes nearly automatic. Top players can anagram nearly any 7
and 8 letter combination nearly instantly.
Rack vision also requires looking for shorter words within your rack. In many
ways, this process is even more difficult than finding 7 and 8 letter words since there are
so many different sets of anagrams to look for: you need to find 3, 4, 5, and 6 letter
words. The extra tiles on your rack can make finding shorter words difficult: discovering
the only 5 letter rack in AAGRTUV is far more difficult than finding the same word in a
rack of AABGOUV. (GUAVA)
This section will illustrate various techniques that players use to find words in
their rack. While reading this section will not improve your anagramming ability
immediately, by employing these methods and practicing your anagramming skill, over
time you will be able to find words with ease.
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Scrabble Master
Prefixes and Suffixes
The task of anagramming a rack of seven tiles in addition to potential letters on
the board can be intimidating to even the most experienced player. Luckily, as a player
gains experience, they become comfortable working with many letters at the same time.
Most players develop their anagramming ability by first looking for tile combinations
such as prefixes and suffixes.
Common prefixes: PRE-, RE-, MIS-, SUB-, OVER-, OUT-, AB-, CON-, BI-, TRI-, DE-,
FORE-, IN-, NON-, OB-, UN-, EX-, ANTI-, DIS-,
Common suffixes: -AL, -IC, -ER, -IER, -EST, -IEST, -ING, -ED, -LY, -ISH, -ISM, -IST,
Diagram 1:
Diagram 2:
In Diagram 1, there are 3 bingos in row 8, all of which use common suffixes.
Answers at the bottom of the page.
In Diagram 2, there are 5 bingos, including GRAINER (a type of knife). Find the
other four. Answers at the bottom of the page.
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Diagram 3:
Scrabble Master
Diagram 4:
In Diagram 3, there are four bingos using prefixes and suffixes that play using the
N at k10, the F at 15a, the G at 15h, and the M at 1a. Answers on the bottom of the page.
In Diagram 4, there are four bingos using the A at 10e, the E at 8h, the Y at 15a,
and the Y at 15o. Answers at the bottom of the page.
Diagram 5:
Diagram 6:
In Diagram 5, there are bingos through the I at e8, S at o8, and V at i11 using
prefixes and suffixes. Answers on the bottom of the page.
In Diagram 6, there are three bingos to the E at h8, the H at 8a, and hooking the S
to form INK-S at 7l. Answers on the bottom of the page.
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Scrabble Master
Compound words
Another way that novice players find words is by finding a shorter root word and
identify how the other tiles can extend that word. Using this technique, players often find
compound words. Compound words are especially useful when a blank is in your rack,
and should be sought any time you find a common word such as WOOD, BOOK,
WORK, HAND, MATE, or BOAT in your rack as you will likely have a compound word
(or a word that takes the form of a compound word, such as AGALWOOD). Compounds
are also useful to identify since it allows you to extend existing words for potentially
high-scoring plays.
Above is an example of compound words. In Word 1, you might notice the word
POP, which leaves CNOR, and then realize that you actually have the word POPCORN.
In Word 2, you might spot the word WAY, then realize that you have RAILWAY. In
Word 3, you might realize see the 4 letter BACK before you realized that you have
BACKLOG. In Word 4, you might see the word BAG before you see WINDBAG. In
Word 5, you might see the word JAY before the word JAYWALK. In word 6, you might
see the word BOY before you come up with NEWSBOY.
Diagram 1:
Diagram 2:
In Diagram 1, there are two compound words through the D in BOARD and a 7
letter word hooking PARK-A. Answers at the bottom of the page.
In Diagram 2, there are two compound words through the F and L of FLUKY.
Answers at the bottom of the page.
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Scrabble Master
Problematic Tiles
Many Scrabble players think of every rack as a problem they are trying to solve.
Some problems are easy regardless of their result (exchange with UUUUVWW, bingo
with ABCGIKN) while others are more complex. In every rack and with every goal,
your first objective should be to identify and resolve the biggest problem. This is not
only true of rack vision, but of every position you will encounter in any game.
Rack 1: AEEQST?
In this rack, you would like to play a bingo since you have very strong tiles but
are harassed by the Q. Thus, you should immediately seek to make the blank a U or look
for QAT plays immediately, as these are the best ways to get rid of the Q. After a few
seconds, you might find the word EQuATES in your rack.
With this rack, you are stuck with 3 Us and 2 Ns. You should thus immediately
look for words that use the U and N since this will be a problem both this turn and on
future turns. You should then notice that you have the UN- prefix, and note that you
have the word UNSUNG that relieves your U and N surplus.
With this rack, you are overloaded with high-point consonants and only have one
vowel. Any play you make should seek to rid yourself of these consonants. Because the
Y is on your rack with a lot of consonants, you should seek to alleviate the consonants by
making the Y function as a vowel. This should lead you to find words such as WACKY
in your rack.
Rack 4: INOTWZ?
With this rack, you are burdened by the high-point W and Z which are preventing
you from playing a bingo. You should thus look for places to play both tiles making
plays such as WIZ or ZOWIE to get these tiles off your rack.
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Scrabble Master
Letter Combinations and Permutations
As you gain experience, you will acquire the ability to work your tiles in
conjunction with the board and move past finding simple prefixes/suffixes and compound
words. At this point, you are ready to approach anagramming more methodically.
While anagramming methodically may seem to stifle your creativity and seem
robotic, it will significantly improve your anagramming over time through repetition. By
developing a routine, anagramming will become effortless.
The best way to learn how to anagram is by trying to anagram left to right until
you find all of the words that seem useful in your rack. To illustrate, let’s take the
following set of tiles:
Step 1: Pick a letter (let’s pick T) to start the word.
Step 2: Deduce the possible next letter based on your understanding of the
English language. (TE, TO, TH…)
Step 3: Using those beginnings, identify the words in your rack starting with those
letter combinations (TECH, TELOS…, TOE… , THOSE, THE..)
Step 4: Repeat steps 1 through three starting with a different letter.
Here are a few rules that you should follow when looking for words:
Vowels are usually followed by consonants, and consonants are usually followed
by vowels.
2. Look for letter combinations such as CH, CK, NT, RT, NG, MP, etc. This step is
especially important to find shorter words in your rack. Be especially observant
of combinations using high point tiles or duplicated letters on your rack.
3. Letters such as C, F, J, P, V, and Z are much more likely to start words, while
letters such as D, G, N, T, W, X, and Y are much more likely to end words.
4. Pay more attention to high point letters, duplicate letters, and rack imbalances.
Thinking about these factors will not only help you balance your rack: they will
often make it easier to find high-scoring plays.
5. Remember to look for words starting with vowels. Although there are few words
that start with vowels, a quick look at these words can lead to lucrative plays.
6. Look at your rack, then look at the board. When you look at your rack first, it can
often give you an idea of which tiles to look for, either to form a bingo or to get
rid of problem tiles on a clunky rack.
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Scrabble Master
Shorter Words
Quizzes: (bingos)
5 letter words (scoring 20+ points):
6 letter words:
5 letter words (scoring 20+ points):
6 letter words:
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Scrabble Master
Board Vision
The second step of finding words is identifying the various places on the board to
play. This is often referred to as board vision. Board vision requires seeing and
identifying the various high scoring options and bonus squares that allow you to score
The process of finding spots on the board is much like reading a map. While at
first unfamiliar, players develop an innate understanding of a map over the course of
time. The same holds true for the Scrabble board: players acquire a feel for the board.
On every board, there are scoring and bingo opportunities that are obviously
lucrative as well as hidden treasures that can be used to score big with the right tiles.
Good players can identify the potentially lucrative openings that solve the challenges
their rack presents while being mindful of the high-point opportunities that the board
offers given the right tiles. Players with good board vision think of the board not as a
divergent word playground, but as an organized list of possibilities.
Like rack vision, board vision can be greatly enhanced after playing many games
of Scrabble. Studies have shown that developing experience with various boards and
game pieces board causes your brain to develop an intuitive understanding: experienced
Scrabble players can visualize a Scrabble board in their head. Scrabble players learn the
board the same way most people learn their way around a new house.
This section will show you how Scrabble players see the board and identify which
spots are potentially lucrative. Finding these spots will not only help you score but also
deprive these scoring opportunities for your opponent.
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Extensions lengthen a preexisting word to form a longer word. For example, you
can add –ING to FLUSH making FLUSHING (back extension), or FORE- to SHADOW
making FORESHADOW (front extension), or LA- and –OR to BRAD forming
LABRADOR (insertion).
While extensions are “pretty” plays, it is rarely worth sacrificing points in hopes
of drawing an extension worth less than 50 points. While extensions are flashy, they are
rarely the best option. However, extensions can occasionally draw a challenge, giving
you a free turn.
Diagram 1:
Diagram 2:
In Diagram 1, there are several extensions possible, including INTERVIEW,
In Diagram 2, there are also many extensions possible, such as DISCOUNTER,
Diagram 3:
Diagram 4:
In Diagram 3, you can play both front and back extensions to BALL, such as
In Diagram 4, there are many front extensions to HEAD, landing on the TWS.
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Scrabble Master
Parallel plays:
Parallel plays fit alongside an existing word on the board, forming multiple
shorter words in the process. Parallel plays are often useful for scoring well with high
point tiles, such as the H, W, X, and Y when they are placed on bonus squares.
Parallel plays are also a good idea because they can prevent both scoring plays
and bingos. This concept will be elaborated upon in Chapter 9.
For example, let’s say that your opponent opens with the word DONATOR, and
you have the tiles ANIMATE. You can make a parallel play, placing ANIMATE at 7d,
forming the words AD, NO, IN, MA, AT, TO, and ER.
Diagram 1:
Diagram 2:
In Diagram 1, the following words can all be made as parallel plays:
CAMEL (7e)
BONED (10b)
DIME (l4)
TEDDY (10d)
In Diagram 2, the following words can all be parallel plays:
ZOO (7g)
HOOP (m11)
ADAGE (n1)
ATE (10j)
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Diagram 3:
Scrabble Master
Diagram 4:
In Diagram 3, AHI can be played at g12, between the words TOBOGGAN and
DECODING, forming GAD, GHI, and AIN. In Diagram 4, RAVAGE can be played at
7h, paralleling MAYA and AMIA and forming RAH, AYE, VAR, GAY, and EM.
Both of these parallel plays are initially very difficult to find. However, once you
become more used to the Scrabble board and get used to searching for these types of
parallel plays, you will be able to find these plays more often.
Diagram 5:
Diagram 6:
In Diagram 5, many people find the KOALA parallel play at 6f, but fail to notice
that it can also be played at 6h for an additional 3 points. Many players don’t realize that
a combination like AT can take a vowel front hook, and therefore miss the O-AT play.
In Diagram 6, some players will see HOARD 6j or ODAH 8l, but many fewer
players will find HOARD 8k because they never search for the PHT parallel. While
these parallels may look obvious in these diagrams, they are harder to find over the
board, as our minds use shortcuts that lead us to overlook plays like HOARD 8k.
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Scrabble Master
Hooks are tiles that can be placed either in front or in back of a word to form a
new word. Hooks allow you to form a new play perpendicular to a preexisting word on
the board. For example, the word LIVE can be hooked by an O or A in the front
(forming ALIVE or OLIVE, which is called a front hook) or by a D, N, R, or S in the
back (forming LIVED, LIVEN, LIVER, or LIVES, which is called a back hook)
Hooks are useful when your opponent does not know or see the hook. Most
players can identify hooks when asked, but struggle to see the hooks in the middle of a
game. Noticing and creating hooks can give you a tremendous edge over your opponent.
Diagram 1:
Diagram 2:
In Diagram 1, words like QUILT k7 (forming VERTU) or BLOCK f6 (forming
OVERT) are examples of hooks that might show up during Scrabble games.
In Diagram 2, FACADES can be played in 6 different places: 1d, 2a, e6, k7, and
f9, all forming various hooks.
Diagram 3:
Diagram 4:
Hooks can also be used to set up scoring spots like the S-CREW hook at o2 in
Diagram 3, or bingo lines like the CORN-S hook at j11 in Diagram 4.
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Scrabble Master
The Method of Finding Plays
Here are the basic steps that most players use to find plays:
Step 1: Look for 7 and 8 letter words using all of the tiles on your rack using the
word-finding steps described earlier in this chapter.
Step 2: Prioritize the problems in your rack and search for the plays that could
potentially alleviate these problems.
Step 3: Search for the best spots on the board to make high-scoring plays and
search for plays that could use these spots.
Step 4: Decide on the best play (for more information on how to accomplish this,
see Chapter 4)
Diagram 1:
Diagram 2:
In Diagram 1, you have no bingos. You also have three Is and also want to get rid
of either the P or W. There are various open letters, but no TWS or TLS squares
available. In this case, the best play to do this is looking for multiple I words. Doing so,
you should find the best play of KIWI n1 (22).
In Diagram 2, you have 6 consonants. Although there is an open J, you should
focus on the open vowels such as the open O at b12. The best play using that O is
CLOWN b10 (32).
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Diagram 3:
Scrabble Master
Diagram 4:
In Diagram 3, you have good board openings at 6f and o12, but your best play is
playing GREATEST 4h (72).
In Diagram 4, you have openings at 1l and 12a, but you have a bingo:
EVENTFUL a5 (92).
Diagram 5:
Diagram 6:
In Diagram 5, you have 3 Os and want to balance your rack with plays like
ROOF, FOOT, or FOLIO. You also have a hot spot at 6n (OF), but the best spot is 8l,
where you have FORT 8l (46).
In Diagram 6, you have two Vs and two As, so VAV(S) looks like an obvious
play to score some points and clear your rack. However, you also have scoring spots
available at o1 and h12. When looking to use these spots, you might be able to find
QOPH h12 (54).
Decision Making
Scrabble Master
Identifying your Vision Shortcomings
Diagram 1:
Diagram 2:
Diagram 1 illustrates a common board vision problem, as many players hastily
play WORM 11k and miss the O-AT hook since they subconsciously assume that AT is
hooked by consonants. Although this may seem basic, it is often difficult midgame when
there are additional letters on your rack and you are unaware of the scoring spot.
Diagram 2 illustrates another common miss, as most people would miss
ASPIRED. Most people fail to see hooks that force them to play through other letters:
they would fail to consider playing S-TRUCK and thus would miss ASPIRED e5 (52).
Diagram 3:
Diagram 4:
Diagram 3 illustrates tunnel vision as many players would immediately play
SWAP at o6 and completely ignore the higher-scoring parallel play at 10d.
In Diagram 4 you have the word GRAPE, but the GRAPEFRUITS extension is
often missed because most players don’t look to extend plays that must form parallels and
don’t look for extensions that don’t hit DWS or TWS bonus squares.
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Scrabble Master
Puzzle Break #2
Answers on page 66.
Diagram 1:
Diagram 2:
In Diagram 1, there are four different words in this rack. The lowest scoring word
is uncommon (BIDERS), while the other three words are common. Find the four words,
and find the highest scoring play with each word.
Word 1: BIDERS
33 points
Word 2: ________
39 points
Word 3: ________
44 points
Word 4: ________
47 points
In Diagram 2, there are 5 distinct, common words at different placements that
score well. Find them.
Word 1: ________
43 points
Word 2: ________
46 points
Word 3: ________
48 points
Word 4: ________
64 points
Word 5: ________
69 points
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Scrabble Master
In the process of creating a logo for this book, there were several rough drafts that
didn’t make the cut. Here are some of those failed logos below (I won’t quit my day job.)
Scrabble Master
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Scrabble Master
Chapter 3:
Bonus Squares
One aspect that attracts players to Scrabble is the board. It is a piece of art:
colorful and exciting, yet symmetric and easy to understand. The board itself adds an
interesting component: while simple, it adds a complex dimension that makes tile
positioning extremely important.
Bonus squares make Scrabble more dynamic. While they can be a savior for your
high point tiles, they can also be detrimental when your opponent has high point tiles and
can easily score with them. While tiles such as the S and R are used for playing a bingo,
tiles such as the H, W, X, and Y are used for bonus squares.
Bonus squares allow tiles like the Z or X can score 50 or more points. They
enable otherwise poor high point tiles to punish your opponent, especially if you can use
multiple bonus squares on one turn or make a parallel play using a bonus square. Two of
these plays are worth just as much as a bingo. The points can add up fast!
Since it is easy to score well using bonus squares, you should try to use the bonus
squares for your high point tiles and avoid giving your opponent easy access to them.
You may need to sacrifice points to either block or avoid giving your opponent open
bonus squares so they can’t score well with their high point tiles.
Decision Making
Diagram 1:
Scrabble Master
Diagram 2:
In Diagram 1, the word WAX can be played at 10d scoring 61 points. This
position shows that tiles like the X can be a powerful tile. Leaving open bonus squares
for parallel plays can be very dangerous.
Diagram 2 shows the opening rack FREEZER. You can play FREEZER at 8h,
but you should play it at 8d for 12 less points. This is because the 8h placement lets your
opponent place an S or blank at 8o to hook FREEZERS and score a ton of points.
Diagram 3:
Diagram 4:
In Diagram 3, NAZIFIED should be played at 5d despite scoring one point less
than 2d. A play above the IFI in NAZIFIED 2d will simply allow too many points:
NAZIFIED 5d makes it harder for your opponent to score well.
Diagram 4 illustrates a choice between EVE m13 (22) and VEE m3 (19). While
EVE scores more points, it leaves an E at 15m, next to a DLS and TWS. Because your
opponent can use the E at 15m for big points, it is worthwhile to play VEE. Three points
is not sufficient compensation to leave such a dangerous opening.
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Scrabble Master
Double/Triple Letter Score
The bonus squares can be divided into two different types: the DLS/TLS, and the
DWS/TWS. The DWS and DLS contain the same principles as the TWS and TLS to a
lesser degree: thus, anything that applies to the TWS applies to the DWS, and anything
that applies to the TLS applies to the DLS.
The double/triple letter score is usually innocuous because of the other more
lucrative bonus squares. It is only good for parallel plays with clunky high point tiles
such as the W, Y, and K. Most plays using these squares leave comebacks using other
bonus squares.
The danger involved in placing vowels next to bonus squares depends on each
individual situation. Placing the I on the left side of the TLS (leaving IF as the only
possible high scoring play) is safer than putting the I on the right side of the TLS (leaving
HI, QI, KI, MI, PI, and BI). The risk of putting a vowel next to a TLS also varies on the
pool (or the remaining unplayed tiles): when more high-point tiles have been played,
putting vowels next to bonus squares becomes safer.
Opening rack: ACCIINV
VINCA is a tempting play scoring 2 less points than CIVIC and leaving CI, a
comparable leave to AN. VINCA also does not leave an I next to the DLS. However,
CIVIC is a significantly better play. While leaving that I is undesirable, the danger of
DLS and TLS squares comes from parallel plays or combining DLS/TLS squares with
DWS/TWS squares. Since neither outcome is possible, there is no reason to worry.
Opening rack: CCIMMOO
With this rack, you are definitely going to want to play COMIC, but you have a
choice between leaving the I or O next to the DLS square. In this case, you are much
better playing COMIC with the second C on the star. It is much easier to make a parallel
play with a high point tile using a consonant that parallels the O. While many high point
tiles precede the I (BI, PI, HI, QI, KI, XI), most of these consonants do not end many
words. It is easier to start rather than end words with high-point tiles.
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Scrabble Master
Diagram 1:
Diagram 2:
Score: 0-78
Choices: WIND/WAND 7i (23),
WIND/WAND 9c (22)
Score: 78-23
Choices: FAZED 6f (44), ADZE 8l (49)
In Diagram 1, although WAND/WIND at 7i blocks bingo columns h-j, blocks
parallel plays, and scores an extra point, it is still inferior to 9c. The j6 TLS square can
hurt you immensely with plays such as QIS, XIS, ZAS, WAS, WIS, BAS, BIS, VIS,
VAS, KAS, and KIS. These plays let your opponent score well with mediocre tiles.
Leaving tiles like the I or A next to a bonus square should be avoided when your
opponent can make a parallel play for big points. Even if the 6j hotspot is not used by
your opponent, it is unlikely that you can make good use of it with your three tile leave.
Sometimes risky plays like WIND 7i sometimes work out, because your opponent
will need to block the opening that you created. However, gambles such as WIND 7i are
not worth the risk. Rarely will your opponent need to resort to playing defense: usually
they will use the 6j TLS to score.
In Diagram 2, blocking the hotspot is very important. Although FAZED scores
fewer points and has a nearly equal leave, it is better than playing ADZE because it
blocks the dangerous hotspot at 6j.
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Scrabble Master
Triple Word Score:
In many amateur Scrabble games, the TWS generates a large percentage of the
points scored, but in high-level Scrabble, Triple Word Scores are not a big deal. Putting
letters in the Triple Word Score alley is less costly than it seems, and you’ll rarely lose
games because your opponent scored too many points using the TWS squares.
Of course, there are some situations where you should avoid opening TWS
squares. You should avoid opening TWS squares if they allow your opponent to make a
high scoring parallel play, when the opening allows your opponent to use two TWS
squares, when it allows the DLS AND the TWS to be used together lucratively, or when
you are giving them an easy-to-use, high point tile such as the J or Z in a TWS alley.
TWS Diagram:
On this board, the A and V (at 1d and a4) are innocuous. These letters don’t let
your opponent use the DLS squares, and limit your opponent’s ability to score well using
high point tiles. Your opponent will rarely use these openings for more than 30 points.
The D and the I (at o3 and 15c) are innocuous since using the DLS squares with
high point tiles is difficult for your opponent. While your opponent might make plays
such as LADY or NAIVE, they can rarely place high point tiles on DLS bonus squares.
However, the Z and O (at 12a and 1m) are very dangerous, and you should block
both of these openings as long as you don’t have to sacrifice a lot of points. Leaving the
Z in the TWS alley allows your opponent a cheap 40+ point play with crummy tiles and
often lets your opponent balance their rack, while the open O allows cheap 35 point
plays, again while letting your opponent balance their rack and getting rid of clunkers.
The N (at o14) is dangerous because it allows high scoring plays with tiles such as
the Z and J along with 120+ point bingos (using two TWS squares). You should be
willing to sacrifice around 10 points to block this type of opening.
Meanwhile, the S (at 15j) is dangerous as there are a variety ways for your
opponent to use it, including a play that hits two TWS squares. The opponent can play a
seven letter word ending in S, a five letter word with the S as a middle letter, or a six
letter word starting with S. While this opening is not as bad as the N, O, or Z, it can
potentially be quite costly.
Decision Making
Scrabble Master
One type of opening that can be dangerous are hooks. Hooks are especially
dangerous when the hook letter is on a TWS or DWS square since it can potentially result
in a lot of points for your opponent. In general, you should avoid leaving hooks next to
TWS or DWS squares unless you are desperately behind or retain the hook tile and want
to gamble with your opponent.
High risk:
These hooks can prove to be extremely lucrative for your opponent. You should
be willing to sacrifice a significant amount of points to block these openings and should
usually avoid leaving these types of hooks for your opponent.
Medium risk:
These hooks are not as dangerous as the High-risk hooks. In the first two
diagrams, the hook is somewhat safe as only one tile (the Z) can be used lucratively,
while in the third position the T-WEAK hook will usually score less than 40 points.
While these hooks are undesirable, you should not sacrifice too many points to avoid
leaving these scoring opportunities.
Low risk:
These hooks are relatively safe hooks that will occur in almost any game. Using
these hooks also often requires good letters that would have often scored well even
without these hooks, and most plays using these hooks will score less than 40 points even
if they can be used by your opponent. Leaving these types of hooks open should not be a
major concern.
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Scrabble Master
Another dangerous opening is the parallel play. Parallel plays have the propensity
to be very lucrative when a player has a high scoring tile such as the X, Z, J, W, H, or Y.
The risk involved with parallel plays depends on the pool, the available bonus squares,
and the ease with which parallel plays will fit on the board.
High risk:
These positions are very dangerous parallels, as they often give your opponent
very lucrative scoring opportunities. Leaving these openings for your opponent is often
dangerous, and you should sacrifice points to avoid leaving these opportunities for your
Medium risk:
These positions are less dangerous than the high risk positions. The first position
is very easy to parallel but less lucrative since it involves DLS squares. The second
position is easy to use but provides only one tile to parallel, making it difficult for either
player to score more than 30 points. The last two positions require a good combination
of letters to score lucratively. While these openings are dangerous, you shouldn’t
sacrifice more than a few points to avoid leaving these types of scoring opportunities for
your opponent.
Low risk:
While these scoring parallels may look dangerous, they are actually relatively
safe, as it is very hard to use these parallel options lucratively. You should rarely
sacrifice any points to open these types of scoring options.
Decision Making
Scrabble Master
Short Bonus Square Combinations
Another type of opening is simply playing through open tiles to form one highscoring play, often reaching a TWS square. The strength of these openings depends on
the amount of space available around the open tile. Open bonus squares with little space
are referred to as short openings, while open tiles with lots of space around it are referred
to as long openings.
The risk factor of short openings depends on two things: the propensity to use
high point tiles and the propensity for those tiles to be used on several multipliers, such as
the DLS-TWS or TLS/DWS combination.
High risk:
These openings are potentially very dangerous for your opponent. These
openings allow your opponent to play 3 or 4 tiles for over 40 points whenever your
opponent has good scoring tiles.
Medium risk:
These openings are not as dangerous as the high risk positions despite their
similarity to the high risk openings because of the placement of the tiles within the words.
The placement of the A and L in Diagram 1, the E in Diagram 2, the I in Diagram 3, and
the Q in Diagram 4 are nearly as dangerous because of their positions. There are many
more ?I?? and ?E?? words than ??E? and ??I? words.
Low risk:
These openings are not very dangerous at all. Many players are overly concerned
with TWS squares: these sorts of openings are rarely lucrative and rarely result in high
scoring plays.
Decision Making
Scrabble Master
Long Bonus Square Combinations
Long bonus square openings are much like short openings with one major
difference: you must also factor in your opponent’s ability to bingo. These bingos can be
devastating as they tend to score very well, and in some cases your opponent can bingo
using two DWS or TWS squares simultaneously. A TWS-TWS word often scores over
130 points. Because of the additional space and scoring potential, long bonus square
openings are more dangerous than short ones.
High risk:
These openings are extremely dangerous, as they have the propensity to lead to
big scores for your opponent. These openings often result in high scores with high point
letters or even potential 100+ point bingos if your opponent has good tiles.
Medium risk:
These openings are similar to the high risk openings but are safer than the highrisk openings. While these openings can provide major openings for your opponent, your
opponent won’t be able to use these openings for high scores nearly as often as in the
high-risk scenarios.
Low risk:
Despite having similarities to the first two groups, these openings are relatively
innocuous. It will be very difficult for your opponent to use these squares to score well
because their positioning makes it much more difficult for your opponent to make high
scoring plays.
Decision Making
Scrabble Master
Diagram 1:
Diagram 2:
Score: 45-47
Choices: ZEE b1 (29), ZEE b2 (31),
Score: 115-143
Choices: FIE 7e (21), KIEF c12 (22),
EFFACE k4 (28)
In Diagram 3, it is worth putting the Z in the TWS alley despite sacrificing two
points. The Z at b1 is more useful for you, while the EL hook created by ZEE b2 is more
useful for your opponent. Putting the Z at b1 is less dangerous than it appears, since
there are very few words that have a Z as their second letter. However, you can use the Z
with an O (AZO) or R (AZURE) draw, as well many other two and three letter
In Diagram 4, the open F after KIEF is a benefit. Your opponent will often be
unable to use the F at 15c, letting you score next turn using your second F. Opening the
bonus square is beneficial because it is more likely to be useful for you instead of your
Decision Making
Scrabble Master
Diagram 3:
Diagram 4:
Choices: BEGET j6 (29),
BAGUETTE h7 (62)
Choices: VIZOR 9d (30),
VALORIZE h7 (71)
In Diagram 3, you should play BAGUETTE. Although BAGUETTE gives your
opponent a lucrative S hook on row 15, GEMATRIA scores 33 more points and keeps a
better leave (no tiles is better than TU).
When your opponent has the S or blank, they will average more than 70 points on
their next play: a much better use for their S or blank than if you played BEGET.
However, this value is compensated for the fact that if your opponent plays the S (or
especially the blank) they lose the value of playing these tiles on future turns.
Of course, the big potential payoff occurs when your opponent doesn’t have the
blank or S. Your opponent will need to make a low scoring parallel play to block or
ignore the spot and allow you to take the lucrative spot next turn nearly 50% of the time.
Since BAGUETTE is nearly a wash if your opponent has the S and hugely beneficial if
your opponent doesn’t, BAGUETTE is the best play.
In Diagram 4, you should play VIZOR. VALORIZE can be hooked with an S, D,
or blank for an average of almost 100 points. This will occur about 60% of the time if
your opponent has random tiles; however, your opponent’s rack is better than average, as
they are unlikely to waste an S or a blank on the opening rack. Thus, the chances of your
opponent having the S, blank, or D are close to 75%. This extra likelihood combined
with the higher scoring responses of VALORIZE(S/D) make the extra points of
VALORIZE less appealing than GEMATRIA in Diagram 3. Thus, you should play it
safe with VIZOR: it is not worth the risk.
Decision Making
Scrabble Master
Puzzle Break #3:
Write down all of the words you can find in the following tiles. Answers on page 67.
5 and 6 letter words: (Good: 4
4 letter words: (Good: 16
Expert: 8 Max: 15)
Expert: 24
Max: 43)
Diagram 1:
Find the best place to play the word ENTERED.
Decision Making
Scrabble Master
Chapter 4:
Decision Making
All eyes are on you. Your breathing speeds up. Your muscles begin to tense.
Your mind wanders. Your mind starts to wander: what if I’m wrong? What if I’m
missing something? Making crucial decisions under pressure seems impossible.
Whether it’s marriage, school, your job, etc., making life altering decisions is
difficult because of the ramifications. Although Scrabble does not change someone’s
life, the same stress reactions occur. A meticulous, logical thought process is imperative
for good Scrabble play.
In this chapter, you will learn three metrics to evaluate plays: the number of
points your play scores, the bonus squares available for your opponent, and the remaining
tiles on your rack also known as your leave. (This concept will be discussed further in
Chapter 5.)
How do you compare plays using these metrics? There are two stages of decision
making: the primary stage and the selection stage. In the primary stage, you are
comparing similar plays. The differences between plays are small and straightforward.
In the selection stage, you must contrast plays with different strengths and weaknesses.
The most important part of this chapter is understanding how decisions are made.
Making the right plays is not as important as understanding how to compare and contrast
plays. This chapter’s mission is to build a framework allowing you to find the best play
on each turn. As this book progresses, more metrics will be added, another stage will be
introduced, and you will learn how to incorporate more concepts into your decisionmaking process.
Decision Making
Scrabble Master
Decision Making: Mindset
If you want to make good decisions, it is vital to put yourself in a clear, rational
mindset. Here are some things to keep in mind when trying to make good decisions:
1. Understand that you won’t make the best play immediately. Scrabble is a serious
strategic game requiring thought and attention. Most world class Scrabble players
spend and effort on strategy instead of word-finding. Decision making is not a quick,
intuitive process: it is an analytical, methodical process that takes time and improves
with practice.
Many players feel that their ability (or inability) to make strategic decisions is a gauge
of their intelligence. This isn’t true at all: good strategic decisions are almost never
made immediately since it is impossible to intuitively assess all of the factors
involved. Scrabble decision making improves by thinking about decisions and
theory away from the board and testing your ideas until you develop a set of accurate,
thorough, efficient heuristics.
2. Limit comparisons to a few at a time. Players make notoriously poor choices when
trying to decide between many things at once: it is essential to pare down your
choices. Assessing the strengths and weaknesses of a particular play compared to
other plays is much easier when limiting those comparisons to two or three
Choosing a Scrabble play is done by using the process of elimination, ruling out
inferior options until only one option remains. This process is completely different
from choosing an item off a restaurant menu or going clothes shopping: it’s not about
picking something that feels right but methodically eliminating plays until you are left
with only one option.
3. Don’t be optimistic or pessimistic, be realistic. Many players focus too much on
individual outcomes that may result from their decisions. Worrying about specific
draws or opponent comebacks until very late in the game will lead to poor decisions,
as will hoping for good tiles, bad opponent racks, or specific openings. While you
should be mindful of what might happen, one should always focus on what will likely
Decision Making
Scrabble Master
Scrabble Psychology
1. Do not be afraid to play outside the box. Remember that you are playing a game:
don’t be afraid to look foolish. Playing any game requires making some seemingly
non-intuitive plays, challenging common words, playing seemingly silly phoneys,
etc. Improvement inevitably involves making plays that will occasionally catch you
with your pants down.
2. Always strive to make the best play. You should not stop looking for good plays
even if you see a high scoring play or even a bingo. Most plays are missed due to
complacency: they are missed not because they couldn’t find the play, but because
they stopped looking.
3. Treat every mistake or bad decision as a lesson. Mistakes are inevitable. For the
most part, mistakes are not resultant of a brain lapse, but of a faulty decision making
progress. Whenever you make a mistake, it is important to track and remember your
thought process so you can make refinements and you don’t reproduce similar errant
thoughts in the future.
4. Don’t hold on to the past. Don’t be afraid to exchange even if you exchanged last
turn, or open the board even though you closed the board last turn. Don’t let
previous luck affect your play: each situation should be treated as an independent
event. Regret is never a good reason to make a play. Similarly, don’t be afraid to
change the way you approach the game if it isn’t working. Being successful at any
game requires an ability to evolve and move on from your prior experiences.
5. You can win no matter who your opponent is. You always have the power to play
well regardless of your opponent: there is no reason you should be inhibited by a
strong opponent. The only time that your opponent should affect your decisions is
when you are trying to take advantage of their tendencies in a specific way. This
will be explained further in Chapter 18.
Decision Making
Scrabble Master
Primary Stage
During the primary stage, your goal is to eliminate inferior plays by finding
similar plays and comparing them in terms of points, board, and leave, using game score
when applicable. Since the plays are similar, it should be simple to evaluate which play
is better.
Although the two plays may be similar, this does not mean that one play is always
significantly better than the other. Sometimes the difference between similar plays is
very small. Nevertheless, you must pick a play to advance to the selection stage.
The primary stage should also be used to eliminate plays that are inferior using
every metric. These comparisons are also easy: if one play has no positives relative to
another play, it should be eliminated.
Diagram 1:
Diagram 2:
Choices: QUINT 8d (48), QUIRT 8d (48)
Choices: HONK h12 (33), KOI 9i (27),
INVOKED b3 (17)
In Diagram 1, QUIRT and QUINT are very similar plays. Both plays score the
same number of points at the same spot. The only real differences are that QUIRT
retains an IN leave while QUINT retains an IR leave, and QUINT takes an E and A back
hook while QUIRT does not (both plays take an S front and back hook). Both of these
differences favor QUIRT, since the IN leave is stronger than the IR leave and giving up
additional hooks to your opponent is undesirable.
In Diagram 2, HONK scores more points than any other play. It keeps a better
leave than KOI and is about equal defensively, blocking the H at h12, and opening an N
and K for bingos in return. It is somewhat obvious that the board and leave metrics will
not overcome the substantial point differential. Thus, HONK is easily the best play.
Decision Making
Scrabble Master
Diagram 3:
Diagram 4:
Choices: JANE l1 (42), JAPE l1 (46)
Choices: UNIFY 12h (28), AYIN k2 (29)
In Diagram 3, both plays are very similar. While JAPE scores more points, JANE
is a superior play because of its leave, which can be used at 10f next turn. The PEN leave
can be used at 10f (forming ZAP and HONE) while JAPE leaves two Ns in your rack.
This factor is significantly more important than the 4 additional points that JAPE scores.
In Diagram 4, UNIFY is better even though it is slightly less defensive and scores
one less point. UNIFY’s leave (AI) is much better than AYIN’s leave (FIU). Since the
other metrics are nearly equal, the difference in leave makes this decision clear.
Diagram 5:
Diagram 6:
Choices: BLAZE(D) 8d (38/42)
Choices: FA c9 (20), FAVA 11b (20)
In Diagram 5, BLAZE and BLAZED are similar. While DL is an equivalent
leave to L, the A-BLAZE hook and 4 extra points make BLAZED a better play.
In Diagram 6, FA and FAVA have similar board constructions and score the same
number of points. In addition, the ADEIR leave is nearly equivalent to the DEIR leave.
This diagram shows that even decisions in the primary stage can be very close; both plays
are nearly equivalent.
Decision Making
Scrabble Master
Selection Stage
While the primary stage compares similar plays, we need the selection stage to
compare plays with different strengths. It is important that you use the primary stage to
pare down the number of choices: otherwise, the number of candidates becomes
Many players may disagree with the play selections in this section, and many of
these positions are ambiguous. Nonetheless, you should try to explicate each position as
thoroughly as possible before making a preference. Again, it is more important that you
pay more attention to how to make decisions rather than the decisions themselves.
Diagram 1:
Diagram 2:
Score: 0-0
Choices: CHEZ 8f (36),
QUEnCH 8d (58)
Score: 182-193
Choices: QUEEN 1h (45),
QUOTED c9 (52)
In Diagram 1, QUEnCH scores 22 more points but expends the blank, a tile very
useful to play bingos and score well. The QU? leave is significantly better than the Z
leave, a concept that will be further explained next chapter. Deciding between these two
plays depends on your preference between the superior QU? leave and the additional 22
Diagram 2 is slightly more complex. QUOTED scores 7 more points and keeps a
slightly superior leave (LN is better since you are more likely to draw a vowel) but it also
leaves open row 1, which is a very lucrative scoring opportunity for your opponent.
Decision Making
Scrabble Master
Diagram 3:
Diagram 4:
Score: 117-88
Choices: CHARcOAL 14g (78),
COLAs 15d (75)
Score: 56-89
Choices: HYENA 4c (30), JAB h1 (36)
Diagram 3 features two options: CHARcOAL and COLAs. CHARcOAL scores 3
more points but leaves bonus squares at 15h and 15o open for your opponent. COLAs
leaves an AR leave and leaves fewer bonus squares available: it is a much safer play.
Deciding between these two plays depends on whether you think blocking these openings
is worth sacrificing 3 additional points.
In Diagram 4, HYENA scores 6 fewer points, however, it opens a bonus square
that is beneficial since it gives you the opportunity to use the J at 2f next turn. The choice
between JAB and HYENA depends upon whether or not you believe the JUN setup is
worth a 6 point sacrifice.
Decision Making
Scrabble Master
The following positions illustrate how to apply the logic described previously in
this chapter. While you may not agree with the assessments made in this section, focus
on the decision-making process rather than the decisions themselves.
Diagram 1:
Diagram 2:
Score: 226-254
Choices: VINEGARED c7 (36),
DIVERSE n8 (38), ADVERSE n8 (38),
DRIVEL h1 (42)
Score: 30-45
Choices: BOZO e5 (30), MOZO e5 (30),
BOOZE e4 (32), ZOOMS e7 (32)
Diagram 1 Primary Stage: DIVERSE is better than ADVERSE. DIVERSE keeps
an A (which is a slightly better tile than an I) and puts a consonant next to the TWS at o8,
making the spot less lucrative for your opponent.
DIVERSE is also better than VINEGARED. DIVERSE scores two more points
and closes several potential bingo lines for your opponent. While the E is slightly better
than the A, it is not worth the sacrifice in defense and points.
Diagram 1 Selection Stage: I prefer DRIVEL over DIVERSE. DRIVEL scores 4
more points and doesn’t open a TWS square, but keeps a slightly worse leave. While AE
has poor rack-consonant balance, both vowels can be used for both scoring and bingos.
Diagram 2 Primary Stage: BOZO is better than MOZO. The M is a better tile to
keep than the M, and MOZO allows parallel plays using column d: parallels that BOZO
does not allow.
Diagram 2 Selection Stage: I prefer BOZO over BOOZE. BOZO keeps the E
which improves your leave, and does not leave the E at e8 available for your opponent to
easily score well using the 8a TWS and 8d DWS. BOOZE allows your opponent too
many high-scoring comebacks and keeps an inferior leave.
I also prefer BOZO instead of ZOOMS. Although ZOOMS scores 2 more and
provides fewer options, the leave after BOZO (EMNS) is significantly better than the
leave after ZOOMS (BEN). This difference in leave makes BOZO a more desirable play.
Decision Making
Scrabble Master
Diagram 3:
Choices: WO 6b (29), OWED 4a (35), LOW 4b (27), DRAWLER a4 (39), OW 4c (23),
LOWE 4b (31), DRAWL a4 (33), ALOW 4a (34), DOW 4b (30), WARLORD a3 (36),
WORE 6b (35)
Occasionally, you will run into a position with many choices. Don’t panic.
Diagram 3 Primary stage: You can eliminate OWED and WORE because they score one
more point than ALOW but keep a much worse leave. Similarly, you can eliminate
DOW, LOWE, and LOW since they score much less than ALOW and have equivalent
leaves. All five eliminated plays have an equivalent board metric to ALOW.
You can also eliminate OW 4c. WO scores 6 points more with a better leave, and
your A allows you to make overlaps next turn.
Diagram 3 Selection stage: First, we should observe the comparisons where the plays are
most similar. These plays are the easiest to compare.
I prefer DRAWLER over DRAWL. The O leave of DRAWLER is normally
equivalent to 6 points worse than the EOR leave of DRAWL, but a bingo is unlikely on
this board, so I’d be inclined to take the 6 additional points.
I prefer WARLORD over DRAWLER despite the 3 point sacrifice. The E is a
better tile than the O, and DRAWLER is inferior defensively because of the bingo
possibilities and the b6 TLS.
I also prefer ALOW over WO. ALOW scores 5 more points but keeps a leave less
likely to result in a bingo next turn. However, the ADELR leave is also unlikely to form
a bingo on this board, and WO creates more scoring opportunities.
I also prefer ALOW over WARLORD. WARLORD is better defensively, but
keeps an inferior leave of E to RED. I prefer the superior leave of ALOW over the
additional 2 points and more defensive board of WARLORD, despite the fact that DER
will not bingo too often on this board.
Note that I use the language as “I prefer…”. The selection stage is full of
subjective judgments. During the selection stage, there is more room for disagreement
than during the primary stage.
Decision Making
Scrabble Master
This would be a good time to bring up the central problem most people have
when they make decisions: biases. Biases are personal judgments determined by
feelings, experiences, and anecdotes instead of theory and logic. Biases are the enemy of
strategic thinking. Biases have a negative connotation, but in reality having some bias is
healthy, even if unfounded. Bias is a key part of friendship, patriotism, pride, and
romantic relationships.
Some people think they are beyond bias. However, the truth is that everyone has
biases that are irrationally based. Eliminating biases is extremely difficult if not
impossible, but by being aware of your biases, you minimize their effect. The goal of
this book is not to fix your biases, but to make you aware and help you overcome your
biases. By using self-awareness and compensating for undesirable biases, you can
improve your ability to make decisions.
Subjective Bias
Subjective bias occurs when you make decisions based on subjective factors
unrelated to your goal of finding the best play. Many decisions are based on the
aesthetics of the word, the fact that it was the first play they found, or that they “just can’t
stomach passing up a bingo.” They become enamored with their play for irrational
Subjective bias most commonly occurs when players initially evaluate a position.
They make up their mind before they analyze the position, and only use their analysis
when there is “conclusive” evidence to reject their initial play. In close positions, most
people always select the play that “looks best” initially.
Many people start out with a notion, belief, idea, or desire and then look for ways
to confirm their initial thought. These people are not skeptical enough: whenever you
have an initial idea of the best play, you should ask yourself why you shouldn’t make a
play instead of trying to ratify your play.
Decision Making
Scrabble Master
Risk Aversion
Many people are afraid of taking risks. They are apprehensive about taking a new
job, starting a new relationship, moving to a new location, or going to new places. The
uncertainty present in these situations is undesirable. Although risk-takers usually
succeed, people are afraid of failure in risky situations.
People are especially risk averse when they are in a favorable position. They
don’t want to feel responsible for jeopardizing their position, and they want to make
others work for anything that they get. Most people lock away any money they receive
and are unwilling to invest in risky investments, such as starting a new business or
putting money in the stock market.
To some degree, risk aversion can be appropriate. If you’re ahead, you should do
anything that you can to win, and sometimes this does mean reducing risk. If you are
better than your opponent, then you should avoid risk so your opponent doesn’t get lucky.
However, many people take risk aversion too far.
Whatever your level of risk aversion is in real life, you should abandon it when
playing Scrabble. Scrabble is a game that you play over and over again, and while a risk
may not pay off in the short run, over hundreds of games you will begin to see calculated
risks pay off. While recklessness is never good, calculated risk is often worthwhile.
Diagram 1:
Diagram 2:
Score: 0-24
Choices: SHRIMP k5 (26),
HM 9l (17), MORPH h7 (12)
Score: 0-30
Choices: BRING k6 (8),
BRING h6 (8), BRINGS k6 (18)
In Diagram 1, playing SHRIMP is worth the risk. Even though your opponent
will use the k11 DLS over half of the time, the difference in leave and score between
SHRIMP and other plays is too substantial. You must play SHRIMP and accept the risk.
In Diagram 2, you should play BRING k6. Even though your opponent often has
the S, you are much better off when your opponent does not. While BRING introduces a
lot of risk, over the long haul this risk will end up being beneficial for you.
Decision Making
Scrabble Master
Tangibility Bias
You may wonder why there are so many diagrams in this book. The reason is
because while many of the concepts in this book are understandable, they don’t resonate
until you see them applied using board diagrams. While you learn the theoretical aspects
by reading, diagrams make your understanding of concepts tangible.
Most people disregard concepts that they don’t completely understand. In
Scrabble, this means that they’ll prefer points instead of a strong leave, and prefer a
strong leave instead of a preferable board. This is because points is the most tangible
metric (since the objective is to score more points than your opponent), leave is the
second most tangible metric (because it’s easier to quantify) and board is the least
tangible metric (because it’s the most difficult to understand and quantify).
The solution is to spend more time and energy thinking about the board. Even
though the understanding is abstract, over time it will improve your game immensely.
Diagram 1:
Diagram 2:
Score: 406-336
Opponent’s turn
Score: 343-319
Opponent’s turn
Most players would prefer Diagram 1 to Diagram 2 because the advantages in
Diagram 1 are more tangible and obvious: a bigger point spread, a better rack, and places
to score with a clear scoring play available. Nevertheless, over the course of the book
you will realize that Diagram 2 is actually preferable, although the advantages involved
are much more sophisticated and complex: many people don’t know what to do in
Diagram 2 because the lead is not as tangible.
Decision Making
Scrabble Master
Finding Words
A lady enters a pet shop, searching for a cat. Upon arrival, she instantly sees a cat
that fancies her. The cat meows, looking straight in her eyes, then rolls over in its cage.
She says to herself: “That’s a cute cat, but I’ll keep looking.” Inside, her mind has been
made. She is getting that cat. She has fallen in love with that cat, and although other cats
might be better suited to her, she is not interested.
She compares everything to the first cat that she saw. “This cat’s fur isn’t as
shiny, that cat isn’t as cute, this cat doesn’t purr quite the same way. Of course, she ends
up with the cat that she started with.
The same thing happens with words in Scrabble. The novice finds a neat word.
They ogle over the word, then realize they should look for better plays. They shuffle
their tiles half-heartedly, but have no intention of playing anything else. Sometimes they
stumble into a better move, but they dismiss it quickly because “they couldn’t pass
______ up”. They stop looking, stare at the rack, stare at the board, and then arrange the
first word in their rack. They dramatize the moment, wait a few more seconds, and then
slap down the word.
Whenever you form a word on your rack, you are becoming that lady in the pet
store. You inhibit your ability to consider other plays, and hurt your own chances of
finding the best play. Don’t give yourself a chance to fall in love so easily; you never
know what might be around the corner.
On the same token, remember to take your time. If you have good tiles, there are
likely to be several good plays available. Remember to always look for better options,
and search for the plays that are creative or otherwise elusive.
If you feel you have a word on your rack, stick with it until you find it. It doesn’t
hurt to devote a little extra time to search for new possibilities. If a voice in the back of
your head tells you to keep looking, listen to that voice until it fades away.
Don’t be afraid to search for long shot possibilities. While it is easy to say to
yourself “There’s no bingo in this rack!” or “I won’t find a nine letter word through AL”,
it doesn’t hurt to try. You can’t find great plays if you don’t give yourself the
Decision Making
Scrabble Master
Fancy Plays
Part of why people play Scrabble is to show off. Showing off is fun, and lets you
become the rock star everyone wants to be. Many players would rather make one
spectacular play instead of several consistent plays.
Imagine the following situation: You have just played TAPA and have drawn
AGIOPST, as shown in Diagram 1. While waiting for you opponent to play, you have
looked at found the beautiful play SPAGHETTI e3 (60). You hope your opponent
doesn’t block it so you can make a cool play and score 60 points in the process.
Diagram 1:
Diagram 2:
Your opponent then plays WEB. Normally, when this type of situation occurs, I
see two things happen.
1. The player IMMEDIATELY plays SPAGHETTI and hits their clock as though they
are rushing to catch a flight.
2. The player sees PIGBOATS, and starts to play mind games with themselves. You can
see the conflict on their face. “Well, SPAGHETTI is 60, and PIGBOATS is 65. I guess
PIGBOATS is better, but it’s close. Well, maybe SPAGHETTI is better… no it’s not.
But… SPAGHETTI is so much cooler! I want to play SPAGHETTI!” Inevitably, they
end up playing SPAGHETTI.
Masters are not playing to be “cool”. You should be playing to win. If you want
to show off, lay down SPAGHETTI, then move your letters and play PIGBOATS.
Don’t be the fool that plays SPAGHETTI. Do not let your pride or the aesthetics
of Scrabble take over your game. Players do not practice trademark dunks in the middle
of basketball games or play trick shots in the middle of pool games, and you should not
go out of your way to make fancy plays in a Scrabble game.
Decision Making
Scrabble Master
Puzzle Break #4
Find the best play in the following opening racks. Write down the word and score of
each play, and circle whether each play is a bingo or not. Answer on page 67.
Level 1: (bingos)
Level 2:
Level 3: (no bingos)
Decision Making
Scrabble Master
Answer Key for Section 1:
Answers to Guess the Validity! (Valid words are in bold, phoneys are in italics)
Puzzle Break #1:
Diagram 1:
MANGO h1 (30)
WHACK 15d (51)
VANDAL o7 (30)
GLOVE 8a (27)/WOMEN 15d (30)
Diagram 2:
YOUTH a4 (33)
TRIBE o11 (24)
UNZIP o1 (51)
TRIVIA h1 (39)
Puzzle Break #2:
Word 1: BIDERS a6 (33)
Word 3: REBIDS l2 (44)
Word 1: WHARF k11 (43)
Word 4: CHAFE 8a (64)
Word 2: DEBRIS 15j (39)
Word 4: BRIDES 12a (47)
Word 2: FARCE e9 (46)
Word 3: WAFER l1 (48)
Word 5: CORKSCREW 8g (69)
Decision Making
Scrabble Master
Puzzle Break #3:
5 and 6 letter words:
4 letter words:
Diagram 1: ENTERED 9f (104), underlapping ROUTINE (FIRE, ON, NUT, ATE, SIR,
Puzzle Break #4:
GRAPH (30)
ZEBRA (52)
gRANOLA (64)
(or fORLANA)
WALTZ (54)
FELON (24)
KAZOO (46)
VIGIL (26)
WIDTH (32)
VACUA (28)
PHT (16)
FRUIT (24)
YACHT (34)
ASHTrAY (82)
(or SAgATHY)
You and Your Rack
Scrabble Master
Section 2:
You and Your Rack
While scoring is important, there is more to Scrabble than making the highest
scoring play. Sometimes you must sacrifice points to score well on future turns. By
keeping good tiles, you can bombard your opponent with high scoring plays!
Chapter 5 shows you how to keep a good leave so you can avoid imbalanced
racks that are incapable of scoring. It will teach you how to manage your remaining tiles
so you can score consistently.
Chapter 6 explains everything you ever wanted to know about each Scrabble tile.
This chapter teaches you which tiles are good, which tiles are bad, and how to evaluate
the strength of each tile by showing you each tile’s strengths and weaknesses.
Chapter 7 illustrates fishing: playing off a few tiles so you can make a high
scoring play next turn. It shows you how to make near-miss racks into bingos, and when
you should play off a few tiles in hopes of drawing a bingo.
Chapter 8 teaches you how to alter the board to accommodate your remaining
tiles for a big score next turn. It shows you when and how to set up big plays, and
illustrates the value of creating a board friendly to your tiles yet unreceptive to your
opponent’s tiles.
You may find it useful to reference this section over and over again! I would
encourage serious players to reread this section, as it contains specific details that you
may find useful over the course of many Scrabble games. For now, sit back, learn as
much as you can, and use the information to improve your game!
Scrabble Master
Chapter 5:
Amongst games between Scrabble Masters, observant players will note that the
same words show up frequently. Indeed, although masters are capable of playing obscure
bingos such as OMOPHAGY, most bingos contain many of the letters in the word
RELATIONS. Proficient Scrabble players keep good bingo and scoring tiles on their
rack, enabling them to score consistently.
With poor tiles, even masters have a very difficult time finding a bingo or a high
scoring play. No amount of skill can help you with a rack such as AAEIITU or
DIRRTTT. Masters are no better than novice players at dealing with these racks:
however, masters avoid these situations by keeping a good leave. Masters keep good
tiles on their rack while maximizing score so that their leave (the remaining tiles after
their previous play) will result in a high scoring play next turn.
There are two components of a good leave. One component is tile strength.
Keeping an S on your rack will improve your leave since it will help you score more
points next turn than a tile such as the V. The other component is balance. Strong leaves
do not contain duplicated letters, and possess an equal number of consonants and vowels.
In Scrabble, there are two ways to score well. One way is to play a bingo and
receive a 50 point bonus for your play. The other way is to utilize your board vision and
combine bonus squares with high-point tiles to make a scoring play. Leaves that tend to
form a bingo are called bingo leaves, while leaves that lead to high-scoring plays are
called scoring leaves.
This chapter will provide you with a fundamental understanding of what makes a
good leave. While there are important differences between scoring leaves and bingo
leaves, it is important to learn various metrics to evaluate different leaves. Good leaves
contain a balanced vowel-consonant ratio, possess good synergy, and are diverse.
Scrabble Master
Vowel/Consonant ratio
Good leaves possess a healthy balance of consonants and vowels. While a leave
like HRXZ contains good tiles, it is a poor leave because there are no vowels; thus, there
will be few good plays available with this rack. Likewise, a leave such as AEIOS is poor
because it contains too many vowels. To score well or play a bingo, you need both
consonants and vowels in your rack.
With a seven tile rack, you should ideally want 4 or 5 consonants and 2 or 3
vowels. This is because most words contain more consonants than vowels, and
consonants lend themselves towards higher scoring plays. Although vowels are
important to keep your rack flexible, keeping too many vowels inhibits your ability to
score or play a bingo.
Good leaves rarely contain two of the same tiles. Strong tiles such as H and N
deteriorate when you have more than one of them in your rack. In Scrabble, you can
have too much of a good thing: leaves such as AERRR or EOTT are poor leaves because
of duplicated tiles. Leaves without duplicated tiles are diverse.
Ideally, you should never keep two of the same tile in your rack except for the S,
?, or E. With the S and the E, you should still be wary of keeping two of them since
having three of any tile is undesirable. Duplicated tiles inhibit your ability to play
through open tiles, reduce the number of words you can form, and limit your ability to
score well or play bingos.
Good leaves also possess synergy between the tiles on your rack. Synergy refers
to how close of “friends” tiles are with each other. The clearest example of synergy is the
Q and the U: while the Q and the U are poor tiles individually, the Q and U together can
score a lot of points. On the flip side, while the S and X are good tiles, they have an antisynergy: you are better off using them separately. Keeping tiles with good synergy will
help you score more points and draw more bingos since those tiles form a lot of words.
Scrabble Master
Diagram 1:
Diagram 2:
Choices: EUGENIC k2 (20),
ELECTING 8h (33)
Choices: FLANK 7c (32),
FLACK 7c (34), FLAK 7d (27)
In Diagram 1, you should play EUGENIC in column k. Playing ELECTING
scores substantially more points, but retains an EEEU leave: a leave that possesses a poor
vowel-consonant ratio and several ‘E’ tiles.
In Diagram 2, you should play the word FLANK instead of FLACK because the
synergy between the ‘C’ and ‘H’ is far stronger than the synergy between the H and ‘N’.
While there are many CH words, there are far fewer words containing both an N and H.
Diagram 3:
Diagram 4:
Choices: UNFAiRLY a7 (42),
RUNNY 11a (27)
Choices: CAMERA 15a (33),
QAT g6 (13)
In Diagram 3, you should sacrifice 17 points and play RUNNY, withholding the
blank. The blank is an extremely strong tile, and it is often worth sacrificing points to
keep the blank since almost any leave with the blank is extremely strong.
In Diagram 4, you should sacrifice 20 point to play QAT. While QAT keeps an
extremely strong ACERS leave, CAMERA keeps the unwieldy Q.
Scrabble Master
Leave Evaluation
One of the decisions that most amateurs struggle with is a choice between a good
scoring play with a weak leave and a lower scoring play with a good leave. Comparing
these two plays in the selection stage is difficult: it requires you to quantify the value of
your leave so you can compare the better leave with the additional points. Unfortunately,
this is not a simple task.
Fortunately, over time we have learned how to make these assessments with
precision. To make these assessments, we use a method commonly referred to as
anchoring and adjusting. Anchoring and adjusting is a common technique of estimation
that can be used to estimate just about anything by first making an initial estimation, then
using additional information to refine that estimation.
Anchoring and adjusting can be applied as a two-step process used to quantify
leaves. The first step is to form an initial approximation of the worth of our leave (the
anchor). This step is achieved through adding up individual tile values to form an initial
estimate. The second step is to change this estimate based on other, often less significant,
factors (the adjustment). This adjustment is based mostly on vowel-consonant ratio,
diversity, and synergy.
Table 1:
This table lists the worth of every Scrabble tile. By adding these values, you can
obtain a good initial anchor for the worth of a tile leave. For example, to approximate the
worth of the AFIM leave, you can add the tile values together to get a good rough
estimate of -5 for the value of that leave. (0.5 – 4 – 1 + 0 = -4.5)
What does this value mean? It means that if you have a choice between scoring 5
points and keeping AFIM or scoring zero points and keeping no tiles on your rack at all,
you should be indifferent between the two options. A negative value signifies a bad
leave, while a positive value signifies a good leave.
While this method isn’t precise, it serves as a good approximation. Tile values
change based on the board and tile pool, as well as the other tiles on your rack. Just
because the AFIM leave is worth -4.5 points on average doesn’t mean that it’s always
worth -5 points. This -4.5 point sum serves as a good anchor: as a good first guess which
can be refined later.
Scrabble Master
Unfortunately, finding the worth of a tile leave is not as simple as memorizing the
previous table and summing those values. While that sum is a good approximation, leave
values must be further adjusted based on several factors.
One factor that must be considered is duplication. A general rule is that you
should deduct five points from the sum of the tile values of duplicates, depending on how
well the tile duplicates. For example, since the tile value of the R is 0.5, the value of the
RR leave is approximately (0.5*2) – 5 = -4.
Vowel-consonant ratio must also be considered. The ideal vowel-consonant ratio
consists of 60% consonants and 40% vowels. Thus, in a 3 tile leave, you should keep
two consonants and one vowel in your leave. A good adjustment is to deduct 3 points for
every tile you want to switch from a consonant to a vowel, and 4 points for every tile you
want to switch from a vowel to a consonant. Thus, with a leave of CDLNR (and no
vowels), you should deduct 6 points from the sum of the tile values. If you are holding
AEIOT, then you should deduct 8 points from the sum of the tile values.
Another important factor is synergy. In most cases, adjustments for synergy are
small. For example, the C is worth 0 and the K is worth -1, so the sum of these tile
values is -1. However, since these two tiles go together well, the value of the CK leave
should be adjusted to 0.
However, the more significant type of synergy is leave type. There are two types
of leaves: scoring leaves and bingo leaves. Scoring leaves contain high point tiles such as
the W, X, Y, and Z. Bingo leaves consist of tiles that form many 7 or 8 letter words, such
as the E, R, and S. Good bingo tiles improve with other good bingo tiles, while good
scoring tiles improve with other good scoring tiles.
The last adjustment you must make is board-specific adjustments. Tile values
must be adjusted based on how well those tiles adapt to a specific board. The worth of
tiles like the S or X greatly depend on the openings available both on this turn and on
future turns.
It is important that you do not overgeneralize the information explained in this
chapter: leave values are always specific to a given situation. Many players will feel
tempted to overextrapolate the information found in this chapter: they may feel as if this
chapter gives precise information about tile values and leaves that can be extrapolated to
any position. Like all Scrabble concepts, it is important to correctly identify the relevant
factors and tailor your understanding to fit the situation.
Scrabble Master
Bingo Leaves
Bingo leaves should constitute the majority of your leaves since you have two
different ways to succeed: you can draw a bingo, or you can draw high point tiles that can
be used to make a high scoring play (often with a good leave). Below is a tiered list
showing the strength of tiles ordered by their ability to form a bingo.
Level 1: ?S
Level 2: ER
Level 3: NTIAC
Level 4: DLPM
Level 5: HO
Level 6: BGK
Level 7: FU
Level 8: VYWZJXQ
Good bingo leaves: EST, EENRT, EOR?, AINST, GINS
Bad bingo leaves: CNRT, ESX, ELY, AEIT
To form a bingo leave, you should keep as many diverse bingo tiles as possible.
These tiles rest in the top three bold levels. You should keep Level 4 and Level 5 tiles if
they help your vowel-consonant ratio. While they can form bingos, they should not be
retained unless you have too many consonants or vowels. If you have a leave like EIR,
then tiles in the middle two levels help you maintain a good vowel-consonant balance.
Level 4 and 5 tiles should also be kept with strong bingo leaves. If you have 4
bold tiles (EIRT), or three bold tiles with an S or blank (ARS or EN?), you should keep
the middle tiles in your rack as long as it does not disrupt your vowel-consonant ratio or
produce poor synergies.
With a bingo leave, you need to make a significant adjustment. Over time, you
will develop an intuition as to the worth of each bingo leave, but bingo leaves can be
approximated by the following formula:
Leave worth = [B(n + B)/2] – n + (Sum of tile values)
B = number of bold tiles
n = number of normal tiles (non-italic)
Example: Leave EIMRT = [4(1+4)/2 – 1 + (2 – 1 + 0 + 0.5 – 1) = 9.5
Some intuition is required to adjust this value precisely, as tiles higher on this list
are better than tiles that are lower in this list, even if they are in the same category. For
example, ENT is a better bingo leave than ACT even though both leaves contain 3 bold
tiles and have a nearly equal sum of tile values. Even adjusted tile values are ultimately
still approximations. Ultimately, as you play more, you will gain a better intuition about
which tiles comprise a good bingo leave.
Scrabble Master
Scoring Leaves
Scoring leaves are likely to score 35 or more points on subsequent turns by
forming parallel plays, high scoring hooks/extensions, or other plays that use the bonus
squares lucratively. Below is a tiered list showing the strength of tiles ordered by their
ability to score.
Level 1: ?S
Level 4: IQVBTGU
Good scoring leaves: AHW, CHY, DEIZ, EIMRX, AORWY, AMNOZ
Bad scoring leaves: EJZ, HHO, AO, LPX, SZX
Like bingo leaves, defining a good scoring leave is more complex than evaluating
the tiles individually. With scoring leaves, you should want a balance of high and low
point tiles in addition to a balance of vowels and consonants. For example, you should
never want two tiles like the J and Z in the same scoring leave, or a combination of high
scoring tiles such as AHJKP. While you need high point tiles to score well, too many
high point tiles can quickly cause your scoring leave to deteriorate since it is difficult to
use several scoring tiles simultaneously.
In leaves with 5 or more tiles, it is important to keep a bingo tile such as an N or
R in your scoring leave. This bingo tile will give your leave flexibility and allow you to
play several scoring tiles at once.
Many players prefer to keep bingo leaves and neglect scoring leaves. This is a
mistake. Scoring leaves should be kept when there are no good bingo leaves available,
and keeping the best bingo leave limits your ability to score.
Scoring leaves are also prized because of their ability to score consistently. While
bingo leaves are strong when they form bingos, they also result in low scoring plays after
a poor tile draw: you are at the whim of the tile gods. With scoring leaves, you are nearly
assured of a high-scoring play next turn, regardless of the tiles you draw or the openness
of the board.
Scoring leaves are easier to adjust than bingo leaves. You should add a point to
your leave value to the sum of the tile values for each scoring tile in your leave, provided
that all of your tiles are good for scoring.
Note that scoring leaves and bingo leaves should not be mixed. With an opening
rack of INTVVZ?, you should get rid of the Z even though the Z is a strong tile.
Likewise, you shouldn’t keep tiles like SX or ERX together since they are anti-synergic.
Scrabble Master
Leave #1: EINRT
Leave #2: EILPS
Leave #3: ADIR?
Leave worth = [B(m + B)/2] – m + Sum of tile values
EINRT is worth [5(5)/2]
EILPS is worth [4(5)/2]
ADIR? is worth [4(5)/2]
+ (2 – 1 + 0 + 0.5 – 1) = 13
+ (2 – 1 – 1 – 1 + 12) = 20
+ (0.5 + 0 – 1 + 0.5 + 24) = 33
Opening rack #1: DEGPRVV
We should absolutely keep ER, and since the D is in level 4 and has synergy with the E,
we should keep the D: DER is better than ER.
Should we keep the P as well?
DER is worth [2(3)/2] - 1 + 0 + 2 + 0.5 + 3 (ER & ED synergy) = 7.5
DEPR is worth [2(4)/2] – 2 + 0 + 2 - 1 + 0.5 + 3 (ER & ED synergy) = 6.5
While it is close, DER is a slightly better than DEPR.
Opening rack #2: CRSTUUU:
This is another clear exchange rack where we have three choices: we can keep RS, RST,
or RSTU.
RS is worth [2(2)/2] – 0 + (0.5 + 12) = 14.5
RST is worth [3(3)/2] - 0 + (0.5 + 12 – 1) – 3 (vowel-consonant ratio) + 2 (synergy) = 15
RSTU is worth [3(3)/2] – 0 + (0.5 + 12 – 1 – 6) + 2 (synergy) = 12
Therefore, the best leave is RST.
Scrabble Master
One way that many Scrabble players evaluate plays is by using equity. Equity is
the sum of your play’s score added to the value of your leave. It is a good way to
approximate the worth of each play. This concept will be used throughout this book.
While there are other considerations (as you will see in future chapters), equity is
tangible and irrefutable. By making the highest equity play, you are assured of making a
good play, even though it might not always be the best play. Players who maximize
equity are difficult opponents to beat.
Opening rack #1: BHLNSTU
There are three reasonable choices in this opening rack: BUHL (18, NST),
BLUNT (20, SH), and BLUSH (28, NT). We can find the equity of all three plays.
BUHL (18, NST) = 18 + 3(3)/2 + 0 – 1 + 12 – 3 (V/C) = 18 + 4.5 + 11 - 3 = 30.5
BLUNT (20, SH) = 20 + 12 + 1 + 2 (synergy) = 35
BLUSH = 28 + 2(2)/2 + 0 – 1 = 28 + 3 = 31
All three plays are close in equity, with BLUNT edging out the other two plays.
Opening rack #2: AAINTUU
There are two reasonable choices in this opening rack: UNAU 8f (8, AIT) or
exchange 3 (keeping AINT). We can find the equity of these plays:
AINT is worth 4(4)/2 + 0.5 - 1 + 0 – 1 + 2 (synergy) = 8.5
UNAU = 8 + 3(3)/2 + 0.5 – 1 - 1 – 4 (V/C ratio) = 8 + 4.5 -1.5 -4 = 7
AINT is synergic and slightly more defensive since it does not allow your
opponent to play an 8 letter word or form a parallel play. Because of these two factors,
exchanging is a marginally better play.
Opening rack #3: AEGSTUZ
There are two reasonable choices in this opening rack: GAUZE 8d (34, ST) and ZETAS
(48, GU). The equity of these plays are:
GAUZE (ST) = 34 + 2(2)/2 + 12 – 1 + 2 (synergy) = 34 + 12 = 49
ZETAS (GU) = 48 – 5 – 6 = 37
Thus, GAUZE is a significantly better play despite being worth 14 fewer points.
This also doesn’t account for the defensive liability that ZETAS produces: it allows highscoring parallel plays and high-scoring bingos to the S. Although ZETAS is 48 points,
it’s a huge mistake.
Scrabble Master
Leave Table
2 tiles
3 tiles
4 tiles
5 tiles
30 points
25 points
20 points
15 points
10 points
10 points
5 points
5 points
5 points
0 points
0 points
0 points
0 points
0 points
-5 points
-5 points
-10 points
Here is a table of leaves along with their equity values. From here, you can find
the value of any leave by using adjustment. For example, let’s say you wanted to find the
value of the OS leave. You could use the value of the IS leave (10 points) and then
conclude “Well, the I is about 2 points better than the O, so OS is worth about 8.”
The information found this table is especially useful when it is combined with the
information about specific tiles found in Chapter 6.
Below are some quantifications that you can make using the table:
AX: A is 2.5 points better than O, and OX is worth zero, so AX is worth 2.5 points
DIOTU: D is 2 points worse than N, and INOTU is -5, so DIOTU is worth -7 points.
ADSU: A is better than I, U is much worse than O, and DIOS is worth 5 points, so ADSU
is worth 4 points.
AAEIT: A is worse than E, A duplicates worse than E, AEEIT is worth -10 points, so
AAEIT is worth -13 points.
INN?: N is slightly better than the T, and the IN has some synergy, so INN? is slightly
better than ITT?. ITT? is worth 25, so INN? is worth 26 or 27 points.
Scrabble Master
In many positions, the choice between two plays boils down to a simple
calculation of equity. The best play can be found in bold.
Diagram 1:
Diagram 2:
Choices: OOZE o6 (46), ZOA o1 (40)
Choices: LAZY 11c (43), PLAZA d8 (32)
OOZE: 46 + 3(3)/2 + (0.5 + 0.5 + 12) = 63.5
ZOA: 40 + 3(4)/2 - 1 + (2 – 2 + 0.5 + 12) = 57.5
LAZY: 43 + 1(sum) - 5(V/C) - 5 (div.)= 34
PLAZA: 32 + 0.5 -1 -1 + 2(LY syn.) = 32.5
Diagram 3:
Diagram 4:
Choices: QUOD 10f (34), NEW 13l (32)
Choices: FEW o7 (32), WAFER o5 (35)
QUOD: 34 -4 (sum) + 3 (CEIN syn.) = 33
NEW: 32 – 19(sum) + 18 (QU + IC syn.) = 31
FEW: 32 + 4(4)/2 + 3 (sum) = 43
WAFER: 35 + 2(2)/2 + 2 (sum) = 39
Scrabble Master
Diagram 5:
Diagram 6:
Choices: SLOWER 15d (48),
FLOW 8l (30), OW i6 (23)
Choices: WIGGED 12h (41),
GREW o1 (49)
SLOWER: 48 + 0.5 – 2 (V/C) = 46.5
FLOW: 30 + 4(4)/2 + (0 + 2 + 0.5 + 12) = 52.5
OW: 23 + 4(5)/2 + (0.5 + 2 - 1 + 0.5 + 12) = 47
WIGGED:41 + 2(syn) = 0.5(sum) = 42.5
GREW: 49 – 5 – 1 – 3(V/C) = 40
Diagram 7:
Diagram 8:
Choices: GULP 8a (21), AUK 14h (17),
KLUGE e4 (24), DUKE 8l (27)
Choices: GAIETY 6i (18),
JIG 5j (22), ZYGoTE k2 (58)
GULP: 21 + 0.5 + 2 – 2 – 1 + 4 (AET syn.) = 24.5 GAIETY: 18 + 3.5 + 24 = 45.5
AUK: 17 + 0.5 + 2 - 1 + 0 - 1 + 5(AELT sy.)= 22.5 JIG: 22 + 2 – 1 – 1 + 3.5 + 24 = 49.5
KLUGE: 24 + 2(2)/2 + 0.5 – 1 = 25.5
ZYGoTE: 58 – 1 = 57
DUKE: 27 + 0.5 – 4 - 1 – 1 = 21.5
Scrabble Master
Sometimes your rack will be so poor that you will need to exchange. While it
may be tempting to score points and hope the tiles turn around, keeping poor leaves will
inhibit your ability to score for several turns.
Exchanging should occur whenever the following formula is met:
Points of best play + Value of leave after best play < Value of Leave after exchange
Diagram 1:
Diagram 2:
Score: 168-224
Score: 26-76
In Diagram 1, you could play UNTIL h1 (18), but you should exchange. Playing
UNTIL keeps the awful TTU leave and closes down the board, which are both huge
negatives. It is better to trade, keeping the best leave available (INT)
In Diagram 2, you should exchange instead of playing FLAMING 5a or FLAG
c12. While you can score a few points and can score moderately well next turn, the Q
will inhibit your ability to score for many turns to come. While 15-20 point plays may
seem attractive, these points will be quickly recovered over the next few turns by
improving your leave.
Mental note #1:
One important Scrabble skill is a short memory. Often players remember painful
draws that cost them games. Just because the last time you exchanged you drew 6
vowels, or the last time you kept an E on an exchange you drew 3 more Es should not
discourage you.
Scrabble Master
Opening Rack 1: EEEEIIZ
Opening rack 2: CGGILRW
Opening rack 3: ABEGUUW
Opening rack 4: JMOOPUU
The best time to exchange is early in the game, since there are few bonus squares
or lucrative scoring spots available. By exchanging on the opening rack, you limit your
opponent’s ability to score while allowing yourself a chance to upgrade your rack.
In opening rack 1, you could play ZEE for 24 points keeping EEII, but instead
you should exchange. EEII is an ugly leave because of its poor vowel-consonant ratio
and duplication. Meanwhile, the ZE is worth about 5, since the Z and E are each worth
about 2.5.
Similarly, in opening rack 2, you could either play GRIG for 12 points keeping
CLW or WIG for 14 points keeping CGLR, but instead you should exchange keeping the
CIR leave. In this case, although both plays have a slightly higher equity than
exchanging, exchanges are superior since it is the opening rack, where exchanges gain
In opening rack 3, you should trade 6 tiles, keeping only the E. While it may be
tempting to keep AEG, it is not worthwhile. The sum of the tile values of the A and G
are -3.5, which is greater than the synergy of AEG.
In opening rack 4, you need to swallow the horrible leave and play JUMP for 30
points. While OOU is a horrible leave, there is no good exchange and 30 points is too
much to pass up. If you had an OUU leave instead, then exchanging would be an option,
but OOU can still turn into a respectable rack.
Exchanging has one additional benefit: versatility. By keeping a balanced rack,
there is a smaller cost to exchanging. This allows you to use the other techniques in this
book to maximize your winning chances. Leaves such as CGLR are unlikely to score and
limit your ability to use your skills.
Scrabble Master
You don’t need to exchange!
Many players make the mistake of exchanging when there is a perfectly good play
available. While you shouldn’t be afraid of exchanging, doing so is still undesirable and
you should take the extra time and effort to search for a better alternative. Below are four
positions where it may seem correct to exchange, but a little bit of searching will allow
you to find a play far better than exchanging. Answers on page 140.
Diagram 1:
Diagram 2:
Diagram 3:
Diagram 4:
Scrabble Master
Diagram 1:
Diagram 2:
Score: 181-209
Choices: RETAX 10f (67),
TAX 10h (54), AX 10i (53)
Score: 146-159
Choices: KAF 15a (45), KAFS 14a (60)
In Diagram 1, there are several high-scoring plays using the X at 10j. While
RETAX scores well, the EHRST and EHRS leaves are much stronger than SH, and those
leaves make up for the difference in points. The EHRST leave after AX will likely turn
into a bingo after drawing any vowel.
In Diagram 2, withholding the S after KAF must be devalued. The board contains
no good bingo lines and no new bingo line will likely be created, yet several scoring
spots are still available. While ERST is usually worth 15 more points than ERT, it is
worth less than 15 points on this board. Thus, you should play KAF instead of KAFS.
Diagram 3:
Diagram 4:
Choices: BRIM/GRIM 15g (30/27),
LIMBI 15e (29)
Choices: OOLONG 4j (18),
Ex. 4 (NOR)
In Diagram 5, the GIL leave is strengthened by the three open Ns at o8, m10, and
e8. Without these Ns, you are better off playing GRIM, LIMBING, or LIMBI.
In Diagram 6, with a bad rack GLNOOQR you are usually forced to exchange,
keeping NOR and hoping to draw a bingo. However, because of the open Us at f7 and
k6, you can play OOLONG and keep the Q for a high-scoring play next turn.
Scrabble Master
Puzzle Break #5:
Answers on page 140.
Find the bingo!
# of points
The Tiles
Scrabble Master
Chapter 6:
Any good chess book begins with a discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of
each piece. Yet if you ask another Scrabble player: “What are the strengths and
weaknesses of the T?” most players will think you are from another planet. However,
learning the nuances of each tile is important.
Not all tiles are created equal. Tiles such as the blank and S are valuable since
they score well regardless of the board. Meanwhile, tiles such as the V and Q are poor
tiles since they tend to be inflexible and impede your ability to play a bingo.
This chapter should be used as a reference guide. By reading and rereading this
chapter, over time you will acquire an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of
each tile. This information will help you assess leaves in a precise and informative way.
To help you understand the capabilities of each tile, I have created several metrics
that assess their strengths and weaknesses:
Type: Each tile is categorized into one of three different types based on each tile’s
usefulness. These types are:
Scoring Vowel/Consonant: These are tiles primarily used for scoring 30+ point
plays. These tiles usually score a lot of points by using bonus squares or forming
high-scoring 5 and 6 letter words. These tiles are often used for parallel plays.
Bingo Vowel/Consonant: These tiles are used for bingos. Bingo vowels or
consonants are tiles that exist in many 7 or 8 letter words.
Clunkers: These are bad tiles you should get rid of as quickly as possible.
Clunkers are used to make low scoring plays to balance your rack. Clunkers are
poor tiles since they are too inflexible to be useful as scoring tiles, and are rarely
found in seven or eight letter words.
The Tiles
Scrabble Master
Tile Equity: Although each tile has strengths and weaknesses, some tiles are better
than others. Tile equity uses a scale centered on zero to measure the relative worth of
each tile independent of the board position. Each tile has an equity value spanning from
the Q (-12) to the blank (+24). Tiles like the Z or R have a high equity because of their
ability to score or form a bingo, while tiles such as the V and U have a low equity since
they rarely score well and are rarely found in bingos.
Duplication fear: Duplicating tiles is bad because it decreases the number of
words in your rack. Some tiles duplicate worse than others: tiles like the I have high
duplication fear since there are few words with two Is in them. Meanwhile, tiles like the
F have low duplication fear, since many words have multiple Fs.
Tile Volatility: In certain positions, bad tiles like the Q can be useful while in
other positions it can be paralyzing. Meanwhile, tiles like the R have a consistent worth;
it is usually a good-but-not-great tile. Tile volatility measures the propensity for a letter’s
tile equity to change over the course of a game. The Q has a high tile volatility while the
R has a low tile volatility.
Friends: Friends are tiles that work well with the tile being analyzed. For
example, the H has friends C, S, and T, since there are a lot of words with SH, CH, and
TH. Friends have a positive synergy: the value of the two tiles together is greater than
the sum of their individual tile values. For example, the Q has an equity of -12, and the U
has an equity of -6, but the two tiles together have an equity of -1.
Enemies: Enemies are tiles that work against the tile being analyzed. For
example, the X has enemies S and J, since there are few words that contain JX or SX.
Enemies have a negative synergy: the value of the two tiles together is less than the sum
of their tile values. For example, the equity of the X is 0.5, and the equity of the S is 12,
but the two tiles together have an equity of SX is only 10.
Bingo standing: Bingo standing ranks tiles from 1 to 27, in order of how good
each tile is for playing bingos, with 1 being the blank and 27 being the Q. The R has a
high bingo standing since there are over 25,000 bingos with an R, while the F has a low
bingo standing since there are only about 5300 bingos containing an F.
Scoring standing: Scoring standing ranks tiles from 1 to 27, in order of how good
each tile is at scoring, with 1 being the blank and 27 being the G. Tiles with a high
scoring standing such as the X can be used to score 30 or more points with ease, while
tiles like the I are difficult to use for a high scoring play.
The Tiles
Scrabble Master
Type: Scoring/Bingo Vowel
Duplication Fear: Medium
Friends: Z, L, I
Equity: 0.5
Volatility: Low
Enemies: O, U
Bingo Strength: 8th
Scoring Strength: 7th
The A is the second best vowel in Scrabble. It is a useful bingo tile that scores
well when paired with high-point tiles, as there are many short words using the A. Strong
bingo tiles such as the A are more valuable when kept in conjunction with other bingo
tiles. The A is a significant addition to a 3 tile leave (such as RIN or RET).
The A is good at scoring with bad high-scoring clunkers. It is a bad tile to leave
adjacent to a TWS/TLS, since several tiles can score well by forming a parallel play.
Despite its positive equity, it is incorrect to keep an A on the opening rack
exchange unless accompanied by a consonant. Since the A is a vowel, the 0.5 equity of
the A is overcome by the poor vowel-consonant ratio of holding one vowel and no
consonants. Thus, the A should not be held alone on an opening rack exchange, but only
kept with an accompanying consonant.
Type: Clunker
Duplication Fear: Low
Friends: L, O, Y, M, R
Equity: -4
Volatility: Medium
Enemies: C, P, N, T
Bingo Strength: 16th
Scoring Strength: 24th
The B is a typical clunker. It should be played or exchanged as quickly as
possible. It is poor at scoring and inhibits your ability to play a bingo. The B’s friends
and enemies are typical of a clunker: it doesn’t go well with most bingo consonants.
Clunkers tend to be synergic with vowels, the L and the R.
BL is an especially powerful synergy: the BL leave is just as good as the L alone.
The B is moderately good at absorbing vowels but combines poorly with high scoring
tiles. Clunkers should be used for short plays that balance your rack so you can score
well or bingo on future turns.
When forced to keep multiple clunkers on your rack, you should keep tiles that
can form parallel plays with other clunkers on your rack. For example, the F (FAB, FIB,
FOB, and FUB) or J (JOB, JIB, JAB, JUBA, and JUBE) are good choices to keep
alongside the B.
The prefixes and suffixes with clunkers do not form significant synergies.
Prefixes such as AB-, BI-, and SUB- are poor leaves, and clunkers should not be kept
solely complete a prefix or suffix. Only -ABLE is a good leave, and this leave is still
worse than AELT or ACEL.
The Tiles
Scrabble Master
Type: Bingo Consonant
Duplication Fear: High
Friends: H, R, I, K
Equity: 0
Volatility: Low
Enemies: Clunkers, U
Bingo Strength: 9th
Scoring Strength: 12th
The C is a multitasking tile that does many things well. It is good for defense,
scoring, bingos, and getting rid of vowels. The C’s only drawback is its inability to form
short words and parallel plays with clunkers.
The C is one of only 2 tiles that do not make a 2 letter word; thus, the C is a good
tile for blocking bingo lines. With a lead, its role as a defensive tile becomes increasingly
important. If you want to outscore your opponent, the C is a valuable scoring tile, but if
you want to close the board, the C can help you do that as well.
The C can help you to get rid of vowels, with words like CIAO, OCA, CURIO,
IODIC, and AECIA. It is also good for bingos, and starts the second most words in the
English language (behind the S). This means that leaving a bingo column open where the
bingo can start with a C can be dangerous.
Many people dislike the C since it parallels poorly and since few high scoring
plays contain the C. While its benefits are not immediately obvious, the C is still a good
tile. Don’t let these players fool you: they don’t realize the full potential of the C since
they don’t possess good word knowledge and can’t use the C effectively. The C is
definitely worth keeping during exchanges, both in short and long leaves.
The C is a poor tile in the endgame because of its inability to form short words or
parallel plays. While the C scores well by forming long words, it does not form a lot of
short words. The C is also weak on closed boards for the same reasons: it is a good tile
for an open board, where you can play bingos and use the C to get rid of bad racks.
Vocab Builder 1:
These are words that would be useful for any Scrabble player to know. If you
want, you can memorize the word with definition, although doing so is not necessary for
Scrabble play.
EDDO: A variety of taro
ICTIC: pertaining to a seizure
BUBO: A swelling of the lymph nodes
FATWA: An Islamic decree
TAIGA: sub-Arctic forest
AALII: A tropical shrub
AGORA: A Greek marketplace
CECUM: a one-hole body cavity
AGHA: A Muslim general
NAIAD: A water nymph
TREF: Disallowed by Jewish law
DEMETON: A type of insecticide
RUDD: A freshwater fish
ARIEL: A type of gazelle
The Tiles
Scrabble Master
Type: Bingo Consonant
Duplication Fear: Low
Friends: E, N, R
Equity: 0
Volatility: Low
Enemies: T, Clunkers
Bingo Strength: 11th
Scoring Strength: 20th
The D is a decent bingo tile, but despite being worth 2 points, it is a poor scoring
tile. The D enables players to get rid of vowels with words like OIDIA, EIDE, AUDIO,
and ADIEU. Many short bingo leaves containing an E are better off with the D
compared to the N or T, because of the ED synergy.
One useful attribute of the D is its ability to hook words ending in E. Learning
which words take the D hook is critical to use the D effectively. This is especially true
when hooking the D to longer words ending in E, as many players do not remember
which 7 and 8 letter words take a D back hook.
Type: Bingo Vowel
Duplication Fear: Low
Friends: R, D
Equity: 2
Volatility: Medium
Enemies: Clunkers, U, O, G
Bingo Strength: 3rd
Scoring Strength: 14th
The E has the fourth highest equity of any tile because it is a strong bingo vowel.
It forms significantly more bingos than the A or I, and increases your odds of drawing a
bingo. It duplicates well for bingos: leaves such as EERT are strong bingo leaves.
Although it is not essential to bingos, you should only part with the E if doing so scores
significantly more points, improves your vowel-consonant ratio, or helps you to get rid of
other problematic clunkers.
However, the E is a weak scoring vowel. It is weaker than the A and O, and it
does not combine well with clunkers or other vowels. Duplicate Es are especially bad
when combined with high point tiles or vowels. Because of this weakness, other vowels
are often preferable to the E when combined with high-point tiles.
While the E helps most bingo leaves, it also makes these leaves more volatile.
Although AEIRS is slightly stronger than AIRS, it often results in a low scoring play or
even an exchange next turn. Many amateurs are scared to part with the E, but since there
are 12 Es in the bag, you can always draw another one.
Although the E has an equity of 2.5, the value of an E leave is closer to a single
point. This is because equity does not factor in vowel-consonant ratio: the E’s equity is
mitigated by the fact that it is better to have a consonant in your leave instead of a vowel.
The Tiles
Scrabble Master
Type: Clunker
Duplication Fear: Low
Friends: Y, L
Equity: -4
Volatility: Low
Enemies: N, S, O
Bingo Strength: 19th
Scoring Strength: 19th
The F shares many similarities with the W and B. It is useful for high-scoring
parallel plays with the X or Z. The F can also score well by forming 5 or 6 letter words.
Although the F a poor tile, it is better than other clunkers.
Often, Scrabble is not about choosing between a good choice and a bad choice,
but rather between several bad choices, and the F is often the better of evils. While it is
not a good bingo tile, it is a better bingo tile than most clunkers. It is capable of making
both short parallel plays and 5 or 6 tile plays to clear your rack of bad tiles.
Type: Clunker
Duplication Fear: Medium
Friends: N, A
Equity: -5
Volatility: Medium
Enemies: C, T
Bingo Strength: 17th
Scoring Strength: 27th
The G is overrated by most amateur players since they overrate the G’s ability to
form a bingo. While the G is a good bingo tile when paired with the N, the G without the
N is like the Q without the U. The G is a nuisance in leaves such as AEGR or EGIST, or
nearly any leave without an N present.
The G is also a poor scoring tile, as it doesn’t form a lot of high scoring plays.
While it does an adequate job of eliminating vowels, it can be problematic for getting rid
of the I, as there are few short words with GI in them.
While -ING a nice leave, it is only marginally better than INT or CIN. The ING
leave is inflexible: it doesn’t function well if there is nowhere on the board to play the
ING ending. Keeping ING often forces you to keep the leave intact until you bingo. If
you have an opening rack such as GINNORT, don’t open with TON: simply play
NOTING, take your 18 points and go on with the rest of the game.
The G is useful for defense since it is not a strong bingo tile and cannot be
paralleled easily. There are surprisingly few bingos that begin with G.
The Tiles
Scrabble Master
Type: Scoring Consonant
Duplication Fear: Medium
Friends: C, S, T
Equity: 0.5
Volatility: Low
Enemies: N, Z, V
Bingo Strength: 14th
Scoring Strength: 5th
The H is an average bingo tile that will score well on nearly any board. It can
form longer words and is a good tile for making parallel plays. The H can also be a useful
bingo tile when combined with its friends: the C, S, and T.
The H’s best friend is the C. CH is a strong leave for both bingos and scoring,
and thus has a substantial synergy; while the H has an equity of 0.5, and the C has an
equity of 1, the CH leave has an equity of 5. CH can also function as one consonant, so
you can afford to keep a leave such as CHR or CEHRS.
One unfortunate side effect of parallel plays with the H is that most of these
parallels can be re-paralleled. This is also the case with the W and X; many parallel plays
involving these tiles can be used by your opponent on the ensuing turn.
The H is valuable in closed boards and endgames. It will often score in situations
where few other tiles will. It can help you to get bad tiles off of your rack. It is one of the
only high point tiles that will both start and end words easily. The H is malleable in its
ability to make parallel plays since both consonants and vowels can precede the H.
At first it is difficult to remember that the H forms the words HM and SH. These
words may be difficult to find, but you must be aware of these potentially lucrative
Mental Note #2: Don’t be paranoid about the tiles you draw!
Thinking about which tiles you draw and how many blanks or S you draw is a
recipe for losing emotional control. Thinking about tile draws is paranoid at best. It
simply DOES NOT MATTER. Thinking about anything else other than the best play is a
surefire way to play poorly.
Whenever you think that you can’t possibly draw worse, remember that there is
almost certainly someone who is. On the rare occasion that you actually are drawing
much worse than anyone else over the course of a game or a day… congratulations!
You’ve managed to reach the extremes of statistics! Rest assured, you will manage to
draw better tiles in the near future.
The Tiles
Scrabble Master
Type: Bingo Vowel
Duplication Fear: High
Friends: N, C, L, A, V
Equity: -1
Volatility: High
Enemies: U, J, Y, W
Bingo Strength: 7th
Scoring Strength: 21st
The I is a better bingo vowel than the A. Many people dislike the I because of its
habit of duplicating easily and its limited scoring ability. Nevertheless, the I is a good tile
in long leaves, where duplication is unlikely. The I is a valuable addition to leaves such
as TER, END, ERS, and ANTS.
The I is a weak scoring tile. It has poor synergy with high scoring tiles, and is not
a good tile for short words or making parallel plays. While it is an okay tile for 5 or 6
letter words with high point tiles, it is weaker than the A or O.
The ‘I’ duplicates terribly. Many amateur players spend hours moaning about
how they drew 3 “I” on their rack, and talk about how they should change the tile
distribution so there are fewer ‘I’s in the bag. You should avoid drawing multiple I on
your rack, and should get rid of the I if duplication is a problem.
Leaving an I near a bonus square is a dangerous proposition if words of the
pattern _I hit the bonus squares. Leaving an I open for parallel plays such as QI, XI, PI,
BI, KI, or HI is a bad idea. However, the I is a safe tile for the pattern I_ as the only
high-point tile that can be used for a parallel play is the F.
Vocab Builder #2
BIDI: a flavored cigarette
TIPI: an Indian dwelling
TIKI: a type of wood
GIGUE: a type of dance
GUID: a commodity (Scot.)
(A)ERUGO: film that grows on copper
LIRI: Maltese monetary unit
VERJUICE: the juice of unripened fruit
IWIS: certainly
GHEE: South Asian clarified butter
GLEG: alert
AJEE: to one side (Brit.)
IMID: a chemical compound
IRID: a type of iris plant
RAKU: A style of Japanese pottery
ARAK: A type of liquor
KAGU: A type of bird
KIVA: A room used for ceremonies
KENTE: A colorful fabric from Ghana
NIDI: nests or breeding places
TORII: the gate of a Japanese temple
VIRID: green; full of vegetation
IMPI: a South African militia
INTI: Peruvian currency
EGGCUP: a small type of bowl
TITI: an evergreen shrub
The Tiles
Scrabble Master
Type: Clunker
Duplication Fear: N/A
Friends: O, B, U
Equity: -2
Volatility: Low
Enemies: Z, I, R, ?,
Bingo Strength: 25th
Scoring Strength: 11th
The J is a decent scoring tile. It is useful for high scoring parallel plays and DLSDWS opportunities: there are a good deal of 4 and 5 letter words starting with J, as well
as 3 letter words with high point tiles such as JIB, JAG, and JOW. However, the J is
inflexible since it forces you to play off your better tiles. Unless there are a lot of scoring
options, the J can cripple your chances of playing a bingo.
The J is primarily an impotent version of the Z. Like with the Z, many players
miss plays if the word does not begin with the J. Words such as NINJA, CAJON, and
RIOJA are often missed. Also, the J is less flexible and scores fewer points than the Z.
Leaving the J open near a TWS invites your opponent to make 35-40 point plays
using their bad tiles. Since there are a lot of 4 and 5 letter words starting with J, leaving
the J open near a TWS is a bad idea.
Type: Clunker
Duplication Fear: N/A
Friends: C, A
Equity: -1
Volatility: Low
Enemies: Clunkers, T, D
Bingo Strength: 15th
Scoring Strength: 14th
The K is a mediocre tile that can bingo or score moderately well. The K does not
do anything spectacularly, but it is a better tile than other clunkers. The K scores well
with 4-5 letter words as well as two-letter parallel plays. Many 4 or 5 letter words with K
are not part of most people’s everyday vocabularies. In addition, many of the words that
start with K have odd combinations, such as KN, KH, or KL.
While KA and KI make the K seem like it would be good for parallel plays, it is
not used that frequently in parallels because there are not a lot of clunky letters that form
short words with the K. Most of the short words that the K forms contain odd
combinations, such as KUE, ICK, or KYE that don’t tend to form parallel plays.
Many players overvalue the CK combination. The CK combination is far weaker
than the CH combination. If you are given a choice, you should discard the K and keep
only the C in your leave, as C is a better leave than CK.
The Tiles
Scrabble Master
Type: Bingo Consonant
Duplication Fear: High
Friends: Y, B, A, C
Equity: -1
Volatility: Low
Enemies: N, R, H, M
Bingo Strength: 11th
Scoring Strength:18th
The L is a good bingo tile but a poor scoring tile. Although many bingos contain
an L, these bingos contain high point consonants which should not be retained in your
leave. Oddly, the L is anti-synergic with the N and R. However, this anti-synergy should
not keep you from keeping the L and the R or N together if they are a part of a strong
bingo leave.
The L can easily clear vowels from your rack. The L is present in words such as
AALII, ULU, LOUIE, and OLIO. For this reason, the L has a low volatility, since you
will rarely need to exchange with an L on your rack.
Although many words contain the sequence LL, the L duplicates quite poorly. It
does not form parallel plays easily, and goes poorly with other high scoring tiles.
Type: Scoring Consonant
Duplication Fear: Low
Friends: A, R, U
Equity: 0
Volatility: Low
Enemies: N, T
Bingo Strength: 13th
Scoring Strength: 6th
Many amateur players underestimate the M’s value. The M is a scoring
consonant that can also be used for bingos. It is versatile because of its ability to score
with both vowels and consonants. It is particularly useful at scoring 20 or more points
with bad tiles on your rack, and parallels exceptionally well, forming many short words
with other high point tiles.
The M is a reasonable bingo tile and plays a role similar to the C and P. The M
should be kept for bingos if your leave can absorb another consonant, and can be added
to leaves such as ERT, ES, or AR?. If your rack does not turn into a bingo, then you can
score with the M and bingo on the next turn.
Like the L, the M can be used to get rid of excess vowels. Words like OLEUM,
MIAOU, AMIE, and AMIA can help you balance your rack.
The Tiles
Scrabble Master
Type: Bingo Consonant
Duplication Fear: High
Friends: G, I, T, D
Equity: 0
Volatility: Medium
Enemies: B, H, X
Bingo Strength: 6th
Scoring Strength: 19th
The N is a strong bingo tile, but a poor scoring tile. It is useful to compare the N
to the T. It can save a vowel-laden rack more successfully than its counterpart ‘T’. The
N (like the T) is often overrated because of its ability to bingo and because most people
know words containing the N.
The N duplicates terribly, since there are few bingos with 2 Ns. It is not a good
tile for scoring points unless it is combined with high point consonants. While the N
scores slightly better than the T and absorbs vowels better, the T is slightly better for
bingos, particularly when combined with the R or the S.
Type: Scoring Vowel
Duplication Fear: High
Friends: J, Z, W
Equity: -2
Volatility: Medium
Enemies: A, Q
Bingo Strength: 15th
Scoring Strength: 8th
The O is a good tile for scoring, combining well with high-point scoring tiles.
The O scores well with clunkers such as J, Z, Y, H, W, B, and X. Like the A and I, you
should avoid leaving the O next to bonus squares because it lets your opponent score well
with high-scoring tiles.
Most prefixes and suffixes containing the O aren’t very useful. Letter
combinations such as CON, OUT, and OUS are poor leaves.
The O is a poor tile for bingos, and should not be retained unless you need a
vowel to repair your vowel-consonant ratio. The O should only be kept for bingos if
there are at least two more consonants than vowels. While the O is a welcome addition to
a leave such as RST or ENRST, it is a drawback to a leave such as ERT, ES, or ING.
Despite words like POOL, the O duplicates poorly. Having two Os in your rack
is as bad as holding two Is, and worse than holding 2 As. While multiple Os aren’t so
bad when holding a scoring leave, it is a disaster when you are trying to play a bingo.
The Tiles
Scrabble Master
Type: Clunker
Duplication Fear: Low
Friends: R, H,
Equity: -1
Volatility: Low
Enemies: N, Clunkers
Bingo Strength: 12th
Scoring Strength:12th
The P can be thought of as the ultimate “borderline tile”. It is an average tile in
every way. While it is versatile, it has no obvious strengths or weaknesses. It can score,
clear vowels, block, or form a bingo, but it is not exceptional at any of those tasks.
The P can be used as a defensive tile since it is only capable of being paralleled as
_P by an O or U. It is difficult to bingo with either an O or U late in a word: thus the P is
a good defensive tile.
The P is more likely to start words than to show up in the middle of words. Thus,
it is a dangerous tile to open if it can start an 8 letter word, but not so dangerous if it must
be in the middle or end of a word.
Part of the excitement of Scrabble is drawing tiles, wondering which tile you’ll
draw next. The unknown is one of those things that keep us coming back. Wouldn’t it be
nice to know what’s in the bag, and whether or not you’ll draw that cool word?
In Scrabble, you can “peek into the bag” by tracking tiles. By recording which
tiles have been played, you can figure out what tiles are remaining. These remaining tiles
are either in your opponent’s rack or in the bag.
Tracking is useful in many situations. During the endgame or pre-endgame, you
can use your tracking to see what tiles your opponent may have. This information gives
you the ability to block your opponent’s high scoring plays and see what tiles you might
Tracking is especially useful if certain tiles are case. If you are holding the last
tile (for instance, the last available S), then you have the case S. If you have a case tile,
then if there is a spot on the board for that tile, only you will be able to use that spot. For
example, if there is a Q next to a TWS and you have the case I, then only you will be able
to use that TWS, and you can use the TWS at your leisure. Case tiles also allow you to
create setups with near impunity. (Setups will be discussed in Chapter 8.)
Tracking is also useful since it helps you maintain diversity. Suppose that you are
deciding whether to play PIX or POX for the same amount of points, one keeping IRST
and the other keeping ORST. Both leaves are nearly equivalent, so if there are 5 Os left
but only 2 Is, you will want to play POX. However, if there are 5 Is and 2 Os, you will
want to play PIX.
The Tiles
Scrabble Master
Type: Clunker
Duplication Fear: N/A
Friends: U, I, A, T
Equity: -12
Volatility: High
Enemies: Everything else
Bingo Strength: 27th
Scoring Strength: 22nd
The Q is the worst tile in Scrabble. It can cripple your rack and make it difficult
for you to bingo or score. If you cannot score well and must keep the Q on your rack,
you should strongly consider exchanging.
Although the equity of the Q is only -12, it is a much worse tile if you don’t have
spots to play QI or have a U to go with the Q. Without either option available, playing
with the Q on your rack is essentially playing with a 6 tile rack.
Many beginners mistakenly play QI whenever it is available. Playing QI for
minimal points is not a good idea unless you have a strong leave: often you are better off
trading the Q along with other undesirable tiles in order to score more points next turn.
Although the Q and U are highly synergic, the QU leave is still usually a bad
leave. QU is a terrible combination for both bingos and short parallel plays. If these
options are not readily available, then you should trade both the Q and the U.
Whenever you have the Q, you should ask yourself: “Where can I play the Q? If
there’s no place for you to play the Q, then it is unlikely that a Q spot will manifest itself
in the future. For this reason, you should get rid of the Q sooner rather than later.
It is worth noting that the Q can often be a saving grace at the end of the game if it
ends up on your opponent’s rack and your opponent cannot use it. In certain cases you
should block Q spots earlier in the game in hopes that your opponent draws and will be
stuck with the Q later.
Type: Bingo Consonant
Duplication Fear: High
Friends: E, T, D
Equity: 0.5
Volatility: Low
Enemies: L, X, W
Bingo Strength: 4th
Scoring Strength: 17th
The R is a good bingo consonant, second only to the S. It can also get rid of poor
tiles such as vowels or clunkers. Like other bingo tiles, the R duplicates poorly, as 2 Rs
is devastating to both your bingo chances and scoring ability.
The ER leave is synergic, and is useful for both scoring easily and hitting a lot of
bingos. ER can score and will inevitably lead to bingos, especially if you keep other
strong bingo tiles alongside the ER leave.
The R can also be used to stop short parallel plays. The only back hook to the R
is the E: a tile scarcely found in short words. Thus, you can use the R as a defensive tile
to make parallel plays and bingos less likely.
The Tiles
Scrabble Master
Type: Bingo Consonant
Duplication Fear: Low
Friends: T, H, R
Equity: 12
Volatility: Low
Enemies: X, Y, G, Z
Bingo Strength: 2nd
Scoring Strength: 2nd
It should come as no surprise that the S is the second best tile behind the blank.
However, the S is substantially worse than the blank. The equity of the S depends upon
the board. Some boards have no S hooks or setups, and on these boards, it is not much
more valuable than other bingo consonants such as the R. On other boards, the S is a
valuable tile that can be worth 15 or more points. The S is especially valuable on closed
boards with S hooks, as often the S is the only tile that you can use to score or bingo.
One unique problem the S faces is telegraphing. When the S is duplicated, you
may be tempted to play one for a few extra points. However, doing so tells your
opponent that you likely have an S. As a result, they won’t open new spots for your S
and may block already existing S spots.
Do not be afraid to use the S to score points, particularly on a board where the S
isn’t valuable for scoring. Many players are attached to using the S for bingos and miss
opportunities to score points instead. While the S is a good bingo tile, you can still draw
another one, and you can still bingo without it.
It is easy to develop tunnel vision with the S. Many players get into bad habits:
they believe that the S is only good to use as a pluralizing letter, or that there is a specific
spot on the board where the S should go. Although the S is useful for plurals, one
shouldn’t forget that the S starts more 7 and 8 letter words than any other letter.
The S is also a good tile for setups. It provides an opportunity for you to set up
spots on the board that only you can use to score, allowing you to add an S next turn for a
lot of points. This is especially true if you have the case S: the last S (or blank) available
in the remaining tile pool. Setups will be discussed further in Chapter 8.
The S is also an important defensive tile used to prevent your opponent from
making setups. While it typically does not score well on a closed board, withholding the
S is often important to ensure your opponent cannot open the board.
Vocab Builder #3
OLIO: a miscellaneous collection
ORRA: occasional
TORPID: a type of boat
OLLA: a wide-mouthed jar
IMMY: a type of playing marble
NENE: a Hawaiian goose
LINN: a pool beneath a waterfall
PUPU: Asian appetizer
PUPA: a stage of insect development
YIRR: to snarl at
URARI: a type of poison
KUDU: a large antelope
The Tiles
Scrabble Master
Type: Bingo Consonant
Duplication Fear: Medium
Friends: S, R, H
Equity: -1
Volatility: High
Enemies: B, M
Bingo Strength: 5th
Scoring Strength: 25th
The T is a good bingo tile but a poor scoring tile, and functions similarly to the N.
You should not keep the T unless you are close to drawing a bingo.
The T is an inflexible tile. It goes poorly with bad racks and doesn’t help you
balance your vowel-consonant ratio. It duplicates poorly and does not work well with
vowel-laden leaves or clunkers.
With opening rack JTUUVWY, you should exchange all your tiles, and not keep
the T. However, with EJTUVYY, you should pass 5, keeping ET, since the E increases
your chances of drawing a bingo. Like the N, P, and A, the T should not be kept on an
exchange unless accompanied by other bingo tiles.
Type: Clunker
Duplication Fear: High
Friends: Q, N, M
Equity: -6
Volatility: High
Enemies: V, W, Y, A
Bingo Strength: 20th
Scoring Strength: 26th
The U is the worst vowel in Scrabble. It is a good defensive tile since it is difficult
to parallel the U with tiles that either begin or end bingos, other than the S.
Although UN has a strong synergy, the U should be discarded since the synergy
does not overcome the U’s deficiencies. The same holds true for other prefixes/suffixes
such as SUB-, -OUS, and –IUM. As a general rule, prefixes and suffixes should be
ignored unless they are especially powerful (such as -ING).
There are situations when it is appropriate to keep the U in preparation for a
possible Q draw: however, these instances are rare. Most players keep the U too often
and fear the Q too much. Understanding the dynamics involved with the QU
combination can be quite complex, especially late in the game.
The Tiles
Scrabble Master
Type: Clunker
Duplication Fear: High
Friends: I, E
Equity: -6
Volatility: Medium
Enemies: B, T, U, O, N
Bingo Strength: 21st
Scoring Strength: 23rd
The V is a strong defensive tile since it is difficult to parallel. While the V is a
poor tile for both bingos and scoring, it is a good tile for expelling vowels from your
rack. However, the V combines poorly with other consonants and is usually a liability.
The V can help you close the board. Words like VEG and VAC are strong
opening plays because they leave your opponent with few options. Although the V is a
poor tile, it can still be useful to balance racks with a poor vowel-consonant ratio. A
leave such as AEIRV is better than AEIR because the superior vowel-consonant balance
and synergy makes bingos or high-scoring plays more likely.
Type: Clunker
Duplication Fear: Medium
Friends: H, O, A
Equity: -5
Volatility: High
Enemies: U, I, T
Bingo Strength: 23rd
Scoring Strength: 10th
The W is a scoring tile usually reserved for making parallel plays. When these
plays aren’t available, the value of the W drops dramatically. The W is a mooch: it eats
up good tiles and combines poorly with bad tiles. The W is much better at forming short
words than long words.
The W is also prone to re-parallels. Any two letter word with W can form
numerous three letter words. Thus, any play with the W is liable to give your opponent a
lucrative comeback. While the W can score well, its scoring potential comes at a cost.
Vocab Builder 4:
WAUL: (WAWL) to cry like a cat
WYND: a narrow street
URUS: an extinct ox
UNAU: a two toed sloth
VIVE: an exclamation of approval
YUGA: a period of time in Hinduism
YAGI: a type of shortwave antenna
TIVY: with great speed
TOIT: to walk leisurely
TOFT: a small hill
YETT: an iron gate, usually in Scotland
YEOMAN: an independent farmer
ZAMARRO: a sheepskin coat
AZAN: a Muslim call to prayer
VELOCE: a musical direction
VIZI(E)R: a Muslim official
VIZARD: a type of mask
WYCH: a type of elm tree
The Tiles
Scrabble Master
Type: Scoring Consonant
Duplication Fear: N/A
Friends: O, A, E, F, T
Equity: 1
Volatility: High
Enemies: Q, J, S, R, ?
Bingo Strength: 26th
Scoring Strength: 4th
The X is overrated by amateur players because of its ability to score. While it can
score 50 points with words like XU, XI, OX, EX, and AX, most of the time these words
will score much less. Good players will not allow you to make 50 point plays with the X
since they rarely leave vowels next to TWS/TLS squares, especially early in the game.
Plays involving the X provide your opponent with a high scoring comeback
because of the hooks words like AX and OX possess. Although parallel plays using the
X score well, they also allow your opponent to score well on the next turn.
You should be wary if your opponent has the X in the latter portions of the game,
as a 40-50 point X play can often be devastating. You do not want to give your opponent
a high scoring X play, as they will find it every time. This is especially true against less
skilled opponents; even novices can easily find high scoring plays using the X.
Some amateur players retain the X too long, waiting for their opponent to open a
bonus square so they can use their X to score 40 or more points. Instead of holding the X
in hopes of a scoring spot, you should hold bingo tiles waiting to bingo. The scoring spot
for the X will likely never materialize.
Type: Scoring Consonant
Duplication Fear: High
Friends: L, M, B, P
Equity: -1
Volatility: High
Enemies: U, I, R, E, S
Bingo Strength: 22nd
Scoring Strength: 9th
The Y is a good scoring tile but a horrible bingo tile. Although the Y is
technically a consonant, it tends to function as a vowel; the Y is a good tile with
consonant-heavy racks, but it becomes a bane with vowel-heavy racks.
The Y’s main scoring ability comes by making 5 or 6 letter words with
consonants with combinations such as –LY, -ITY, or words using the Y as a vowel, such
as FRY or WYN. The Y also parallels well, much like the H, W, and X.
If you have a choice, you should parallel the Y in front of vowels, making
YA/YO plays. As with the H, W, and X, parallel plays with the Y are prone to being reparalleled, as AY, OY, and YE have a lot of hooks.
The LY combination is synergic and worth keeping despite the fact that the Y is a
bad tile. The combination will form a bingo or score well together, and when broken up
the Y is capable of scoring well while the L is a good bingo tile.
The Tiles
Scrabble Master
Type: Scoring Consonant
Duplication Fear: N/A
Friends: A, O
Equity: 3.5
Volatility: Medium
Enemies: V, W, Q, U, ?, I
Bingo Strength: 24th
Scoring Strength: 3rd
The Z is a good scoring tile used for long words and parallel plays forming ZA. It
combines well with the A/O and often scores 40 or more points. The Z is used for 4 or 5
tile plays and vowel dumps such as OUZO or ZOEAE.
The Z usually does not stay on your rack for long; while it is a good scoring tile, it
is a crippling tile to a bingo leave, and is only desirable in a scoring leave. Although the
Z is a poor bingo tile, it is still worth keeping during exchanges because of its scoring
potential. It is too good to exchange unless you have a strong bingo leave, such as ERT.
The Z lends itself to plays that are easy to find. Like the J, leaving the Z open in
the TWS column or next to a TWS or DWS leads to an easy 40+ point play for your
opponent if they have a 4 or 5 letter word beginning with Z.
Type: Bingo tile
Duplication Fear: High
Friends: E, R
Equity: 24
Volatility: High
Enemies: J, X, Z
Bingo Strength: 1st
Scoring Strength: 1st
The blank is the most valuable and dynamic tile in Scrabble. Since it can
represent any letter, it is a powerful weapon for bingos and scoring. The blank is so
valuable that there are situations in Scrabble that degenerate into a race for the last blank.
If one player draws both blanks, that player is a large favorite to win.
While the blank introduces a lot of luck to the game, it also introduces a
significant amount of skill. The blank makes it significantly harder to find the best play,
since it can represent any letter in the alphabet. It is easy to miss bingos and other high
scoring plays that involve the blank. The blank can also create strategically awkward
decisions when no bingo exists or you need to block.
In leaves with several tiles, the blank is worth approximately 20 points of equity +
the leave of the rack where the blank represents the value of the most synergic tile. For
example, a leave like GN? has an equity of 20 + ING = 20 + 7 = 27.
It is worth noting that while two blanks is better than one, the second blank is not
nearly as valuable as the first. While two blanks almost always allows you to play a
bingo, these bingos don’t score much more than single-blank bingos.
The Tiles
Scrabble Master
Finding words with blanks
Even experienced players have difficulty finding words with blank. While the
blank is an extremely powerful tile because of its flexibility, that flexibility provides
players with so many options that they often feel overwhelmed. Finding the best play
with a blank in your rack is far more difficult than when your rack consists of 7 letters.
With a blank, the primary goal should be looking for bingos. Finding the 7 letter
bingo in a rack like AALNOR? (gRANOLA) is difficult, and finding an 8 letter bingo
through any of the letters in the word FRYABLE (ABNORmAL or BARONiAL) is even
more difficult. Luckily, finding a bingo is usually not so difficult: most racks with blanks
either have no bingos (usually due to vowel-consonant ratio or an excess of high-point
tiles) or have multiple bingos to choose from.
Many players forget that the blank can also be used as a scoring tile. This is
especially true when you have a high point tile on your rack: the blank allows you to use
high point tiles combining a DLS/TLS square and a DWS/TWS square, allowing you to
score well with the J, Q, X, or Z.
The top players in the world find bingos with blanks by mentally going through
the alphabet and visualizing the blank as every single letter. World-class players rely on
their proficient alphagram study and use memorization to find words in their rack.
However, for non-experts, there is a better way to try to find bingos:
1. Balance your vowel-consonant ratio. If you have a surplus of consonants, first try
to make the blank a vowel (and vice-versa)
2. Look for synergies. If you have a I and a G in your rack, then first try to make the
blank an N and search for –ING bingos. If there is an I Y in your rack, consider
making the blank an L or a T.
3. Look for strong bingo tiles. Vowels such as A, E, and I as well as consonants
such as S, R, T, N, L, and C often can form bingos.
4. Look to start words with high point tiles, solve problem tiles, and use
permutation. Many of the same techniques that you use to find words with seven
tiles can be used to find words with the blank on your rack.
The Tiles
Scrabble Master
Saving Blanks
Since the blank is such a valuable tile, there are many situations where you should
sacrifice points to retain the blank, even if you have a bingo available. Here are some
situations where you should pass up a bingo to keep a blank on your rack:
Diagram 1:
Diagram 2:
Choices: rEJUDGEd 10h (83),
JUGhEADs 12d (82), JUGGlED k5 (64)
Choices: FLYWHeEl 12b (69),
FEW e11 (33)
In Diagram 1, you should play JUGGlED, saving the blank for next turn. In
Diagram 2, you should play FEW e11 preserving both blanks for next turn.
The Tiles
Scrabble Master
An Important Note on Tile Equity
Diagram 1:
Diagram 2:
Score: 223-227
Choices: TAX j12 (26), DEX 14h (27),
TAXA j12 (27), EASED 14d (32)
Score: 299-364
Choices: HIVES o8/15h (51),
ELVISH o8/15h (54), HI 12a (20)
In Diagram 1, the S has limited worth. While the S is usually valuable on closed
boards, this board is not conducive to S-hooks, and creating a useful S-hook for your case
S will prove difficult. Instead of trying to play a bingo, you should play EASED 14d
(32), since it scores more points, and saves the X for 25+ points next turn.
In Diagram 2, the S has increased in value. Thus, you should sacrifice points to
play a bingo as soon as possible and take the stronger leave after HI 12a. The EILSV
leave is valuable on this board, worth closer to 35 points instead of 13.
The value of tiles changes drastically over the course of the game. In this case,
the value of the S is about 2 points in Diagram 1 and 20 points in Diagram 2. Every tile’s
value can change drastically, depending on its propensity for duplication, the open spots
on the board, and the other tiles remaining in the bag.
Even though this chapter quantifies each tile’s ability to score, bingo, and get
along with other tiles, these numbers should be understood as guidelines. However,
guidelines have exceptions and should not be applied universally. Good tiles in one
position are often bad tiles in another position. As you learn more about Scrabble, you
will learn how to adjust your conception of leave more precisely.
The Tiles
Scrabble Master
Puzzle Break #6
Answers on page 140.
Diagram 1: Opening rack DEIORTV: VOTED 8d (26) or VIDEO 8d (26)?
Diagram 2: Opening rack EORTUUW: WROTE 8d (24) or exchange?
Diagram 3: Opening rack ABCEHKR: BREAK 8h (32), BACKER 8d (34), or CHARK 8h
Diagram 4:
Diagram 5:
Score: 0-24
Score: 206-164
Diagram 6:
Diagram 7:
Score: 332-324
Choices: VANNER b10 (17),
JNANA 12i (24), JAVA 12i (28)
Score: 310-341
Choices: PFUI f7 (11), Exch. 7,
Exch. 5 (ET), Exch. 6 (E), Exch. 6 (T)
Scrabble Master
Chapter 7:
One reason why people love sports and games is the “almost” moments. For every great
shot, there have been countless near misses: baseballs hit the warning track, buzzer beaters fall
short, and Hail Marys fall unanswered.
In Scrabble, many of those “almost” plays can turn into great plays. By playing off a few
tiles, you can turn the rack you have into the rack you want by fishing. Fishing is the act of
playing or exchanging tiles in hopes of drawing a high scoring play or bingo on the next turn. In
most cases, fishing requires a basic knowledge of a significant number of frequently occurring
bingos. (A short list of some frequent bingos are available in the appendix.)
The strength of fishing plays is dependent upon three things: the equity of other candidate
plays, the likelihood that you will draw a bingo, and the ability of those bingos to play on the
board next turn. Fishing is pointless if there are no spots to play a bingo or drawing a bingo is
Opening rack: AEEERST
This is a good example of a rack that you should fish with. Exchanging the E allows you
to bingo with many tiles in the bag. By going through each letter, you can see that the odds of
drawing a bingo with AEERST are quite high:
Scrabble Master
Fishing plays require an open board so that once you draw a bingo, you can play it.
Without an open board, even strong leaves such as AEERST do not merit fishing.
Fishing plays are only best when a good draw will result in a bingo, even if your opponent tries
to block.
Diagram 1:
Diagram 2:
In Diagram 1, you should play IF d7, fishing for a bingo. is a very strong leave, and IF
creates another good bingo line along column c.
In Diagram 2, you should play AX, creating bingo lines on row 6 and column l. This will
allow you to bingo frequently on your next rack.
Diagram 3:
Diagram 4:
Choices: IF j2 (17), IF 9h (20),
4h (34), IF 7h (20)
Choices: KA i9 (11), KI i6 (6),
TSK 14d (17), DESK 14c (19)
In Diagram 3, instead of playing FERVID 4h, you should make a fishing play playing IF.
IF is strongest at j2, opening row 1 for your D or R.
In Diagram 4, you should play KI 6i for 6 points, setting up another bingo column.
Although it scores less than KA i9, you must create a bingo line for your case S.
Scrabble Master
Diagram 5:
Diagram 6:
Score: 23-54
Choices: DEN h7 (4), NOON 9j (5)
Score: 81-100
Choices: YAG g8 (7), GEM d6 (6)
In Diagram 5, NOON is better because it opens a new bingo line that is difficult to block,
while DEN allows your opponent to effectively block the board.
In Diagram 6, GEM is better than YAG since it does not block row 11, which can be used
to play your bingo.
Diagram 7:
Diagram 8:
Score: 304-347
Choices: REF l2 (6), RAFT 4j (7)
Score: 137-189
Choices: GOR 6h (4), NOR 9a (4),
MOR 9h (5)
In Diagram 7, you should play RAFT, creating an S-hook at n4 for a second bingo line.
Although REF also creates another bingo line, those two bingo lines can be blocked
simultaneously. After RAFT, either row 2 or column n will remain open next turn.
In Diagram 8, you could play GOR 7h (4) or MOR 9h, creating a better bingo line.
However, by playing GOR you allow your opponent to simultaneously block both of your bingo
lines (on column j and k): something they could not do before. By playing NOR 9a, you insure
that one of your bingo lines on column j will remain open.
Scrabble Master
As human beings, we’d like to believe that our thoughts are unique: that everyone
approaches situations differently according to their special traits and experiences. However,
most people approach decision making in games (as well as life) fairly similarly. Indeed, most
decisions involve the same three-step process that I will call the General Decision Process:
General Decision Process:
1. Identify the general circumstance you currently face.
2. Identify the appropriate guideline(s) that apply to your particular situation.
3. Commit the action that corresponds to the guideline(s) specified in step two.
This process is often effective, and is used for most decision making in all games.
However, there are times when we can make better decisions by using a different process. Many
times, the general circumstance is not specific enough, and thus the guideline does not apply.
Guidelines exist as general maxims, but they are not meant to be applied universally, particularly
when there is a lot of information available. It is important to understand that there are
exceptions to any guideline.
If you want to take your game to the next level, you will need a more complex thought
process. Advanced strategists use the following process to make decisions:
Advanced Decision Process:
1. Identify all of your potential options that seem reasonable.
2. Evaluate the ramifications of each option by doing your best to predict what will
happen in the future.
3. Compare those ramifications in order to figure out the best play.
This process looks similar to the General Decision process, but involves more specificity.
It requires analyzing your options and figuring out exactly what will occur rather than simply
applying a general guideline. The act of analyzing all of these options and ramifications is
known as permutation. Permutation requires a lot more energy and is subject to a lot more error
than the General Decision Process.
Sometimes you will be unable to use permutation: you can’t always quickly or effectively
evaluate each option’s ramifications or effectively compare those ramifications. In those
instances, you are relegated to going through the General Decision Process. However, in the
situations where the Advanced Decision Process is applicable, it can lead to better decisions.
Scrabble Master
Permutation and Fishing
One of the most common uses of permutation is to help you evaluate fishing plays.
Fishing plays must have a high rate of success, since a 10 point play followed by a 60 point
bingo is equivalent to making two 35 point plays. Most amateur players fish far too often
because they overestimate their chances of playing a bingo next turn.
Permutation enables you to determine how often you will draw the tiles you want to
make a bingo or high-scoring play. To determine how often you will draw your bingo, you
should go through each available tile in the pool (A-Z) and determine how often those tiles will
enable you to make your desired play.
As beginners, you are liable to make mistakes at first. Don’t worry: it happens to
everyone. As you gain practice, your ability to perform permutation will improve. However, it
is important that everyone try to perform permutation. It is a vital skill to master in many games
beyond Scrabble, and can be used to find better plays in many other facets besides fishing.
Many players initially feel overwhelmed when performing permutation. Thus, at first I
recommend going through only the most common letters and adjusting downward (since it’s
harder to make a bingo with an F, G, or X, than an E, N, or R). As you begin to feel more
comfortable, you can go through more tiles when performing permutation.
As an example, let’s look at the DEEIMT leave, and only go through the most common
letters: AEIO and DLNRST. With an A we have a bingo (MEDIATE), and there are several
bingos with the R, (MERITED, RETIMED, MITERED, DEMERIT, and DIMETER) as well as
one with the T (EMITTED). However, there are no bingos with the E, I, O, D, L, N, or S. Thus,
a bingo is somewhat unlikely, since it fails to bingo very often, even if you manage to draw a
good bingo tile. (If you investigate further, the only other possible bingos are BEDTIME and
Permutation can help you to illuminate the strengths of many leaves. Some enticing
leaves lose their appeal once you analyze them in greater depth. For example, EINORT forms a
bingo with few tiles. (BCGJLNPSTU?, or only 34 out of 93 tiles) Meanwhile, other racks
become much more attractive after permutation: for example, IORSTU bingos with significantly
more tiles (ACEGKLMNOST?, or 56 out of 93 tiles). There is no good way to intuit which tiles
to keep when fishing: you must go through each tile and determine how often your fish will
Most players are too lazy to perform permutation, and instead choose to “eyeball” which
leaves are best to fish with. In some cases, this approach works very well: for example,
AEERST looks like a strong leave, and indeed it is. However, sometimes fishing plays are not so
intuitive. For example, let’s take the opening rack EILNRSS. With this rack, the best leave is
the ugly-looking EILNSS. This may seem unintuitive, as other leaves seem more appealing such
as EINRS, EILNRS, and EINRSS. However, EILNSS leads to a bingo more often than any
other leave with that rack.
Scrabble Master
Diagram 1:
Diagram 2:
Score: 231-201
Last play: Exch. 4
Choices: BA c7 (7), OBA k11 (24),
BO n10 (27), LAB i8 (9), BI 14n (8)
Score: 263-285
Last play: Exch. 5
Choices: MELT i10 (13),
MET i10 (11), MY 10i (10)
Diagram 1 is an excellent opportunity to fish: there are no good scoring plays available.
Playing the B often results in a bingo. No matter what your opponent does, you will bingo if you
draw one of the 3 Ds, 7 Es, the blank, the M, and the H. Other tile draws may also bingo some
RAINOUT, and other plays that may present themselves after your opponent’s response. BA is
slightly better since it allows you to also sometimes bingo more often with bingos using row 6.
Similarly, Diagram 2 is also a good fishing situation. By playing MY 10i, you can bingo
to the G if you draw an A, E, I, or O, which comprise more than 1/3 of the tile pool. Since your
opponent doesn’t know your rack, it is unlikely they will block the G next turn.
Scrabble Master
Diagram 3:
Diagram 4:
Score: 279-303
Score: 463-369
In Diagram 3, it will be difficult to win without a bingo. The highest equity play is AAH
for 20, but this leaves you behind without much of a chance of catching up, especially with a
poor leave like EILLO. Your best shot is fishing for one of the 3 Ns to play AEOLIAN next
turn, and thus playing LI at 10n.
If you fail to draw an N, you are often committed to fishing again. Do not be deterred by
failed fishing plays: while you should look for alternatives, prior fishing results should not
influence your future plays.
In Diagram 4, you are behind by more than a bingo, and will need to get extremely lucky
to win. Your best chance of winning is to play GAIN 7b and hope for a CI draw so that you can
play either EXCLAIM at a3 or CLIMAXED at 15h.
Like the previous position, you may receive an additional opportunity to fish for your
bingo. Your opponent might play off one tile in hopes of outrunning your potential bingo,
allowing you to fish next turn as well. Although these sorts of desperation fishing plays rarely
work, they can help you win an otherwise unwinnable game.
(Note that if the score were closer, you could win by playing MI 11b and setting up
GALAX for 74 next turn. This type of play is called a setup, and will be discussed next chapter.)
Scrabble Master
Diagram 5:
Diagram 6:
Score: 304-384
Score: 138-157
One of the most common mistakes people make is fishing without performing
permutation. Many players fish off the worst tile in their leave and completely disregard the tile
pool, forgetting to ask themselves what tile(s) they must draw to play a bingo next turn.
In Diagram 5, you must fish for a bingo. Your best tile draw is the I, which gives you
hope to draw the word GINGIVA. The best place to play the E is m1, setting up row 1 alongside
row 4 and column e.
Many players become lazy and play off the V or G. This is a mistake: whenever you fish,
you should be aware of the tiles you must draw to win. While getting rid of your worst tiles
requires less mental effort, it is not sound strategy.
Other people miss opportunities to fish. They feel their rack is too weak to fish, or they
fail to find fishing opportunities for their non-bingos. Many mistakes come from players
ignoring the possibility of fishing.
In Diagram 6, keeping AELL fishes for ALKALIZE, ALKALISE/ALKALIES, and
ALKALINE, scoring over 100 points. Thus, playing FIT g1 is a good fishing play, keeping this
unusually powerful leave.
Scrabble Master
Diagram 7:
Diagram 8:
Many players get stuck in fishing mode and are unable to look for scoring plays once
they have determined that they do not have a bingo. They look for a few minutes, see they don’t
have a bingo, then quickly decide the best way to attempt to draw a bingo next turn instead of
looking for good scoring plays.
In Diagram 7, many players become so focused on bingos and play something like PA
e7, PACA e5, or PAD i6 instead making the best play: CANAPES e5 (44).
In Diagram 8, it is easy to make a fishing play like OY 6i or BOY f12 and ignore or miss
the high-scoring IRONY 2b (36), retaining EST.
Opening rack 1: AEINRSZ
The two best options are ZAIRE 8d (48) and ZA 8g (22). Although ZA will lead to a
bingo around 2/3 of the time, you are better off playing ZAIRE. ZAIRE will lead to a bingo
about 1/3 of the time, scores 26 more points, and still retains strong scoring and bingo tiles.
Opening rack 2: AELSSTZ
This rack seems similar to Opening rack 1: there are two 48 point options (ZEALS and
ZETAS) and ZA/S for 22/24, keeping a strong leave. In this situation, ZA/S is better. While it
sacrifices a lot of points, it leads to a bingo about 2/3 of the time, limits your opponent’s bingo
and scoring options, and preserves good underlap scoring options if you fail to bingo.
The difference between these opening racks seems miniscule but is actually substantial.
Fishing with Opening rack 1 is a big mistake since it gives away too many points for a
comparatively small leave improvement, while taking the points in opening rack 2 savages your
leave and wastes that rack’s potential by getting rid of your S.
Scrabble Master
Diagram 9:
Diagram 10:
Score: 274-258
Choices: ZIN n1 (29), ZINE 2a (26)
Score: 252-304
Choices: PERCH 5b (33), PUR h7 (15)
PRY 9m (11)
Initially, you might think the best play in Diagram 9 is ZINE 2a for 26. The 3 point
sacrifice seems like it would be worthwhile to avoid giving your opponent an easy 50 point play
using the o1 TWS square.
However, in this position you are one tile away from XENON or XENIA at 14j. Both of
those plays score 81 points! Since the bag containing six As and seven Os, you will draw one of
those two tiles over 60% of the time. Thus, you WANT your opponent to use the Z at o1 instead
of blocking the 14j bonus square.
The o1 opening left by ZIN is not a liability, but an asset. Although ZIN makes it easier
for your opponent to score, it also makes them less likely to block 14j. This type of play is
useful when you have tiles that fit best at one specific spot.
In Diagram 10, you are setting up PRY as a diversion to preserve row 5 for plays hooking
H-UH. While PUR scores four more points, your opponent will block row 5 more often. You
want your opponent to block the SPRY hook and leave row 5 for you to bingo next turn. The
goal of PRY is not to set yourself up for a bingo, but to distract your opponent from blocking
your best bingo line given your leave.
Scrabble Master
Diagram 11:
Diagram 12:
Score: 82-88
Choices: VIM 6f (24), TIMIDER e3 (20),
DIVER e5 (18), TIMID 6d (21)
Score: 88-108
Choices: VIRID 2j (34),
GRIVET e4 (20), DIGIT 6d (17)
In Diagrams 11-14, you can fish for an extension of JUICES to form VERJUICES o1
(63). These diagrams illustrate several factors that should influence your decision on whether or
not to fish.
In Diagram 11, you should play TIMID 6d (21). Since TIMID scores well and keeps a
decent leave, you should try to draw the high-scoring extension. TIMID sacrifices very little
equity in hopes of drawing an E for an unblockable VERJUICES.
In Diagram 12, you should not play DIGIT and fish for VERJUICES because it will be
blocked frequently. Your opponent will often block inadvertently by making a play in rows 2 or
3. In addition, you are sacrificing more equity in Diagram 12 than in Diagram 11. Thus, making
a fishing play is not appropriate.
Scrabble Master
Diagram 13:
Diagram 14:
Score: 82-88
Choices: VIVARIA f8 (23),
AIR 6i (14), LAARI l9 (10)
Score: 112-126
Choices: MINIVER e3 (26),
MINIM 6d (19)
In Diagram 13, you shouldn’t fish for VERJUICES. Fishing plays require playing few
tiles and scoring poorly, making it unlikely that you will draw the E. In these cases, you will
often have a poor rack and need to fish again next turn. You are better off balancing your rack
with VIVARIA, giving yourself the opportunity to draw something else. You should avoid
locking yourself into a fishing play, especially when you have other reasonable options.
Diagram 14 is another position where you should not fish because there are only 4 Es
available, reducing your odds of drawing VERJUICES to around 30% after playing MINIM.
Since MINIVER scores 7 more points and keeps a better leave, it is a significant improvement
over MINIM.
When you are counting the number of tiles you can draw, you should avoid counting the
blanks, because VeRJUICES might not be best after draws including the blank. Even when it is
the best play, it isn’t a substantial improvement over your next best play; thus, the blank’s effect
on your decision is minimal.
Scrabble Master
Diagram 15:
Diagram 16:
Score: 68-120
Choices: UMP 14d (23), STUMP 14b (40)
Score: 187-239
Choices: QI 9d (11), QAT k2 (26)
In Diagram 15, you don’t have a strong enough leave to fish. DEST is just not a strong
enough leave to sacrifice 17 points, especially on this board, since the DEST leave is not
conducive to bingos very often on this board. While DEST is strong, you’d need a strong 6 tile
leave like DEIRST (compared to DE) to sacrifice 17 points to fish on this board.
In Diagram 16, fishing is not a strong play either despite the extremely strong AEERST.
While many tile draws will lead to a bingo, many of your bingos will not play on this constricted
board. You are better off instead playing QAT and scoring an additional 15 points and leaving
the still-promising EERS leave.
Many players become too complacent fishing in racks where there is a significant upside.
In each position, you must weigh whether the bingo potential is worth the sacrifice in points
while accounting for the openness of the board. Correctly weighing these factors is vital to your
future Scrabble success.
Scrabble Master
Puzzle Break #7
Find the best fishing play! Answers on page 141.
Diagram 1:
Diagram 2:
Score: 77-72
Score: 286-318
Diagram 3:
Diagram 4:
Score: 341-365
Score: 211-272
Scrabble Master
Chapter 8:
While some people react to everything life throws at them, successful people make things
happen. They establish a social group, a desirable job, or a lifestyle they want to live.
Successful Scrabble players develop this same attitude. They force their opponent to react to
them, and plan ahead to put themselves in advantageous situations.
Chapter 5 briefly discussed how the value of leaves are dependent on the board. It
discussed keeping bingo leaves on wide open boards and scoring leaves on boards with open
bonus squares. However, you don’t have to be a slave to the board: you can alter the board to
conform to your remaining tiles. This type of play is called a setup.
Setups allow you a chance to use your high scoring tiles for big points, and can allow you
to use your bingo tiles to play a bingo. They allow you to create a board conducive to your
remaining tiles. When there are no good Scrabble plays, masters have the ability to create
scoring plays for next turn.
Setups also carry risk. Your opponent might block your play, either because they can
score well or because they suspect your tactics and choose to block. Setups are also
constraining: they often don’t allow you much flexibility next turn.
Scrabble Master
Diagram 1:
Diagram 2:
In Diagram 1, you can make a setup by playing PIG h12 (6) to set up WILLS. After this
play, you can bingo by drawing an A or an R (WALLIES or WILLERS), and can draw a higher
scoring play next turn, such as CLEWS, VIEWS, or WILDS at 15d.
Even if your opponent detects the setup, they are helpless to block it. They can play
elsewhere, but the points that you will score next turn will be devastating. They can prevent
bingos with plays like VAC or RAD at 14a, but those plays still allow you to score at least 57
points. They could make a play at c12 to block the 15d DLS with READ/REAR/REAL, but that
would empty the bag, fail to score, and would still allow you to use the PIGS hook.
In Diagram 2, playing COOT 14b sets up JEST a12 for 61, with an opportunity to draw
an I or an O for a bingo worth over 100 points. Since the setup is hard to block, you can save it
for later if your opponent offers you a high scoring play saving your S.
The setup in Diagram 2 holds your opponent “hostage” since you can use the setup at any
time and there’s nothing your opponent can do about it. You don’t even need a balanced rack to
play COOT, because you can wait for several turns to play a bingo without repercussions.
Scrabble Master
Diagram 3:
Diagram 4:
Pool: BEIU
In Diagram 3, AWEE 2g sets up KOR. While your opponent can inhibit your setup by
playing BE j1 (4), you can still play KOB, and if they play BAY g1, you’ll be able to play
BORK. This play works because of your opponent’s inflexible tiles and inability to block.
Setups are useful when your opponent is likely to have a poor rack.
In Diagram 4, AN h2 sets up MYOPIC. Your opponent can only block by playing LAC,
which allows you to play IMPLY instead.
Setups are effective in the endgame if you have tracked tiles, since this information can
tell you whether or not your opponent can block your setup effectively. In these two positions,
although your opponent could block with different tiles, the knowledge of your opponent’s tiles
makes a setup viable. Finding these endgame plays will help you score extra points, and turn a
loss into a win!
Diagram 5:
Scrabble Master
Diagram 6:
In both positions, you can play DOW 7c to set up the word WEEKNIGHT at 8a next turn
for 66 points. If your opponent is unlikely to block, then DOW is certainly the best play in both
positions. Whether or not your opponent will block depends on if your opponent can detect your
In Diagram 5, playing DOW is a viable setup, as it is not obvious to your opponent.
DOW looks like a fishing or rack-balancing play. Your opponent might think that you have a
leave like ENORS or that you are unloading a duplicate D and/or O from your rack. Thus, they
are unlikely to block WEEKNIGHT next turn.
In Diagram 6, playing DOW would attract a lot more suspicion and may lead to your
opponent blocking the setup. Because there are more spots to play the O and D off (for example,
at o1 or paralleling MAGAZINE), playing DOW looks suspicious. Against an observant
opponent, you should play WEDGE h1 (30) instead of DOW. Setups plays must be covert to be
Plays such as DOW do not always indicate that a setup is being made. Plays like DOW
could be made with leaves such DENOR or CNOT?, or your opponent might be making a
mistake. Many players will not read too deeply into your plays, so setups will often work as long
as they are not obvious and won’t be blocked accidentally.
Scrabble Master
In some positions, multiple setups will be available to choose from. Your decision
should be based on how many points the setup scores, its leave, its defensiveness, the ability for
your opponent to block, and your opponent’s ability to recognize the setup.
Diagram 7:
Diagram 8:
Score: 276-231
Choices: AXE 10a (32), CRAPE a8 (10),
AREIC a4 (8), CREPE a8 (10)
Score: 112-157
Choices: HOOP 7h (20),
Diagram 7 allows you to play AXE for 32 points, but since you are ahead, you would like
to block column a since it is the best bingo line for your opponent. (For more information, see
section 3). There are three setups that block column a. AREIC is a weak play because it allows
your opponent to bingo using rows 4 and 5.
When comparing CRAPE and CREPE, CREPE is the better play. Although the E is a
better tile than the A, CREPE is less likely to be blocked by your opponent, since there are more
tiles that can be played at b10 (next to the A), and thus a greater probability that your XI setup
will be blocked after CRAPE than after CREPE.
In Diagram 8, you should play EX because it sets up an S hook at 5a. Although you
don’t yet have a good play at a1, playing EX gives your rack more potential without sacrificing
equity. In this case, a setup is a good idea because the cost in equity is small.
Scrabble Master
Diagram 9:
Diagram 10:
Score: 333-347
Choices: WUD 2a/b1 (21), WAX l1 (17)
DUP b1/2a (20), PEW b1/2a (25)
Score: 158-178
Choices: JACK n1 (34), HUCK n1 (26)
HUCKLE n1 (34), JEUX h12 (26),
JERK 7h (27), HACK n1 (26), AH 15a (35)
In Diagram 9, many plays score moderately well. Of these plays, DUP gives you the
opportunity to play EX using the a1 TWS next turn, scoring 45 points. This play will often
remain unblocked. It is worth taking a small hit in equity to make this setup.
Even if your opponent figures out that you have the X, DUP is still the best play because
your opponent will often need to make a lower scoring play to block. Your opponent’s point
sacrifice in blocking the EX play is more significant than your point sacrifice for creating the
In Diagram 10, you should play HACK, setting up JEHU 1l (66). Although the setup
will be blocked some of the time, you will be able to play JEHU often enough for this play to be
worthwhile. Even if this play is blocked, you still have JEUX h12 and a possibility of JEFE a12
next turn.
You might think that an observant opponent will block since you could have played AH
15a (35) instead. However, observant opponents will also notice that HACK doesn’t set up very
many words and may think you’re trying to block a phoney GERONTICS* hook or feel the need
to dump your K off for 9 points. Perhaps they will believe you are fishing with JE on your rack,
or are fishing for a play through the F.
Scrabble Master
Diagram 11:
Diagram 12:
Choices: UMIAQ 13a (32), KI c13 (24)
UMIAK 13a (22)
Choices: ZOA f10 (32), JUKU 3g (28),
JOKER e8 (32), OUZO 13a (29)
In some unique cases, setups don’t need to be clever at all. Sometimes you can make
bold setups, putting vowels in TWS alleys and hoping they won’t be blocked. As long as other
openings exist for you and your opponent and your setup is believable as a rack-balancing play,
there is a good chance your opponent won’t block.
In Diagram 11, UMIAK is a believable setup even though it seems overt. Many
opponents believe you would have played UMIAQ if the Q was remaining in your rack. While
your opponent might use the a12 spot that you created, the spot will frequently be ignored, in
which case you can likely score 70 points with the Q next turn.
Similarly, in Diagram 12, OUZO seems like a plausible setup, and might be a play that
you would make without a high scoring tile such as the J. Your opponent might believe that you
have a tile such as an O, U or W and might be content to let you have the O. While the spot will
be blocked frequently, there aren’t any good alternatives; thus, you should play OUZO and hope
your opponent does not block JOKE.
Scrabble Master
Diagram 13:
Diagram 14:
Score: 0-18
Choices: IXORA 7c (20),
AGRIA 7c (14), GOA 7f/9f (16)
Score: 161-231
Choices: BURST 14j (39), BURPS 14j (43)
In Diagram 13, the best play is AGRIA 7c, setting up your X. AGRIA sets up two spots
for your X: at 8c (using the 8a TWS) and 6f (playing OX for a cheap 50 point play). Although
the setup is weak, it is best because there are no strong alternatives available and since your
opponent cannot block both spots next turn.
In Diagram 14, there is no good reason to create the second S hook with BURST. While
the BURST-S hook will rarely be blocked, you already have an S hook at n1 (STIED) that is
more useful and difficult to block. Thus, you should take the four extra points and superior leave
with BURPS. Although your opponent might use the blank (designating the S as a blank) along
row 1, you will be unable to win the game if your opponent has the blank regardless of your
Scrabble Master
Diagram 15:
Diagram 16:
Score: 238-250
Choices: CAWED d6 (11), LAWED d6 (9),
INLET 8k (23), CLAWED d5 (12)
Score: 278-320
Choices: FRY 14c (19), ICY j7 (14),
ELF 15h (6)
In Diagram 15, you should play LAWED. While your opponent might have the F,
making the LAWED-CLAWED can pay huge dividends at little cost. You must be willing to
make setups even if they can backfire. Making setups like this is a calculated risk.
In Diagram 16, you need to play a bingo. While you can create a good bingo line this
turn with plays like ICY or ELF, your rack will be too weak to take advantage of these setups
most of the time. Thus, you should balance your rack and play FRY, waiting until next turn to
play a setup such as ICE j7, assuming that you don’t draw a bingo using the P at h1.
Scrabble Master
Diagram 17:
Diagram 18:
Score: 311-352
Score: 272-308
In some positions, it will be worthwhile to setup your blank. On boards where bingos
and scoring are scarce, the blank can be used lucratively by creating a bingo line in positions that
would otherwise be impossible. Blanks can be extremely useful on closed boards that lend
themselves towards setup plays.
In Diagram 17, you can play IrONWARE 10c (62), but instead you should play RAW 1b
(23). This setup allows you to hook RAW with the blank, making the blank a B, C, or D.
Because this hook is impossible to block, you will probably bingo along column a, scoring
nearly 100 points.
In Diagram 18, UH 11b cannot be blocked. Although it forces your blank to turn into a D
or an H, you will get multiple chances to hit a bingo down column a. This makes it a better play
than SH, which can be blocked by plays like TIC, MIC, MOC, ROC, or REC.
Scrabble Master
Diagram 19:
Score: 122-174
Choices: KAYS a12 (60), YANK 5h (29)
Setups can also pay long term dividends. In Diagram 19, you are faced with a
deceivingly close decision. Although KAYS scores 31 more points, YANK keeps a much better
leave and preserves an unblockable spot for your S next turn. This opening allows you to fish
for several turns in pursuit of a bingo. Because of your repeated ability to use column a, YANK
is a slightly preferable play despite the major point sacrifice.
Diagram 20:
Diagram 21:
Score: 122-174
Score: 122-174
Diagrams 20 and 21 both feature small adjustments that should make you inclined to play
KAYS instead. In Diagram 20, row 8 has been opened, threatening to reduce your bingo
chances in the short and long term. In Diagram 21, an S remains in the tile pool. Even though
your opponent is unlikely to have it this turn, the possibility should make you more likely to use
the 15a TWS soon.
Scrabble Master
Diagram 22:
Diagram 23:
Score: 398-375
Choices: RIFT d2 (9), TIL j1 (5),
DEL j1 (6), TEWED 10b (15)
Opponent’s last play: AAH (22)
Score: 111-120
Choices: Row 1 bingos (77),
Row 11 bingos (72)
Opponent’s last play: YE (5)
Sometimes, the best response to a setup is playing another setup. In Diagram 22, your
opponent has just played AAH, threatening to hook HET with a W for 50 or more points.
Blocking WHET is nearly impossible this turn; DEL and TIL do a poor job of blocking and
score poorly. You cannot ignore WHET since it scores too many points.
However, you can distract your opponent by playing a setup of your own. For example,
RIFT d2 allows you to hook DRIFT next turn. However, the best play is TEWED, setting up
your S. If your opponent doesn’t have an S, you will often play a bingo on column a. If your
opponent tries to block, then you can draw a more reasonable blocking play (such as CEL j1)
next turn.
In Diagram 23, you have three bingos (ARISTAE, ASTERIA, and ATRESIA), that will
play at either row 1 or row 11. Your opponent has played YE 9c (5). While this appears to be a
fishing play, after further analysis it is more likely to be a setup. YE has two obvious
alternatives: EL h1 (6) and AGE n1 (4). If your opponent has a good rack for a bingo, they’d be
better off playing AGE to set up column o for a bingo. Your opponent would also be
apprehensive about leaving column b open for a 40 point play.
It is difficult to imagine your opponent playing YE as a fishing play. Good fishing racks
with three Es will bingo on this board (like AEEERST or EEENRST). It is more likely that YE
is actually a setup for BEDQUILTS next turn. Thus, you should play a bingo on row 11,
blocking the possibility of BEDQUILTS.
Scrabble Master
Diagram 24:
Diagram 25:
Score: 381-346
Choices: RID 15a (17), RIN 15a (13),
DIN 15a (16), RIN 5g (5), RUN i3 (6),
INDRI 5d (12)
Score: 369-346
Choices: COB 3f (14), CONDO 2b (27),
BO 3h (17), BOOED 2a (19)
In Diagram 24, the only available bingo lines are the L in column b and the I in row 5.
Bingos rarely end in L, and the I at 5h is nearly impossible to use, so it may seem that you should
block the L and let your opponent hope for a miraculous bingo that may not score enough to win.
However, your opponent has a better chance of winning than you might realize. If your
opponent has the case S, they can make a setup through the U at i4, making plays such as MUT,
HUT, HUN, TUN, or PUN setting up an S line that you will be unable to block. This threat is
more dangerous than the threat of a bingo on lines b or 5. Thus, you should make the play that
best inhibits this setup threat: RUN i3 (6)
In Diagram 25, your opponent can create a setup on the bottom of the board. You must
prevent setups while still scoring enough to outscore your opponent. While CONDO is worth 27
points, the BE leave is problematic after your opponent makes a setup, particularly at 10n. You
need to keep tiles that will both score and block the board. The play that achieves these goals is
COB 3f (14).
COB keeps a balanced flexible leave. It keeps the ED for WORMED in case your
opponent sets up an S hook at 10n (plays like UP or UN). By keeping a good leave and
surveying your opponent’s options, you can find a play that scores well and foils your
opponent’s future setups.
Scrabble Master
Diagram 28:
Score: 305-377
Choices: Anything on row 11
When you are behind, you may need to assume that you will draw an important tile (such
as the blank, the S, the X, or even the U), since it is the only way you can win. These tiles can be
considered ghost tiles on your rack. Sometimes it may be beneficial to set up these ghost tiles.
In Diagram 28, you should play CREW at 11b, setting up the S as a ghost tile. CREW
will create another bingo lane that is difficult to block, and you must assume your opponent does
not have the S. You can’t let your opponent ruin your bingo chances by simply blocking column
Scrabble Master
Puzzle Break #8
Find the best play. Answers on page 141.
Diagram 1:
Diagram 2:
Score: 309-322
Score: 199-263
Diagram 3:
Diagram 4:
Score: 225-216
Score: 173-201
Scrabble Master
Answer Key for Section 2:
You don’t need to exchange! (Page 85)
Diagram 1: COTTON n1 (20)
Diagram 3: JOYOUS d8 (32)
1. PROFILE (80)
2. FLASHER (84)
3. SCRATCH (86)
4. CHEETAH (88)
5. OUTWITS (72)
6. WHaCKED (98)
7. PICKLED (88)
8. DOCTORS (76)
9. BOOKING (84)
10. COMPUTE (82)
11. MYSTERY (86)
12. CAVEMAN (86)
13. FLAVORS (84)
14. FANCIER (82)
Diagram 2: OBVIOUS 2b (26)
Diagram 4: YOGURT o3 (30)
Puzzle Break #5
JOcKEYS (106)
HANdFUL (82)
Puzzle Break #6
In Diagram 1, you should play VIDEO because of the superior ST leave. The S and T are
synergic, and the I is volatile when drawing many tiles. The vowel-consonant ratio is irrelevant
since two consonants is as good as one vowel and one consonant.
In Diagram 2, you should exchange. While WROTE scores 24 points, the UU leave is
disastrous since it duplicates a very bad tile and retains two vowels. The opening rack is the best
rack to exchange, and ERT is a nice leave ready to bingo soon.
In Diagram 3, you should play BREAK. Besides the 32 points, the CH leave has very
strong synergy, and is worth sacrificing the few extra points to keep.
Diagram 4, QI is best, since it keeps a much better leave than DIVERSE.
Diagram 5: LOLLIPOP h1 (39)
In Diagram 6, you should play VANNER. Although there is a severe duplication risk
holding the A in your rack, having 3 or 4 As is not as dangerous as the potential risk of having no
vowels on your next rack. JAVA can potentially result in a vowel-less rack next turn, while
JNANA allows your opponent with too many scoring opportunities. Getting rid of the V is
useful enough to make VANNER better than JANN.
In Diagram 7, you should exchange keeping only the T. Since you are behind, you must
draw the blank to win, and the T is the only tile that helps you bingo with this pool. All other
tiles are not very useful, even the E (since there are 6 ‘E’ remaining)
Scrabble Master
Puzzle Break #7
In Diagram 1, you should play LO 14b (2). LO scores only two points, but it inhibits the
a13 scoring spot and opens up another lane for your extremely strong bingo tiles. Playing an
additional tile with plays such as OI inhibit both your rack and the board too much.
In Diagram 2, you should play AW d11 for 10 points. This is better than AW for 24
because keeping the A will result in many more bingos being drawn, particularly down row 4.
Drawing a D, E, I, O, or S (or L, but there are none left) will result in a bingo. In this case, this
comprises over half of the tile pool.
In Diagram 3, you should exchange the I. While AERT, AEIRT, or EIRT are all strong
leaves, AEIRTT is the best leave, playing a bingo with A, B, C, D, E, F, H, L, N, P, R, S, and T
(58 out of 93 tiles). In this case, the only way to figure out the best play is to use permutation.
Sometimes, seemingly bad leaves such as AEIRTT will form a bingo very often.
In Diagram 4, because of the closed board your bingo of FLORIST doesn’t play, and you
need to pretend to open the board by playing RIA, fishing for FOOTBALLS or SOFTBALLS at
15g. If you fail to hit your fish, you can always fish again!
Puzzle Break #8
In Diagram 1, you should play QuA 5e to set up AQuA. Since you have the case A, you
are the only one who can use this hook. Even though you have to waste your blank to use this
setup, there is no efficient way to use the Q, since you usually won’t draw the U.
In Diagram 2, you should play PIN h7. While KIN is a better setup, it can easily be
blocked by your opponent hooking it with the A-hook, forming AKIN. PIN is much more
difficult to block: often, your opponent will be powerless to block this setup.
In Diagram 3, you should play WHO 2h, setting up the case T instead of playing HOWF
2a. While HOWF is 10 more points and keeps a better leave for bingos, the board is somewhat
dead for bingos. WHO allows you to possibly draw plays such as FLEET or FILET for over 50
In Diagram 4, you should play ATAP. Even though this is blockable, your opponent will
often elect to ignore your setup, as it is a very difficult lane to block unless they have the last O.
Next turn, you can often use your J next turn for over 80 points.
Scrabble Master
Thank you for reading. I hope this book has transformed the way you think about
Scrabble. Scrabble is a great game, filled with fun and excitement along with nuance and
strategy. Through Scrabble, I’ve learned a lot not only about words and strategy, but also about
life and other people.
Some of you may still have some questions. While I’ve tried my best to elucidate
Scrabble strategy, strategy is best learned through intrapersonal dialogue. Part of the joy in
Scrabble is communicating with others, sharing your love of words along with your appreciation
for strategic thought.
If you have any further questions, feel free to visit my website at The website contains even more information about Scrabble. You can
also contact me through my website, and ask me or your local Scrabble expert any questions you
might have.
Finally, I hope that this book encourages some of you to enter Scrabble tournaments.
Tournament Scrabble is a lot of fun, and allows you to meet new friends from your area playing
the game we love. Scrabble has helped me and many others develop friendships that will last a
Tournament Scrabble is full of normal people from all over the country, representing
various ages, races, cultures, and ideologies. Its players inspire others to make the most out of
their lives by overcoming cancer, autism, stroke, epilepsy, and even blindness to play the game
they love.
Scrabble allows you to look at people and words in a new way. It allows you to discover
new ways of thinking and conjure up original ideas about new strategies. It allows players a
sense of personal achievement, letting players set lofty goals and then making significant strides
to achieve one’s Scrabble dreams. Tournament Scrabble allows anyone who loves Scrabble to
explore their interests, set and achieve goals, and explore new people and perspectives.
This book has given you the tools to play Scrabble at the highest level. While it may
initially seem overwhelming, over time these skills will become second nature. It’s now up to
you to become a Scrabble Master.