I love to play Scrabble – I got addicted to it back when the first ‘Palm Pilot’ PDAs came out. I thought it was incredibly geeky and cool not to have to keep score for myself or waste time challenging words using a dictionary. (Oh ya, challenge words – I’m just a little competitive, aren’t I?) It only just got better when my sister-in-law got a PDA, too – she and I would play Scrabble together for hours whenever we got together, and we especially loved being able to “beam” the game back and forth across the room. Of course back then it was an IR connection – with a very limited, directional range – so we would lean waaayyy forward in our chairs, each reaching out to aim at the other’s PDA , trying to get in close enough range to make the connection work.
“Did you get it?” I would ask.
“Nope, try again,” she would reply.
I would lift my butt out of the chair (what a lot of work) and make contortionist facial expressions as I twisted and tilted my hand until I heard the satisfying “PING!”
“Got it!” She would exclaim.
“This is so cool!” I would marvel.
“Awesome!” She would agree.
Imagine how excited we were to upgrade to PDAs with Bluetooth! We could recline in our chairs, even sit at right angles to each other, point the gadget at the ceiling and, when ready, just hit the send key without any thought to direction or distance.
“This is so cool!” She would marvel.
“Awesome!” I would agree.
Now those PDAs are collecting dust in our desks’ bottom drawers, along with all of those other amazing electronic gadgets we didn’t get a chance to wear out before they became obsolete. Mine are sitting right beside my first flip phone – so cool – a Star Trek communicator just like Spock’s! But now we have graduated to IPhones and IPads – heck, we don’t even have to be in the same province to play Scrabble now! So we play almost every day – using wi-fi and the internet – and I spend the rest of my time bugging pretty much anyone who will listen to me to play Scrabble with me, as well. The response I get most often from people is, “I’m no good at it – I have never played much.”
“I’m no good at it either” I reply, “but that doesn’t matter. It’s still tons of fun!” But I know where they are coming from. A while after I got my first Scrabble game, I was doing some on-line research for Scrabble tips and I was shocked to read that “beginners” playing together should expect to score between 300 and 400 points! Whoa – I was lucky to break 200! This really made me feel inadequate. Over the years though, I have played thousands of games – and I eventually picked up some clues on how not to embarrass myself. So now, I am proud to say, I have graduated to beginner: I almost always – okay, well, at least half the time – get 300 points or more. I can also beat my sister-in-law about half the time – the half where I get all the good letters and she gets all the vowels. I have a ton of fun 100% of the time though.
So – would you like to graduate to ‘Scrabble Beginner’ – and get at least 300 points in most games? If yes, then read on. Here are my 10 top tips for Scrabble beginners… the strategies I learned that helped me to improve my game immensely!
Tip 1 – Don’t set up the triple word squares for your opponent
There are eight of these around the perimeter of the board – shown usually in orange and labeled ‘TW’– make a word on these and you get triple points. Make a word with a good (3 to 4) point letter like K, P, F or M and wow – great score builder. Use a J, X, Q or Z on one of these and you can get mega-points! However, you need to make sure that it is you that gets to do this, not your opponent. So be very careful around these parts of the board – never set things up so that it is easy for your opponent to use a triple word square.
Tip 2 – Always use the triple word squares
Following naturally from the principle behind Tip 1, never pass up the opportunity to use a triple word square. Sure it’s ideal to use it with the big point tiles, but be sure to use it even if you have only cheesey little one point letters. Be sure to use it even if you can only put a 2-letter word there. Be sure to use it even if you can get more points with a bigger word somewhere else on the board – because if you don’t take the opportunity to use it when it first arises, your opponent will take advantage of it in the very next turn and chances are they will have a 10 point tile, like a Q or an X, to put in there!
Tip 3 – watch for the BINGOs
In Scrabble – you get a 50 point bonus if you can make a word using all 7 tiles in your rack – this is called a “BINGO”. I actually played Scrabble for years without knowing about this – so embarrassing! Now my goal is to try to get at least one bingo in each game. This is what you should be saving your blank tiles for – don’t waste them on anything else in the first half of the game. If you have two blank tiles – then you are almost guaranteed a bingo – just play off the useless letters until you get 5 that go together with the blanks to make a 7 letter word. (That’s how I managed to get the bingo “reWIRES” shown on this board.)
Eventually the board will get a bit crowded and it will become difficult, or impossible, to play such a large word. At this point, don’t make the mistake of hanging onto a bingo and passing your turn, in hopes of finding a spot to play it later. Any time you pass in the middle of a game without trading tiles, it’s a dead giveaway to your opponent that you’re looking for a place to play a bingo and they’ll make sure you don’t get to do it. And what if you are on the reverse side of this… your opponent starts passing turns without trading tiles? Start playing two letter words – don’t leave them any opening for a big word to intersect your last play.
Tip 4 – Always try to overlap words instead of intersecting them
Most novices think only about intersecting with the words on the board – but the fact is – you can usually get many more points by overlapping another word by 2 or more tiles. For example, look at the words HOLED and FIG in the board above – both overlapping the word FAZED by two letters. In this case – you get to count up points in 3 words instead of only one. I have a rule of thumb for playing – I always try to overlap a word on the board by at least 2 letters, and preferably 3. If I can overlap by 4 letters – I consider that almost as lucky as a bingo. The points really rack up when you do this and it’s an especially useful way to get at least 10 points with a rack full of 1 point letters.
Tip 5 – try to save you big point tiles for use with a double word or triple letter square
It’s a fact that, when two players are relatively evenly matched, it’s the played that gets the good letters (J, X, Q and Z) that usually wins the game. However, this requires you to make the most of these valuable tiles. So I try never to use them unless I am at least getting double word (DW) or triple letter (TL) points for them. The exception, of course, is when my back is to the wall. If the game nearly over and I am in danger of having to count one of these big point letters against me – then I will play it anywhere just to get rid of it. Either way – Tip #6 can help you implement Tip #5.
I’ve already mentioned using two letter words twice now – to use (block) the triple word squares and to prevent an opponent from playing a bingo. Knowing the two letter word list also comes in handy when trying to follow Tip 4 – overlapping words. The two letter word list is especially useful for playing those big point letters (J, X, Q and Z).
If you’re like me and your brain doesn’t retain things too well anymore then memorize the most useful ones: XI, XU, QI and ZA. Knowing just these four words can earn you a bundle of points when things are going well – and can save your bacon if you happen to get one at the end of a game when the board is tight and the score is close.
Tip 7 – Learn some ways to use a Q without a U
If your luck is anything like mine – you never have any shortage of U tiles unless you have a Q to play. The solution is to memorize a few words that use Q, but that don’t need a U to do it. You’ve learned one already in Tip #6: QI; here are a few more: QAT, QAID and FAQIR. You can find much more comprehensive lists on the web – but again, if you’re like me and find it hard to memorize long lists –this little group can serve you well, especially since you can double it to 8 words, just by adding the letter S to each of them.
Tip 8 – play as many letters as possible
Generally my priority is to get as many points as possible and I really hate to waste a turn by getting less than 10 points. I feel like I might as well swap my tiles in that case. However, if I can play 4 or more tiles on my rack I’ll do it – even if I only get 1 point each. I basically think of it as swapping tiles, but getting a few measly points in the bargain.
Tip 9 – cut your losses and swap!
When I started playing, I was loathe to waste a turn by swapping – now instead I have set priorities. If I cannot play at least 4 letters OR get at least 10 points, then I cut my losses and swap out the tiles. Generally I swap all 7 – the only exception is S – I never give up an S.
Tip 10 – extend existing words
Here’s where that S shows its value – chances are if you have one – you can get more than 10 points anyway – just tack it on the end of a word already on the board. Better yet, try to tack it on to the end of two words at once. If you can only extend one word, then try to make it one that has a big point letter in it (J, X, Q and Z). Other great word extenders are prefixes (like UN- and RE-) and suffixes (like –ER and –ED). It’s especially great if you can use a word extender to extend a word over a double or triple word square!
So there you have it – my ten top tips for Scrabble beginners. I’m no expert – as you can probably guess. However, at least I can play for fun without losing too badly or getting too humiliated. Hope they help you to enjoy the game more, as well. Now go find me on FaceBook and invite me to play a game!