2 December 2020

My word! Can zolpidem really help you win at Scrabble?

| Michael Weaver
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Young and old at a recent ACT Scrabble event.

Young and old at a recent ACT Scrabble event. Photo: Supplied

What is your greatest Scrabble word?

According to the president of the ACT Scrabble Association, John Hamilton, the best word he’s seen is zolpidem, the chemical name of a sleeping pill.

Zolpidem earnt its player 257 points.

“Most competitors would be happy with a word score of between 50 and 100,” Mr Hamilton said as Scrabble enthusiasts in Canberra rejoice at the return of official competition after the COVID-19 shutdown.

This weekend more than 30 willing word warriors will return to the board again at the Southern Cross Club at Woden for the ACT Scrabble Championship.

“When the pandemic first took hold, Scrabble events ceased almost instantly and with no competitions taking place in Canberra since January, many players have turned to various online methods to keep their skills up.

“It isn’t quite the same, however, with players missing the camaraderie and mental challenge of sitting across from your opponent in each 45-minute round.”

Scrabble competition

Heads down for scrabble players in Canberra this weekend for the ACT Scrabble Championships.

Defending ACT champion Jakob Teitelbaum is aiming for a trifecta of titles after winning the last two championships.

While there are cash prizes for the top five players, plus highest word score, highest game score, most improved player and top two placegetters in various grades, Mr Hamilton said most people play for the challenge, to improve their game and gain points towards state, national and world rankings.

And while observers may see Scrabble as a ‘word game’, Mr Hamilton explains there quite a lot of strategy behind each play.

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“The game also offers something for those who are mathematically minded,” he said. “Continually weighing up the pros and cons of different plays combined with calculating the probability of picking out certain tiles makes mathematics an integral part of the game.

“When you combine all these skills with tactics such as blocking your opponent’s best plays and creating opportunities for a come from behind win, it results in a game that attracts young and old to competitions for the challenge.”

Mr Hamilton said the oldest member in the ACT is 92 and is one of three tournament players above the age of 90 in Australia.

“Scrabble is also popular with people on the autism spectrum as it’s a mental challenge that is often quite enjoyable for them.

“Our current Australian champion has Asperger’s syndrome and began playing competition at the age of 16 to boost his social skills. Seven years later, he won the national title and also finished 14th at last year’s world championship in India.

“We’re always welcoming beginner players,” he said.

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Before COVID-19, tournaments were usually held each month and counted towards state and national rankings; however, this weekend’s ACT championship is the only event in Canberra that counts towards world rankings.

“The tournament scene is a friendly atmosphere. Everyone plays hard to win but everyone enjoys catching up with each other over tea or coffee between rounds. Some players even play a social match against each other in the lunch break,” Mr Hamilton said.

“In Australia, most players know each other well. Visitors from Queensland as well as half the NSW players are regulars at ACT tournaments, so in some ways, the event is a chance to catch up with friends we haven’t seen for a while.”

Play commences at 9:15 am until 5:30 pm on Saturday and Sunday. Players of all abilities are welcome to compete, as are spectators.

Details about the event as well as general information about club and tournament Scrabble in the ACT can be found on the Scrabble ACT Facebook page.

May the best words win.

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