Professional Scrabble Players Replay Their Greatest Moves: Their Most Improbable, Patient & Strategic Moves of All Time

If ever the cre­ators of the musi­cal The 25th Annu­al Put­nam Coun­ty Spelling Bee are cast­ing about for sequel-wor­thy source mate­r­i­al, we sug­gest they look no fur­ther than The New York­er’s video above, in which pro­fes­sion­al Scrab­ble play­ers replay their great­est moves.

The bingo—a move in which a play­er uses all sev­en tiles on their rack, earn­ing a bonus 50 points—figures promi­nent­ly.

It seems that top ranked play­ers not only eye their racks for poten­tial bin­gos, they’re con­stant­ly cal­cu­lat­ing the odds of draw­ing a next-turn bin­go by get­ting rid of exist­ing tiles on a three or four let­ter word.

And what words!

The desire to win at all costs leads top seat­ed play­ers to throw down such igno­ble words as “barf” and “mayo” in an are­na where rar­i­fied vocab­u­lary is the norm.

How many of us can define “stop­banks,” 2017 North Amer­i­can cham­pi­on Will Ander­son’s win­ning word?

For the record, they’re con­tin­u­ous mounds of earth built near rivers to stop water from the riv­er flood­ing near­by land….

The pros’ game boards yield a vocab­u­lary les­son that is per­haps more use­ful in Scrab­ble (or Banan­grams) than in life. Look ‘em up!















Don’t neglect the two-let­ter words. They can make a one-point dif­fer­ence between a major win and total and unmit­i­gat­ed defeat.











Care­ful, though—“ir” is  not a word, as Top 40 play­er Jesse Day dis­cov­ered when attempt­ing to rack up mul­ti­ple hor­i­zon­tal and ver­ti­cal points.

Bear in mind that chal­leng­ing a word can also bite you in the butt. Bust­ing an opponent’s fake word play costs them a turn. If the word in ques­tion turns out to be valid, you sac­ri­fice a turn, as top 100 play­er, Prince­ton University’s Direc­tor of Health Pro­fes­sions Advis­ing, Kate Fukawa-Con­nel­ly, found out in a match against David Gib­son, a pre­vi­ous North Amer­i­can champ. Had she let it go, she would’ve best­ed him by one point.

Appear even more in the know by bon­ing up on a glos­sary of Scrab­ble terms, though you’ll have to look far and wide for such deep cuts as youngest North Amer­i­can cham­pi­on and food truck man­ag­er, Con­rad Bas­sett-Bouchard’s “fork­ing the board,” i.e. open­ing two sep­a­rate quad­rants, thus pre­vent­ing the oppos­ing play­er from block­ing.

Read­er Con­tent:

With Or With­out U: Pro­mot­ing a Scrab­ble Book to the Tune of U2

A Free 700-Page Chess Man­u­al Explains 1,000 Chess Tac­tics in Plain Eng­lish

Gar­ry Kas­parov Now Teach­ing an Online Course on Chess

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on March 20 for the sec­ond install­ment of Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain at The Tank. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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  • What the says:

    Edit this arti­cle imme­di­ate­ly. The three let­ter word start­ing with “A” is just as deeply offen­sive and wrong to peo­ple (in Aus­tralia) as the “N” word is.So much so I refuse to write it here let alone in a scrab­ble game. And yeah I get lan­guage and free­dom of expres­sion but why wil­ful­ly hurt & exclude peo­ple with lan­guage?

  • Ned says:

    The word “abo” is an extreme­ly racist term. I don’t believe that it is a legal word to play in Scrab­ble and I absolute­ly can­not believe that Open Cul­ture would rec­om­mend that its read­ers to look it up. Per­haps you should have looked it up.

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