South Charlotte

Scrabble scene offers opportunities to compete

Most people are familiar with the Hasbro board game Scrabble, but most people have never seen a game escalate to the point that an opponent demanded the other be strip searched to find a missing letter tile.

This scene occurred between two finalists competing for first place, a $20,000 prize, at the recent World Championship of Scrabble. It was held in Warsaw, Poland, Oct. 12-16. The player was not strip searched. The mistake was made when the players miscounted the tiles before beginning the game.

Many Charlotte residents may not realize that their city is an important place in the world of tournament Scrabble.

Early each year, Charlotte hosts the Eastern Conference of Scrabble. Next year, will be the 15th year for the event.

Tournament players from all over the eastern U.S. travel to Charlotte to compete in a three-day event that will include 24 games in 2012. It will be held the weekend of Feb. 17-20 at the DoubleTree Suites in SouthPark. It also offers a six-game tournament for new players on Feb. 18.

Ryan Fischer, director of Charlotte's Scrabble Club No. 668, helps organize this event as well as other tournaments throughout the year.

Scrabble Club 668's website,, says the group is for anyone who has "a love of words, a thirst for knowledge and a zest for competition" and "welcome(s) players of all ages. From elementary school to the senior center, there's an opponent for you."

Tournament Scrabble is different in many ways from what its players call "living room Scrabble."

Each game is timed, giving the two players 25 minutes each to lay down all of their tiles. If one goes over the time limit, points are docked from his or her final score.

Each game begins with the players laying out the tiles to make sure all 100 are in the bag and to prevent foul play involving hiding high-scoring or highly usable tiles.

When drawing tiles, players are required to hold the bag at head level to guarantee they cannot see which letters they are selecting. Tournaments require the use of special tiles that are made flat instead of with indented letters so that players cannot use their fingers to find specific letters.

Another notable difference is the type of words played by tournament competitors.

These dedicated individuals devote time to memorizing two- and three-letter words that are in the Official Scrabble Dictionary.

One valuable two-letter word is "qi," a word that allows one to use a "Q" without a "U."

The more advanced players memorize seven- and eight-letter words. When a player uses all seven of his or her tiles in one play, this is called a "bingo" and results in 50 extra points.

Occasionally players lay down fake "bingos" in the hopes their opponent will not challenge it and they will receive the coveted extra 50 points.

If a word is challenged, the game is paused and the players enter the word into a Scrabble Dictionary computer program. When a word is not allowed, the opponent who played it loses a turn. If the challenger was incorrect and the word is allowed, the challenger loses a turn.

To compete in tournament Scrabble, a player must join the North American Scrabble Player's Association. NASPA has three divisions of players based on rankings earned during tournament play.

NASPA's website says, "We foster an atmosphere for people of all skill levels to play their favorite game, improve their abilities and above all, meet people who share a similar love of the game."