When the cold winds blow and your family huddles for the holidays, do you engage in feverish games of Scrabble?
Are you the Scrabble master, beating your aunts and cousins every time?
Maybe it’s time to take your game up a notch and play some serious competitors at the Albany-Capital Region Scrabble Club.
“Anyone is welcome to come. It’s free to play the first night,” says club director Dan Blake. “And if you come back, once you’ve played so many games, then we count you as a regular member.”
Club 404 of the North American Scrabble Players Association, founded in 1993, meets on Thursday nights in the basement of Third Reformed Church in Albany.
Albany-Capital Region Scrabble Club
WHEN: 6:15 p.m. every Thursday
WHERE: Third Reformed Church, 20 Ten Eyck Ave., Albany
HOW MUCH: Free for first-time players, then $1.25 per game
MORE INFO: 607-972-1594, www.albanyscrabble.club, [email protected], Facebook
The club has 13 regular members and a few other word wizards who show up once in a while.
“On a Thursday night, we’ll have anywhere from six to 12 people, depending on the week,” Blake says.
Regulars rack up 330 to 380 points per game.
The best player, Karl Higby of Schenectady, averages 440 points a game.
“Karl is currently ranked 30th in North America or something like that,” says Blake.
But if you’re new to serious Scrabble, don’t worry about Karl.
“We try not to have people play him first, just because it can be a little intimidating.”
However, this kind of Scrabble is a little different than playing on your kitchen table. Players compete one on one and can play up to four games, which are timed with a clock and take 45 to 50 minutes each.
The club uses an official NASPA word list, and the words are looked up in a computer program on laptops and Smart phones.
“We keep track of statistics and provide score sheets and things like that,” Blake says.
The Scrabble boards, which are owned by the club or by individual players, are round and rotate as each person takes their turn. On these special boards, letter tiles are placed into box-like depressions to keep them from sliding around, as they can do on your common game board.
“There can be a steep learning curve in the beginning. But once people stick with it, two or three or four times, then they really get hooked,” Blake says.
If you get hooked on Scrabble, there’s an open circuit of NASPA tournaments all over North America.
Albany hosts tournaments in January and July. Lake George has one in October.
“Those are open to anyone who is a member of NASPA, and they’ll come from anywhere,” says Blake.
“At the New Year’s tournament coming up, there are a few players from Toronto, a few from New York City area. One player is coming up from Georgia. A lot of them from the Northeast area.”
Then there is the North American Scrabble Championship, a national competition that’s held in a different U.S. city each year. These competitions are five-day events and they attract more than 400 players.
“Last year it was in Buffalo, this year it was in Reno. Next year, it’s in Fort Wayne, Indiana,” Blake says.
Players in the national event can qualify for the English-language World Scrabble Championship.
“Players in our club have gone to that level,” Blake says.
That event was held earlier this month in Australia and won by 32-year-old Wellington Jighere of Nigeria.
In the Albany club, 31-year-old Blake is one of the youngest players.
No english teachers
There are no English teachers, novelists or journalists in the group.
“A couple of people work for non-profits, there’s a librarian, a few who are retired, three or four who are in finance or accounting,” Blake says.
“A lot of the top players, you’ll find they are computer programmers or are math or music professors. In some ways, it becomes more about spatial reasoning than a word game because once you know the words, then it’s about finding the best word to play.”
Blake, who works as a data analyst for the state, got into competitive Scrabble five years ago after reading “Word Freak,” a 2001 book by Stefan Fatsis.
A former sportswriter for The Wall Street Journal, Fatsis became obsessed with Scrabble, took a hiatus from his job and devoted his life to becoming an expert in the game.
Blake, who lives in Albany, has competed twice in the Nationals in Buffalo, and his best tournament score is 582.
“I play four games a week with the club, and when I get a chance, I play games online via Facebook or there’s a program, the Internet Scrabble Club.
“I like the competition. I like taking myself to the limit of my mental abilities, seeing how much I can do, finding the best play and thinking ahead. And I’ve met a lot of wonderful people, both in this area and throughout North America.”
Dan’s Scrabble Tips
-- “Learn the two and three-letter words. There are 105. It sounds like a lot but you already know 50 of them.”
-- “Plan ahead as much as you can. If you have an “i-n-g” on your rack and no place to put it now, keep it maybe for next time. Look for common prefixes and suffixes.”
-- Get rid of the Q whenever you can.
More about Scrabble
-- The game can be found in one-third of American homes
-- Alfred Mosher Butts, an architect who was born in Poughkeepsie, invented the game in 1938 and it was trademarked in 1948.
-- Scrabble is played in 29 languages and in 121 countries
-- “Word Wars,” a documentary film about top-ranked Scrabble players and competitions, was released in 2004