27 April 2016

For most of us, Scrabble was once a time-passer, something we’d play as kids with our siblings. But for competitive Scrabble players, there’s a lot more at stake.

Competitive Scrabble is a serious business for some folks. It’s a realm where players get together and play snap rounds of Scrabble, their faces scrunched up in concentration, hands on their chins. 

Each round is 20 minutes long, and the player with the most number of points advances to the next round. The cycle continues for hours, and after tens of players are pushed to the way side, a winner emerges to clinch the title.

One of the most widely publicised platforms for Malaysian players is the ASTAR Scrabble Challenge International (ASCI), an annual competition birthed by Universiti Malaya’s First Residential College.

A decade on from its first edition, the competition is going strong, with this year’s contest on April 16 and 17 2016 having raked up 542 participants. The categories are broken into ages with players ranging from beginners to advanced.

Director of ASCI 2016m Chong Chin Man

One of the ways ASCI gets players to register is by contacting the country’s top 10 schools and encouraging English teachers to enroll their students. They also work with the Malaysian Scrabble Association (MSA) and the World English-Language Scrabble Players Association (WESPA) for help to recruit participants. “Our objective is basically to expose more and more people to scrabble,” director of ASCI 2016, Chong Chin Man says.

Emerging a Scrabble champion requires more than just playing multiple rounds of Scrabble with friends. If trained specifically for competitions, players are required to swallow a Scrabble dictionary, where suggestions of short and long words are compiled.

The dictionary is also used as a reference for players to check if a word is valid to be used in the game. “The alphabets that you get depend on luck. Not every alphabet is suitable to form a word,” Chin Man says. But studying a Scrabble dictionary allows players to reduce their chances of depending on luck.

Nigel Richards, the reigning world champion of Scrabble (who has a Malaysian connection), has snagged the ASCI crown since its inception in 2006. Even if he’s currently unbeatable in the competitive Scrabble circuit, Chin Man is optimistic that more young Malaysians can rival his legacy in the coming years.  “We have the chance to compete on an international level,” she assures. But it won’t come without work.

To increase Malaysia’s chances in the international arena, Chin Man says that parents and primary school teachers would help a great deal by exposing kids to the game from a young age. Not only would Scrabble help children think out of the box when it comes to word construction and critical thinking, it can also hone kids’ abilities to think on their feet.

Chin Man adds that if kids are trained to play Scrabble at a tender age, there’s less of a chance that the game would be perceived as “boring” or a “thinking man’s game”. Because sometimes, it’s fine to teach our kids that words are louder than action.

By Surekha Ragavan


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