Tiles at the ready! Scrabble championship comes to ExCel

Play is in a one-on-one format

Play is in a one-on-one format - Credit: Archant

For many people, Scrabble is a game that only gets played with the family when you’re full of roast turkey and trimmings.

Play is in a one-on-one format

Play is in a one-on-one format - Credit: Archant

But for the enthusiasts currently gathered at the ExCel for the Scrabble Champions tournament until Sunday, it is so much more than that.

The championship, which is using open entry rather than qualifying for the first time, sees 108 participants from 28 countries battle it out to be crowned the world’s best player.

Knowing as many obscure words as possible can make the difference in a game where it’s easy to notch up a hundred or more points for a single word - and equally as easy to play a low scoring one.

“Most competitive players study word lists for an hour or two a day,” said Brett Smitheram, a former world number one.

Play is in a one-on-one format

Play is in a one-on-one format - Credit: Archant


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“I’m not quite as focused as that, but I do study intensely before a big tournament.

“Many players have a vocabulary of around 120,000 words, which is a lot when you consider the average person’s vocabulary is just over 20,000.”

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Brett, originally from Cornwall but now living in Epping Forest, has had success in previous championships, but this is the one title that he’s desperate to take.

“I’ve been seventh, I’ve been eighth, and I had a chance at the final last time but I lost a game so I was out of the running,” he explained.

Play is in a one-on-one format

Play is in a one-on-one format - Credit: Archant

“My aim this year is to win.”

Some of the competitors have different ambitions.

“I’m aiming to finish in the top half,” said Alex Tan, one of three Malaysians taking part.

He took up Scrabble aged nine and played in his first competitive tournament at 19.

Play is in a one-on-one format

Play is in a one-on-one format - Credit: Archant

“It was a qualifier for the world championship, and I came third,” he explained.

“Only the top player went through though, as the number of qualifiers depended on the country and Malaysia didn’t have a big allocation at the time.”

The tournament takes on a familiar format, with players taking part in 24 matches over a three day period in a one-on-one situation.

Their scores are recorded with the top eight then going through to the quarter finals.

Play is in a one-on-one format

Play is in a one-on-one format - Credit: Archant

Games are also streamed live on the internet using a special board which registers the tiles played and transfers it to computer screens.

“It’s usually the top two players who will use this board,” said Simon Dingley, the technical lead.

“Sometimes we’ll get requests online for certain players or nationalities to be shown, so we’ll listen to the fans and what they want.”

Competitive Scrabble is on the rise worldwide, and with a world champion being crowned in London for the first time since 2005, it certainly can’t do the nation’s - or Newham’s - chances any harm of inspiring a future generation of players.

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