Scrabble guide

Scrabble /ˈskrab(ə)l/ verb. Scratch or grope around with one’s fingers to find, collect, or hold on to something. Total score = S+C+R+A+Bx2+L+E = 14 points

Scrabble board

 

A family favourite, a huge worldwide business, a competitive international sport and an undisputed classic, welcome to the world of Scrabble.

 

What is your Scrabble experience?

Did you play with your family as a child and haven’t dusted off the board since?

Do you still enjoy playing the game now with friends?

Do you play online?

Have you played in competitions?

Our Scrabble guide contains everything you need to know about this fantastic game.

Quick links

Game overview
Quick start rules
Why you should and why you shouldn’t play Scrabble
Why Scrabble is brilliant for children
Scrabble trivia quiz
Where to buy Scrabble
Plus find out where to play Scrabble online in our guide to playing board games online.

But first and foremost, let’s go straight to the top tier of world class Scrabble competition and find out more about the game from an expert. We caught up with British and World Scrabble Champion Craig Beevers to get his insights on the game.

Craig Beevers q&a

BGC: How did you become World Scrabble Champion?

CB: A lot of luck and a lot of persistence. I think as far as a World Championship goes there are generally a dozen players who can realistically win it. These names will fill out most of the top 10. You just don’t know which of them will have the opportunity to win it.

Good players need great luck to win it. We have one great player in Nigel Richards, he only needs good luck which is why he’s won it three times and nobody else has won it more than once.

BGC: Do you know the other top Scrabble players well? Nigel Richards infamously won the French national Scrabble contest even though he doesn’t speak French. Do you have ambitions to perform similar feats in other languages?

CB: No. I’m very much focused on one word list.

The top Scrabble players are spread out across the world, so it’s difficult to have a strong community there. We all get on well with each other and there’s plenty of mutual respect.

BGC: What are the key skills needed to reach this level in Scrabble?

CB: Scrabble has so many skills involved, that is part of the attraction for me personally.

A potential World Champion needs a good memory, if they’ve got a great memory then it will save an awful lot of time. But ultimately at some point you will need to put thousands of hours into word study, anagramming practice and the like.

Physical and mental fitness help because the tournaments are draining. You need to be able to keep level headed, there will always be tough spots, good and bad runs.

Maintaining a high level of play through it all is key. Being able to weigh up risk and reward, inference skills and a logical brain to work out endgames are also important.

BGC: You mentioned word study, how much time do you devote to study now?

CB: I generally get a good few weeks of study in before a major event. But I haven’t done much study aside from that over the past three years.

BGC: As well as your Scrabble achievements, you won series 57 of the TV show Countdown. Do you enjoy all word games, and do you have ambitions of achieving this level of success in any other games?

CB: Yes I’d always wanted to go on Countdown as a kid. I waited for the right time to go on – before I got too heavily involved with Scrabble study and would have to unlearn so many words which is always very difficult.

I play almost anything, not just word games but sport and games generally. Nothing else has really caught my eye so far.

BGC: What are your plans for the future? Do you make a living from playing Scrabble?

CB: No it is virtually impossible to make a living from Scrabble as someone involved with tournaments.

I want to provide more great tournaments, clubs and events for people to play and enjoy. Hopefully help further the Scrabble scene generally, but also the youth side of things. I enjoy teaching people Scrabble, creating fun resources. These are the sorts of things I want to do.

BGC: What do you think the future holds for the game of Scrabble?

CB: That’s a tough one. All things are possible. There are so many games to choose from and they’re easier than ever to play with mobile devices, tablets and so on.

Board game cafes are starting to take off in the UK, but there’s a real danger of the game being left behind with the poor software on Facebook and lack of initiative from the Scrabble brand owners. I would have much more faith in the game going forward if there wasn’t that top down interference and incompetence. Where this doesn’t happen Scrabble has blossomed.

Scrabble has amazing educational merit, this is one particularly promising avenue but a lot more needs to be done.

Craig’s insights on Scrabble strategy:

1. What should casual Scrabble players focus on if they want to improve their game and reach the next level?

CB: Casual players typically focus on big premium squares and the JQXZ. They also are more likely to look for simple words through existing letters, and not see parallel plays which often score a lot more points. So that would be one area to try and concentrate on.

There are often hotspots on a board, but they aren’t necessarily where the open triple word score is. They are often around triple letter scores where you can get pointy letters two ways – most of us have probably had QI/QI for 60odd with the Q on the triple letter square. These are often hotspots. Combinations of premium squares like a double letter score and a triple word score, or a triple letter score and a double word score – these are devastating spots if they’re accessible.

In general if you’re a casual player and you play on something like Facebook never be afraid to try words as there is no penalty for doing so and you’ll learn something from doing it.

As the standard of play increases the focus moves away from playing on triple word scores and keeping JQXZ back at all costs. It becomes more about score and leave. Trying to manage the rack so you have a good vowel balance. Also the boards tend to become more open. At a low club level you will see lots of staircase patterns, where there are lots of overlapping 3 and 4 letter words going diagonally from bottom left to top right.

2. What are the key strategy considerations in the opening of a Scrabble game?

CB: The first move is unique in that the strategical value of putting a word down is almost always negative. This is because it generally makes it easier for the opponent to score or lay a bonus. The exceptions to this would be a really awkward word using a C or V, which heavily restrict parallel plays.

3. Do you have a particular playing style?

CB: I don’t really have a style as such, I just play what I think is the best move. That will vary according to the opponent.

I’m more aggressive against weak opponents and look for opportunities to create words which my opponent won’t know the hook for, or ones that look like a nondescript noun but do not take an -S hook

4. Blank tiles and s’s are well known as valuable tiles. Which other letters are highly valued?

CB: Well apart from the blanks and esses you have the Z and E as good tiles. But it is more about the combination of letters you keep back, as well as the scoreline and the board situation.

If you need a bonus then you don’t want the high point tiles, if you’re about a bonus up then those sorts of letters can help absorb a big play and ensure you win regardless.

BGC: Best of luck with your future Scrabble exploits and thanks for all your thoughts which are of great interest to lovers of this classic game. Do you have a favourite classic board game or card game aside from Scrabble?

CB: I couldn’t really name one, I’ve played a number of different games in my life. TableTop does a great job of showcasing various games, most of them I haven’t played yet but am looking forward to doing so.

BGC: One last question. What is your favourite Scrabble game that you ever played?

CB: The final game to win the World Championships. I played it pretty well. But the result was the most important thing.


To read about the secrets of Craig’s Scrabble success check out his book “Word Addict”, available on Amazon.

Scrabble

Quick links

Game overview
Quick start rules
Why you should and why you shouldn’t play Scrabble
Why Scrabble is brilliant for children
Scrabble trivia quiz
Where to buy Scrabble

SCRABBLE TIP: Think about what you leave on the rack. Don’t just focus on the tiles you are playing (although of course these are important) but think about the tiles you are leaving behind for your next turn. If you are going to leave yourself with nothing but vowels or nothing but consonants, maybe find another word to play.

Scrabble game overview:

The aim of the game is to get the most points. You get points by laying down letter tiles on your turn to form words. You get points for each letter (more for some than others) and bonus points for using certain squares on the board. You replace any tiles you use from the bag at the end of your turn to bring you back up to seven tiles. When the tiles run out the game is over and the player with the most points wins.

Quick start rules:

Can’t remember the rules, and can’t be bothered to read them? We feel your pain!

Our quick start rules let you start playing immediately and build in the rules as you go.

Grab the box and follow the instructions below. Go!

  • Open the board, stick the tiles in the bag and let each player take seven tiles
  • Round 1: Choose a starting player. Make a word from your letter tiles and place it on the board so that the word goes through the central square. Blank tiles can be used as any letter you choose. Add up the numbers on the tiles, this is your score for the turn. Write it down. Replace the number of tiles you used from the bag
  • The next player (clockwise) uses their tiles to make a new word that connects to the first word, either crossing it and using one of its letters, or attaching to one end of it, or running parallel to it. All tiles must be next to another tile and all tiles next to each other must form proper words. You can’t change the letter that a blank already on the board represents. Again add up the numbers on the tiles to determine your score, write the score down and replace your tiles with new ones from the bag.
  • Continue clockwise in this way until all players have taken a turn
  • Round 2: Same thing, but this time, when you work out the score, add on the score of any other tiles already on the board that are part of words you formed or extended when you laid tiles, as well as the main word. eg if you lay the tile SCORE such that the S goes on the end of the word POINT already on the board then you get the score for the tiles in SCORE as well as the score for the tiles in POINTS (so you get double for the S). Each player takes a turn, writes down their score, and takes new tiles
  • Round 3: This time, use the squares on the board to get bonuses to your score. If you play a tile on a double letter square you get double points for EVERY word that the tile is part of. If you play a tile on a double word square you get double points for EVERY tile in EVERY word that the tile is part of. Similar for triple letter and triple word squares. You don’t get a bonus that is under a tile already on the board, only the tiles you lay down.
  • Round 4: Add two new options. Option 1: If you think another player has made a word that isn’t a real word you can challenge it. Grab a dictionary, or use an online dictionary, and check if the word is there. If it is then play on, if not they must take back their tiles and lose their turn. Option 2: If you don’t like your tiles you can exchange them for seven different ones drawn randomly from the bag. But if you do this you can’t lay any tiles and your turn is over.
  • Continue until all tiles have been used. Add up the points of each player and the player with the most points wins!

Scrabble

SCRABBLE TIP: Learn the 2 letter words and the words beginning with q but no u. Top Scrabble players spend many hours memorising Scrabble words. If you want to raise your game you need to bite the bullet and put in some study. There aren’t many 2 letter words or “q” words and they are incredibly useful

Why you should and why you shouldn’t play Scrabble

Why you should

  • You like words
  • You like strategy games
  • You fancy a relaxed word game over a glass of wine
  • You fancy an intense strategic battle of mind power
  • You want an educational game to play with children
  • You love square white tiles

Why you shouldn’t

  • You don’t like games where each player sits and thinks a lot
  • You want to play a lively game interacting with other players
  • You don’t want to use your brain too much tonight
  • You have a fear of square white tiles

Scrabble

SCRABBLE TIP: Don’t play defensively. Many players worry about letting their opponents in on a word. In general, casual players focus too much on this and would do better by letting the board open up and taking the opportunities to maximise score.

Scrabble trivia quiz

  1. Who invented Scrabble?
  2. When was Scrabble first invented?
  3. What was Scrabble first known as?
  4. How many squares on a scrabble board?
  5. What letter tile averages the highest points when played by top Scrabble players?
  6. Which two companies own the Scrabble trademark, one inside the US and Canada and one elsewhere?
  7. What percentage of homes in Great Britain have a scrabble set?
  8. How many tiles are there in the English Scrabble game?
  9. How many allowable 2-letter words are there in official British Scrabble rules?
  10. What is the name of the popular Scrabble variant where players can play letter tiles in any order as long as they form an anagram of an actual word?

Answers here

SCRABBLE TIP: Tile tracking. In top Scrabble games players keep note of the letters that have been used so that they know what is left in the bag. If you don’t keep notes then try to remember which of the rare tiles have gone and which are still out there.

Why Scrabble is brilliant for children

It is educational. Not only is Scrabble great spelling practice and a way to discover new words, but it also teaches addition, multiplication, logic, planning, patience, and good sportsmanship

Adults and children can play together at their own level. The scoring does not favour the leading player; each turn is a fresh opportunity to score points, and so by applying appropriate multipliers to children’s scores, players aged from 10 to 100 can sit around the same table for a fun and challenging game.

The rules are simple. For young children simpler versions of the scoring can be used (see the quick start rules) but even the full game is easy to grasp for young players.

They enjoy it. Despite the game being a fantastic workout for their linguistic skills, children barely notice the educational benefits and are drawn instead by the simple and engaging gameplay.

Age range suitability:

0-4 years: Not ready yet. Leave your child to grow a slightly bigger brain
5-7 years: Your child is ready! However it’s best to start with either no scoring, or to play junior scrabble instead (see below)
8-10 years: For these ages you can use simplified scoring (just count the points of the tiles laid with no bonuses) or the advanced side of the board from Junior Scrabble (however it might be better to skip straight to simplified scoring, see below)
11 and up: Unleash the full game!

Junior scrabble

Junior Scrabble is widely available second hand or new. It has two sides to the board, providing two games in one, one side for younger players (5-7) and one for older Juniors (8-10).

The side for younger children has a number of words already drawn out on the grid, with accompanying pictures to provide visual clues, and the idea is to lay tiles on top of the matching letters each turn, with the condition that the letters must be laid in order in each word starting at the beginning of the word.

This is great practice for children learning to read as they get practice at letter recognition and they will be excited to take part and receive the red scoring counters if they complete a word.

While a very simple game, the mild tactical element of retaining tiles to stop other players completing words adds a small amount of interest for parents. Because the words are fixed on the board the game might become less fresh after a while but by that stage your child will probably be moving on to the other side of the board.

The other side of the board is more advanced and for children aged 8-10. It is much more similar to the full game of Scrabble, but has simplified scoring.

The exact rules depend on the version of Junior Scrabble, but as the only real difference is in the scoring, you might instead choose to go straight to the full game and just simplify the scoring as described above, or even just count the number of tiles laid down if an even simpler scoring method is called for.

Scrabble

SCRABBLE TIP: Get value from blanks and “s”s. Understanding the true intrinsic value of the tiles helps you to work out when to play them. Blanks and “s” tiles are the most valuable, typically worth around 25 and 10 points respectively in the hands of a good player. These values represent the amount of points you should hope to get from these tiles. If you are earning far less points than these values you might not be making the best use of them.

Where to buy Scrabble

Scrabble sets are everywhere, and you probably either already have one, or know someone who does. But if you need to get a copy it can be picked up cheaply second hand in charity shops or car boot sales for around £2, or on eBay for £5-10 including postage.

If you want a shiny new version, Scrabble sales are still going strong and the game can be found for £15-20 at any toy or game shop, or can be bought online.

Maybe you want a vintage version for your collection? Vintage editions of Scrabble include the Spears Games “De Lux” version with rotating turntable which you can pick up for around £25 including postage on eBay.

Scrabble on Amazon.co.uk

Search for Scrabble on eBay

Want to play Scrabble online? Check out our guide to playing board games online to find out how

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Scrabble trivia quiz: Answers

  1. Who invented Scrabble? Alfred Mosher Butts
  2. When was Scrabble first invented? 1938
  3. What was Scrabble first known as? Lexico (then Criss Crosswords before becoming Scrabble)
  4. How many squares on a scrabble board? 225
  5. What letter tile averages the highest points when played by top Scrabble players? Blank
  6. Which two companies own the Scrabble trademark, one inside the US and Canada and one elsewhere? Hasbro in US and Canada and Mattel elsewhere
  7. What percentage of homes in Great Britain have a scrabble set? 53%
  8. How many tiles are there in the English Scrabble game? 100
  9. How many allowable 2-letter words are there in official British Scrabble rules? 124
  10. What is the name of the popular Scrabble variant where players can play letter tiles in any order as long as they form an anagram of an actual word? Clabbers

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