How to win at Scrabble

There is a well-worn joke in New York. A lost tourist asks a musician how to get to Carnegie Hall, to which the musician replies, “practice, practice, practice”. The same is true about Scrabble; the more you play and practice, the better you will get. The good news is that there are a number of highly effective ways to improve your game other than just practicing. Spending a little time with a dictionary and learning Scrabble strategy can make a big difference to your score.

Learning key words

The top rated Scrabble players seem to have swallowed a dictionary, coming up with really obscure words that hardly anyone has ever heard of. As an enthusiastic amateur, you don’t need to go that far, but it does help to learn some key words to improve your scores and get you out of tight situations.

The most effective words to learn are the shortest ones. Knowing your two-letter words can help you play parallel to other words when you can’t cross over them. Not only does this open up the board, but it also gives you twice the points for the connecting letters. There are only 107 two-letter words allowed in Scrabble, and you probably know around half of them already, such as IS, IT, ON and NO. Some of the others are well worth learning, especially ZO (a Himalayan cow), QI (a lifeforce) and ZA (slang for pizza). XI (the 14th letter of the Greek alphabet) and XU (a coin in Vietnam) are also allowed.

Learn Scrabble strategy

Like most other games, such as poker, understanding the basics is just the start. To win you need to understand strategy too. It’s important to know the values of each letter. “S” and “blank” tiles are the most playable in the game, but score less points. High scoring letters include J and X, worth eight points, and Q and Z, worth ten points. Expert players memorize words that utilize these high scoring letters, such as ZEX and FAX.

Look out for bonus squares, such as double and triple letter and word squares, and make sure you get maximum value when you use them. If you can place a high scoring letter on a triple letter square that works both ways, you’ll get six times it’s face value, turning a humble 4-point H into 24 points on its own.

Obviously, the longer your word, the more points you’ll score, but using your whole rack should always be your goal. Words that use all seven of your letters get a bonus of 50 points, which can be a game changer. However, while high scoring letters and seven-letter words score big, you need to use them fast or give them up. Hanging on to key letters in the hope of a big score leaves you only playing with half your rack, and the points you lose waiting for your big opportunity can often cancel out that score when it does come.

Practice, practice, practice

As we said at the start, the best way to improve your Scrabble is to practice, so you should try to play as often as possible. Fortunately, these days, that doesn’t mean having to lug a board and a bag of tiles around with you. You can play Scrabble online and on mobile, either against the computer, or against friends or other players worldwide.

Other Scrabble-like games, such as Wordfeud and Words with Friends will also help to strengthen your game. Wordfeud has the added bonus of allowing you to try words without penalty, so you can really stretch your vocabulary. It’s worth noting, however, that not all word games share the official Scrabble word list, and some words will be allowed in one but not the other.

Remember, Scrabble is not just a game of skill but also of luck. In some games, the tile bag just won’t give you anything to play with, and you have to just shrug and let those games go. Over time, this ‘luck of the draw’ will average out and, with the right work, you’ll start to see your scores improve.