QAT (Questions, Answers, and Tips) For Newbies

by Victor S. Torres

Questions, Answers and Tips for those who are new to organized SCRABBLE® or the Utah SCRABBLE® club.

Q. What are the main differences between club play and recreational play?

A. Two words: setup and skill. Club games are always played one on one, unlike recreational games where there are usually 3 to 4 players. At the start of a session, a player will be paired with someone of similar skill or rating. We maintain a club rating for this purpose. When you first come in, you will be given an initial rating of 500, and you will be paired with someone with a similar rating. We also use clocks for games to finish at roughly the same time, and new pairings will be done based on win-loss record. As for the players' skill level, our club is composed of experts (rated above 1600), intermediate (rated above 1200) and novice players (rated 1200 or below). Some of us have been playing for over ten years, and some have just started playing organized SCRABBLE®. But all of us definitely love the game!

T. The above is not meant to scare or intimidate you. We just want to give you a general idea of what our club is like. As mentioned, we'll try to pair you with someone of similar skill. As the session progress, you may also be paired with one of our experts. Again don't be scared. Just play as best as you can and take this as an opportunity to learn from them. Don't hesitate to ask questions (but only before or after the game, not during play).

Q. You mentioned clocks, how many minutes are given to each side?

A. Each side is given 25 minutes to make all their plays. If you go over your allotted time, 10 points are deducted from your final score for every minute (or part of a minute) you go over. So for example, if you go over by 2 minutes and 28 seconds, 30 points will be deducted from your final score.

T. A lot of newcomers go over their time because they forget to hit their clock after making their play. It takes a little practice to get used to this but sooner or later it will become second nature to you. Just remember: make your play, announce your score then hit your clock to stop it and start your opponent's. If you think your opponent made an invalid play, stop the clock by hitting the middle button, and say "challenge".

Q. So I can challenge my opponent's play? How do we know if it's a real word? What happens if it's not?

A. You definitely can. If one of the words is unfamiliar to you, stop the clock and say challenge. To adjudicate challenges we use a program called Zyzzyva, written by Michael Thelen (he's a member of our club). It contains all the words in the newly updated Official Tournament and Club Word List, 3rd ed. (aka OWL3) for words with 9 letters or shorter, and the Long Word List for words with more than 9 letters. If a challenged word is not in one of those two dictionaries, the program will return a ruling of "The play is unacceptable" and the person who played it must take back his tiles and will lose his turn. On the other hand, if the play turned out to be acceptable, the player who challenged the play will lose his turn. That is the general rule but we give an exemption to newcomers. For your first three club sessions, you are given free challenges. If you challenge a play, you will not lose a turn even if it turned out to be a valid play. It also works on the reverse: if a play you made is challenged off, you will be given the chance to make another play.

T. If you challenge a play, challenge all the words that are made on that play. You would be surprised of how many times words that you think are good are ruled as unacceptable.

Q. Your club starts at 3:30 and ends at 10:00. Do I have to be there the whole time?

A. You don't have to, but you will be fined $5 for every minute you are late and $10 for every minute you leave early. Of course I'm kidding, you can arrive anytime between those times. But you may have to wait for the round to finish if you arrived after 3:30.

T. If you can make it ten minutes before the session, that would be great. It would give us ample time to introduce ourselves and include you in the initial pairings. If you can't make it at 3:20, try to time your arrival. Each round finishes roughly in an hour, so if the first round starts at 3:30, the second round will start at around 4:30, so try to time your arrival a few minutes before a round.

Q. You play at an IHOP, aren't you disturbed by the other patrons and are you required to order food?

A. We play in a secluded area of the restaurant, and a server is assigned to that area. You don't have to order food but a waiter will be more than happy to take your order if you want to eat. We give IHOP some business and they give us a place to play our favorite game. It's a win-win situation for both parties.

T. Order the fish and chips basket with french fries. Yum!

Q. Do I need to bring a SCRABBLE® set?

A. You don't have to, but if you have a deluxe set you are more than welcome to bring it. We usually have enough equipment for everyone. All you have to bring is a pen.

T. Let me add to the answer above. All you need to bring is a working pen, your thinking cap and enthusiasm to the game and you're almost guaranteed to have a good time.

Q. I've read some of the session summaries, what do all those initials mean?

A. You must be asking about DLS, TLS, DWS and TWS. They are referring to the premium squares of a standard SCRABBLE® board. DLS is Double Letter Score, TLS is Triple Letter Score, DWS is Double Word Score and TWS is Triple Word Score.

T. When playing a game, try to cover those premium squares as much as you can, specially if you have high scoring tiles like the Q and the Z. In order to do this with ease, learn high scoring short words like ZA, ZEP, QI and QAT.

Q. So qi and qat are real words?

A. They are. Qi is the vital force inherent in all things in Chinese thought according to the latest edition of the Official Scrabble Players' Dictionary. Qat is the leaf of a shrub that when chewed, has the effect of a euphoric stimulant, kinda like playing SCRABBLE® if you ask me.

T. To improve your play, the first things that you want to learn are the two-letter words and the Q without U words. When you first come in, we will give you a list of those words and you are free to refer to that list while playing. You will quickly notice an improvement of your scoring average if you master those words.

Q. What if I have more questions?

A. You can contact Mike Stevens at (majomike at gmail dot com) or Bruce Burri at (burribw at gmail dot com).

T. Why don't you come and visit us and ask your questions personally? We'd love to play some SCRABBLE® with you!