If you are new to organised Scrabble, this page is for you. The information presented here is adapted from a Canadian club
site. Here you will learn the key differences between 'kitchen table' and organised Scrabble and how to join a club and participate in tournaments.
What is Organised Scrabble?
The average reader of this page has probably playing what we call "Kitchen Scrabble" for years, perhaps decades. This is the kind of Scrabble played in the kitchen (hence the name) or living room, with family members or friends - the kind played by millions of people all over the world. While this is a great way to play the game, it is different from even the mildest form of organized Scrabble.
In New Zealand there is a national Association of Scrabble Players (NZASP) which governs how Scrabble is organised. There are clubs affiliated to the NZASP in most major cities and some smaller centres. A list of clubs is found here. There are also clubs in some centres that are not affiliated to the NZASP and have arisen to fulfil a social need in their area. What is described on this page as organised Scrabble does not include such clubs.
Clubs usually meet weekly and charge a small fee to cover expenses, as well as paying an annual affiliation fee per member to the NZASP. The majority of members are in the 26-65 age group and cover all walks of life. Clubs vary in their meeting format and length of sessions, but they have the common feature that games are organised (often within a set time period), players normally play 2-person games (i.e. one person against the other), and a common word authority is used. In tournaments, Scrabble is played in accordance with NZASP rules, but in club play these rules are often relaxed and the emphasis is on having fun and learning. Some of the differences between tournament and club play are highlighted below.
There is no compulsion on club players to enter tournaments. Many club players join simply to have a few friendly games in congenial company. About 60% of club members participate in tournament play. Club play is often organised so that players are matched with those of similar ability as far as possible - particularly if a player is new to the club.
What Dictionary do you Use?
Most casual players will know that disputes about whether a word played on the board is 'legal' can't be avoided. Under the NZASP rules, clubs use the Collins Scrabble Tournament and Club Word List 2015 (CSW15) as their word authority.
Most clubs have copies of a word list that incorporates all legal Scrabble words from the above word list. The word list includes inflections and extensions up to 15 letters long, so there is no doubt about whether an adjective, for example, can be extended with -ER and -EST. As mentioned, word lists are most often used, not a dictionary: There are no meanings, just words. It is not uncommon for a player to know thousands of words and not know their meanings. If this concerns you, take comfort that most of the top experts do in fact know the meanings and use this information to their advantage. The reason most players don't learn meanings right away is because they choose to learn by quantity (a large number of words - often organized into special groups - in a short amount of time). Clubs usually also have dictionaries on hand that give meanings if you want to look them up after a game.
The NZASP makes a list of 2, 3 and 4 letter words available to clubs and these are usually distributed to new players who show an interest in learning new words.
There are bound to be words you think should be in the list which are not, and you are more likely to find words in the list which you think do not belong for various reasons. At least, by adopting one word source, the game can be played in a controlled manner. New players can initially feel uncomfortable that certain words are allowable, such as XI (a Greek letter), ZO (a yak-like animal), QI (the Chinese life-force) and other words that seem odd and not in everyday use. Such discomfort is best dealt with by looking up meanings and accepting the word authority.
In tournaments players are not allowed to use a word list or dictionary to check a word during play. An adjudicator is called upon to check any words challenged by the opponent, or self-adjudication using computer software may be arranged. There is a penalty of loss of turn imposed on players who play wrong words and if you challenge correct words, your opponent gains 5 points per correct word challenged. In club play this rule can be relaxed to permit players to check a word before playing it, but check with your club as there is varied practice about word list use during games.
Is There a Time Limit?
All tournament games are played with chess clocks or electronic timers. Chess clocks are simply two clocks in a single housing, with two buttons on top to change the player being timed. (Electronic clocks with all sorts of interesting features, are gradually phasing out the traditional analogue chess clocks.)
Each player is given 25 minutes to complete their moves for one game. Players may divide the time as they see fit, and it is not uncommon for a player to make several quick moves in order to bank time for later. Novice players usually make more moves per game than experts, but on the average the time works out to about 2 minutes per move. If you use more than 25 minutes, you lose 10 points off your score for each minute (or portion thereof) that you are over time. This is a significant penalty indeed and can make the difference between winning and losing!
In club play, clocks are normally only used when both players agree. However, clubs may impose a game time limit (usually 50 minutes per game) and play must cease at the end of the time. This is to aid game organisation so that all players can proceed to the next game in an orderly fashion.
How Do I Join a Club?
Now that you know what to expect, it's time to attend a club session! Attending a club session is the "soft" way to introduce yourself to the world of organized Scrabble. The atmosphere is friendly yet structured, there are refreshments for your enjoyment, and there's lots of time to socialize.
Check out the list of clubs and find the name of the key contact and the time and venue for play. It is often best to call the contact person and let him or her know you are interested in attending. All the Scrabble equipment is normally supplied by the club so you don't need to bring a Scrabble set.
The most important thing to go in with, however, is a positive, open attitude. Many people who seek out clubs do so because they vastly outplay their kitchen opponents, and think they're good enough to face some stiff competition. In reality, most of them are, but not right away. The majority of people that attend a club lose all their games on their first meeting, and may continue to do so for several meetings should they return. Don't let that put you off - you wouldn't expect to be an expert bridge or chess player on your first club meeting would you? Scrabble is no different in that respect.
If you lose all your games, it does not mean you are a bad player. If you are clobbering your kitchen opponents then you definitely have what it takes to become a good club player, you just need some time to adapt. The new words, the timing, and the more formal atmosphere are enough to throw anybody's game for a loop. Once you learn some words and get used to the organised play, you'll find you start to win on a more consistent basis.
In short, on your first night, be prepared to lose, but more importantly to learn from your losses (and your wins, should you get any). Club members welcome new players and most are quite knowledgeable and can point out mistakes or better plays. Some won't do this unless you ask them to, so don't be shy. Many of the top experts in the world regularly ask other experts what they would have done, so the learning process never stops.
When you arrive at the venue, introduce yourself to the club organiser and they will ensure that you are appropriately matched to an opponent for your first game and they'll show you the ropes.
Once you've attended a few club sessions you may feel ready to join the club. To formally join you will need to pay an annual club subscription fee plus your NZASP affiliation fee. This is normally not more than about $10 per annum for both fees. You give your contact details to the club secretary and that's it - welcome to the world of organised Scrabble! You might prefer to become an independent NZASP member rather than affiliating to a club. If so, read the constitution for more information about independent members.
So You're Ready for a Tournament?
Once you've been playing in a club for a while you may want to enter a tournament. See the tournament calendar for a list of all planned tournaments this year. Entry forms for tournaments are distributed by the host club to all other clubs and independent members and posted on this website. There is usually a fee of around $15 - 30 to cover venue hire, catering, NZASP levy and prizes.
Tournaments are divided into skill groups so players play opponents with similar skill levels. New players are normally placed in the lowest division for their first tournament unless they have shown that can regularly beat tournament players at the club. Most of our tournaments use a round-robin (you play every opponent once). Tournaments can be one or two days in duration and there are usually 7-8 games per day.
After a tournament, players receive a numerical rating based on their performance. The rating is used to give an approximate indication of players' relative skill. To learn more about the NZ ratings system click here.
Lastly, if after attending a tournament you find it's not to your liking, don't worry. About 40% of club members don't ever play in tournaments. Others play in only one or two a year. The most important thing is to have fun and play when you can. On the other hand, if you love the tournament experience and want more, you can attend all of the tournaments on the calendar (except the Masters which has restricted entry).
Once you've attended a club session or two and found it to your liking, you'll no doubt want to improve your play. Check out the Resource Kit for places to learn more words, find out tips, play on-line or join discussion groups.