In 1995, at the age of 21, I thought I was a great Scrabble player. Playing frequent games at home with my
first wife, I'd often score over 400 points. I thought about how cool it would be to play
competitively. Then I heard an interview on NPR's MORNING EDITION with Bob Lipton. He
was representing the United States at the World Championship. Within a few days, I wrote
to Hasbro and asked for information about club and tournament play. A couple of weeks
later, I got a response back: there was a club director in Oklahoma City and one in
Jonesboro, Arkansas, 180 and 250 miles respectively from my home in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
I contacted the Jonesboro director, a vivacious septuagenarian by the name of Billie Garver,
known for her flamboyant hats and a plantation-owner like dignity reflective of her hometown.
She sent me some great word lists and a warm welcome to attend their club. I immediately
immersed myself in the list of high-probability seven- and eight-letter words and learned
the two- and three-letter words. These are the most important word lists for a beginner to
learn, the twos and threes because they facilitate hooks and overlaps and the high-probability
seven- and eight-letter words because using all seven letters results in a 50-point bonus in
In retrospect, my first club experience was a bit weird. The club was held in what looked like
a break room at a bank in Jonesboro. The members of the club were all older persons.
The first play I put down in the first game, OXE, was challenged off. Fortunately, the lady
I was playing with showed me mercy and passed so that I could play again. I won that game.
And I felt quite comfortable playing with a clock. It was a fun session and afterward, my
wife and infant son accompanied me to club director Billie's home. She lived about 20 miles
out of town in the middle of a cotton field in a sparsely populated, flat farm town of Leachville.
We had a wonderful time playing more Scrabble late into the night with Billie and some of
her friends from the club. I decided during that trip to try my hand at an official tournament
that coming April 1996 in Jonesboro.
So after travelling almost five hours to my first tourney, who was my first opponent? My wife,
Peggy. Now, during our home games, I probably won about 80% of the time. Unfortunately,
I lost our first tourney game. Nevertheless, I finished with a 8-2 record, finished third in the
lowest of three divisions, garnering an initial rating of 998. (Experts have ratings about 1600
and world class players are in the upper 1800's and 1900's.) It was so exciting to play against
other good players. Of course, I did not realize it at the time, but the Jonesboro tournament
drew the highest ratio of sub-1000 players of any tournament in the United States and rarely
drew any real experts. At any rate, I was hooked. It was my first step in a career where I
would encounter many brilliant characters and move toward being an expert myself.
*The official word list for the National Scrabble Association is the Official Tournament and Club
Word List, a word list derived from multiple collegiate dictionaries. At the time of my first
tournament back in 1996, we actually did word adjudications using the Official Scrabble
Players Dictionary, 2nd Edition, plus an addendum word list of words added that year. We did
not use the 3rd Edition because the dictionary expurgated "offensive" terms; tournament
Scrabble players would not have that, though; words are words, offensive or not.