Hi. Back in July I played in the North American Scrabble Championship in Reno, NV along with ~340 other players. I managed to win to earn a fun title for a year and a decent chunk of cash. I live in Ottawa, Canada, which has one of the strongest Scrabble clubs in North America. I'm not even the first one at this club to win this title!

I'm looking to help get the word out about tournament Scrabble in North America. I have a feeling there are a lot of people out there who would give it a try, if only they knew more about it!

So if you have any questions about the championship or about competitive Scrabble, shoot!

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Comments: 1634 • Responses: 57  • Date: 

sudolb2098 karma

Have you ever gotten laid due to the fact of being a scrabble champion?

muffin_with_tentacle2194 karma

Oh God dammit, of course this gets voted to the top.

Come on, people, what if my mom finds this thread!

CaptainTeemoJr295 karma

All due respect sir, but your mother should not know your reddit name.

muffin_with_tentacle340 karma

It's an anagram of my real name, unfortunately. So she could probably figure it out.

Tugs_Mckenzie503 karma

muffin_with_tentacle=Matthew Tunnicliffe.

triloknight1216 karma

Did you know that I am dating your cousin?

muffin_with_tentacle924 karma

Well I do now!

Nomad003808 karma

You get to go first, your letters are: UUUTJNZ.

What do you play?

muffin_with_tentacle1506 karma

JUN and JUT are the only words really worth playing, though I'm not happy about keeping two U's.

JUN is better defensively

jacobetes362 karma

Can you give me a brief explanation as to why it's better defensively? I'm not great at scrabble, but im always interested in high level game strategies.

muffin_with_tentacle1118 karma

Simply due to the "hooks", i.e., the letters you can add to the front or end of the word.

JUT can hook an E or S to make JUTE or JUTS. Whereas JUN can only hook with a K to make JUNK. So by playing JUT, you're giving the opponent more options

Arachnocentric34 karma

Would the fact that you have a U make it more worthwhile to hold on to the N so you have the UN prefix? I guess it might not in this case, since you probably won't be bingoing next turn with that leave anyway. It's decisions like this that separate great players like you from decent ones like me!

muffin_with_tentacle206 karma

The U is a horrible letter. There is a disproportionately high number of them in Scrabble simply because of the Q. If you draw a U, you should try to play it off if possible.

SergeantCunt2 karma

Couldn't you add an E to JUN to make JUNE?

muffin_with_tentacle8 karma

proper noun

Asilksworld705 karma

What's the most ridiculous word you've put in a game?

muffin_with_tentacle1956 karma

Erm... do they have to be real words?

You're allowed to play phonies in competitive Scrabble and risk having your play challenged off. I've had some success in the past bluffing bullshit words onto the board in desperate situations.

Off the top of my head, I've gotten away with the following (non)words in tournament games: SPAMELLIAS, GUMWHITE, ARMYCLAW, DAKSA, HUVYKA, and more I can't recall at the moment

diearzte2244 karma

Your opponent didn't challenge a 10-letter ridiculous looking word??

muffin_with_tentacle619 karma

Challenging a play isn't always easy, since you lose your turn if you're wrong. And there are plenty of ridiculous looking words that ARE valid


What happens if your opponent successfully challenges a word? Do you get penalized or do you just have to withdraw the word? Does the opponent still lose a turn?

muffin_with_tentacle366 karma

I have to take the play back and they don't lose their turn.

Fred-Bruno168 karma

Yeah but do you get to place down another word on the same turn, or is that turn over for you if the opponent calls the bluff?

muffin_with_tentacle480 karma

I lose the turn. So it's a pretty big gamble.

bassinastor164 karma

So is using fake sounding words a strategy in comparative games? Like using a word that looks absolutely fake just to get your opponent to lose a turn?

muffin_with_tentacle519 karma

Sure. Bonus points if it looks like you simply flubbed the tiles. STRONGYL is a good example, since it looks like you just misplaced the letters for STRONGLY. But STRONGYL is a word.

thejesse143 karma

I'd love to know what your opponent was thinking an armyclaw might be when you played that word.

muffin_with_tentacle256 karma

Haha, I dunno. He was probably thinking he can't afford to challenge in any case. He ended up winning, so I guess it didn't matter in the end.

Short_Swordsman680 karma

I've read that top scrabble players focus on bingos, whereas the average best-among-your-friends focuses on tile placement for multipliers.

Any tips for transitioning from the latter to the former?

muffin_with_tentacle974 karma

Improve your bingo-finding skills!

First, learn how to look for them on your rack. Most bingos include a common prefix or suffix. If you have -ING, -ERS, -ABLE, or -IEST on your rack, that's a good place to start. It's a lot easier to find the 8-letter words in EEGINRST if you start with the common suffixes.

Second, learn how to manage your leaves better. The "leave" is the leftover tiles when you make a play. We know that ERS is very powerful, so if we're not able to bingo this turn, it might be a good idea to make a play that saves those tiles for next turn.

Third, learn more words. There's no way around this one. You'll play more bingos if you learn more words. One of the most common 7-letter words in Scrabble is ANEROID. You have to know it to be able to find it!

arghvark574 karma

Can you define 'bingo' for those of us not well-versed in competitive Scrabble? thanks...

muffin_with_tentacle911 karma

Use all 7 letters on your rack in one play. Earns you +50 bonus points. The best players average about 2 bingos a game, but playing 4-5 is not that uncommon

MpVpRb387 karma

Do you ever play computer scrabble?

If so, what is your favorite one?

My wife loves computer scrabble. but can't seem to find a great one

muffin_with_tentacle632 karma

If I want to play against a computer: www.quackle.org

If I want to play against a human: www.isc.ro

bearachute192 karma

In chess, it has long been the case that a computer will always beat a human. Is this also the case in Scrabble?

Are there any insights from how computers play the game that inform the strategies that human players use?

muffin_with_tentacle432 karma

Nah, a good player can beat the best computer a decent percentage of the time. Computer can draw bad tiles, too.

ReflexSupernova382 karma

What word have you played that had the highest point value? Additionally, what weird word that you have learned through scrabble is your favorite?

muffin_with_tentacle822 karma

I think my highest-scoring play was EXPENDER for 212 points.

And I wish I could answer the second question truthfully, but I can't because then you'd know my password for this reddit account.

Feverdog87221 karma


muffin_with_tentacle503 karma

Too long. Board is 15x15 :(

dprk_hacker1359 karma

Is there a separate French edition of North American scrabble to account for the Quebec people?

dprk_hacker199 karma

Do you ever think about entering the french tournaments?

muffin_with_tentacle226 karma

Yeah I've thought about it! There's a French language club just across the river from me in Gatineau. My conversational French is just so-so, but I imagine I could study the words and play a decent game if I had to

ThreeObtuseMules318 karma

I don't have a question (although I'll ask one at the end as per the rules), and I'm not so interested in Scrabble, but this is one of the best IAmAs I've read in a long time. Every IAmA should aspire to such heights.

First of all, OP's answers are insanely informative. I can't recall the last time I saw an OP answering questions so well for genuine fans.

Second, the OP comes across as a great person. His answers are salted with humour, he's answering just about everything thrown at him, and he's engaging with people. It's a fun thread to read.

Third, it's absolutely fascinating. As I said, I'm not into Scrabble, but I've read all his answers.

To my question (so I don't vanish into the ether): your vocabulary is obviously very large. Do you need to use a thesaurus when you're writing, or do you know so many words that synonyms come in waves?

muffin_with_tentacle247 karma

Heh thanks!

First of all, Scrabble players rarely use the word "vocabulary". Vocabulary implies you understand the meaning and usage of all the words you know, and actually use the words as part of your everyday diction. We just say "word knowledge", because oftentimes, all we know about a word is whether or not it's valid in Scrabble!

And my job is technical writing, so I rarely find the space to use exotic words. Mostly just plain English. But I do enjoy perusing the thesaurus from time to time!

BitchFromTheNews275 karma

My mom grandma and I have been playing scrabble at least once a week for over 30 years. I have become very good at spotting the "bingos" as described in an earlier comment. I still have problems coming up with words when I end up with so many vowels. What are some good tips or words to use when you end up with so many vowels and the board is already full ish?

muffin_with_tentacle394 karma

The bag is inherently vowel-heavy, so it always takes some care to not end up with too many. Try not to unload as many vowels as you can each turn.

Also, it helps to learn some of the less-common vowelly words. Words like AUREI, MIAOU, UNAI, or ILIA can clean up those ugly racks quickly.

ErraticVole251 karma

How thankful are you that Za is a word? And Qi?

muffin_with_tentacle543 karma

ZA is handy, but the Z was a good tile even before ZA became a word.

QI is a godsend. I remember playing Scrabble before QI was added to the dictionary. The Q was an albatross that often decided games. If you got stuck with it at the end of the game, it was a huge point-swing. QI vastly improved the game, imo

markjohnston905199 karma

Isn't competitive scrabble really about memorizing obscure words people never use?

I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but I think it's something people maybe don't understand.

If your answer is yes, what do you think the best way to go about learning those words is. I would like to make my friends and family members upset at me.

muffin_with_tentacle439 karma

Learning the words is a big part of Scrabble, but it's only one aspect. You also need to be able to find plays over the board and have some sort of grasp on strategy. I'd say it's similar to chess or poker, where you can get pretty good by memorizing opening sequences and hand values, but can't win on that alone.

A new player should start by learning all the 2-letter words, since they are crucial. Then they should move onto the 3-letter words and short JQXZ words. Then, learning a few of the high-probability bingos can help a lot.

Here's a cheat sheet: http://www.cross-tables.com/download/CHEAT_PRO_2014.pdf

ler_lar168 karma

Do you ever try to play QUIJIBO just mess with your competitors?

muffin_with_tentacle411 karma

I believe the correct spelling is KWYJIBO :)

And I haven't yet been fortunate enough to draw that rare combination of letters. Though one of my opponents once laid it down against me as a joke before picking it up and making an actual play.

pieguy535145 karma

How did start playing scrabble in the first place? Were you introduced to it by a friend or did you simply discover it on your own one day?

muffin_with_tentacle186 karma

Well my Dad taught me how to play chess when I was really young, so I've been hooked on board games for as long as I remember. I played chess on a website which also had a game called Tangleword (Boggle variant). I tried it out and got hooked on word games.

I played Scrabble online for a good six years before I played in my first tournament, though.

bakanino56 karma

Did you play tangleword often, and what was your username if you did?

Haven't found a great replacement ever since it was shut down... Closest is Serpentine.

muffin_with_tentacle193 karma

I was pretty hooked. And I was 11-12 years old, so I had like 6 handles and they were all Pokemon...

alazz145 karma

on the rare occasion that your tiles are all consonants, what are some solid word options with no vowels? Also, what are some cool words with no vowels?

muffin_with_tentacle284 karma

CWM and CRWTH are some bizarre words that made it into the dictionary from Welsh. Also some onomatopoeic interjections like HMM, PHPHT, or BRRR.

Impr3ssion109 karma

How prevalent are focus-enhancing drugs in competitive Scrabble? What is your opinion on the subject?

muffin_with_tentacle215 karma

Not that prevalent, as far as I know. And if you think it gives you an edge, go for it. There's no urine test.

Connor_mcb87 karma

What is your favourite word to use?

muffin_with_tentacle206 karma

I definitely play QI more than any word, since it's such an easy way to unload the Q when you don't have a U. That's a boring one, though.

I seem to have an affinity for the less common U-less Q words, though. I've landed QWERTY in a few tournament games. That's a fun one to see on the board. (And fun to type, too)

benjabloodymino83 karma

How many of the less common words do you use in your daily lexicon?

muffin_with_tentacle388 karma

Do you mean outside of Scrabble? None. I try to act like a normal person when I'm not at tournaments

tetanusmaster82 karma

Do you socialize at all with any of the other competitors at the tournaments, either before, during, or after? I'm friends with the 2014 Nationals winner and some of the other guys from the west coast (USA) that are competitive Scrabble players, and I've always wondered what the scene is like because it sounds like a really diverse group. I'm pretty decent at Scrabble myself (although I haven't taken the time to memorize all of the 3s and 4s like my friends have), but I've never been able to take time off of work to make it to any of the events.

muffin_with_tentacle147 karma

Sure I do. Scrabble people are hilarious and lots of fun to be around. Some people like to party at every tournament, and some just like to hang around and play board games. And yeah, it's a really eclectic subculture of people, spanning all age groups and backgrounds. It's cool that I've been able to meet so many different and interesting people!

Ya_Whatever68 karma

What's a typical score in tournament play? Club play?

muffin_with_tentacle127 karma

They vary pretty significantly. Two expert players can play a 370-350 game and then a 490-475 game right after. These scores aren't necessarily indicative of the level of play. Sometimes it just depends on how the board develops and how well the players are drawing.

But to give you an idea, I averaged 435 or so in my tournaments this year (with a lot of luck). A strong club player would be happy with 400+, I think.

alazz63 karma

other than the word 'QI', what other U-less Q words that are legal in Scrabble? How often are they the best option and how frequent do you use them?

muffin_with_tentacle136 karma


I'd say if you have the Q and no U, you should be looking for one of these words. Keeping the Q is a big disadvantage, so if one of these options is playable, you probably want to go for it.

Arachnocentric136 karma

You forgot my favorite, FAQIR!

muffin_with_tentacle102 karma

Ack, you're right!

logicalrat52 karma

I used to go to camp with a kid who got on espn for scrabble. He would read his scrabble dictionary during rest hours. Were you passionate about scrabble as a kid?? Ever been on tv? How was the experience?

muffin_with_tentacle54 karma

I did a few camera interviews after this tournament, but I have no idea if they made it onto TV. I'd be too embarrassed to watch anyways.

to0052 karma

While you were in Reno, did you ever shoot a man just to watch them die?

muffin_with_tentacle218 karma

Canadians don't have guns, silly.

AMillionMonkeys44 karma

Are there any rule variations that you favor? Maybe alternate dictionaries?
Are you satisfied that the competition structures even out whatever randomness is introduced by the tile draw, or is that not really a factor?

muffin_with_tentacle141 karma

Luck is a part of Scrabble. Sometimes it evens out and sometimes it doesn't. But it's no coincidence that the best players win major tournaments consistently, so I like to believe it's not a significant factor in the long run.

As for the first question, I think Clabbers is my favorite variant. Basically, it's the same as Scrabble except you can make any play that anagrams into a valid word. So you could play TOQINSUE or SUNQITEO or ETSUIONQ or any combination of those letters since they anagram to the word QUESTION.


prikaz_da34 karma

What do you think about the TWL not including a significant number of words that are actual English words? Off the top of my head, I remember being surprised to find that grimoire is in CSW/SOWPODS, but not the TWL—it's not a specifically British word, and yet you're technically bluffing if you play it in the US or Canada because it's not on the official North American word list.

muffin_with_tentacle72 karma

GRIMOIRE was added to TWL in the most recent dictionary update.

CoolBeansprouts33 karma

Would you say you are a more offensive or defensive player? As in would you lay down a high scoring word that opens up the board for your opponent, or would you rather play a not as good word that really leaves your opponent in a pickle?

muffin_with_tentacle58 karma

I usually prefer the board to be wide open so I can keep scoring points. Though there's always a time and place for defense, so I try to be flexible.

lettucemonster29 karma

Have you ever played a word as a bluff, had an opponent challenge it, and then found out it was a real word?

muffin_with_tentacle44 karma

Yeah a couple times... that's when I pretend I knew it all along.

BartInPC25 karma

What did you think of Word Wars?

muffin_with_tentacle24 karma

It's a pretty awesome documentary! I've showed it to a few of my non-Scrabble friends and most found it pretty entertaining.

aRayes23 karma

What's a word that you guarantee nobody in the state of Michigan has said in the past year?

muffin_with_tentacle149 karma

Super Bowl? I guess that's two words

PERCEPT1v321 karma

Have you met Nigel Richards? Thoughts on him and his game?

muffin_with_tentacle40 karma

Yeah I've played him before. He's pretty friendly and personable. His play style is almost robotic. He almost never misses plays or makes word knowledge mistakes

NotAVan15 karma

What are your thoughts when you get a blank tile?

muffin_with_tentacle22 karma

Making a bingo (play using all 7 tiles) as soon as possible.

tycoon1776 karma

Is it true that many champions of different language scrabble games often do not know the language, just the scrabble dictionary for that language? I've heard that helps with not choosing common words and instead going for high value words.

muffin_with_tentacle11 karma

It's true. There are two world Scrabble champions from Thailand who speak English as a second language, but know the dictionary very well.

I'd say it's a double-edged sword, since nonnative speakers can't be fooled as easily by plausible phonies, but might still make mistakes on what native speakers would consider common words.

JohanMcdougal2 karma

What are your thoughts on Za? Have you ever actually heard someone use it in a sentence?

muffin_with_tentacle3 karma

Sure! It's a regional thing I guess.

brucedon2 karma

How does one become a competitive Scrabble player?

muffin_with_tentacle2 karma

Start by finding your local club and attending one of their meetups. You'll get some games in and learn more about tournaments.

www.cross-tables.com has a list of club

Xandorius2 karma

How often do you play and practice? Do you have drills of some sort to prepare for tournaments?

You mentioned that you grew up playing chess. Are there other games that you like to play? Any that you're planning on doing competitively?

Congrats on the win!

muffin_with_tentacle5 karma

I study words pretty much daily as part of my routine. It kind of gets my brain working in the morning. There are tools specifically designed to help tournament players study words, like www.aerolith.org or www.zyzzyva.net.

I used to play MTG, but not competitively. And I enjoy contract card games, but again, just casually.