Scrabble Tips for Beginners

Here are tips for Scrabble beginners from Dan Robinson, the 4 time Classics Scrabble Club Champion, unquestionably the best Scrabble player in the club.

As a beginning Scrabble player, your job is to learn how to play the game and how to develop good game habits, not necessarily win.   If you build a strong foundation of game strategy and word knowledge, the winning WILL come.  (and it’s likely to stay)

1.  Rack balance– Try to keep a 3:4 ratio of vowels to consonants on your rack.  You will have more options no matter what the board offers.  If your rack is balanced, try to play a combination of vowels and consonants each turn to maintain your rack.
2.  Bluffing and Challenging– Like poker, bluffing is just part of the game of Scrabble.  My advice for beginners is that if you don’t know a word that someone plays….challenge it.  You may lose many turns, and ultimately the game, but it’s a great way to commit those words to your long-term memory.  It also keeps your opponent from playing fake words.
3.  Memorizing the 2-leter words– There are 101 2-letter words that are acceptable in Scrabble.  Memorize them.  They’ll not only give you words to play when the board is very tight, but they’ll give you hooks to play off of. Did you know that an OE is a kind of tropical storm?
4.  Offense vs. Defense–  A good Scrabble player know how and when to use offensive and defensive plays.  Your goal in Scrabble is to OUTSCORE your opponent.  Your goal is not to make fun words or to make one really high-point word.  Scoring 50 points in one play is great, but not if it opens your opponent up to score 51.  Of course, you don’t often know what letters your opponent has, so how can you know if they’re going to outscore you?  It’s simple.  You don’t know.  So, the best bet is to minimize your opponent’s opportunities to score big.  Playing defensively for fewer points in a turn is often a smarter move.
5.  Don’t be Afraid to Turn in–  Sometimes, your letter just stink.  If you’re looking at a rack of “UUUULII”, you could always play the word “ULU” (an Eskimo hunting blade) to get rid of 2 U’s, but that would leave you with “UUII” and three new letters.  Chance are, no matter what three new letters you pull out of the bag, your new rack is going to stink too.  Remember tip #1;  Leaving yourself with “UUII” and any three letters is not good rack balance.Sometimes, it’s better to trade in some tiles to avoid several turns saddled with a bad rack.  
6.  Make Every Turn Count–  Do something with every turn.  Improve your rack balance, give yourself a hook for next turn, block a spot your opponent could use, or just play the best word you can.  These are generally bad ways to use your turns – Playing off one tile with the hope to draw a specific one from the bag, passing and hoping your opponent gives you the opening you need, and using your high-point letters in a way that doesn’t multiply their values.  If you make every turn count, your game scores will improve dramatically.
7.  Use Your S’s Wisely–  S’s are an easy way to score more point in a turn by “hooking” off of another word on the board.  If your opponent drops a word with high point tiles, YOU can now use your S to get those points for yourself.  Suppose they play “Zipper” for on a double-word score for 38 points.  By playing a word with an S in it that also pluralizes Zipper automatically gains you 20 points.  You get the 19 raw points from Zipper, plus your S on the end, AND whatever word you make.  All you have to do is score 19 points with your new word to negate the fact that they drew the magnificent Z.  Remember, it doesn’t matter who draws a given tile, it only matter who benefits from it most.
8.  Know Your Style–  Play to your strengths. If you know lots of two and three-letter words, try to keep the board tight so that you can take advantage of your tiny words.  If you’re a great anagrammer and 7-letter words come to you like swimming to a fish, then keeping the board open may give you more opportunities to play those long words.
9.  Make Your Opponent do it–  There’s a rhythm to Scrabble.  If you see your opponent constantly benefitting from opportunities you’ve opened on the board, stop.  You don’t have to be the one to open the board, or get to the Triple-Word-Score.  Be Patient.  Sometimes, it only takes one turn of not opening up your opponent to shift the balance back in your favor.  Soon enough, they’ll be opening up the board for YOU.
10.  Scrabble is a Game about Points, not about Words–  This can be one of the toughest things for new players to overcome.  To win a game of Scrabble, you need to score more than your opponent.  That’s it.  You don’t get bonus points for fun, interesting or long words, (unless you get the 50-point bingo bonus, of course).  You may get 30 points for a well-placed “THE” on the board, but only 18 points for “QINDAR”.  Try not to think of the words as “words”, they’re merely code for scoring points.  At its core, Scrabble is a game more about board strategy and math than about words.  Like chess, think about your next turn while you’re making your current one.  If you have “ROGZSYY”on your rack playing GROSZ (a polish coin) this turn an pluralizing it next turn with GROSZY, while making another word with your Y will probably get you more points over two turns than just playing GROSZY up front, since you’ll be scoring the GROSZ letter twice in two turns.
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