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James Leong wins 2007 Scrabble Player's Championship
August 8, 2007 9:20 AM   Subscribe

Wunderkind James Leong of Vancouver, BC defeated veteran Jerry Lerman of Foster City, California, with a score of 423-377 to win the 2007 Scrabble Player's Championship in Dayton, OH. He takes the top prize of $12,500. Held during years when the bi-annual Nationals don't occur, this is the biggest tournament of the year. The tournament attracted about 450 players from around the world. Think you've got what it takes? You'll probably want to study up.
posted by solid-one-love (38 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
I heard James was juicin'.
posted by Stynxno at 9:26 AM on August 8, 2007


That last link is gonna make me Queen of fb scrabble!

can hear her opponents quaking in their boots right now
posted by gomichild at 9:27 AM on August 8, 2007


Unfortunately, the PC07 site is structured to make it difficult to link directly, but if you hunt around you can check out the replays of all the games held at table #1 (where the current #1 player in the top division plays).

To give you an idea of what an underdog Leong was, Lerman has actually won more tournaments this year than Leong has entered in his lifetime.
posted by solid-one-love at 9:27 AM on August 8, 2007


I recommend the documentary Word Wars to anyone interested in competitive Scrabble.
posted by Poolio at 9:29 AM on August 8, 2007


Really your fate rests in the tiles you get....
posted by gomichild at 9:29 AM on August 8, 2007


Here's a direct link to the final game, re: solid-one-love above; here's the list of all games. Friends don't let friends use HTML frames.
posted by cortex at 9:34 AM on August 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


N1I1C3E1 P3O1S1T1
posted by Abiezer at 9:34 AM on August 8, 2007 [6 favorites]


A1A1A1E1E1E1Q10

Crap.
posted by LordSludge at 9:35 AM on August 8, 2007 [2 favorites]


Other than Go, is there a game that cannot be destroyed by rote memorization?
posted by unixrat at 9:35 AM on August 8, 2007


Shit, those last two links are going to make jessamyn unstoppable. And I was thinking of challenging her to a game of email scrabble too...
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 9:35 AM on August 8, 2007


It's a worm found in New Guinea.
posted by lazaruslong at 9:36 AM on August 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


(And I love this Leong guy for playing an [oy, up, yup] combo.)
posted by cortex at 9:36 AM on August 8, 2007


I assume from your question that you think chess could be destroyed by rote memorization. Pretty memory requirements there.
posted by DU at 9:37 AM on August 8, 2007


judging by that final game, scrabble champions must be determined by who can use the most cromulent words.
posted by the painkiller at 9:41 AM on August 8, 2007


Don't be such a binator, the painkiller.
posted by cortex at 9:42 AM on August 8, 2007


hey, don't take that hoise tone with me, cortex!
posted by the painkiller at 9:48 AM on August 8, 2007


I ran this post by the mods yesterday because I was worried that there would be a conflict. Like James, I am a member of the Vancouver Scrabble Club. I've only played him twice (and won once), but he is one of the best players I've ever seen. He's a machine. And he's one of the nicest, most humble guys you'd ever want to meet.

The plan is for the club to meet him at the airport with balloons and a big sign and to have cake at club night on Thursday.
posted by solid-one-love at 9:51 AM on August 8, 2007


There was also a pretty fascinating book by Stefan Fastis (Word Freak) about the competitive scrabble circuit. It explains in pretty intricate detail the techniques of the hypercompetitive players.
posted by dismas at 9:52 AM on August 8, 2007


unixrat: "Other than Go, is there a game that cannot be destroyed by rote memorization?"

Technically, Go can be destroyed by rote memorization. It's just that the game state complexity and tree are many orders of magnitude more complex than those of more "destroyable" games such as checkers. Wikipedia has an article on game complexity that seems to indicate that some games like Connect6 and Backgammon are roughly as complex in terms of analyzability.

It's also a bit unfair to imply that Scrabble is simply a matter of memorizing the dictionary. There is strategy to it. Good players have a good idea what pieces their opponents have, especially towards the end of the game, and play words in order to block them. You also want to open up the bonus corners, but it's just as important to do it in such a way that your opponent can't capitalize on them. In the same sense, it isn't always in your best interest to play your best-possible word on a given turn, given that your next turn you may be able to place a bingo on a double-word-score or some such.

I'm not a Scrabble pro by any stretch of the imagination. But it's quite easy to see that at the highest levels, there's certainly a bit of chess look-ahead strategy as well as some blackjack playing-the-odds strategy, not just a wordlist grep.
posted by Plutor at 10:00 AM on August 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


Check out this video about Scrabble as a religion (Earlier).
posted by CrunchyFrog at 10:00 AM on August 8, 2007


If you want to play online: Look at scrabulous for the beginnings of competetive scrabble. >90%of players aren't tournament worthy, but once you gt to the top 10% you can begin to see real scrabble being played.

isc.ro is where the real players hang out. World champions etc.

Nice links btw. I'm recovering from a scrabble addiction but may have a relapse soon after seeing all those words. VIGGIA grrrr new words list mumble mumble shouldnt'tve challenged brr grr ffftt pzzzd
posted by lalochezia at 10:03 AM on August 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


James Leong of Vancouver, BC

Some body explain how some goddamn foreigner came over here and took OUR goddamn National championship? And don't gimme no crap about no National Hockey League neither!
posted by Pollomacho at 10:07 AM on August 8, 2007


I'm not a Scrabble pro by any stretch of the imagination. But it's quite easy to see that at the highest levels, there's certainly a bit of chess look-ahead strategy as well as some blackjack playing-the-odds strategy, not just a wordlist grep.

Totally. An amateur with an anagram program who is therefore able to maximize his wordlist will rarely be able to hold his own against an expert strategist who doesn't necessarily know all the words. Rack balance, draw probability, when to keep an open board or a closed board ("the widow's game"); these are strategies that rote memorization won't help with.

Even the best computer Scrabble programs have difficulty against the experts. Like in poker, humans keep beating the computers in competitions.

Pollo: it wasn't the Nationals. And even if it was, an American won the Canadian Nationals in 2000.
posted by solid-one-love at 10:16 AM on August 8, 2007


Other than Go, is there a game that cannot be destroyed by rote memorization?

"Destroyed?"

To play chess at the highest levels requires memorization, in addition to many other skills. To play Scrabble at the highest levels requires memorization, in addition to many other skills. To play Go at the highest levels requires memorization, in addition to many other skills.

I don't see how any of these games are "destroyed" by having a memorization component at the highest levels of play. Yes, a casual game between amateurs in any of these may involve little or no memorization. So what? Does it surprise you that experts use skills in a game that casual players do not? Is the game "destroyed" because a game between experts is qualitatively different than a game between amateurs?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:34 AM on August 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


And even if it was, an American won the Canadian Nationals in 2000.

Cry me a river. It's just like those foreigners, always bitchin' about 'mericans kickin their ass!
posted by Pollomacho at 10:43 AM on August 8, 2007


Also, actually solving Scrabble—solving solving, like Checkers was—isn't possible. With hidden tiles per-player, it's not a game of perfect information. It can be dealt with probabilistically, just as poker can be, but that's a compromise. Bluff changes everything.

And aside from that aspect, the branching remains enormous—you have to calculate every possible set of opponent plays at each turn based on unrevealed tiles, and calc a new tree on each one of those, and so on. It's explosive. In that sense, Scrabble is probably closer to Go than it is to Checkers or even Chess.
posted by cortex at 10:49 AM on August 8, 2007


Think you've got what it takes? You'll probably want to study up.

Or, you could just get lucky.
posted by rollbiz at 11:03 AM on August 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


Scrabble seems like one of those things (like spelling bees and such) that are kinda fun when you're sitting around with a group of friends (or in 3rd grade, for spelling bees), but that become ridiculous when taken this seriously. The first time a Scrabble board is tainted with some fucked-up word like 'QAT', the rest of it pretty much sucks.
posted by troybob at 11:47 AM on August 8, 2007


troybob, you know what I hate more than people who play something intelligent and do it better than me? People who play something intelligent and get angry when I do it better than them.
posted by Plutor at 12:23 PM on August 8, 2007 [2 favorites]


I don't know why I didn't just post his earlier, but regarding the prior direct links, this root page will get you all over the place, frames-free.
posted by cortex at 12:25 PM on August 8, 2007


i think the problem that some people have, myself included, is that scrabble is thought of as a "word" game in the english language, and yet some of the best players don't even speak the language.

so really, given that that's possible, it's much more akin to a strategy game like chess. but in people's minds, it occupies the word game space, and so they look upon the way it's played by non-english speakers as somehow unfair, or not right. but no one would object to a non-english speaker being successful at chess.
posted by Hat Maui at 12:29 PM on August 8, 2007 [2 favorites]


Who's talking anger? It's simply that to me, once you start studying for a game, it's not a game anymore. It's kinda like how I think a good athlete is someone who happens to be good at athletics, not someone who dedicates a lifetime to become one. There's something about recreation that loses is recreationality when it becomes more than just a bit of fun.

I'm no hater myself. Pretty much everybody does anything better than me, and I'm cool with that.
posted by troybob at 1:08 PM on August 8, 2007


It's an interesting point, though, Hat Maui. Scrabble is a word game in a more literal sense than the term gets used: it's a game at the word level. I think the common (American?) usage really means "language game"—games that depend at some level or another on written or spoken language as playing pieces.

But Scrabble isn't really unique in it's word-level focus, at that. Parlor games like GHOST can be played disfluently—it's all vocab, no grammar—and a spelling bee is itself a sort of high-level all-and-nothing vocabulary game. Compare that to something like Charades or a crossword puzzle, where language context is so vital, the words no use without a structure of higher-level communication to give them meaning.

I think the idea of language as the essential metagame, the game that everyone can and does play in a dozen different ways every day, may indeed drive some provocation when word-based competitions meet with cultural divides. But then, it's nerd-town as it is, and that's probably as much a problem as anything with getting folks het up. For every anti-jock knee-jerk there's an anti-nerd to match, etc.
posted by cortex at 1:32 PM on August 8, 2007


My qat is tainted.
posted by Tube at 4:32 PM on August 8, 2007


AX ME IF MY MA IS AS BI AS ME.
. . .
GO ON, DO IT.
UM, NO.
OX.
HO.

posted by rob511 at 5:02 PM on August 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


There was also a pretty fascinating book by Stefan Fastis (Word Freak) about the competitive scrabble circuit.

It certainly made me never want to play competitive scrabble. Quite a cast of "characters" in that book.
posted by smackfu at 5:24 PM on August 8, 2007


For the sake of writing a book with interesting characters, Fastis generally picked the outliers. Most competitive Scrabble players are pretty normal, even at the top end.
posted by solid-one-love at 6:07 PM on August 8, 2007


Some body explain how some goddamn foreigner came over here and took OUR goddamn National championship?

The letter "u" worked in his favour.
posted by srboisvert at 7:09 AM on August 9, 2007


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