Mig 
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8 Points for A-R-G-H

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The 2005 US Scrabble championship is on ESPN right now. Caissa wept. This isn't even the world championship, which will be in November. That Scrabble is a trademarked game with the vested interest of a manufacturer/sponsor certainly helps it. And it probably has greater penetration in the US than chess and is of course much more accessible for spectators. Chess's greatest weakness in the mass media has always been that if you don't know how to play competently you may as well be watching Queer Eye in Cambodian.

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It's not so strange that Scrabble gets air time, when Wheel of Fortune and other gameshows built around words and letters, have been popular for decades on TV. Perhaps a bit surprising that it's broadcast on ESPN, and not some lesser-known channel, but I guess they are more than willing to classify things as sport, as long as there is money to be made.

ARGH* is phony.

Good are AARGH, AARRGH, and AARRGHH.

Scrabble is much easier than chess, and the domination of simming computers makes humans an underdog against them. Simply finding all legal moves is probably sufficient to place you in the upper 99% of all players (including competitive players). That having been said, it's a lot of fun to learn all the words.

Probably the player who is best (averaged) at Scrabble and Chess is FM David Koenig, who is rated in the top 100 Scrabble players in NA, and is an FM in chess.

Mig: OK, Scrabble is on ESPN, but it's on Sunday afternoon, when 100% of regular viewers are watching the NFL on other networks. Looks like a weak time-filler to me. When Scrabble starts getting the slots now reserved for poker, then it'll be worth getting irritated.

I give up: what sort of game is 'Queer Eye in Cambodia'?

Other than the corporate sponsorship, the other reason people like Scrabble is that even an idiot can spell "cat", but to that idiot, en passant requires a PhD.

Mig's last sentence is the heart of the matter. And there doesn't seem to be any real way around it, even with Maurice Ashley's best efforts (Booyah! The bishop dominates the board!) ;-)

Despite that, to the best of my recollection there has been more chess on ESPN then Scrabble. Perhaps I am wrong but I do remember the Kasparov v. computer matches. Was it three of them ESPN showed parts or all of? I also remember regular Sports Center reports on the Kasparov-Anand match and I believe one of the Kasparov-Karpov matches as well. Finally, I am pretty sure I still have on tape one or two 1/2 hour shows on speed or rapid chess tournaments from the 90s. Anything else?

Cool. I never heard of the game Scrabble before. Seems to be a funny game. I think I will try it someday.

Never heard of Scrabble?? It's a great game and they have different language versions... at least I know there is a French version.

There are interesting word dictionaries and they use chess clocks in tournaments too!

the problem with scrabble is that with highly agglunative languages it is not playable. chess is playable no matter what language you speak

http://www.thetoque.com/010821/klingscrabble.htm

Always a crowd-pleaser.

Seriously, the the Scrabble Championships has a good PR firm. (sorry lost the web address and name of that firm)
Basically the firm told how they got:
1) An Interview of the champ on the Today Show.
2) Exposure in several national magazines.
The site displayed their (the PR firm's) connections to the media outlets.

After reading the "how we helped our clients" sections of their website. I begin to wonder,"who does the PR for the USCF?"
In-house?

It takes money to hire a PR firm. Money you make from selling Scrabble because you are a for-profit company. I would NOT be happy about the USCF spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a PR firm. Chess will live, and should live, as a non-profit. More people playing chess is nice, but nobody gets hurt if people don't play.

The book Wordfreak by Stefan Fatsis, which explores the fringe-type characters and obsessive geniuses of the tournament Scrabble world, went a long way to bringing the game into the public eye. A similar book about us chessfreaks, by a knowledgable author able to write in a popular style would welcome. Ahem, Mig?

My friend Paul Hoffman, a successful non-fiction author, is writing a book likely to be titled "An amateur's obsession with chess." He's written on chess for the NY Times, among other places, and did commentary for ESPN with Seirawan and Ashley on the Kasparov-Fritz match.

Fatsis has an epic article in the Wall St Journal on the championship. He's listed as a staff reporter at the WSJ, which I hadn't noticed before despite reading it daily. A fascinating clip on a Thai guy who made it to the final and barely speaks English. From Fatsis's 25-8-05 article:

"If Panupol wins, it would be the first time that a non-North American has taken the event. It also would be the first time the champion might have trouble explaining clearly how it feels to have done so. Panupol -- pronounced PAN-you-PON; no one bothers trying to say his last name -- began studying English in grade school. But his grasp of the language as a tool of communication is -- well, "limited" would be putting it politely. But he does understand that speaking and writing English has little to do with becoming a champion Scrabble player. "I think language does not have much effect on this game," Panupol told me yesterday after qualifying for the finals.

He's right. To people playing at home, Scrabble is a battle over who has the bigger vocabulary. People unfamiliar with competitive play recoil at the thought of memorizing words rarely seen off of a playing board. To them, this is anathema to the purpose of language. More than a few people I've encountered consider that playing obscure words learned by reading a dictionary or a word list constitutes "cheating."

To the people in this tournament, though, Scrabble is a strategy game in which the playing pieces happen to be letters. The purpose of the game is similar to that of other games, physical or mental: to use all of the pieces to their fullest potential to exploit the intricacies of the playing field. That means learning as many of the 120,000 or so two- through nine-letter words acceptable in Scrabble. The best players know a lot of 10-letter words, too. In so doing, they can try to play the game to its theoretical maximum, making the "best" play using all of the available tools, that is, the words.

Native English speakers would seem to have an insurmountable advantage here, since they arrive at the game with a base of words programmed into their brains from toddlerhood and earlier. They also know through long practice how to decode messages found in the letters: Is that a verb? Is it an adjective? Does it take a particular prefix or suffix? Does it follow grammatical rules or break them? Does its meaning offer any additional information? That foundation, you'd think, would offer a head start in the book-learning part of the game. Panupol admits as much. "I'm not sure what is common for you and what is common for me," he says.

But I actually think this might give Panupol and the other Thai players an advantage. Whether you agree, or even grudgingly accept, that brute linguistic force is a big part of the competitive game, it's inarguable that native speakers have built-in biases. We can't help but think about how words are used in life, and that sometimes can affect how we view them in the very different context of a Scrabble game."

Wow, they have a cool "play along" and game replay feature at the Scrabble association page. You can input a board and say who has which letters to see if you can find the best play, etc. Just like chess problem solving. I wonder if they have compositions?!

http://www.scrabble-assoc.com/games//nsc2005/8/004.html

We do indeed have compositions, although they're not particularly common.

Nick Ballard's excellent Scrabble magazine from the 1990s, Medleys, has a cool problem where one had to weigh the chances of fishing a triple-triple-triple, which was in the thousands of points range. :)

If there is interest, I can provide said position and said analysis...

Scrabble is not as tough a game as chess--one can become a couple hundred points worse than Maven (the Deep Blue equivalent) after only a couple-few years of study and play.

That having been said, I find that nowhere but in Scrabble is there such immediate and powerful feedback from having learned something. Getting AGIOUUY on your rack and finding OUGUIYA for 70-something instead of exchanging is a very very powerful rush, that rewards the work you put in studying.

Also, because what you draw is random, there is a luck element to the game, which means that on any given day, you can beat ANYONE. Literally. If I sit down against Kasparov, he is going to win 1000/1000 against me, but if I sit down against someone 800 points higher rated in Scrabble, it is possible for me to win. It removes some of what feels like inevitability in chess, and makes the game better when playing stronger players. Of course, it also means you lose to fish sometimes... :)

The rating system is a logarithmic formula that calculates how likely you are to beat someone. For that reason, you should have the same chance of beating somone 800 points higher than you in scrabble as you would in chess. However, this results in the range of ratings to be smaller.

Yes, you'd think that would be likely, Gary.

However, in Scrabble, there is artificial separation of ratings by divisions. You're not allowed to play in the top division of a tournament unless your rating qualifies for it. Thus, until you are able to beat up on the people in the lower division (or get a good run of tiles) you won't be able to play people rated 800 points higher than you presently, even if you would win more than the 1/100 predicted against them.

It turns out that Scrabble ratings are pretty accurate at predicting the victor within about 200 points (and yes, the same Elo formula is used) but really break down over larger gaps, because of the luck factor of drawing tiles. It is pretty safe to say that the total maximum gap between ALL players is about 800-1000 points or so, because sometimes the best players in the world (computers included) get really unlucky while quite poor players have really easy-to-find bingos just land on their racks and have places for them to go down.

Also, the rating system doesn't currently take into account spread (how much you win the game by). This has the effect that if a better player gets better tiles against a worse player, they win by a TON, but if a worse player gets better tiles against a better player, they manage to win by a few points, thus changing the outcome of the game.

Scrabble ratings are also really volatile ( 150 points) because of the luck factor in the game.

Rating review is happening, but not much will likely happen soon.

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