I seriously doubt if a perfect strategy for playing scrabble does exist. I have never come across a player who has one. Watching top players you’ll observe that their strategy changes with almost every move. They shift gears from being highly offensive to ultra defensive depending on the situation of the game.
Here are some general guidelines which you may find useful. You’ll have to formulate your own strategy as you learn.
A dictionary must be your close companion. Learn the 2 and 3 letter words. There are not too many of them in the dictionary but in fact they make up a large percentage of the words on the board. A 7-letter word or “Bingo” on your rack is no use if you can’t place it on the board. Knowing the 2 letter words makes this task easier.
You can’t learn all the words in the dictionary. You may begin by learning;
— All 2-letter words
— About 70% of the 3 letter words
— Most of the 4 letter words which are formed by extending a 3-letter word with a single letter such as MAN-Y, HUG-E, SUN-K, A-JAR, W-HAT, Z-ONE etc.
— Most of the 4 letter words containing J, Q, X or Z
— Very high probability 7 letter words
Shuffle the tiles on your rack frequently. You’ll be amazed to see that just by shuffling on an apparently poor looking rack even a bingo may appear as if by magic!
Don’t just play the first word that comes to mind. Always consider alternate moves. Play the words you are sure about. Consider playing a doubtful word only if it yields you a decent score. It is not worth playing a chancy word for just a few points.
Avoid playing a vowel next to a colored bonus square. It makes it easier for your opponent to play both ways with a big point tile. However, don’t make the mistake of giving up too many points to play defensively. If you are getting a good score for your move, don’t worry about such opening. However it is not worth giving high scoring opportunities to your opponent for a modest score of your own.
Don’t waste those blanks and S’s. A blank should give you at least 25 points more than your next best score. Top scrabble players rarely play a blank without making a 7 or 8 letter bonus word. An S is worth at least 10-12 extra points. If you have two S’s consider dumping one but even then it should get you an extra 6-8 point.
The letter Q without a U could be a nightmare. Learn the U-less words such as QI, QAT, QAID, QADI, QOPH, FAQIR, TALAQ, TRANQ, QANAT, QINTAR etc.
Rack management is important. Always try to keep a balance rack. Three vowels and four consonants on your rack is an ideal combination. Try keeping that combination without compromising too much on the scoring opportunities. Avoid keeping duplicates of any letter (except perhaps E).
What you leave on your rack is almost as important as what you play. Don’t hold on to those awkward tiles such as F,J,K,Q,W for too long. These tiles greatly limit the flexibility of your rack.
Consider changing one or more tiles if you are stuck with a very poor rack. It is far more worth losing one turn to exchange your tiles than to play several low scoring moves due to a poor rack.
Play more tiles. You CAN influence luck. The more tiles you play, the more chances you’ll get the good tiles. Playing just 55 of the 100 tiles gives you a 10% advantage over your opponent in the search for the blanks, S’s and the big J, Q, X, Z tiles.
Learning how to score high is a fundamental skill. Look for 50 point bonus words, or “Bingos”. Start off by separating common prefixes and suffixes from the rest of the letters in your rack. Such as: –ED, –ING, –IEST, –IER, RE–, OUT–, UN–. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ll find those big scoring words.
Many inexperienced players hang on to the –ING tiles for too long in the hope of making a bingo. This combination is overrated by the inexperienced players. If you can’t get a bingo right away, better get rid of the G. Don’t be obsessed with your quest for bingos. Look for the best play with the available rack. Don’t play off 1 or 2 tiles in hope of drawing the perfect tile to play an impressive bingo. Every turn you waste puts you further behind. After a few such turns, even a bingo won’t be enough.
Consider the match situation before deciding your move. When you are behind, don’t close down bingo openings. If there’s only one bingo opening and you can’t use it, open another. When you are ahead, don’t make bold openings that can let your opponent make a big comeback. It is common to see a player who is leading by 60 odd points leave the last bingo opening and lose. Block it!
Double check the scores before making your final move. I have seen players lose matches simply because they miscalculated the scores.
NEVER be shy of challenging your opponent’s move if you are unsure about the word(s) made. After all you have nothing to lose!
Keep a positive attitude. You will get good racks and bad racks. Playing your bad racks well is just important as playing your good racks well. The luck factor is highly overrated by most players. Don’t be scared of losing. I have learned a lot more from the matches I lost as compared to the matches I won.
Best of luck to you!
Director Youth Program