Members of Scrabble Club 34 meet up at a Beach Boulevard IHOP restaurant in Huntington Beach, Calif. (Leonard Ortiz/Orange County Register/TNS)

Members of Scrabble Club 34 meet up at a Beach Boulevard IHOP restaurant in Huntington Beach, Calif. (Leonard Ortiz/Orange County Register/TNS)

Scrabblers seek luv, zeds and xyst on the board

  • By Keith Sharon The Orange County Register
  • Friday, March 4, 2016 2:33pm
  • Life

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. — They call themselves “scrabblers,” and yes, that is an acceptable word in the official Scrabble dictionary.

So are xed, aa, izar, zoic, cinq, puja and several other strange combinations of letters that have no business being actual words. Take, for example, ixia and xyst. Both are valid Scrabble words. Don’t bother looking them up in a standard dictionary. Knowing the definitions is not required in the hardscrabble world of competitive scrabblers.

David Poder, 69, president of Club 34 in Huntington Beach, Calif., knows all those words like the bok of his hond — bok and hond, acceptable. He is the Babe Ruth of Orange County scrabblers. (Note that ruth is also a valid Scrabble word, though most proper nouns are not.) Club 34 was founded in 1978 and, Poder says, is the longest running Scrabble club in the United States.

They meet every Tuesday afternoon at the IHOP in Huntington Beach. And they’re so popular, different club players also meet at the same IHOP every Tuesday night. The club is free, but you need an invitation to get set up in a game.

“A lot of people think they have a good vocabulary, and they come to this club and get killed,” said Poder, a retired doctor. Talking to Poder on the phone, I asked him if he knew “xyst” was a word. He laughed dismissively. “Xysti is also a word,” he said. “You can’t trick me.”

If Poder sounds a bit cocky, it’s because he’s an expert player with a high score of 613 (the next-highest score in Club 34 is 576). He averages almost two bingos — making a word with all seven letters in your rack — per game. In 2005, he represented the United States in the world championships in London, where he finished 53rd.

“I lost to a 15-year-old kid from Australia,” he said with great disappointment.

But who is the best player in Club 34?

“I’m the best player in the club,” Poder said. He’s fun to talk with because he knows he’s got game.

He’s not the only great personality in Club 34. Roy and Maddy Kamen, husband-and-wife Scrabble experts from Covina, California, met over Scrabble in 2001. They were both divorced at the time. They fell in luv (acceptable).

“We have Scrabble in common,” said Maddy, a retired high school math teacher.

Last week, the Kamens were in Phoenix, competing in a regional Scrabble tournament. In the semifinals, they played each other.

“It’s a friendly rivalry,” said Roy, who was an airport shuttle driver.

Maddy won by 96 points. She bingoed him with “besmirch.”

“She drew both blanks,” Roy said, suggesting that his wife got lucky.

Maddy finished second in the tournament and won $500. Roy finished third and won $300.

“It keeps the money in the family,” Maddy said.

On a recent Tuesday, I showed up at the afternoon session at IHOP. I challenged Poder to a game. He would not play me. He didn’t want to destroy my confidence.

But he did give me a cheat sheet for my future games. The cheat sheet, which he said he has memorized, includes hundreds of two-letter and three-letter words. It also has J-words, Q-words, X-words and Z-words. Next time I play, I’m going to try to use jird, suqs, oxic and yuzu.

How can I lose with words like that?

The best Scrabble players study consistently. Maddy said she puts in about an hour a day. Several players in Club 34 bring notepads with scribbled words they want to remind themselves to play. But remember, notes are not allowed when the game is on. All official games are strictly timed — with each player getting 25 minutes on a speed-chess-type clock to play. Each game is recorded and statistical analysis is available on the Club 34 website (

Poder, a former family practitioner in Fountain Valley, California, often plays several times a week. On Mondays you can find him playing in Yorba Linda, Calif., Tuesdays in Huntington Beach, Wednesdays or Thursdays in Laguna Woods, Calif., and Saturdays in Santa Monica, Calif.

Then, he has a weekly battle against another great player, Tom Singleton of Laguna Hills.

“He’s pretty decent,” Poder said of Singleton.

“That’s a nice compliment coming from him,” Singleton said. “We’re pretty evenly matched. But he probably knows more words than me because he memorizes the dictionary.”

Poder has a wife (Einat . not a valid Scrabble word) and two daughters (Mindy and Dorey). None of his family members plays Scrabble.

“I tried to get them into it, but I was not successful,” Poder said.

He’s one of the top players in Orange County, and he had a chance to finish in the top 10 in the U.S. championships in 2004.

He will never forget his huge mistake. In the opening draw, he picked the letters F-C-T-E-R-E-P. It was the PERFECT draw — a seven-letter word to start the game. His opponent opened with COG. But Poder didn’t see that he could have used PERFECT to make PERFECTO. More than a decade later, the mistake still haunts him.

“It cost me a top-10 finish,” he said.

He will also never forget his greatest game. Trailing, 262-6, in a tournament in San Jose against world champion Joel Sherman, Poder played BITTERER and FLEABAGS, the second word was a triple-triple-word score. Poder came back and won the game, 541-539.

His opponent “turned a shade of white,” Poder said. “It was the greatest comeback in tournament history. But they spelled my name wrong in the record book.”

Poder’s enthusiasm for Scrabble has been contagious.

Club 34 was dwindling with about six active players before Poder took over as president two years ago. Now there are 60 members. Poder said Words With Friends, the popular smartphone game, has not hurt membership.

“People want to play with people,” he said.

That’s a word?

Some great Scrabble words you probably didn’t know existed:
















For more words and tips, go to

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