In Scrabble, victory is the $6,000 word

LYNNWOOD – B-L-U-F-F.

In the competitive world of Scrabble – a game usually played with friends and family in the living room – the word is as much a part of the game as it is in Texas Hold ‘Em.

On Saturday, about 95 die-hard wordsmiths gathered at the Lynnwood Convention Center to kick off the three-day Emerald City Scrabble Tournament, with the Seattle Scrabble Club as host. More than $6,000 in prize money is at stake.

“I try to trick my opponents into thinking (a word) is good by acting confident about it,” said Tacoma resident David Grochowski, 23, playing in his second tournament.

“It’s definitely very competitive. That’s what I love about it,” he said.

In tournament play, participants are split into five divisions according to their rankings by the National Scrabble Association. Games are one-on-one, and players are each given 25 minutes to make all the moves they can.

At the Lynnwood competition, the participants played in silence. The only sounds were the clicking of tiles being pulled from their pouches and the faint murmur of people counting their scores.

“Most people would be surprised by how high the scores are,” said Seattle club director Rebecca Slivka, who is also in the tournament. “And they would see a lot of words they wouldn’t recognize.”

Bluffing is a big part of the game.

If you can trick an opponent into challenging a legitimate word, the person loses a turn. Or you can confidently play a word that is bogus and fool your opponent into letting it go.

However, people who get caught using a fake or misspelled word lose a turn.

“Sometimes you might know a word is phony and still not challenge it, because it might work to your advantage to leave it there,” Slivka said.

Tournament players also aim to score at least two “bingos” – when you use all seven of your tiles in one turn – in every game. Doing so earns a 50-point bonus and is often the difference between victory and defeat.

“For most people, the living room players, that kind of thing doesn’t happen very often,” Slivka said.

William Stephenson, 48, thought he was good at Scrabble until a stranger at a bookstore challenged him to a game three years ago.

Stephenson, of Seattle, didn’t know the man was a member of the Seattle club.

“He proceeded to beat me, 585 to I think 210,” Stephenson said.

Stephenson said he practiced for a year before returning to the bookstore and beating his rival in a rematch. The men are cordial toward each other, but they still “do battle,” he said.

“It’s a strange game,” Stephenson said. “Just when you think you know what you’re doing, you go through a streak where you just can’t pull out a game.”

Ruth Hamilton, who’s played competitively for 20 years, came to the tournament from Lake Oswego, Ore., sporting a T-shirt from the 2004 National Scrabble Championship in New Orleans.

“It can get pretty intense. I’ve learned not to take it too seriously,” she said. “You’ve got to be competitive to do it well.”

Reporter Scott Pesznecker: 425-339-3436 or spesznecker@heraldnet.com.

Watch the tournament

Watch the Emerald City Scrabble Tournament at the Lynnwood Convention Center, 3711 196th St. SW. The tournament is scheduled to go from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. today and from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday.

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