Tournament Scrabble

I played tournament Scrabble in Canada and the US for a few years.  My record is available on The tools needed to efficiently improve your Scrabble rating are really good and mostly free!  I benefited greatly from the playability list, Quackle, and zyzzyva, so I donated most of my Scrabble earnings to the people who made these tools and resources.

I felt like it was pretty easy to get to a 1200 rating.  The strategy that I chose, though probably not for everyone, was:

  • Read “Word Freak”—specifically the summary of good rack management: learn to avoid keeping double or triple letters, keeping a balance of vowels and consonants, when to use a blank, leaving CANISTER on your rack, adding a -10 to your score if you have to keep Q without U, II, or UU, etc.
  • Learn the 2s, short JQXZ words, and the TISANE bingos from the cheatsheet.
  • Learn the remaining words in the order John O’Laughlin computed using Quackle, sorted by playability (North America playability list, Collins playability list).  Some people recommend learning groups of words, like all of the 3s, then the 4s, or whatever.  But the playability list is so important, especially at the beginning.  It will get you learning important 3s and 4s and vowel dumps automatically, without wasting your time on the improbable ones.
  • Learn new words using a zyzzyva cardbox.  My specific method of study was to start with the first 500 words from the playability list and make a new cardbox.  Then, whenever you have words in your cardbox to study, try the first 100 that it gives you and then analyze just those.  If you missed more than 10 of the 100, look at the words you missed, and requiz on the subset and repeat until you miss no more than 10.  Then close all of those quizzes and start on the next 100 until you’re done for the day.  Usually I would add 100 new words each day from the playability list.
  • Get a rough sense of individual letter leave values.
  • Play lots of games, record your racks as you play, and then analyze your games later in Quackle.  Don’t worry about missing amazing plays using words you don’t yet know, but do try to identify when you lost a lot of equity by not playing something that you could have theoretically found.

Maximal Leaves

An essential element of good Scrabble play involves considering not only the points you score in a given play, but also the expected value of the leave—the set of letters you leave on your rack.  You want to maximize the sum of the score value and the leave value. A Scrabble leave is maximal if no amount of deleting letters from it improves it’s estimated static leave value.  Here is a sorted list of maximal leaves.  These values are estimated from data extracted from Quackle based on the OWL2 dictionary.


Prefix/Suffix counts

Bingos are found easier by looking for common suffix or prefix combinations, like -IEST, or OVER-. This list looks at all 7 and 8 letter words in OWL2, counts how many times each prefix and suffix occurs and sorts this total list by the total counts. Each suffix/prefix shows a breakdown on the same line of all prefix and suffix strings that combine to contribute to the shorter suffix/prefix total.


Visual representation of some of this data is provided here:



I adapted the method used to compute the playability lists to compute an estimate of the hookability of every word in the Scrabble dictionary.  Analyzing 8 million Quackle games played at an expert (speedy) level, a best play that required hooking a letter onto a word was awarded points (to each word that was hooked in that play).  The sorted list might be a useful order in which to specifically study hooks.


hookabilityOWL2.txt (just the words)

Blank Worth

When you save a blank for a future turn, in hopes of a high scoring play, how many points should you sacrifice to save the blank? Depends on what you leave with it. This list gives a numerical estimate of how many points a blank adds to every set of 5 or fewer letters.