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Saturday 11th December 2004

I was invited to attend an unofficial mini Scrabble tournament by a friend who knows I like Scrabble. It was just going to be 8 people playing Scrabble against each other at someone's house from 10.30am to 4.30pm, with lunch thrown in. It wasn't a proper nerdo tournament (though I would really like to take part in one of those).
I have mainly being playing my gameboy at Scrabble of late and not had many human opponents so I knew it might feel a bit alien. Also these people were all pretty good Scrabble players and three of them play quite regularly at tournaments and one of them was ranked something like 120th best at Scrabble in the country. I won two and lost three, though I didn't really wake up til about midday.
The three who play at tournaments predictably did the best and have been dubbed "The ladies that Scrabble" by the host of the evening. They are all sophisticated, wealthy middle-aged ladies who admit to spending a lot of their time playing board games and Scrabble is their clear favourite. They all have personalised swivel boards with their names written on them and have spent a lot of time studying their word lists (I've only learnt the acceptable 2 letter words and few other high scoring short words, but they seemed to know everything - they also included the American dictionary which I don't know).
It's a big part of their social scene and they told a fascinating story about one of their friends who was discovered to have regularly cheated at the game, who they had all ostracised. The final straw came when they were playing on a yacht (they are all very rich) and this woman said she needed the toilet, but by chance was discovered by one of the others checking her dictionary. The ladies who Scrabble took this indiscretion extremely seriously and now no longer talk or socialise with the cheater. As a result her life has been entirely changed.
Cheating obviously ruins the game and in the end what is the point of winning if you have to do it by underhand means, but it was quite chilling to see how important the game was to these people. I could totally understand it, because that kind of behaviour (and they'd had suspicions for years and there were several other instances where she'd been suspected or caught out) does say a lot about a person. But still it made you realise that these were not people to be messed with. I was very careful to be seen to be above board from then on, in case I woke up to find myself buried in concrete, supporting a new flyover.
It struck me that if the boat had been at sea that this whole thing might have made an excellent plot for a film or a "Tales of the Unexpected" if they bring that back. I wasn't entirely convinced that these Scrabble geniuses wouldn't have resorted to murder if they felt they could have got away with it. "Oh no, it was terrible, she just slipped overboard and there was nothing we could do about it."
"That's all very well madam, but when we found the body it had ten Scrabble tiles and half of a dictionary stuffed down her throat."
"How very strange."
Still we had fun and despite my dictionary in the toilet the two of the three that I played managed to beat me fairly easily. They said I should come along to some of the proper tournaments and I have to say that I am tempted, though I know I don't have the dedication to study the game to compete at the top level. Though by playing some experts (who weren't just pixilated images) I did learn some good new words. Etaerio is the pick of the bunch, especially as these are the letters that you are most likely to end up with statistically.

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