Tournament to celebrate popular game’s local roots

Though imitations such as Words with Friends have recently garnered popularity, many of us maintain the original is always better than the copy and pledge our allegience to Scrabble­­­—the word game which can bring out the best in some and the worst in others. While most of us are familiar with the board game, as Vassar students we are more closely connected to it than we think. The game’s creator, Alfred Butts, who invented Scrabble in 1938, was born in Poughkeepsie.

He called the game “criss-crosswords,” and ranked the letters according to the frequency of which they were used in The New York Times and assigned them values accordingly, with ‘Q’ and ‘Z’ being the letters with the highest worths of 10 points, and vowels and consonants L, N, R, S and T being worth only one point.  The rights to manufacture the game were eventually purchased and the name was changed to Scrabble, a word whose meaning is “to scratch or dig frantically.”

To honor the late Alfred Butts, Poughkeepsie will host a Scrabble Tournament this March 15-17 at Locust Grove. Scrabble Tournaments are all run with specific rules and guidelines set up by the North American Scrabble Players Association (NASPA).

While most participants will be local, there is also draw from many parts of the country and the world because of the event’s status as an official NASPA tournament. Cornelia Guest, a North American Scrabble Association Director who has organized the tournament commented, “I’m expecting 50-70 players. I have players right now entered from Canada, Virginia, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Maryland, and I’m expecting more entries in the coming weeks.”

She went on to express hope for the events growth in the coming years as well.

“I hope to make this an annual event.  It was held in 2008, so this is the second one.  Usually attendance builds each year,” she said.

There will be two different tournaments at Poughkeepsie’s event, meant to cater to both amateur and seasoned Scrabble players. One is the Newcomers tournament, which is for players who are new to competition or who have NASPA ratings under 1,000. The second tournament is the NASPA-rated Main Event, which only paying members can participate in. Qualified players will be placed in one of four divisions, the divisions being advanced, intermediate, beginner and one separate division for those who wish to play with the international lexicon. In the last division, the book used to determine acceptable words is the Collins Scrabble Words Dictionary 2012. Collins allows for more words, and accepts different types of words, such as two-letter words, words with only vowels, comparatives,superlatives and gerunds.

Each player has a total of 25 minutes to play, with points being deducted for each minute they go over that time limit. To keep track, there is an official chess timer used. Each player records their points after every turn. At the end of the match, the player with the higher number of points wins and the difference between the two scores—known as the spread—is noted. If two players have accumulated the same number of points, the one with the higher spread will be awarded the higher place prize.

Though Scrabble relies on the luck-of-the-draw to a certain extent, there are some popular strategies.

Guest advised, “One I recommend is saving your blank for a ‘bingo’ (50-point bonus for using all 7 tiles on your rack) or similarly high score.  I also suggest overlap plays for good scores, particularly if you can play a high-point tile two ways on a premium square. Remember, too, that the tiles you leave on your rack are important, as they are the foundation for your next play.  Try for a ‘balanced rack,’ with a nice complement of vowels and consonants­—you won’t score well with AAEIIOU on your rack!”

One Comment

  1. To enter the tournament, go to (with a hyphen) and click under “Poughkeepsie” to get a downloadable flyer. Please note that advance registration is required–no walk-ins. The Newcomers Tournament is on Saturday, March 16, from 10am – 1 pm (9:30 check-in). The 16-game Main Event starts Friday, March 15 at 5 pm and runs through Sunday, March 17 at 4 pm. Please contact Cornelia Guest at or at 203-244-5324 if you need more information.

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