It’s all in the Mind

What’s inside the head of a World Scrabble Champion? Craig Beevers sheds some light.

What mental preparation is involved for playing in a World Scrabble Championship?
It’s no different to any other tournament really. Ideally you would skim through the most useful words, ie short words and bonuses that are the most likely to crop up (because they use the most common letters). You might also revise words that you’re going to be weaker on. Such as ones that have been added recently, or words ending in ING that take an S as well. Other than study you would try and make sure to get good rest, eat and drink well. Personally I like to have a walk before I start playing to get the brain going.

How long before a match does this start? Or are you always training?
My training is far more erratic than that, real life gets in the way. After you’ve been playing a few years you realise that stressing about study in the days leading up to an event generally does more harm than good. So being pragmatic is important, do what you can but retain a sense of perspective too.

Is there an element of brain training involved with the words and scores? – You often hear it’s all about numbers at a high scrabble level
Largely I think it’s either something you have the knack for, or you don’t. Certainly doing word study and playing Scrabble will train what ability you have. But if your brain isn’t wired to be logical and have a grasp of the strategy involved it is very difficult to acquire it. You can only learn so much because every situation is different and there are so many different factors to take in and try to balance accordingly.

Is your memory a superpower? If not what is?
My memory is pretty good, but only in certain ways. It’s more instinctive than anything, if a find a word straight off it is nearly always right, but the longer I think the less sure I will be.

What’s running through your mind during a match?
I’m usually focused on the rack in front of me and the scoreline. If you distance yourself from the emotion and hard luck stories, play your best, then that’s all you can do. We all got moments of frustration or beating yourself up over a mistake. I try to take in the emotion and then move on from it. Keep in control and concentrate on my next play.

Has your mind ever played tricks on you/let you down during a game?
It’s not so much played tricks as abject uncertainty and then I oscillate between thinking a word is okay and then thinking it’s not. Then if I chicken out of it and choose another move I automatically believe for the rest of the game that of course the word was fine and why didn’t I just play it? It usually turns out that I made the right call, but it never feels that way at the time.

What’s your best Scrabble memory?
Winning the World Scrabble Championship. When you’re in a final you just want it to be over and to have won somehow, no matter how scrappy it was or badly you played. It’s a roller-coaster of expectation and pressure, I was ahead 2-0 in a first to 3 final, so at that point you’re on a high but you think if you don’t win then it would be a total disaster. You’re trying to keep yourself calm so you can do your best, knowing you’ve been playing Scrabble for over four days and you’re tired. When I won it was a mixture of great relief and disbelief. Then you get all the congratulations from fellow players, family and friends. Along with lots of random media engagements thrown in. It still feels like it’s sinking in.

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