Nigel Richards from New Zealand is renowned as the best Scrabble™ player in the history of the game. He spends his life travelling the world from one event to another – he’s effectively the only Scrabble™ professional, earning enough money from one event to pay his expenses for the next. He’s a 3-time World Champion and got so bored winning in English that he decided to learn French in 7 weeks last year and promptly won the French-speaking World Championship!
2) Scrabble™ is massive in South-East Asia, particularly Thailand where it’s actually used in the school curriculum as a fun way of learning English. Their main event – “The King’s Cup” – is held in Bangkok’s biggest shopping centre to cater for the 10,000 students that play! The opening ceremony features dancing girls and the ‘foreign’ players come on stage to the sound of Queen’s “We are the Champions”– a member of the Thai royal family presents the prizes – watch out UFC and WWE!!
3) Africa is hugely into Scrabble™ – it’s particularly popular in Nigeria from where Wellington Jighere, the 2015 World Champion, hails – when he won the title, he was personally congratulated by the President. The next World Championship will be held in Kenya – the first time it has taken place in Africa. The Nigerians are undoubtedly the most serious players, regularly playing 40 practice games over a weekend – they are getting better all the time but some of them aren’t the best of losers!
4) The wonderful Philips Edwin-Mugisha from Uganda tries to strike fear into his opponents by calling himself “The Phenomen” – but as a player he’s quite average!
5) Esther Perrins from Australia is the only woman to have made the top 10 in the World Championships – she came 3rd last year. Probably more women than men play tournament Scrabble™, but men seem to do better – the reason for this is the subject of a lot of heated debate, but it’s probably just that men have more time on their hands!
6) The USA is the only English-speaking country that doesn’t officially adopt the World Collins Dictionary – says a lot!
7) Scrabble™ is becoming increasingly popular in India and particularly Pakistan – a huge contingent of incredibly keen young players came over to Lille for the World Championship in September – I expect there’ll be a West Asian champion soon. Their Inter-School Championship is the biggest tournament of any single sport in Pakistan!
8) Pakorn Nemitrmansuk and Panupol Sujjayakorn from Thailand have both won the World Championship – Panupol can hardly speak English! Other top Thai players include Jakkrit Klarpajones, Komol Panyasophonlert and I’ve had the pleasure of playing other wonderful names such as Boonkerd and Thawat!! Amnuay Ploysangngam is the Bernie Ecclestone of Thai Scrabble!
9) There are big annual events in Bangalore, Israel, Berlin, Sydney, Malta, Bangkok, Vienna and even Norfork Island off the east coast of Australia – among others! If you don’t want to go quite that far, you can find a tournament somewhere in the UK pretty much every weekend of the year.
10) If you’re at a loose end over Xmas and fed up of whupping the family, there’s even an event in Daventry between Xmas and New Year – imaginatively called “Twixmas” – check out www.absp.org.uk or it’s www.wespa.org for the overseas stuff.
By Mark Nyman