What happens at a Scrabble Tournament?

Mark Nyman, author of Scrabble Secrets, heads to Dunmurry to take on the Northern Ireland Scrabble Championship and gives us a snapshot of what it’s like to play tournament Scrabble.

After quite an eventful journey to get to Ireland (one missed flight included), I just made it to the Beechlawn House Hotel in Dunmurry as the ‘chess clocks’ were about to start ticking. The reigning champ, wasn’t playing – Paul Gallen, a former Countdown ‘Champion of Champions’, is the best player Ireland has ever produced and is World ranked 7 – I’m 19 so he would have been the favourite. Instead I had the dubious honour of being no.1 seed – it was actually a shame Paul didn’t make it as I love the competition and I’ve got a good recent record against him.

There were eight games on the Saturday and no let up. I got off to my customary shaky start by losing a turn on my very first move – EPHEDRON was challenged off – but I scraped home 488-455 against Nicky Huitson. The next two went my way and then I was drawn against the No.2 seed – Kevin McMahon – (the 2nd best player in the history of Irish Scrabble!) Kevin and Paul have been swapping the Northern Ireland title for years, but I just held him off by nine points in a exciting and enthralling game. Just when I thought I’d done the hard bit, I was comfortably beaten by both Joseph McGinley and Steve Perry. Game seven though was my best of the weekend – a 636 (averaging 53 per move!) against the very magnanimous Celine McCart. Last game of the day was against Andy Goodwin – an excellent player and lovely bloke – Andy only played eight moves and averaged 50 (!), but the game hinged on him losing a turn trying NAUTICALS – my extra two moves gave me a 35 point win.

On the second day of the tournament, I faced my nemesis first off; Nuala O’Rourke, she had beaten me the previous four times we played. I said to her that, after the fourth battering, I was more keen to beat her than New Zealand’s Nigel Richards, the World Number One! Fortunately I stopped the rot with a narrow win and won the next three to make it six in a row. So with three games to go, the title was effectively between myself, Kevin McMahon and Steve Perry – I managed to beat Kevin again in round 13 – then there were two. Being one game ahead, all I had to do was beat Steve in the penultimate game to win – I picked up a very challenging set of letters and the writing was on the wall, when, with a horrible rack of DDIINOU, Steve unwittingly blocked my bonus through a floating P – I’ll leave you to work that one out, or look it up! Steve was over 200 ahead at one stage and I was quite pleased to lose by 61!

So it was down to the final game – again against Steve – winner takes all. I was feeling pretty confident as I was due a bit of luck against him and am a great believer in ‘what goes around comes around’. I thought I’d got it with two consecutive bonuses including LIMAILS mid-game to take me over 100 ahead. However, on a tight board, Steve played QUALE for 48 immediately followed extraordinarily by EJECTOR for 114 to put him 12 ahead. We swapped a couple of further big plays and it went to the last move of the game – I played out first and held on in for a great result of 495-472. Stewart presented me with a great quirky ‘Z-based’ trophy and prize money which just about covered my missed flight! All in all, it was a really enjoyable and well run event and a great warm up for tournaments further afield, Israel 19-21 Feb next I hope….”

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