How to win at scrabble

Players explain how they would handle different scenarios

In Summary

• Scrabble has its ups and downs, and how you navigate them could decide your odds

• Maosa, Namatsi and Ndolo give their take on some cases. Do you agree with them?

Players concentrate during a past session of the ‘Scrabbler Squad’ league
Players concentrate during a past session of the ‘Scrabbler Squad’ league

Anyone who has played scrabble knows there is more to the game than just forming words. Every so often dilemmas emerge, and how one tackles them could make the difference between winning and losing.

To understand the thinking of players, below are trick questions answered by three of them: Benjamin Maosa, 34, Jill Namatsi, 31, and Davies Ndolo, 27. 

Given a choice between a blank tile, an S and a Z, what would you go for and why?

Maosa: The answer is not definitive. There are two main factors you will need to consider. One, how does the rest of your rack look like? Any of these tiles could be the missing link to completing a bingo or scoring highly.

Two, at what stage is the game? If a game is in the advanced stages with minimal slots for proper words, a Z might be a liability ultimately. You may be unable to use it. A blank would be better.

Generally it’s easier to make a bingo when you have a blank. I will take a blank over an S regardless of the factors above.

The game is on ‘lockdown’ and you are stuck with a Q. Chances are it will end up being deducted from your marks and cost you dearly. Do you feel there is something better you should be doing with your life?

Namatsi: Not at all. I’m a sore loser but I never show it. Stuck with a Q, deep down I’m itching for the session to end so there can be a rematch. Whatever it takes, however long it takes to redeem myself.

If you have a lot of vowels with their one-point marks, would you play your way through them or exchange tiles to aim for a higher score in the next turn?

Ndolo: I would play through them by placing them in sections where you can create more words and earn more points. A vowel might earn you one point but where you place it makes the difference.

You have a chance to score a lot of marks from your next play but risk exposing the triple word score to your opponent. Would you go for it or settle for a safer but lower-value score?

Ndolo: Settle for safer. Never let your open make a triple word move on you.

You have an X and a chance to use it in a triple word score. Would you save it for a triple letter score instead, and why?

Maosa: Not necessarily. I would go for the triple word score in three instances. One, if I can score both ways of the triple word score. This will definitely yield a higher score than a triple letter score.

Two, if I have a J, a Q and a Z on the rack (or big letters for that matter), it won’t be wise to wait for a triple letter score. A triple word offers you the best chance to offload the X with a decent score while still remaining with the rest of the bigwigs.

Three, if you are more than three players in the game. More players translates to less chances of getting a triple letter score.

This would also be the best play if the game is very competitive. If it is not (I am so ahead in the score), I might opt to wait and see whether I can land a triple letter score without compromising my lead.

You know ‘kizungu mingi’ (a lot of English) but your friend keeps winning. How would you impose a ‘curfew’ on his or her streak?

Namatsi: By creating special circumstances to warrant this. If the stakes are high enough, I can be tempted to cheat by allowing dictionary or phone use.

But that would water down the game and give me an invalid win, which would keep me up for many nights. I wouldn’t want that.

This story first appeared on Mgazeti, accessible on Sundays on