History and Strategy of Competitive Scrabble

Welcome to History and Strategy of Competitive Scrabble. This interdisciplinary course is designed to introduce the student to the basic strategies of competitive Scrabble in the context of probability theory and to provide a background in the social climate in which the game developed. Please note that the name Scrabble is a trademark of Hasbro, Inc. in the US and Canada and of J. W. Spear & Sons PLC elsewhere.

Course Summary


In History and Strategy of Competitive Scrabble you will have an opportunity to learn the ins and outs of playing America’s favorite word game in the context of the games economic history and the development of the Scrabble playing community. No prior Scrabble playing experience is necessary. During the first part of the course there will be focus on readings and discussion with others on these topics. Throughout the course there are progressive skill development puzzles including board position analysis (like “black checkmates in three” stuff in chess), vocabulary building puzzles, anagramming practice and other puzzles like those found in The Official Scrabble Puzzle Book. Students should use the talk pages of course sessions to discuss readings. Actually playing scrabble practice learned skills is required and can be done electronically as discussed below.

This interdisciplinary course covers aspects of history, economics, sociology, mathematics, and psychology. It begins by tracing the game’s development from invention in 1931 to its current commercial form. You will be looking at how the rights to the game made their way from inventor to corporation and discussing this transfer in the context of other American inventors and how much recognition and profit they received. You will also take a sociological look at development of competitive Scrabble as separate from the “living room game” and the self-organized community and structure that developed around the competitive game.

After you have covered the historical and social aspects of the game you will move on to strategy and tactics. Sessions include tricks for learning new words and some key lists you will memorize by the end of the course (like the 101 acceptable two letter words), anagramming skills, and other techniques to increase your personal ability. Competitive tactics topics will include the proper use of nonwords (“phoneys”) by psychological analysis of your opponent, how to maximize your chances of bingoing through balancing your rack, how to play the probability numbers game to accurately predict the likelihood your drawing specific tiles or achieving specific outcomes with your plays, and how to control the pace of the game.

Course Outline

Course Outline



Reading and Materials



Everything Scrabble, by Joe Edley and John D. Williams Jr. 2001, Pocket Books. ISBN 0671042181.
The Official Tournament Rules

Suggested Reading

Word Freak, by Stefan Fatsis. 2001, Penguin. ISBN 0618015841.
The Big Book of Scrabblegrams. 2005, Sterling. ISBN 1402728530.
The Official Scrabble Puzzle Book, by Joe Edley. 1997, Pocket Books. ISBN 0671569007.
Zyzzyva, software for querying and studying words
Quackle, a strong computer opponent

Electronic Play


Finding a right place to play electronically can be difficult. There are many options with many different features. Being able to create buddy lists of other users and having automatic scoring is fairly standard. The place you choose should have ways to set time limits. There should be a way to review your old games play by play. Standard competitive word sources should be used. (The sites listed below include all these features and allow for play both with the standard North American word list and the British/international standard.)

  • Internet Scrabble Club (ISC)
    After downloading the multi-platform standalone Java program WordBiz you can connect to their game server. The ISC has a large international community of players of all ability levels from beginner to expert. It is the site favored by the world's top competitive players. It has a feature that allows you to observe the games of high rated players. It has 24 hour help available through the in-program chat interface. ISC allows you to familiarize yourself with the notation system for recording Scrabble games. If you pay a small membership fee you can get access to more features like computer analysis of games. The downside to ISC program is that it has largely text based. It has an interface similiar to IRC. If you aren't familiar with text based interfaces you will probably be better off at the next site.
  • Scrabulous
    This is a web-based and graphics heavy Java applet-based Scrabble site. The interface for this site is easier to navigate than ISC which is much more text based. It has 24 hour help available through the site's chat interface, by email, and by telephone. It has a large number of users, however it doesn't have the same high level of play that ISC does. Scrabulous has now introduced the ability for people to play phoney words in challenge games.


  • using Scrabble to learn math
  • using scrabble to learn vocabulary and spelling