The Top Three Scrabble Cities in the World

Where are the best English-language Scrabble players in the world? The top answer may surprise you.

3. The San Francisco Bay Area

San Francisco, CA, USA

San Francisco, CA – the 3rd best Scrabble city

9 out of the top 10 players in California live in the Bay Area. The top 5 include Jesse Day, who placed 2nd in the National Scrabble Championship this year (and has placed in the top 10 in the last 5 years), John O’Laughlin, who won the Collins Division of the NSC last year, as well as Mike Frentz and Jerry Lerman. Mike Frentz has won a few top-tier tournaments, including the California Open, and Jerry is a perennial top player, placing 2nd in the 2007 Players Championship. Rounding out the top 5 is myself, Cesar Del Solar, who would do better if he spent more time studying and less time writing blogs and word-study web apps.

We have about 18-20 tournaments a year – 12 Berkeley tournaments, 1 Mill Valley, 6 San Jose, and our flagship yearly tournament is the California Open, held in downtown San Francisco.

Our Berkeley July 2013 tournament was the strongest tournament field ever by average rating: 1997!

Jesse Day, John O'Laughlin, Mike Frentz, Jerry Lerman, Cesar Del Solar

Jesse Day, John O’Laughlin, Mike Frentz, Jerry Lerman, Cesar Del Solar

2. Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon - our #2 Scrabble City

Portland, Oregon – the 2nd best Scrabble City

Portland’s top 5 players include Dave Wiegand and Conrad Bassett-Bouchard; Dave has won the National Scrabble Championship twice, including beating Nigel Richards 4 out of 5 games to win in 2009. Conrad just won Nationals in 2014 and recently qualified for the $25K 2015 Wordie finals; he has also been ranked the #1 player in the world before. Peter Armstrong, recent Bay Area transplant, won the Collins division in Reno Nationals 2015 as well as several other major tournaments (Dallas Open, California Open).

Evans Clinchy and Noah Walton round out the top 5; they are both players with very strong finishes in various Nationals and other major tournaments.

Portland has tournaments almost every month with very fearsome top divisions. They are also hosting the 2015 Word Cup next weekend; we’ll keep you posted on results.

There was a Cal-Pac tournament in 2013, in which the top 7 players of California vs the top 7 player in the Pacific Northwest faced off – California emerged victorious by just half a point, I believe. At that point, California had Conrad and Kenji Matsumoto – two of the best ever Scrabble players.

Team California emerges victorious over Team Pacific Northwest at the 2013 CALPAC!

Team California emerges victorious over Team Pacific Northwest at the 2013 CALPAC

Dave Wiegand, Conrad Bassett-Bouchard, Evans Clinchy, Peter Armstrong, Noah Walton

Dave Wiegand, Conrad Bassett-Bouchard, Evans Clinchy, Peter Armstrong, Noah Walton

#1 – Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand - the best Scrabble city in the world

Bangkok, Thailand – the best Scrabble city in the world

In the 1980s, Amnuay Ploysangngam, a Thai businessman, went to grad school at Stanford and got hooked on Scrabble, playing it every chance he got. When he got back to Thailand, he started selling a Scrabble clone named “Crossword” in Bangkok, marketing it mainly to children as a way to teach them English. His dream was to see a Thai player eventually become the number 1 in the world.

For whatever reason, the game took off. Thousands of children spent many hours memorizing the English-language Scrabble dictionary and when they started competing in prestigious tournaments around the world, they would often take the top spots. Their vast knowledge of the English-language Scrabble words almost never include the definitions. They memorize the strings of letters. The game became a national sport and put Bangkok on the map as a top Scrabble mecca.

Making this even more interesting is the fact that while they play the North American TWL dictionary in smaller tournaments, the top tournaments in Thailand are played with the much larger Collins dictionary. This means that players are constantly learning and unlearning words for individual tournaments. The top players even fly to the North American championship yearly and must keep the dictionaries straight in their heads.

Bangkok’s top players include Komol Panyasophonlert, Panupol Sujjayakorn and Pakorn Nemitrmansuk. Komol has yet to win a World Championship, but has come extremely close several times. In 2013, Komol placed 2nd in the King’s Cup (more on that below). Just a week later, he was on his way to Las Vegas to play in the National Scrabble Championship. He unlearned thousands of words and placed 2nd again. Finally, a couple of months later, he placed 2nd at the World Scrabble Championship in Prague. Of note: Nigel Richards won all three of those tournaments.

Panupol and Pakorn are both former World Champions, Panupol being the youngest ever to win it at 19 in 2003 (he played Pakorn in the finals). Pakorn won it in 2009, beating Nigel Richards 3 games to 1. They have both placed in the top 10 several times at US Nationals as well; Panupol was one game away from winning the whole thing in 2005 but placed 2nd to Dave Wiegand. They have also both won the Thai King’s cup multiple times.

Rounding out the top 5 in Bangkok are Thacha Koowirat and Pichai Limprasert – both very good players with top finishes in major tournaments. There are even more incredible Thai players that I haven’t mentioned because I’m not sure they live in Bangkok, such as Jakkrit, Charnwit, Nawapadol… the list goes on.

King's Cup in Bangkok, Thailand

King’s Cup in Bangkok, Thailand

As far as tournaments go, Thailand hosts the biggest one in the world. The King’s Cup, held in Bangkok yearly in a mall, draws many thousands of players. The majority are schoolchildren, but the world’s top players also congregate here, and the King of Thailand even makes an appearance at the award ceremony.

Amnuay, Komol, Panupol, Pakorn, Thacha, Pichai

Amnuay, Komol, Panupol, Pakorn, Thacha, Pichai

A collaboration by Cesar Del Solar and Emily Dowgialo

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Best Of the Bay

Every year, we in the Bay Area have a tournament called Best Of the Bay, or BOB for short. It was temporarily renamed to the LES (Let’s Eat Stuff), in honor of late Scrabble legend Lester Schonbrun, last year. It consists of eight games against other top players and is punctuated by delicious food cooked by Scrabble players and chefs extraordinaire Chris Patrick Morgan and KC Frodyma (or XKCP as we like to call them).

One of many delicious pizzas baked by team XKCP

One of many delicious pizzas baked by team XKCP

It is one of the only tournaments around that requires qualifying, and the criteria is simple – if you win a division 1 tournament in the Bay Area sometime in the year, you’re in! I’ve qualified the past three years and it’s been a great time – I even won the 2014 edition – however, I’ve already tried 9 times this year and been unable to qualify yet.

Sensing that there’s not many tournaments left in the year, I went to a smaller tournament in Mill Valley last week, run by a rival organization to NASPA called WGPO. There were still some experts in attendance, but I was by far the highest seeded – and still lost two of the six games, knocking me out of 1st.

Play my game against Mary Stevens here, who definitely deserved to beat me: http://cross-tables.com/annotated.php?u=21734

My next try will be this coming Sunday in San Jose. The tournaments being just six games long makes this difficult, as there is a lot of variance, but I would think I should have won at least one already – I usually win 2-3 tourneys per year, but this year I have 3 second places and can’t quite win one yet. I gotta qualify soon!

Our post-tourney crowd last month at Jupiter in Berkeley. Some of these Scrabble players were just passing through town and visiting, including Gab Wong from Hong Kong!

Our post-tourney crowd last month at Jupiter in Berkeley. Some of these Scrabble players were just passing through town and visiting, including Gab Wong from Hong Kong!

Cesar Del Solar, Aerolith.org

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Want to write an article or blog post for Scrabble TV Live? Email us at scrabble.live@gmail.com.

Wordie $25K Championship

This weekend, 64 Words With Friends wordsmiths will have a battle of wits at Zynga headquarters, for a chance at $25,000. This is quite exciting as the Scrabble community has not seen prize money that high in a long time. Zynga is trying to promote their new game, though, which is basically a very volatile version of Words With Friends, and to do so they are holding an invitational tournament.

Unfortunately, I did not get invited, but our good friend and 2014 National Scrabble champion Conrad Bassett-Bouchard will be there, along with at least two other Scrabblers. We met up with Conrad for dinner last night in Berkeley and wished him good luck.

The tournament has just six games today, with two minutes per side per turn, played on a tablet. The top 4 players will go on to play the semifinals and finals in Burbank in October for a chance at the 25K.

An 11x11 board, used for the WWF fast play 25K championship

An 11×11 board, used for the WWF fast play 25K championship

The regular 15×15 Words With Friends plays a lot like Scrabble, the only real differences are in the bonus square distributions, tile distributions and values, and dictionary. The dictionary is very similar to TWL1 (the Scrabble dictionary used in 1998), plus a bunch of extra words.

One of the main factors that has made WWF so popular is that it is much more volatile than Scrabble – a lot of tiles are worth more, the bonus square distribution encourages shorter words, and the bingo bonus is 35 instead of 50 points – so players who don’t spend many hours memorizing the dictionary have more of a chance. The version of WWF used for these championships is even wilder – 11×11 size, just 38 tiles and bonus squares all over the place! We believe our friend Conrad will be the favorite, but it’ll be tough due to the increased luck factor. Conrad is known for his defensive play style, however, and this may suit him well.

We will have more updates for you as the tournament progresses.

Cesar Del Solar, Aerolith.org

Cesar Del Solar

North American Scrabble Championship: Cesar’s Report On Days 3, 4, 5

Day 3.

At the end of day 2 I was 7-7 and very barely in contention, with a low cumulative point spread. To make the brackets I would need to win all 7 games the next day, or maybe even 6, but they would have to be by a huge amount on average. I calculated the chances of doing so; assuming I’m about 55% to win each game (reasonable since I was a high seed), I have about a 1.5% chance of making it to the brackets. So I was about as good as done, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t going to try as hard as possible.

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Unfortunately my dream was dead after just the second game, in which I played Steve Bush, a nice guy from Kentucky. He opened with a bingo, and a few turns later plays another one, FROWNIER through an O, to go up about 80 points. I held him on this play for a long time, trying to remember whether this was a word or not, but the problem is that for some reason it looked very familiar, and I thought there was a very good chance it was good. If I had thought harder, I would have realized that I’ve never seen the word FROWNY before, and I’ve studied the high point 6s… so I let it go, and he bingoed 3 more times and killed me.

At the end of the game I checked and sure enough it was phony. Turns out I was thinking of the word BROWNIER. Oops. Too bad I’m not Nigel Richards. In prior years I would have been upset and probably played badly the rest of the day, but I took it very stoically, got over it super quickly, and moved on to the rest of the day. I think part of my success in this tournament was due to my successfully conquering the ability to quickly move on from mistakes. The difficulty of long tournaments is a culmination of many factors. Playing against incredibly skilled opponents, luck, lack of sleep, and increasing frustration contribute to a potentially lethal potion that in past years chipped away at my focus. This year I let things slide and kept my emotions in check.

I won 3 out of 4 games in the morning, and had a great lunch at a super good tortas place (if you ever happen to be in Reno you must go – it’s across the street from the Reno Ballroom). In the afternoon, I won 2 out of 3, for a total of 5 games for the day, a good average. My sole loss came to Joel Sherman, and I made a very serious word mistake, playing a phony bingo when I had a 50-point play that also blocked the board and put me up by a bunch. Joel, being a former National and World champion, challenged very quickly and controlled the board afterwards. When I finally bingoed, he was able to triple-triple through it and I was done after this.

I had avoided looking at how close I came, but it turns out that if I had just won one more game by enough, that I could possibly have made it to the Elite Eight. If only one more of those games had gone my way, especially early on when I was facing lower seeds! Why did I have to start 1-4? Still, I wasn’t too upset and I filled out my bracket that night, guessing that my good friend Jesse Day would win it all over Thai wonder Panupol Sujjayakorn.

My stomach hurt a bit, mostly from nerves, so I didn’t have dinner until late, and it was just half of a deli sandwich. We had a NASPA town hall meeting that night and I attended; most of the questions ranged around the controversy of the bracket format. More to come on that in a later post.

Day 4.

While the Elite Eight in each division started their bracket playoff games, the rest of us were forced to play another 10 meaningless games. Just kidding, but that’s what some people thought! In order to give us something to play for, there were prizes for 9th through 12th place, and since I had missed the bracket by a game and change I was playing all the other players who had also just barely missed. As a result, I had what has possibly been my toughest Nationals day to date, in terms of my matchups – and it was a great challenge. Scrabble players take the game very seriously, and certainly no one seemed discouraged by not having made the playoffs; we were all playing super tough.

In order, my lineup was: Trey Wright, Ian Weinstein, Chris Cree, Charles Reinke, Joey Krafchick, Rafi Stern, and Doug Brockmeier. That field includes a former Nationals champion, the number 2 seed, and several other top-notch players who have all won far more events than I have. I was lucky to finish day 4 with a 4-3 record, losing to Ian, Chris, and Rafi. More annotations on these games will come soon.

Cesar Del Solar (me!) playing on day 4 against Joey Krafchick, a top player from Texas

At the end of the day, since it was our last Reno dinner together, I went with a group of 6 good friends to an Italian restaurant called Johnny’s Ristorante. I had a classic spaghetti and meatballs, recommended by my friend, food aficionado, and local Reno resident Kenji Matsumoto. It was a wonderful yet bittersweet last night in Reno. It’s the one time of the year so many of my friends are all together in one place, and it’s great seeing everyone, but it’s always a little sad when it’s over.

Dessert.

Dessert

The final day.

My field on day 4 was so tough that even though I tried my best I could not win more than 4 games.. which meant that I would have to win all 3 games on the final day to cash. Again, this was possible, but unlikely, yet I gave it my best.

The day 5 field consisted of Jason Li, Charles Reinke (for the second time), and Conrad Bassett-Bouchard. That is the same Jason and Conrad who played for the title in last year’s Nationals in Buffalo, and Charles, an excellent player who was looking for revenge for the previous day’s loss.

Charles got me this time after I tried a ridiculous phony of PALEWEED*. Why would I try that? No idea, but it seemed a little familiar. In North American rules Scrabble, challenging a valid word costs a player their turn, and maybe I felt bravado from winning our previous match on a challenge, that I thought I could get away with it. Unfortunately for me, Charles smacked it off the board pretty quickly and then got his own massive bingo a few turns later, which I had to challenge out of desperation. So a completely deserved loss and good play by him.

I did beat both Conrad and Jason, though, getting admittedly pretty lucky in both games – although at a high level, a lot of games do come down to luck. It is playing consistently well over the 31 rounds that cause good players to rise to the top, and I came up short again by one game and didn’t cash.

I was still very happy with my final result; 16th is the best I’ve ever done at a Nationals and I feel like next year I can actually cash. I am planning on studying all the words now. During this whole tournament I was very focused and I think if I can channel this focus again but with good word knowledge, I can finally prevail.

At the end of our three games, we took a quick break for lunch then headed to the awards ceremony room, where they live-streamed games 4 and 5 of the finals games between Matthew Tunnicliffe and Jesse Day. Matthew ended up prevailing in the very exciting game 5. You can see the videos on Youtube, starting with https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IU9z6CvM1kI.

It was an amazing tournament and I was so glad to see so many friends again and partake in all sorts of fun activities after-hours. Reno is a pretty cool city and there was always something to do. There was a big car show the final day we were there so I got to wander around a bit at lunch and check out the endless rows of candy-colored roasters.

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Hot August Nights car show on the Reno strip

My next big event will probably be the California Open in San Francisco, sometime in late October. I’m feeling good about my game, and I actually had the highest average score at nationals (437). I just have to keep my head in the game and stay focused.

Until next year.

-Cesar Del Solar, Aerolith.org

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North American Scrabble Championship, Day 2 – Cesar’s Report

ATTENTION SCRABBLERS FAR AND WIDE: If you would like to contribute and write for Scrabble TV Live shoot us an email at scrabble.live@gmail.com, or find us at the tournament. Or carrier pigeon. Whatever method of communication that works for you. We’d love for you to participate!

Well, I’m still in the running for the bracket, even though it’s going to be close to a miracle if I make it. I basically need to win all 7 games tomorrow.

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Scrabble went a little better than yesterday. I played decently in my three losses, but still made a few critical mistakes that possibly cost me the games. In this game against Manop, I played a cool 9 (I made YOUNGSTER through YO), but lost:

http://cross-tables.com/annotated.php?u=21361

I played two other 9s today – I(SO)THERAL and R(ET)AINERS. Final record for the day was 4-3, which makes me 7-7 overall. If I’m being completely honest, I’m feeling pretty tired. But I’m hopeful. I think I have a shot and am probably good enough to win my games tomorrow but I need to be really lucky. I need a little luck and.. well, maybe just a little luck. But I’ll keep playing to the best of my ability. My average game score this tournament is on the higher side (432), so I’m not playing badly. My opponents just happen to be playing slightly better. I’m trying to not be discouraged. Every missed bingo stings a little more than the last, and I tend to stop caring the more I lose. It can be a slippery slope, one that a lot of players feel during this tournament.

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Although Scrabble isn’t going as well as I wanted it to, I feel thankful to have such a fun group of friends. I went to a delicious Basque restaurant for dinner with 7 great friends, had some tasty drinks and ate way too much food. I’m happy the tournament is in Reno this year because there’s a lot to do. I didn’t find Buffalo, where the 2014 NASC was held, as fun of a location. Next year’s tournament is in Fort Wayne, Indiana so.. we’ll see how that goes.

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Jesse Matthews, John O’Laughlin, Cesar Del Solar

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After I ate enough for two people and felt like I had just doubled my body weight, I went to the musicale. The musicale is an event that showcases Scrabblers’ musical talents. It is an after hours event hosted by NASPA that was held in one of the Silver Legacy ballrooms. Josh Sokol and I performed our rendition of “Don’t Look Back In Anger” by Oasis, with me on guitar and him accompanying me on piano doing vocals. It was a fantastic showcase – I didn’t know so many Scrabblers were also so musically talented! We took video.. stay tuned for that.

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My first game tomorrow is against my Bay Area clubmate Norases Vesdapunt (or Saint, his Thai nickname), who has been a player that rose up through the ranks quickly. I’m crossing my fingers. I could really use some luck. And good luck to all my fellow Scrabblers.

-Cesar Del Solar, Aerolith.org

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North American Scrabble Championship, Day 1 – Cesar’s Report

Had an exciting first day at Nationals today. The tournament feels extra intense this year because only the first three days count to get to the final 8 bracket — so having a bad day can be super rough. Luckily I was able to save a 1-4 start by winning the last two and I’m ready to keep going!

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Div 1 at Nationals is always tough. Everyone is good, so one must make as few mistakes as possible. Will Anderson, who finished in the top 5 the last two Nationals, was matched against me in the third game and he played four bingos on me — but the first one hooked the new word SHEN with another S, making SHENS*. For a second, I considered challenging the play, but he had the bingo in a couple of other spots, and he wouldn’t have played it there unless he was sure! Unfortunately, I wasn’t 100% about it being a phony, so I felt like I had to let it go and the game pretty much ended shortly after.

My game 4 went as follows: http://cross-tables.com/annotated.php?u=21356. I plugged it into the computer trying to figure out what I did wrong. I shouldn’t have challenged OVERLEAPT, but it was a desperation challenge and if it stays I have too little of a chance to win. Oh well.

We got some deli sandwiches from Safeway. Note to self: deli sandwich people can take up to 20 minutes to make 3 sandwiches. I came back from lunch to another defeat.

In game 6, I’m at 1-4 and although I told myself that the tournament is by no means over, I started becoming discouraged and thought to make up a word against my opponent, “SUDATIVE”. He quickly challenged it, jumped out to a lead, and just when it looked hopeless, I drew the blank, and was able to bingo twice in a row and squeak out the win. My opponent was such a good sport about it as well, and it encouraged me to keep trying, and I won the next game as well.

What do Scrabble players do after games are over for the day? I eat Thai food. I went to a fantastic spot not too far from the casino called Thai Chili and stuffed myself. I usually don’t eat too much during the day at tournaments because I don’t have much of an appetite so by 7pm I was pretty ravenous.

We drove back to the hotel and ended up running into a couple Scrabble friends in the parking lot. We headed to a bar to discuss the day’s events over beers. We snapped a selfie as we walked past the large neon sign in downtown Reno, of course.

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Chris Tallman, Emily Dowgialo, Cesar Del Solar, Jesse Day

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Cesar Del Solar and Will Anderson

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Rafi Stern and Jesse Day

A Scrabble trivia contest was tonight but we didn’t end up participating. A number of teams competed Jeopardy style for a cash prize.

Here’s to a good day tomorrow, and good luck to everyone else at the tournament!

-Cesar Del Solar, Aerolith.org

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North American Scrabble Championship, thus far

Friday was a day filled with travel pains for many, and we were no exception. After leaving the Bay Area painfully late (approximately 3:15, yikes) we hit pockets of dead-stopped traffic and excruciatingly hot weather on our way to Reno. But we finally saw the outlines of the large casinos sprawled along the downtown Strip around 8pm and made a beeline for the NASPA reception in one of the Silver Baron ballrooms at the Silver Legacy.

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Silver Baron ballrooms

The food spread included two types of flat breads, two kinds of sliders, BBQ beef, cole slaw, rolls, and potato chips. Just outside the reception entrance were more delicious bites, including deviled eggs (which I was personally very excited about). Each attendee received a drink ticket which could be redeemed at a fully stocked bar.

Delicious food

Delicious food

The reception

The reception

The reception went from 7-10pm, but a few continued to mingle even after the food was cleared and the drinks (sadly) disappeared. It seems most people wanted to get to bed early so they could get enough sleep for the tournament in the morning but it was great seeing and reconnecting with friends.

Nick Meyer, David Whitley, Dan Novinson, and Emily Dowgialo

Nick Meyer, David Whitley, Dan Novinson, and Emily Dowgialo

Cesar Del Solar

Cesar Del Solar

Emily Dowgialo

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