Where are the best English-language Scrabble players in the world? The top answer may surprise you.
3. The San Francisco Bay Area
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!
2. Portland, Oregon
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.
#1 – Bangkok, Thailand
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.
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.
–A collaboration by Cesar Del Solar and Emily Dowgialo
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