2016 World Scrabble Championship – The Quarterfinals

The preliminary 24 rounds of the 2016 World Scrabble Championship are done, and we have 8 qualifiers for the quarterfinals. Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 11.33.44 PM

A few things to note. Some people think that 24 games is too short to determine the 8 quarterfinalists, and  5 of the 8 qualifiers are seeded 10th or higher (3 are seeded 20th and above!).  However, even the lowest rated qualifier, American Rob Robinsky, is a great player who just finished 2nd at the elite BMSC (British Matchplay Scrabble Tournament) last week, so he is certainly underrated.

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Pakistani youngster Moiz Ullah and a crowd are hushed over his round-24 game against Adam Logan, which he lost by one point. (Photo taken by Jesse Day)

The Pakistani Scrabble players are truly becoming a force to be reckoned with. Several of them finished at the top of division B at the championship. As with any tournaments with qualifiers, this tournament has its share of heartbreaking stories. Moiz Ullah lost by just one point to Adam Logan to get knocked out of the quarterfinals. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time for him.

Nigel Richards sadly finished out of the money, but even if he had won his last game to Brett Smitheram (a barn-burner I watched earlier on the train over the Twitch live stream), he would not have made it to the top 8 anyway, due to the way the other games turned out.

Kenji Matsumoto, a top American Scrabble expert, commented on Facebook that this year has not been too great for young players. Indeed, most of the quarterfinalists are in their 40s or above. Maybe the youngsters are getting surpassed again! Kenji is a top American Scrabble expert from Hawaii who has recently written a book called Breaking The Game, which is available for purchase through his website.

The best player in the top 8 is probably Canadian Adam Logan, who has won the World Championship in 2005, the US National Scrabble championship in 1996, and multiple Canadian National Championships.

Below are the expected quarterfinal matches, along with my predictions for how they will do — best of 3 for the quarters, which is very prone to high variance.

(1) Mark Nyman vs (8) Joel Wapnick – two former world champions. I’ll give Nyman a slight edge because he finished with the best record after 24 games, but it’s probably a coin toss since it’s just three games!

(2) David Webb vs (7) Lewis MacKay – Lewis made it all the way to the finals last year against Wellington Jighere before going down 4-0 in a series that was more hard-fought than the scoreline would indicate. David Webb is known for creating a series of YouTube videos in his Dweebovision channel, wherein he commentates on his online Scrabble games. I’ll pick Lewis to win this mini-series due to his experiences from last year.

(3) Allan Simmons vs (6) Adam Logan – Allan has won the UK National Championship once, and the BMSC multiple times, but I’ll give Adam the edge as he is possibly the 2nd or 3rd best player in the world currently. (After His Nigelence)

(4) Robert Robinsky vs (5) Brett Smitheram – I know Rob from our days on Yahoo! Literati (I need to write an article about my Literati experiences at some point…) and he’s always been a great player. Brett has more experience with the Collins dictionary, although Rob has been playing Collins for almost 5 years now. Although Brett might be the better player – he is seeded best out of the top 8 – I’ll give Rob the sentimental pick (he did just get 2nd in the BMSC).

The semifinals and finals will both be best of 5. Assuming the brackets are as they were in the 2014 WSC, my picks would be:

Mark Nyman vs Rob Robinsky – Mark gets the edge

Lewis MacKay vs Adam Logan – Adam gets the win

And our winner will be Adam Logan over Mark Nyman 3 games to 2. Mark my words… maybe.

 

 

 

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2016 World Scrabble Championship

The 2016 World English Scrabble Championship started in Lille, France, earlier today. This edition is the third held by Mind Sports International (MSI), a company based in the UK. They have been involved in the Scrabble scene for several years now, as well as poker, chess, Magic: The Gathering, and other mind sports. Among their innovations is an RFID-based Scrabble board that automatically keeps score, as well as their live camera coverage of games and annotation software. This particular tournament is extra special because it also features the championships for French and Spanish language Scrabble.

As you may know, Scrabble is quite an intense game and many people take it very seriously. We know of a particular player who has taken a several-month sabbatical (Scrabbatical?) from work just to prepare for this tournament and he is doing quite well as of day 1. This is the kind of obsession that makes Scrabble players unique and that makes the game so interesting.

The standings in the English edition so far are as follows (thanks much to Nicky Deco and the wonderful team in Lille who got these standings to us):

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Many of the old favorites are here, including Wellington Jighere, Nigel Richards, and a significant Thai contigent (Komol leading his compatriots with a 6-2 record). On top is the only undefeated player, and a former world champion himself, Englishman Mark Nyman.

There was a bit of a snafu earlier today with the MSI-developed tournament pairing software, which was not quite ready for prime-time. The organizers have now decided to switch to tsh, an old but stable and well-maintained tournament pairing software used in most large Scrabble tournaments worldwide. This software also has the ability to provide live results, so we’ll try to get you a link to follow your favorite players.

You can also follow live on twitch.tv – our good friend Jesse Matthews is in Lille providing live commentary. He has been doing great live commentary for major tournaments since the National Scrabble Championship in 2015. This is his first time doing this at Worlds, along with Robin Pollock Daniel, a top Canadian expert. Their dynamic duo are quite entertaining and worth watching. Day 2 begins in just a few hours!

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2015 World Champion Wellington Jighere playing against Shan Abbasi earlier today on the live board.

 

-Cesar Del Solar

Crescent City Cup

Only one week until the Crescent City Cup in New Orleans! This is the fifth installment of this illustrious tournament, one that Jesse Day won 3 times, and was about to win for a fourth time last year until Morris Greenberg stopped him. We at Scrabble TV Live will be there shooting footage and participating in the revelry of this unique city.

We are going to be doing some filming for an upcoming project. If you are comfortable and willing to be on camera, we’d like to sit down and chat with you. We mostly want to focus on Scrabble overall and peoples’ lifetime careers, but we also want to hear about how your tournament is going.

Check out the entrant list here:

http://cross-tables.com/entrants.php?u=13237

141 entrants and counting across the Collins and TWL divisions. If you want to talk to us at the tournament make sure to look for Cesar or Emily (one of us will have a camera most of the time). We are rooting for our Bay Area friends to do well! The Berkeley tournament tomorrow should be a good warm-up, stay tuned for news about it.

Tournament information can be found here: https://sites.google.com/site/nolascrabble/

See you in the big easy.

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Scrabble Chat: Cesar Del Solar

ScrabbleTVLive’s very own Cesar Del Solar took home the victory at the California Open in San Francisco last weekend! We talked a little bit with him about what it was like to win his first big tournament, and he gave us a play by play of his final game against Rafi Stern.

 


Starring Cesar Del Solar, creator of Aerolith.org
Directed & Edited by Emily Dowgialo

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The 8th Annual California Open

Players from all over are making their way to beautifully foggy San Francisco where games start at 9:30am sharp.

This year there are only 42 entrants. They announced the tournament a bit late this year, which made for difficult planning for some players, but the turnout is still pretty decent for being last minute and during the holiday season.

The California Open started in Santa Nella in 2008, a small town known for Pea Soup Andersens, a favorite pit stop of travelers driving down Interstate 5. It then migrated to San Francisco, first at Fisherman’s Wharf and has been at its current home, the Parc 55 hotel in Union Square, ever since. No Californian has ever won the California Open.

I’ll be there taking pictures and schmoozing with everyone, and most likely dining and boozing in the evening. I will also be posting updates so check back for those.

More information about the tournament can be found here.

Live coverage is hosted on Cesar Del Solar’s site Aerolith.org: https://aerolith.org/co2015/html/.

See you there! I’m a native Californian myself, so I’ll be rooting for my home team to finally take home the gold.

-Emily Dowgialo

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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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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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