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10 Tips to Improve Your Scrabble Strategy

I've played many games of Scrabble with both experienced players and novices. Based on my experiences, these are my top ten Scrabble tips.

scrabble-strategy

Scrabble is a game that appeals to players with a wide variety of skill ranges. None of the ideas here will require anything as rigorous as is required to play at the very top tables—things like memorizing all of the seven- and eight-letter words or tracking all the letters that have been used will not be seen here. Instead, these tips are aimed toward the casual or better player who is looking to take their Scrabble game to the next, slightly higher level. With that said, there are two tips that should absolutely be followed.

  1. Learn the rules: If you don’t know the rules, you will begin at a disadvantage when it comes to winning.
  2. Practice: There’s no substitute for practice.

Without further ado, here are my 10 top tips for winning more Scrabble games.

Top 10 Tips to Improve Your Scrabble Game

  1. Learn the two-letter words.
  2. Organize your tiles in the same way every time.
  3. Focus on the hot spots.
  4. Learn basic board control strategy.
  5. Look at popular bingos.
  6. Learn the rough values of letters.
  7. Hold some vowels and consonants.
  8. Learn the three-letter words
  9. Read the "Q without a U" words.
  10. Figure out the point values of your options before you move.

1. Learn the two-letter words.

One of the most important words in Scrabble is “QI,” a vital energy force in some Chinese schools of thought that provides one of the few ways to unload a “Q” without access to a “U.” On every board, there are opportunities that only exist for players that know the two-letter words.

In addition, one of the best ways to achieve a higher average Scrabble score is playing overlapping words, which is an easy way to get some of your letters to score twice. There are less than 100 total two-letter words, and even reading through them a few times will drastically improve your game if you haven’t seen them before.

Regional Differences

A key note: The two-letter words are one place that the differences between regions are most apparent. “ZO,” “JA,” “CH,” and “NY” are important words that are valid in some regions and invalid in others.

2. Organize your tiles in the same way every time.

This is probably the easiest thing on the whole list. When you first pick up your tiles, arrange them in the same way. This will help you spot common themes and repetitions between racks, and after enough games, you will begin to spot common 6+ letter words that you have seen before. I personally arrange my tiles alphabetically when I pick them up.

3. Focus on the hot spots.

Hot spots are the obvious places on the board, like where a triple-letter square is next to a vowel, or a double- or even triple-word score square is available. As you play more Scrabble and begin to see more options, it can be easy to talk yourself out of utilizing hot spots. However, as a general rule of thumb, it is very often correct to use available hot spots. Much of the value in using a hot spot comes from denying your opponent that opportunity.

4. Learn basic board control strategy.

Basic board strategy in a nutshell:

  • If you’re losing, you want to maximize the number of openings on the board.
  • If you’re winning, you want to minimize openings for your opponent; hence, play for a closed board.

To open the board, try to make plays with as little overlap as possible. Create as many bingo lanes (tiles on the board around which you could potentially make a play using all of your tiles) as possible. To close the board, do the opposite.

5. Look at popular bingos.

Bingos that include letters like “Z” or “Q” are far less common than bingos from a rack of one-letter tiles. Such bingos are often considered “low probability.” However, because you are more likely to be stuck with a “Z” or a “Q” for several turns, some of the most commonly played bingos actually involve them.

A quick internet search should point you towards lists of both commonly played bingos and high probability bingos. Reading these lists even once will introduce you to words you probably didn’t know before which are extremely likely to be useful in your Scrabble games.

6. Learn the rough values of letters.

Anyone who has played Scrabble likely realizes that an “E” is generally a much friendlier tile on your rack than something like a “V.” That’s part of the reason a “V” is worth more points than an “E.” Have you ever wondered how many more points you could expect to score if you started an empty rack with an “E” that if you started with a “V?"

Smarter minds than mine have actually calculated the rough point values of each tile, and of combinations of tiles. Take a look at the rough values of the tiles. You don’t need to memorize them exactly, but having a general idea that a “C” will score you more points on average than a “B” will help you craft a winning Scrabble style.

7. Hold some vowels and some consonants.

We’ve all been there: You play your word, pick up the bag, pray that you will find some vowels, look into your hand, and see four consonants. You can help prevent this by paying more attention to your rack leaves before you make your play.

Try not to play off all of your vowels or consonants at one time. If you are considering playing all of one or the other, consider using the rough values you learned from the previous tip to determine whether the extra points you will get by playing more letters outweigh the points you are expecting to lose by holding onto unbalanced tiles.

8. Learn the three-letter words.

The three-letter words are quite similar to the two-letter words. One of the main differences is that there are many, many more of them. Because of this, it is unlikely that you will fall into both the “I can memorize all of the three-letter words” and the “I read tips articles to win more Scrabble games" categories.

If only one of those things is likely to be true, I would suggest that simply looking through the three-letter words and making note of the ones that stand out to you. I promise, there are some doozies.

9. Read the "Q without a U" words.

Feeling stuck with a “Q” is a tough place to be. Fortunately, thanks mainly to our friends from countries that speak languages other than English, there are about 50 valid Scrabble words that feature a “Q” not followed by a “U.” Because there are only 50, this is a list that merits a little more study. The payoff is quite high.

10. Figure out the point values of your options before you move.

Scrabble is hard. Between bonus squares, parallel plays, and the huge variance in tile values, it is immensely difficult to correctly estimate the value of several potential plays, especially at first. However, if you want to win, it is worth it. You will be surprised how different even seemingly similar plays can score. More importantly, you will not be surprised when you realize how little your beautiful six-letter word was worth.

Comments

RTalloni on May 15, 2019:

Love it! Thanks for some new-to-me tips. Scrabble makes me smile and these tips have beamed it up. :)

Larry Slawson from North Carolina on March 31, 2019:

Excellent tips here. Thank you for sharing!