Scrabble, Word Games, and Hoot

I've played Scrabble and similar word games on many occasions. The strategy is similar in each of them, but there are variants to be aware of when studying for them. Following are some of the techniques I use to play the game.

Finding Words

The most important part of playing Scrabble is finding the words to play. With a rack of 7 letters there are thousands of letter combinations. You can't check all of them in the two or three minutes you have per play, so you have to be selective in what to look for.

When trying to form words, it's helpful to arrange the letters in a consonant-vowel order. From EIMT it's not difficult to find EMIT or TIME as two valid words. Consider also that letter combinations could be considered as one or the other. BR and TH could be looked at as consonants while OA and IO are common vowel combinations. BR PR SH EA OI IO SH AI

Two other things to look for are the prefixes and suffixes. Once you have a prefix or suffix you can shuffle the other four or five letters in order to find a word. Just a few of the most common ones are RE,DE, ED, ER, ES, IES, and ION.

Combining consonant-vowel patterns with letter combinations and 'fixes, it's a lot easier to find words in a rack of letters. From EOBHRRT you can then find that the BR (consonant) + O (vowel) + TH (consonant) + ER (suffix) combine to form BR-O-TH-ER. 

Finding Places to Play

Even though you have a good word on your rack, you have to be able to play it to get any points for it. The rules of the game are that words be connected. Hooking onto an existing word is the easiest way to get a word on the board. Hooking can involve extending an existing word, such as adding an S or D, or forming another word from the ending letter of an existing word. This underscores the need to know two letter words and hooks of existing words. 

However, you can also play through, play parallel, or extend existing words. When playing through you are forming a word using your tiles plus a letter on the board. Playing parallel involves playing multiple words at once. Extending adds to existing words. Just as you use prefixes and suffixes to form words you can use them to extend words on the board.

Finding High Scores

In most cases you will have more than one word you can play, and as you gain experience the options grow. In that case you have to determine which one will give you the highest score, if that's what you want to do; or put you in the best position for future plays. Defensive maneuvers and rack management could mean you don't want to play the highest score for that move.

High value tiles and bonus squares. The first thing to consider is high value letters. Next, look for bonus squares you can play on. Finally, combine high values letters with bonus squares. Remember that the length of the word doesn't always determine the best play.

Use intersecting bonus squares. When a bonus square is used to play words in both directions its value doubles. If you play ZA horizontally with the Z on a TL above an A, you can score 62 points or more.

Make parallel plays. If you play your word parallel to another word, on average you triple your score. Not only do you get your word's score but each other word being formed. TIES played parallel to ANTI will get the original 4 points for TIES plus 2 points each for TA, IN, ET, and SI for a total of 12, not counting bonus squares.

Bingos are plays using all seven of the letters on your rack. In Scrabble they are a bonus of 50 points. Studying and knowing high probability bingos can add to your score. Also, bingos are more likely to span bonus squares than shorter words. However, consider that shorter words could actually give you higher scores if played on those bonus scores. 

Cheats

The web is heavily populated with cheat web pages that can help you win at whatever game you are playing, and Scrabble is no exception. As a game, when you play and win you show your skills. However, if you are using cheats you are showing instead that you don't have the skill and must rely on others. It's tempting, particularly on the web, but it is much more satisfying to win honestly. My scrabble study program, Hoot, might be useful for cheating but it is designed for study.

Study Words

Like in other areas, the adage, the more you know the better is very true. The more words you know and recognize, the better your game will be overall. Studying words is the fundamental reason for developing Hoot. But don't just start at the beginning of the alphabet and try to go through the whole list. Instead, study words that are important.

Shorter words are foundations for many longer words. Beginners should first master the two letter words and expand from there. Expanding can take the form of learning longer and longer words, learning more words with a specific letter, or involve other types of study.

Hooking is an important concept in Scrabble. Hooking involves adding a word to an existing play and forming another word from there. With ACE on the board you can play DEAD with one of the D at the end of ACE (forming ACED). One of the most valuable hook letters is S. While it is easy to use the S, there are only a few so it is usually best to save it for high scoring plays. Hoot and other study programs can show words along with each letter that can be added to the beginning or ending of the word to form a new word.

Anagrams are another thing that should become familiar to serious players. Anagrams are simply words formed from the letters of another word. You may have the letters TRAIN in your rack but can't find a place to play it. Knowing that another word (RIANT) can also be played with those letters will help you make a play.

For the high point tiles, studying a lot of the words with that letter will help to make plays with that letter. In many cases, it can help prevent you from being stuck with that letter in your rack. This is particularly true with Z, Q, J, and X as well as C and V since the latter two have no two-letter words.

Study prefixes, suffixes, and words with them. Prefixes and suffixes are important to recognize on your rack. With a certain prefix you may be able to build a longer word around it. 

Advanced Play

As just mentioned, prefixes and suffixes are quite useful. During a game, as you rearrange letters on your rack you should move prefixes and suffixes to the ends of the rack and attempt to use the other letters to build on them. 

You generally don't win a game based on a single play, so rack management is important for play continuity. If you don't have a big play to make on a turn, consider making a conservative play and keep letters that will help you make a big play on your next turn. It's typically advised that the letters in STARLINE are good ones to keep but some players may want to keep other letters. With an open intersecting triple square you may want to keep an X hoping to play it there. 

Equally important, get rid of letters that are difficult to play. Always remember that your decisions should always consider the state of the board. On a closed board, you don't need to focus on bingos. 

Don't waste your premium letters. Although each letter has a value shown on the tile, you need to decide how much that letter can be worth to you. It may not be very smart to add a letter just to add an extra point to your score. Letters like S can be used later to hook onto an existing word while forming your own word. Some higher value tiles might be saved in hopes of playing them on a bonus square.

Words with Friends

There are cases, where you can elevate your score by taking advantage of some opportunities in the game. This is particularly true in Words with Friends. In some family games, you might allow players to look up words to see if they are valid for play. In WWF, that is built into the game as well as Hasbro's Scrabble app. You can't play invalid words, and WWF will tell you if it is a valid word.  You can continue to plug in letters until you find a good word. Many Scrabble players don't find this acceptable and don't play. For some, WWF is a good way to study words, learning what words are playable and what are not. 

WWF has yet another cheat built into the game. If enabled, when you play a word you can touch on the checkmark at the beginning of the word and WWF will show you how good of a play it is. If it's the best play possible the bars will go all the way across. Using that you can continue plugging until you find that best play. Given that there is a time limit of days or weeks, instead of the 25 minutes in a tournament Scrabble game, you have plenty of time to find that play if you want to. 

Scrabble

If you really want a challenge, though, try the original Scrabble. Except for the Scrabble app, the game of Scrabble has well defined rules in OTB play. You have to play with a time limit. You have the option of playing invalid words (phoneys), and risk being called on them. You don't have reference materials or cheats to rely on. And you have to have extensive word knowledge. I'm using Hoot and other tools to expand my word knowledge. I'll post more later about how to actually use Hoot.

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