Top 10 Scrabble Tips

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Scrabble Tip #1: Two's Company

The first step in mastering Scrabble is not to memorize the dictionary (though you can if you fancy) but to learn all the two-letter words. There are 124 of them. Step two is probably to learn all the three-letter words, but there’s 1310 of these, so let’s stick to the twos. One of the reasons they’re so important is they’ll let you play off other words almost anywhere on the board. The most useful of these are the ones with the highest-scoring letters, i.e. the Q and Z. So let's begin with the three most useful words in Scrabble:

  • QI - life force
  • ZA - Pizza
  • ZO - Himalayan cattle
So if an I, A or O is directly below or to the right of a triple letter square, you could play the Q or Z on it, and if you can go across/down with the same word, a potential 62 points can be picked up, much to the consternation of your opponent!

Scrabble Tip #2 - Rack Management

World-class Scrabble, like chess and successful picnics, is all about planning ahead. It might seem like a good idea to play the highest-scoring word you can every go, but if you do that you'll find that you rarely get a very big word and often end up with an unplayable rack of letters. Instead, try playing words that leave you with a good balance of letters left on your rack for your next go. If you keep a good mix of consonants and vowels back you'll find that it's easier to score consistently throughout the game (the ideal ratio is generally 4 consonants to 3 vowels).

Certain mixes of consonants work really well together and are worth holding onto if you’re going in search of a 50-point bonus score. They tend to be a blend of hard and soft consonants, so try not to have all hard or all soft consonants on your rack at one.

Hard consonants: BDFGJKPQTVX

Soft consonants: HLMNRSWYZ

C can be either hard or soft, which makes it particularly useful.

Scrabble Tip #3 - Emptying Your Vowels

If you have failed to keep things balanced you can end up with a rack full of vowels that are tough to get rid of. It can take two or three turns to restore the balance, and in that time you’re unlikely to score well since the vowels are worth only one point. Here as some words that will help you escape:

  • AE one
  • AI slow moving shaggy South American animal
  • EA a river
  • IO moth
  • OI shout for attention
  • OU man
  • AIA Eastern female servant
  • AUA mullet (as in the fish, not the haircut)
  • AUE Maori exclamation
  • EAU a river
  • EUOI and EUOUAE a cry of Bacchic frenzy

Scrabble Tip #4 - Consonant Dump

Things can swing the other way and you can end up with a rack full of consonants. Here are some consonant delights to help you restore balance.

  • CH eke
  • FY fie
  • KY cow
  • BRR shivering
  • CWM steep sided hollow
  • PHT irritation
  • TWP stupid
  • VLY low marshy ground
  • WYN Germanic character equal to W

Scrabble Tip #5 - Don’t be Afraid of Change

It’s as true in Scrabble as it is in life: some people hate having to change. Don’t be afraid. You may have to score zero for one turn if you change your letters, but if the alternative is to be left with a horrible combination of letters, like IIIUVVW, then chuck them in.

There’s a great deal of skill involved in knowing when to change tiles and also deciding which to throw away and which to keep. Some of the worst letters in the game are FGJQUVW so if they’re on your rack you probably want to wave them goodbye.

Scrabble Tip #6 - Never throw away RETSINA

Another thing that is as true in Scrabble as it is in life is this: never throw away RETSINA. This is the most productive combination of letters you can have for scoring a fifty-point bonus. There are nine anagrams of RETSINA (work them out!) plus it goes with more letters to make an 8-letter word that any other combination. Here are but a few: ANGRIEST, ENTRAILS, PAINTERS, BANISTER, TRAINEES and CANISTERS.

The 6-letter combination that can be used to form the most 7-letter words is ANTIES. If you’re seeing ANTIES on your rack plus one more letter, as long as it’s not the Q or Y, then you’re looking at a 7-letter word. It might just take a while to work out what it is!

Scrabble Tip #7 - Keep your Eyes on the Prize

You win Scrabble by points scored on the board, not by who managed to come up with the nicest word on their rack but had nowhere to play it. Fact. Some people seem to object to this. These are the same people that will object to you fist-pumping in their face when you win.

Try to spend most of your time focusing on the board and its possibilities, keeping your letters in your head while you do so as much as you can. It’s harder to do than it sounds, so stop yourself if find yourself fixating on your rack.

Scrabble Tip #8 - Blocking, Opening and Set-ups

‘Blockers’ are words that cannot have a letter added to the front or end of them to make another word. THAT, HEX, and FY are all blockers. If you’re pulling ahead in the game then it can be a good idea to start playing blockers as these will make it more difficult for your opponent to score.

By contrast, if you’re lagging behind then you can try ‘opening’ the board. This means playing a word that will give lots of opportunities to play other words off it. It’s a risk as your opponent can also score from it, but sometimes insane risks is what good Scrabble is all about.

Another canny tactic is the set-up. This is when you set yourself up for a big score in the next go. For instance, if you have a Q, X, or Z but nowhere high-scoring to play it, you may be able to set up a big score next turn by placing a vowel next to a premium square.

Scrabble Tip #9 - With or Without U

It goes against everything you learned in school, but there are quite a lot of words that have a Q in them and no U. Learning these is a great idea for a couple of reasons. One, it will help your Scrabble. Two, it will drive your friends who don’t know them mad. The most useful one, QI, we’ve mentioned already. Here are some more:

  • FAQIR Muslim who spurns worldly possessions
  • QADI Muslim judge
  • QAID chief
  • QANAT underground channel
  • QAT African shrub
  • QORMA mild Indian dish
  • TALAQ Muslim divorce
  • TRANQ tranquillizer

Scrabble Tip #10 - Beautiful Scrabble Words

One of the nicest things about Scrabble is that it leads you towards some truly weird and wonderful words. This is because you start to judge words by how useful they are to play in Scrabble, rather than how likely you are to ever actually need them in everyday life. Here are some cracking examples:

  • AITU in Polynesia a demigod
  • BASENJI African bush hound
  • BULBUL tropical song bird
  • DIBBUK a dead person’s soul inhabiting a living person
  • EMPUSA Greek goblin
  • HUFFKIN type of muffin
  • MACHI Indian English fish and chips
  • RUSALKA a Russian water-nymph
  • SLAIRG stretched out
  • SLEEVEEN sly person
  • WAHCONDA supreme being