2012 World Youth Scrabble Championships

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WYSC 2012 REPORT – Birmingham UK, 7th to 9th December

Planning: About a month before WYSC, there was a panic as it appeared there would be over 100 players attending – more t-shirts and tile bags were ordered, additional space booked and paid for, provision made for more playing equipment etc. Sadly, this was all a furphy, as we ended up with 60 players total (the smallest WYSC since our first). Many “no-shows” were because of visa/passport issues – all Philippines and Turkish players, many Nigerians, and some of the Pakistani and Sri Lankan players missed out. Discussing this with the Sri Lankans, it appears that, if they applied early enough to have a second attempt, they were then allocated a visa, but not before paying another application fee (about US$100). I recall the same thing happened for WSC in Poland – those who were rejected early, then reapplied, were successful the second time. The cynic in me wonders if someone just wants to make more money from repeat visa application fees. It was disappointing for us, the organisers, as well as the young players who missed out. With regards future visa applications, I suggest “apply early, and apply often” – similar to the mantra for changing tiles: “change early, and change more”.
Choice of location: One reason to run WYSC in UK had been to encourage more USA and Canadian players to compete, as it was much closer to them than previous venues in Asia and Australia. Unfortunately, this had little impact on their participation. However, the two who did cross the Atlantic to join us were most welcome – Tim finished in the top 10 in his first attempt, and we hope to see him back next year (with some fellow countrymen) . Bradley, younger than Tim, also played very well. However, we were most impressed by the book that he had published (The Official Kid's Guide to Scrabble) – these were for sale at the event, and I can highly recommend the book to anyone wanting to inspire young players. Even though the main dictionary used in North America is TWL (rather than Collins), what Bradley talks about is more related to playing the game, than to word knowledge, and hence applicable to any young player worldwide.
The other reason for running WYSC in UK was to help increase the numbers of local young players. When we first ran WYSC (2006) there was only one young player in the entire UK – Austin Shin, who finished 2nd in our inaugural WYSC. Since then, there have been only a handful of young UK players, 3 in 2010, 6 in 2011, but this year they fielded 11 players (one of whom was the reserve player who had never played a rated tournament, and didn’t know he was to be involved until two days beforehand. Thank you sincerely, Ben - you prevented 24 players from having to sit out a ”bye” round . The publicity from this WYSC on their own turf, combined with greater efforts from ABSP to promote youth Scrabble, will see an explosion of numbers there soon. They already have school leagues and school competitions happening, under the guidance of Paula Davenport. However, more of these school players need to venture out into serious competition. Unfortunately, UK’s hopes of having 2 or more finish in the top ten did not eventuate. Jessica Pratesi did create some sort of record by finishing 9th for the third time in a row – an auspicious spot, since the previous occupant of number 9 spot was Alastair Richards, and he has progressed to greater heights since then. Jessica is now too old to compete again, so the number 9 jersey is again available. The venue (Britannia Hotel) worked out well, particularly as I had booked it over the internet, sight unseen. It was central to everything, a short walk from the station, 9 minutes by train from Birmingham airport. Hotel staff were helpful, including moving some players who experienced street noise – it was Christmas season, which included carols being played continuously (“earworms”).
Prague MSI: A few months prior to WYSC, a new tournament was scheduled – Prague Mind Sports International. Because I am on WESPA committee, it was imperative that I attend, together with my son Alastair and Michael McKenna, who I was escorting to WYSC. For Alastair and Michael, it turned out very well – both won good prize-money, and Michael had a great warmup, after just completing his final school exams , and being out of the tournament scene for much of the year. Unfortunately, our absence in UK the weekend prior to WYSC meant the workshop we planned had to be postponed until Wednesday 5th. For those who booked flights early, stranded in UK with nothing to do except sightseeing, I asked Marvi Delfin and her mother (from Australia), to organise an additional workshop and mini-tournament prior to my arrival. Marvi and Virgie are experienced trainers, as they run a Scrabble group for Philippine expats in Perth. Thank you ladies.
Workshop: As soon as we arrived, it was time to start our workshop – as usual, much of the teaching was by playing a consensus game (based on the model developed by Joan Rosenthal). Everyone has the same tiles, plays a move, and then Alastair talks about the pros and cons of each move, as well as contributing his own “best move”. Hence “we” all managed to beat Alastair, with help from Alastair himself. This is a great way to learn strategy, but you need an expert player to debrief – and Alastair is one of the best strategists in the world (yes, I am biased, but he did finish 10th in the last World Scrabble Championship , the only teenager in the top 10) We also discussed different methods of studying, and introduced some of them to Zyzzyva cardbox .
Warmup tournament: Next day (Thurs 6th) we ran a WESPA-rated tournament, joined by many adults, including Steve Perry, Chair of ABSP (Association of British Scrabble Players). Steve was impressed and delighted to meet so many good young players. Until one has been involved with WYSC, it is hard to imagine just how good they are becoming. Don’t judge by their international ratings – they are not indicative of the standard of play. Because most young players only compete once every year or two, and only against each other, their ratings are artificially low - in most cases, by about 200 points. Consider the two Malaysians who finished second and third – Cheong Yi Wei and William Kang. Immediately after WYSC, they played in Penang against adults, and both of them had meteoric rating rises (nearly 200 each), bringing them much closer to what they deserve. This under-rating of youth players in the WESPA system is something which needs addressing.
Enough rambling! The prizewinners in the Warmup tournament (which was a 10-game progressive round robin format, with two sessions of 5 games, some players being promoted or demoted for the second session) are as follows:
All day 10 games
1Arham Abidi (Pak)10
2Alastair Richards (Aus)9
3Michael McKenna (Aus)8
Morning only 5 games
1Navya Zaveri (UAE)4
Afternoon only (5 games)
1Meagan Thorpe (Trin & Tob)4
High Game
Omari Blake (Trin &Tob) and Navya Zaveri (UAE)571
High Word
Muhammed Jahanzaib Khan (Pak)194

Trivia and Team Scrabble: In the evening, we ran the traditional team Scrabble games, interspersed with trivia. This was not very successful, as most young people were tired after the 10-game tournament. However, we did have some hardy teams who soldiered on – the winning team was: Jessica Pratesi (UK), Daniel Lawal (Nig) and Tariq Pervez (Pak)
WYSC adult side tournament: Next day, WYSC proper began, together with a side tournament for adults (WESPA-rated only) Steve Perry played the adult tournament the first day, but was unable to stay for the other two days – hence we roped in a succession of “spare” adults, parents, Toh Wei Bin, whoever was standing around, to prevent having a bye. I hope the newbies enjoyed themselves (and thank you all). Incidentally, Toh Wei Bin is not a newbie (he is “Mr 850” – world record holder for highest tournament game, as well as being 2007 World Youth Champion, and a popular trainer of younger players. He is also one of the authors of the new free eBook (The Scrabble Player's Handbook) designed to improve the standard of Scrabble play worldwide, as well as encouraging more players into Scrabble.
WYSC- The Big Event: The main event (finally!) was really exciting. In the beginning, we had a young lady player leading the field for a time - Javeria Mirza from Pakistan. She was eventually displaced by William Kang from Malaysia, who looked a good chance to win the event, when he was two games clear. Unfortunately, William’s luck went out the door on the final day. A full list of winners is shown below.
Age no barrier! I must mention a special young player. Ronnie Bennett asked to compete. I was reluctant – he was only six. We have never had anyone so young compete in an arduous three-day, 24 game tournament. Many parents tell me that their child is gifted, but then I find out that their child is not as smart as the parents think, and they could certainly not hold their own in such an event. Fortunately, Robbie was every bit as good as everyone told me.. he held up well for the whole three days, was a delightful player, won a large number of games, and never once complained of being tired. Please don’t rush to send your six-year-olds in future, as most of them would not cope. Ronnie is exceptional, but he did teach me not to underestimate very young players (Incidentally, Alastair was seven when he first competed against adults, and I have worked with other seven-year-olds – eg Anand Bharadwaj, 2011 Champion, Lewis Hawkins in NZ, and Shrinidhi Prakash in UK, who were also exceptional. However, Ronnie has “broken the glass ceiling” for six year olds! Our charter (the WESPA Youth Committee) was to provide Scrabble opportunities for “9 to 17 year olds”, as it is usually considered that players under 9 will not have sufficient vocabulary to compete against adults.
School programs: A major shift was noted this year with Nigeria. In the past, their teams have been 16 and 17 year old men – experienced players who I have had to look up to (literally). This year, they sent their great young school players instead – Nigeria have started formal programs in many primary schools, and I suggest that other countries should be following suit (We are also starting a major program to teach Scrabble in primary schools in Australia, but haven’t advanced as far as Nigeria yet). Primary school is the time to interest and challenge young players, giving them the gift of a hobby for life. Whilst we welcomed the batch of very young players from all countries, we did discover a common theme – many of them were slow or inaccurate with scoring. This meant that our tireless TD, Amy Byrne (Scotland) was tied up for 10 minutes or more after each game, trying to extricate accurate scores from these players. Some of the problem may be that they only play on computers, which score for them – if that is the case with your young players, please expose them to more “real” games in future. The end result of losing up to 15 minutes each round because of scoring problems, was that Amy and I made an executive decision to cancel games for the slow group on two occasions, when those who missed a game were awarded a “free” half-game win instead. This was not ideal, and we will need to address that in future. (Maybe ask countries to certify that their players can score accurately and quickly?) It worked out in the end, time-wise, and we did manage to catch our flights out of Birmingham on Sunday night.
Appreciation: Thank you to all who helped, particular Barry Harridge, who travelled all the way from Australia at his own expense, just because he knows that I find him invaluable. The only WYSC where Barry was unable to assist (2009) was chaotic in terms of IT – we had no-one who knew everything they needed to know – many of us knew bits and pieces, but the most proficient helper was Michael McKenna, who was meant to be playing, not helping run the IT side. As a result, he performed poorly that year. This year, Michael has earned his place as Champion. Amy Byrne – how can I thank you? It takes special skill to keep a group of young players turning over their games, sorting out issues like missing tile bags, and placating parents who feel that their child should have been allowed a free half-game, and sit out rather than playing - but when you arrange to do that for the child, then the child is adamant they would rather play instead!
Amy also brought her trusty Scrabcast team from Scotland. These three wonderful people set up cameras to record games, and streamed these live to the internet, together with comments and questions from observers worldwide. Players appreciated that this was much less intrusive than annotating games.
Mauro Pratesi produced a running record of the event, with hundreds (thousands) of photos, (click here) which I am sure you have all enjoyed. He used the group photo to produce lovely certificates for all players.
Without a generous donation from Trish Brighton (Australia) there would have been no prize-money for the winner. We can never say enough “thank yous” to this wonderful supporter, who helps us in some way every year.

Karen Richards
Youth Subcommittee
WESPA (World English-language Scrabble Players Association)

Team Placings:

The average team position after eliminating the NQ players was as follows:
22.4Sri Lanka
37.8Trinidad and Tobago
  This includes only two players from Australia, 7 from UK and 6 from Pakistan.


Placing - the top 10 finishers
1. Michael McKenna, Australia
2. Cheong Yi Wei, Malaysia
3. William Kang, Malaysia
4. Navya Zaveri, United Arab Emirates
5. Yeshan Jayasuriya, Sri Lanka
6. Yasiru Fernando, Sri Lanka
7. Tim Bryant, United States of America
8. Sompong Phosai, Thailand
9. Jessica Pratesi, United Kingdom
10. Sinatarn Pattanusuwanna, Thailand

Age groups:

under 16, best player born 1/1/1997 or later, Navya Zaveri (United Arab Emirates)
under 14, best player born 1/1/1999 or later, Migara Jayasinghe (Sri Lanka)
under 12, best player born 1/1/2001 or later, Shrinidi Prakash (United Kingdom)
under 10, best player born 1/1/2003 or later, Pese Alo (Nigeria)
under 8, best player born 1/1/2005 or later : Ronnie Bennett (United Kingdom)
Encouragement Award - youngest player finishing in top 25 (usually someone aged about 12), Sanchit Kapoor (United Arab Emirates)
High Word : Javeria Mirza, Pakistan (158 for SHUNTERS)
High Game: Sinatarn Pattanasuwanna,Thailand (640)
Best Novice (who has not competed in WYSC before): Tim Bryant (United States of America)
Mike O’Rourke Memorial Award – for a special person who everyone enjoys playing: Kiran Pal (United Kingdom)

Placings after top ten

10 Sinatarn Pattanasuwanna (TH)
11 Tawan Paepolsiri (TH)
12 Joe Knapper (UK)
13 Migara Jayasinghe (LK)
14 Javeria Salman (PK)
15 Ransimala Weerasooriya (LK)
16 Eden Choo (SG)
17 Muhammad Shahbaz (PK)
18 Sanchit Kapoor (UA)
19 Cheong Yi Hua (MY)
20 Brad Robbins (US)
21 Muhammad Khan (PK)
22 Omari Atiba Blake ()
23 Javeria Arshad Mirza ()
24 Yash Gandhi (PK)
25 Naravit Nathapukdi ()
26 Shrinidhi Prakash (UK)
27 Jack Durand (UK)
28 Poh Ying Ming (SG)
29 Visarut Ariyakajorn (TH)
30 Kukiat Khunpanitchot (TH)
31 Siriwat Sutthapintu ()
32 Lambhotharan Yoganathan (LK)
33 Mariam Arif (PK)
34 Meagan Thorpe (TT)
35 Marvi Delfin (AU)
36 Nuttapong Pholthip (TH)
37 Natasha Pratesi (UK)
38 Amir Andi-Abdoerrachman (TT)
39 Sumbul Siddiqui ()
40 Arham Abidi (PK)
41 Sasika Jayasuriya (LK)
42 Matthew Wong Sang (TT)
43 Rangi Collins (AU)
44 Maree Farlow (AU)
45 Hayati Rassool (LK)
46 Threerut Yangkon (TH)
47 Pese Alo (NG)
48 Ronnie Bennett (UK)
49 Josh Irvine (UK)
50 Zara Ali (UK)
51 Chibudom Ihejirika (NG)
52 Tobi Fasuyi ()
53 Kenorian Smith (TT)
54 Mofe Lawal (NG)
55 Alice Durand (UK)
56 Kiran Pal (UK)
57 Oluwadimimu Olayanju (NG)
58 Oluwadara Olayanju (NG)
59 Shiksha Rout (UA)
60 Ben Sloan (UK)

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