Karen's Coaching Clues

Tips for Scrabble Coaches

In Coaching Sessions roughly allocate about half the time to word study, and half to strategy.


1. Andrew Fisher and I were both surprised to realise that many players who have been competing for a while, were very slow and inefficient at SCORING, which meant they really don't have time to compare a number of moves. Also, they tend to underscore themselves, and lose games thus. Hence it is worth giving a short session to scoring efficiently and fast. I do have a scoring tutorial that I work through (ask them all to calculate each move, and see who is slowest). Once you pick up those who are slow or inaccurate, tell them to work harder in that area, e.g. to still score their moves, even if they are playing on the internet. My website www.youthscrabble.org has my scoring tutorial, if that helps - it has a variety of scenarios, like a double-double plus other simultaneous moves. For those playing against computers, it is also important to practise TILE TRACKING separately, so that they become competent enough that it does not distract them during real games.

2. For BASIC STRATEGY, you cannot go past Koala Coaching Clinic on the Australian website, written by multiple Australian Champion, John Holgate. http://scrabble.org.au/strategy/index.htm Spend a little time on the Board Management session, and a lot of time on the Rack Management portion. In particular, give them plenty of practice with EXCHANGING - most players do not change early enough, and don't change enough tiles when they do. John has given a selection of racks to practise on. Once they are a little more advanced, tell them to work through the Scrabble Players Handbook, on WESPA website. http://www.scrabbleplayershandbook.com/

3. CONSENSUS GAMES are the very best way to get people thinking through a wide range of scenarios. It works most effectively if they all have their own boards, and you MAKE them all take a move each time - that will allow you to pick up the individual weaknesses of players. Maybe ask them what their plan is, if they have played a sub-optimal move, to get an idea of where their thinking is going astray. For instance, they might say, " I would play this 20 point move, rather than the 40 point move, in case they can use the other move to make a bigger score of their own" - this overly defensive line of thought is typical of beginners. If you get them to say something like that, it gives you an opportunity to tell them why it is not a good strategy, except in the end game (in Alastair's words - Always keep scoring!)

4. TEAM GAMES - for variety, sometimes get them to work in pairs (ie 2 against 2), discussing what would be the best move each turn - that way, they will teach each other, and remind each other of what you have taught them.

5. RULES: It is a good idea to go over the basics. In particular, things like ORDER OF TURN, TILE TRACKING, HOLD vs CHALLENGE, hitting clocks before you need to add all scores etc (some people waste time by not hitting clock soon enough). There is a summary of the main rules on the WESPA.org website.

6. ALWAYS KEEP SCORING . Many beginners go for the bonuses.. ie play 15, 10, 15, then bonus of 60 points - which is only an average of 25 per move, when they should be aiming for 30 per move. Also, a missed turn is worse than just having one fewer turn, because it shows your opponent what you have, so they can set up wonderful spots for themselves. In other words - NEVER GUESS (Exception is - end of game, if it is the only possible way that you *might* win)

7. If you have enough time, and feel they are ready for some tough games, show them how to download QUACKLE, and format it to play (offline) against a computer. This is CHAMPIONSHIP PLAYER level - they will not win many games, but will get great practice!


1. Explain that we all have different learning styles - eg some people can learn by listening to lists of words, whereas I need to see them; some people like computers to study, while others prefer to print out a list and stick it to the wall next to their bed, or wherever. They need to work out their own style.

2. Probability - stress that it is more useful to study 8s than 7s, say 2:1.

3. Explain difference between probability and playability, for those who go onto Cardbox - I study under probability, as it is easier to see the complete sets of highly probable words, for me.

4. Tell them it is vital that they learn the 2 to 3 hooks, because otherwise they will not be able to play the bonuses they have studied. I have a learning tool for that as well on the youthscrabble website.

5. Talk about Mnemonics. These are particularly useful for things such as hooks eg KO- WARPS BIN, so that you can play KOW, KOA, KOR, KOP etc. or COLD MORN SOUP, making COUP, LOUP, DOUP, MOUP, ROUP, NOUP and SOUP Encourage them to make up their own mnemonics, as they will learn better. There is a selection of Mnemonics created by the late Mike O'Rouke, on the UK Scrabble website, which has good examples, but it seems to be one dictionary out of date. http://absp.org.uk/absp/publications.shtml

6. Our brain likes to learn things in patterns, which is why STEMS are useful - again, combine these with mnemonics for a great learning tool, eg ORANGE + 1 - KICK DIRTY COWS BOTTOM (KARENGO, ORIGANE, CORNAGE/ACROGEN etc)

7. I teach them the RACK and TILE method, to learn the most useful 8 set, i.e. OTARINE + 1 - put OTARINE on your rack, add an A, make the word AERATION, remove A, add B, make BARITONE, TABORINE, OBTAINER and REOBTAIN, etc. Using this TACTILE method aids learning (there are researches showing this - research also shows that you learn words much better by physically writing/printing them, than by typing into a computer) and it also is very easy to translate to the skill of finding words during a game.

8. Once they have mastered some/all of this set, I get them to start a Zyzzyva Cardbox, with just these 31 words. Most beginners love Cardbox, and get too carried away, so they add too many. Make them work through this set for a few days, before allowing them to add extra - eg top 50 8's probability-wise. This will include some they already know, so is manageable. Alastair has a suggested list of order to add things to a Cardbox - see the Computer Programs part of the Resources section on the YouthScrabble.org website

9. Some people don't like Cardbox (often, it does not suit those with autistic tendencies) - Show them LEXPERT (also downloadable from Collins website) where you can create and print interesting lists, e.g. all 7-letter words ending in FISH (37 words)

10. Another method which works really well for me, is to identify PYRAMID words, e.g. TANGIEST, MANDIRAS, such that each added letter makes a new word - ie MA, MAN, MAND, MANDI, MANDIR, and MANDIRA

11. Colour-coding is great for getting things into one's memory. If they have a printed word list, they might highlight all main words which are verbs in one colour, and then they know these will take S, ED, and ING, then highlight all words ending in Y, which can become IER and IEST, in another colour, and so on. In a tournament situation, one's brain will recall the colour of the main word, and hence know how to extend it.

12. Create their own WORD PICTURES to connect groups of words, eg my Chinese uncle is sitting on the back of an aeroplane = ORIENTAL, RELATION, TAILERON

13. Stress that their word study should be a balance of short words (particularly those which are hooks, but also the dumpers for too many vowels or too many consonants) versus the high-probability bonuses.

14. They should allocate short but regular eg 10 to 15 minutes daily to word study, which is much more effective than having a 2 hour session one day per week (think music practice, for those who play piano, violin etc)

Above all else, please tell them that if they are playing anyone whose last name is RICHARDS, then they should let them win! (just kidding)

Good luck

Karen Richards