Victoria's Tim Thielmann shows off the board

A game of words: the world of competitive Scrabble

Nothing excites Tim Thielmann more than the perfect Scrabble rack.

Nothing excites Tim Thielmann more than the perfect Scrabble rack.

Pulling out tiles and being able to play the perfect seven-letter word at once (also known as a BINGO) during a competitive Scrabble game is what players live for.

“You’re waiting for that time where you can play a BINGO over two different triple word scores and score 200 points in one play, which can totally be done,” said the Victoria resident. “Those are dream situations that you always sort of wait for game after game and wonder if this is the game where you’ll get that massive play.”

Thielmann began playing Scrabble online in 2005 while he was in law school, and quickly discovered how addictive the game could be. Soon he found himself playing whenever he could — in class to kill time and in his spare time — completing five games a day.

Three years ago, Thielmann stumbled across the Victoria Scrabble Club, a division of the North American Scrabble Players Association, and decided to join.

In competitive Scrabble, each player has 25 minutes to complete their turns, with each game clocking in at roughly 50 minutes long.

Similar to poker, there is also an element of bluffing involved, where players can play a phony word. If the competing player challenges the word and it isn’t real, the other player loses their turn or vice versa. There is also an official tournament word list for competitive play.

Players compete all over North America in Scrabble tournaments and develop ratings based on who they beat and past win-loss records.

Thielmann has competed in roughly half a dozen Scrabble tournaments in Vancouver and Edmonton, and has a ranking of 1,300 (the lower ranked players are roughly 500 to 700, while the higher ranked players come in at 1,900.)

“It’s like poker for word people and I love words, I’ve always enjoyed language. But I’m also very competitive,” said Thielmann, adding there are between 200 to 300 Scrabble clubs in North America. “You never know when you’re going to get that best game or that best rack, where all the letters fall in place.”

But the game isn’t just about having a vast vocabulary, said Thielmann, but about strategy.

Most players are trying to maximize their chance of playing as many BINGOs, which includes the regular point total for those tiles, along with a 50-point bonus.

Instead of playing long words, players will try to put down words that give them letter combinations on a rack that are combined to make high probability seven letter words, such as r, s, t, a, or e.

The highest word score Thielmann received was 203, after he played trickier.

“All those one-point letters that your casual Scrabble player would think they’re useless because they’re only worth one point, competitive Scrabble players love those because they give you a higher chance of getting BINGOs,” said Thielmann, noting there are roughly eight to 12 players in the Victoria Scrabble Club.

“There’s no one way to play. You have to make the most of the tiles that you have and the situation that you’ve got.”

Players also need to consider defence — not opening up a good spot for an opponent — and maximizing the use of double and triple word scores.

Rhonda Reece fell in love with the game when she was 12 years old. She’s been a part of the Victoria Scrabble Club for the past 11 years and has participated in a number of tournaments.

“For me, it’s the thrill of winning and also forming words. You have a rack, then you try to juggle in your head what kind of words you can put out,” she said, adding her highest word score was hunkered for 275 points.

“The thrill is putting the word down. It’s one against one, I find it very exciting.”

The Victoria Scrabble Club meets every Tuesday at the Greater Victoria Public Library’s Central Branch beginning at 5:45 p.m. They play three games, and residents who are interested in learning more or those who just want to watch are encouraged to stop by.

For more information visit victoriascrabble.org.