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Scrabble - the Word Game

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A Scrabble board.

The game of Scrabble requires its players to form words on a 15 by 15 grid by arranging 100 lettered tiles in a crossword style1. Alfred Mosher Butts, an architect2, invented it in 1938, as he thought that word games lacked popular appeal due to the lack of a competitive scoring system. He originally created a game called 'Lexico', but having altered the rules and reformed the game, he changed the name to 'Criss-Crosswords'. Unfortunately, it was not very successful, and Butts failed to sell the game to a games manufacturer.

When lawyer James Burnot bought the rights to the game in 1948 it finally became 'Scrabble'. As well as renaming it, Burnot adjusted the rules and the board, and engaged in successful marketing of the revised game. Today, Scrabble has become extremely successful, with about 33 million people playing the game regularly in North America alone. The America-based National Scrabble Association boasts more than 10,000 members, while there are Scrabble clubs and associations as far afield as Nigeria, Singapore, New Zealand, Bahrain and the UK.

The Game

A player wins a game of Scrabble by accumulating the most points before the game ends.

You receive points by placing words from your random selection of seven tiles on to the board, from which you derive a score based on the individual letters. You can expand your point-winning potential by:

  • Placing tiles to add a single new word to the board in such a way that you actually create one (or more) words additional words due to modification or extension of adjacent existing words (see Gameplay, below).

  • Placing tiles to create very long words.

  • Placing words with letters that have lots of points.

  • Using premium squares to your advantage (see below), especially where in combination with one or more of the above.

The game ends when a player has used all of the tiles on his rack with none left to draw from the central pool. If this does not occur, the game continues until all players can no longer play, ie all players pass their turn because they cannot form a word with their remaining tiles. Sometimes, the game simply ends when all players agree that the game is over.


A standard Scrabble3 box contains:

  • Board
  • Four plastic tile racks
  • 100 plastic letter tiles
  • Fabric tile bag
  • Rules booklet


At the beginning of the game, each player has a tile rack. They each draw seven letters and place them on the rack. The player that goes first4 puts the first word on the board. One tile of this word must be in the centre square. The centre square is a 'premium square' (see below), so the score for the first word is doubled.

From there, players may add one or more letters interconnecting with or adjacent to those already on the board. These letters must form new words or modify an existing one. You get points for every letter you used. Where you modify an existing word, you can score for tiles you didn't place on the board. The rules for creating words are as follows:

  • You can pluralise a word, and if you add one or more letters then you get points for the entire new word.

  • When you play a new word on the board it must interact with one or more letters already placed on the board. In this way, all words on the board should be connected.

  • You may not add words diagonally; nor can a word read upside-down or back to front.

  • The tiles that one puts on the board must be adjacent, either horizontally or vertically, with a word already played. If letters from a word touch letters from words parallel to them, those letters must also form words. If you form more than one word in this way, you get points for all of the words created. For example, if you lay TORN parallel with the right-hand side of the A in CAT, you would score for TORN, AT and TO.

  • If one letter from a word you play adds to an existing word, you get points for the new word and the word you modified. For example, if you place the word WASTE horizontally at the base of the middle of the word BARN, you will score for the words BARNS and WASTE.

When your turn is complete, you should announce your word and the amount of points earned. A scorekeeper should record the amount of points you earn each turn. After you successfully place a word in your turn, you must draw enough tiles from the central pool to bring you back to seven.

You may also forfeit your turn to exchange some or all of your tiles. You do this by replacing a number of your existing tiles with the same quantity of new tiles (provided that there are more than seven tiles left to draw) from the draw bag.

If there is any doubt of whether a word exists, a player may challenge that word before the next player starts his turn. The players should look up the word in a specific dictionary agreed on before the game began. If it is not a recognised word, the player challenged loses his or her turn, removes the offending tiles from the board, and receives zero points. If it is a word, the challenger loses his or her next turn.

You may play outdated, slang, colloquial and archaic words - if they appear in your dictionary of choice. You can also play foreign words where they have common usage in your own language - and, again, appear in your dictionary of choice. However, you cannot play abbreviations, suffixes and prefixes, proper nouns or words that need additional punctuation (such as hyphens and apostrophes). Of course, many dictionaries do not include all verb endings, pluralisation and tenses. Normal usage of these is acceptable, but the players should read the introduction to the dictionary to understand how it explains this or abbreviates different forms of a word.

Official Reference

The international Scrabble community has had various approved and authorised dictionaries, used by sanctioned clubs and tournaments. These dictionaries derive their content from specific dictionaries or amalgams of multiple dictionaries - and different countries have used different official reference books over the years. The official references include:

  • Official Scrabble Words (OSW) - Derived from Chambers Dictionary.

  • Official Scrabble Players Dictionary (OSPD) - Derived from several references, including the Merriam-Webster's Dictionary.

  • SOWPODS - Derived from a combination of the OSW and the OSPD. The book's name is an anagram of the two acronyms.

  • Tournament Word List (TWL) - Based on the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary with adjustments specifically for tournament play.

Scoring and Points

Scrabble scoring is based on a system of points. The game assigns a specific value to each letter, normally printed on the corner of each tile. A player receives this number of points for placing the letter as part of an unchallenged word.

Butts knew that some letters appeared more often than others did, so he decided to come up with a system to find out which letters appeared most and which appeared least. He counted letter usage in newspapers, deciding on a number and value for tiles depending on the frequency with which they appeared. He eventually came up with this model:


A player determines the score of a complete word by adding up the value of all of the individual letters. For example, the word MUG is worth six points, while the word RAISE is worth five points. The shorter word is worth more because it uses less common letters than the longer word.

Additionally, there are dozens of 'Premium Squares' that multiply the value of a letter or word when you place tiles across it. There are four types of Premium Squares:

  • Triple Word Score - triples the value of a word that has a letter on it. Located at the corners of the board and the middle of each of the edges.

  • Double Letter Score - doubles the value of the letter that is placed on it.

  • Double Word Score - doubles the value of the word that has a letter located on it.

  • Triple Letter Score - triples the value of any letter placed on it.

If a letter falls on more than one Premium Square, you calculate the letter score first and then the total word score. If a player modifies a word with a letter on a Premium Square, the letter only counts at its regular value. You can only get the benefit of a particular Premium Square once per game.

Good players use these squares in combination to score substantial points. Placing a 'Q' on a triple letter score will earn you 30 points alone.

Other rules about scoring include:

  • The letter pool includes two blank tiles that you can substitute for any letter you need to complete a word. The blank has no value in scoring and retains the same value for the rest of the game. For example, if you use it to substitute as a Q to spell REQUEST, it remains a Q for the rest of the game.

  • A 'Bingo' is a play where all seven available tiles are used. It gives the player an extra 50 points in addition to his score from his word points.

  • At the end of the game, each player totals up the sum of the value of his remaining letters. The player should then deduct this total from their score before determining overall scoring for the game.

Non-English Editions

The whole of the previous section relates to the English edition of Scrabble. Non-English languages place different emphasis on different letters in word construction and, indeed, even use completely different letters. For example, the German edition of Scrabble values a Y at 10 points, while a Z only scores a meagre 3 points. The set includes tiles for Ä - worth 6 points, Ö - worth 8 points and Ü - worth 5 points.


You can find many tips for playing Scrabble. Indeed, people have written whole books on the subject.

Here are just a few hints you might consider:

  • There are many words with a 'Q' that don't have a 'U' in them. They include FAQIR, QABALA, QABALAH, QADIS, QAID, QANAT, QAT, QINDAR, QINDARKA, QINTAR, QOPH, QWERTY, SHEQALIM, SHEQEL and TRANQ. Just make sure you have a dictionary that supports your innovative use of the letter Q! In the end game, when you find tiles in short supply, if you find your self with the Q, try QI5.

  • Plan for Premium Squares. A small word played on a Premium Square can score better than a longer word elsewhere on the board. You score six points if you play the word 'AN' on a triple word score square, whereas the longer word 'RAINS' is worth a point less played across ordinary squares.

  • Create and use words that can be easily added to. Pluralising a word is a good way to earn the points of a word twice. The letter 'S' is a useful tool to take the points of a noun by pluralising it or turning it into a verb.

  • Leave space open to make additional plays. Consider your next move and don't leave yourself without space to create new words. At the same time, you shouldn't make it too easy for your opponents!

  • The highest-scoring seven-letter Scrabble-legal English word is QUARTZY - meaning like quartz. Played across a triple word Premium Square, with the Q or Z falling on a double-letter, it scores 164 points.


These are some of the variations you can play to provide an additional challenge for experienced players:

  • You may change the arrangement of a word to an anagram before you play your turn, as long as it does not create any words that are not usable. You may potentially improve your chances of scoring bigger and better this way, by opening up a possible modification or access to a Premium Square.

  • You may replace letters on the board with letters from your rack as long as it does not form unusable words.

  • You can use any word you want - and the usual restrictions on words (no abbreviations, no proper nouns, etc) do not apply.

  • You may replace the blank tiles with the letters they represent (if you have that letter on your rack) after they have been played, in order to keep the blank tiles in use.

  • You start the game with nine tiles and always draw back up to nine when you replace or exchange your tiles.

  • You can stack tiles on top of other tiles to form new words - as long as it does not result in any unusable words. The one-off use of Premium Squares still applies.

1A Super Scrabble variant exists with a 21 x 21 board, 200 letter tiles and Quadruple Scoring spaces.2Butts' architectural credits include a housing development on Staten Island, a Stanfordville library and a small number of elegant country houses in Connecticut.3Scrabble comes in a variety of versions, including standard, deluxe - with wooden components, a velvet-style tile bag and swivel board-mount, and specials - like the pink standard set for Breakthrough breast cancer or The Simpsons Scrabble, which adds additional rules that allow you to help yourself or hinder your opponents.4Which can be decided in a number of ways. You can simply flip a coin, draw straws or roll dice. You can also each draw tiles, and the player with the tile closest to the beginning of the alphabet goes first.5The vital force inherent in all things, according to certain avenues of Chinese thought.

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