Scrabble Challenge #11: Would You Pass Up the Opening Move?
In these weekly Scrabble Challenges, so far we've covered two-letter words, double bingos, high scoring moves, triple-triples, last moves, parallel plays, phoneys and opening moves. For this week's puzzle, we're revisiting the strategy for opening moves.
It's said that the player going first will win 54 percent of the time, thanks to that premium square in the middle of the board that doubles your score. If you just happen to have a bingo (a seven-letter word), then you're off to a great start. But there's a preconceived notion out there stating that if you're the first to play, you have to make a move. This is definitely not true.
Just because you're first doesn't mean you have to place a word on the board. Your first move may be to exchange letters. Imagine if your rack was AEEIIIO, wouldn't you want to get rid of a few of those vowels? Surely you can pass up a 4-point turn for a chance at some better letters.
But what about just passing? When is it a good time to pass up the opening move? Why would you want to give your opponent the first chance at a premium square? And the opportunity to control the board? And is it worth it?
In the two puzzles below, you're the first person playing. Think about what your first move would be. Would you play a word, exchange letters, or simply pass and hope for something good on the board? Post your ideas in the comments below, and click on the images to enlarge, if necessary.
Spoiler Alert: Comments below may reveal answers, so figure it out first before scrolling all of the way down!
These puzzles were made using Quackle, a valuable Scrabble program for playing and learning!
And here's the answer for last week's Scrabble Challenge #10:
Q: You're losing 72 to 161. On your rack you have the letters AE?IISS. What legal move, phoney word, or phoney-looking word could you play for 76 points to get you back in the game?
A: One option would be to play the phoney word MYIASISES starting at 11B, adding to MY already on the board. You'll get 76 points and you'll only be losing 148 to 161 now.
This happened in real life in a game between Joel Wapnick and Jan Dixon in 1995, Joel played his 7th move with the phoney MYIASISES. He was sure that Dixon knew that MYIASIS was good, but did she know the plural? It's actually MYIASES, but Joe Edley (who wrote about it in Scrabble News Issue 125) admitted that it was a hard-to-challenge phoney. "Dixon knows MYIASIS is good, but is the plural MYIASES or the play made? Unless she's 90-100% sure, she shouldn't challenge."
Jan didn't challenge and the game continued, with Joel winning 372 to 335.
Bonus question: COACOA was the word spelled wrong in the image.