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Scrabble Play Like a Champion
on 20 May 2010
I had been thinking for some time that if there was one kind of book I would like to see added to the Scrabble library, it would be a book of top-quality tournament games, played according to the latest word list, presented move by move with in-depth analysis by one of the participants. And now in answer to my prayers along comes a new production from Collins, 'Play Like A Champion' by Allan Simmons, which takes you on a journey through the fifteen games that Allan played on the way to winning the 2007 UK Masters tournament.
This is a book which in one way is reassuring, in another way is daunting, and in all ways is both practical and entertaining.
It is reassuring because Allan is very honest in his analysis and makes no attempt to gloss over his fairly frequent lapses from perfection. Novice players may assume that top players, around the 190 level, know pretty much all the words, can anagram pretty much any rack, and their only problem is in selecting the most appropriate play for the situation. Well, the fact is that by and large they too are plagued by the same uncertainties, confusions and sometimes sheer ignorance as the rest of us. Allan misspells ULYIE as UYLIE*. He fails to spot a bonus AUXETICS. He misses a 110 point double-double through not knowing FIREBUSH. He agonises as to whether EPEIRIDS or EPIERIDS* is correct. He fails to find AERIFIES from EEIIRS? plus a floating A. And so on, to a rather comforting degree.
Where the book is daunting is in its tactical awareness and its depth of analysis. Allan might not know all the words, but boy, does he know how to use the territory! For the average player, decision making on the majority of moves probably goes as far as 'reasonable score, reasonable leave, doesn't leave anything too open for the opponent, OK, go for it.' You are likely to be amazed at how much further Allan takes this process, constantly assessing the state of the bag and the probability of getting required letters, manipulating the openness or otherwise of the board according to the relative scores, maintaining a constant awareness of threatening hot spots and potential hooks, making setup plays and so on.
The book is conveniently sized and well presented, with the current board position and rack at the top of the page, followed by Allan's analysis, and then the actual move made at the bottom. This means that it lends itself readily to self-quizzing mode, and indeed I do much recommend using it in this fashion, at first looking only at the board position and asking yourself what you would play and why.
Add to this a number of insets giving helpful hints on Scrabble tactics, an introductory profile of the opponent in each game, a glossary of unusual words, and a final statistical analysis (revealing e.g. that Allan averaged 440 per game, with 2.2 bonuses and had 57% of the blanks and 57% of the S's), and you have a contribution to Scrabble literature which I have no hesitation in recommending unreservedly. And when this is taken in combination with the previous excellent Collins/Simmons production 'The Times Scrabble Workout', I think it can be said that after a somewhat shaky start Collins are now getting their act together on the Scrabble front. I hope we can look forward to many more offerings of equal quality.