On a Saturday afternoon, puzzled heads bend over several Scrabble boards at an eight floor apartment in Juhu. As the bunch of middle school students examines their racks of tiles, one of them comes up with “Soya”, while another student suggests “Ago”. Radiologist on weekdays and a Scrabble enthusiast over the weekend, 46-year-old Varisht Hingorani conducts weekly Scrabble classes for school students as part of the Wordaholix Academy.
“Throwing in an ‘S’ on the board is a psychological ploy. You can win the game by playing with the opponent’s mind,” Hingorani instructs as he urges the group to come up with longer words. Hingorani, ranked number fourth in the country and Sherwin Rodrigues, who is ranked number one player, spend hours helping these youngsters strategise and plan their moves on a Scrabble board. Mimi Hingorani, 43, is a beautician by profession but shares her husband’s passion for the game. “I play when I wake up, before going to bed, and whenever I find time,” she says.
Age no bar
66-year-old Carolann Pais — ranked number 13 in the country — has recently started coaching new players. Five years ago, about 50 enthusiasts turned up for the annual national championship; however the figure has touched 80 now. “Many youngsters are taking interest in the game. They’re giving us oldies a tough time,” she says. Courtesy city-based schools such as Jamnabai Narsee School, Beacon High at Khar and St Gregorios High School in Chembur, where hobby classes include Scrabble, many young students are getting interested in the game. And most of them are already exhibiting signs of addiction. “When I see the words in my biology textbook or read a hoarding on the street, I think of ways I can use it on the board and score more points,” says 16-year-old Sarah Doctor, a class XI student. However, age is not a barrier for a game of Scrabble. 30-year-old software professional Nakul Prabhu who has been mastering Scrabble since his childhood, says that a good mix of people from different age groups often makes the game more fun. Mohan Chunkath, 59, a civil servant who won this year’s national championship, also represented India during the 1999 World Championship, which was the first time the country played an international championship. “For this game, you need to be both young and experienced. The younger players are better at anagram skills, but experience plays its own role,” he observes. Apart from the thrill of competition and the love for the game, the biggest draw for these seasoned players is the spirit of community it fosters. “We are a tight-knit group and encourage people to join us,” says Rodrigues.
Wizards of Words
For competitive players, “studying” is crucial — learning new words by reading and analysing lists of three-letter words. Tactics include not only scoring high points, but also anticipating potential moves and knowing when to use which alphabets. “No two games are similar, even if you are playing against the same person over and over again,” says Nidhi Singhvi, 27, a Pune-based graphic designer. Mumbai is home to one of the most active professional circuits for the game. Players travel to different cities through the year for various competitions. With more young people playing competitively at an early age the standards of play have improved considerably, say long-time players.
Want to join the Scrabble mania? Look out for updates on various tournaments on the Scrabble Association of India’s website. The next tournament is scheduled in Pune.
Join the gang Mumbai Scrabble Club:
Contact Nakul Prabhu on
Indian Scrabble Association:
Find out more about Wordaholix at