In a room in the Chembur Gymkhana, 50 heads are bowed down over 25 Scrabble boards.
All you can hear is the sound of plastic tiles shaking in bags. Welcome to the world of competitive Scrabble. At the National Scrabble Championships, a three-day tournament that ended on Sunday, participants have come from Goa, Bangalore, Hyderabad.
“The game is highly addictive,” said Sherwin Rodrigues, after winning his second game of the day, “there’s so much calculating and strategising involved, and, of course, you learn so many new words”.
The first-year MBA student was India’s sole representative at the Scrabble World Championships last year.
It’s a passion Rodrigues shares with a small but significant tribe of Scrabble players for whom the game means many things more than a pleasant way to spend an evening.
“It’s an obsession,” said Lennie D’Souza (59), a Bangalorean who also holds Scrabble lessons for children. “The urge to play is so strong that we do it despite the high cost of traveling to other cities”. Others, like her friend Radhika Mahalingaiah (59), have stayed up nights conjuring words.
All these players hold regular day jobs, sustaining their passion by playing on weekends. The diehards spend hours playing games online, looking up Scrabble software on the computer, which analyses completed games and ‘studying’ — reading up on obscure, new words. Caziques, anyone? (That would be a Caribbean chef).
In competitive games of Scrabble, it’s normal to see a game yield 400 points — it’s also not unusual to see one player make nearly 300 points with one word.
Abhijeet Pradhan (12) and Jainam Ghelani (11) are regular players, who defy any perceptions that it’s a pensioner’s amusement. “Our friends say things like we’re nerdy or we’re wasting our time, but we don’t bother. We love it,” said Pradhan.
A few months ago, game manufacturer Mattel outraged purists when it announced new rules that would allow players to use proper nouns. “But nothing’s really changed for us,” said Nakul Prabhu (25), president of the Mumbai Scrabble Association. “That’s just a way of selling the game.”