Tuesday, April 29, 2008

"How long have you been playing scrabble?"

Posted by Raf
This question puzzles me...

Does it matter how long someone has played the game? Is it asked to be conversational? Are people personally invested in your response, like saying an amount of time that is similar to how long the person asking the question has played would establish a sort of camaraderie? Do people tend to use the amount of time as a gauge for 'how much better or worse' an opponent might be?

For me, it's a distracting question because I never know if they mean how long have I been playing scrabble, or how long I've been playing scrabble competitively. I could just as easily say, "oh, this is my first time playing, I heard about this club--or competition from a friend and I figured I was fairly good with words and thought I'd give it a go". Not all together true, but it sort of answers the question, does it not?

As bloggers, are you truly interested in your opponent's response when that question comes up in conversation? If so, to what end?

I guess we each have our own kinds of reactions to that question.

I tend to try and brush it off. I kind of like NOT knowing how long someone has played, or not knowing the amount of tournaments the individual has played. I like the mystique of the initial meeting. The very first game with an opponent. We all know how this can go...: "Hi, I'm Raf... How are you?" And then the other person introduces herself or himself and it's kind of "Game On". But for me, it's more than that...

It's almost like a performance. How the person checks the board, how they pull their tiles and rearrange their rack. How quickly they make their plays, whether they lift all their tiles at once or place their tiles individually in place on the board.

That initial game is a battle of wits--before you really know where you stand with the person. Before you know what kind of game your opponent plays, you are forced to take guesses. I like that. I like not having an idea as to what I'm up against.

I don't like Losing, but Martha made a good point the other day about it not really being a huge deal if I incur a loss in a match, as long as I was pleased with my performance or I gained some new knowledge. The competitive side of me does feel that anything less than victory is unacceptable, but I honestly like scrabble for the reason that, unlike some athletic competitions, you can learn from each loss. Your opponent might lay new words that you can use in future games, or might have a different technique or see the board differently than you'd been used to.

Do they challenge words often, lay false bingos? In that initial meeting, it's all new. We don't know the mentality of the person. Appearances are definitely important in that first go...Your opponent could come off as aloof by showing up to club an hour late and wearing a college hoodie and tattered jeans. Or perhaps appear more serious in dress slacks and buttoned-down shirts?

There are so many different aspects to scrabble, and I guess that's why I like it so much.

When we have played one another multiple times, you grasp what your opponent might do. You have an understanding--or some might believe-- of where your opponent consistently will lay their tiles, and when they might challenge you or make a challenge-worthy play.

At the same time, knowing a person could be detrimental to your game strategy because we might psych ourselves out if we are playing someone we perceive as much better or if we play someone who consistently plays potentially invalid words.

I guess this rambling note is an open invitation to respond to how you each might take someone asking you, "So, how long have you been playing scrabble"; and what you might do in your initial game against a new opponent.

I'm personally looking forward to when I do go to my first tournament, and I am playing against people I've never met in a completely competitive setting. I wonder how I'll react to their question... perhaps with... "well, how long have YOU been playing?!" Or perhaps I'll smirk and reply simply, "Oh, you know... not that long."


  1. That is an excellent post man! I'm glad I cajoled you this weekend (or maybe you were already planning to post something ... guess that's for you to know). :p

    I think of my Scrabble skills as being in flux over the last two years. Ever since reading Word Freak I have been working toward that change. I talked a little about this in my blog post yesterday but I've been planning a bigger blog post about it for a while now.

    I think that the static mind will not do well in competitive Scrabble which is exactly your point with learning from your loses. I saw a quote recently that "Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, and the lesson afterwards." I think that's about right when it comes to this idea you mentioned in Scrabble. Knowing your opponent can be good and bad because you probably do get complacent when it comes to certain things or you keep worrying when that bingo is going to drop and pysch yourself out (unless you're playing me ... grrr). :-)

    Let me tell you something too. The tournament had a totally different feel than the club games. I mean, I still found ways to make small talk with my opponents but the pressure was on in many more ways that I think that I can describe here. Every point counted because you were looking at your overall placement and ranking from game to game and Deadpan made a good point that if you are nice in one game it can hurt you later (though I tried not to be a cutthroat). It did affect the way that I look at club games a little bit too ... it didn't make them less fun ... but it made me think about how I played a little more.

    Okay, I've got to go. But good post. I hope you get lots of comments because there is a lot going on in what you wrote.

  2. Yeah, I've never asked that question to get any important or personally-useful information out of someone. For me, it's conversational. I like to know about people, generally, and women tend to seek commonality with other people in conversation. If I preface it with the statement that "'equal' does not necessarily mean 'exactly the same'" then can I say "it's a Mars/Venus thing"?

    Anyway, in reference to Jedijawa's comment, I'd like to say...

    "Experience, you're such a bitch."

  3. Great post, Raf! I'm with Tina. When I ask that question, it's an icebreaker.

  4. Thanks for the comments, guys... that is useful!

    I think it's going to be an excellent kind of stress when that tournament experience happens for me.

    I liked finals weeks in college because it was the culmination of everything I'd done for a semester and the stress of having to dig within myself for the knowledge I'd gained was really energizing.

    The scrabble competition is going to be very intense because of the nature of the rigid guidelines and rules, but for me... I need that kind of rigidness to maintain my vision, keeping the goal in sight!

    Thanks again for the responses! I like knowing that it's mostly just as a conversational piece and not necessarily to be used to analyze the person.

    Perhaps that is just me!?!

  5. Just a few guesses on my part...

    A lot of times, new players come into tournaments with no idea of what to expect. Sometimes they've never even been to a club or been exposed to a timer. I suspect a lot of what's behind the question, "How long have you been playing?" is more along the lines of, "Do you have an idea of the basic procedures here?"

    Once you get some rating points under your belt, and people become familiar with who you are, those questions tend to go away. Then when you move up in the ranks some, games usually start with, "I have 4 firsts and 5 seconds," as people are more anxious to get the game going and dispense with the pregame small talk.

    Generally speaking, most of your opponents are going to be from the same geographical area as you. I've played Will Scott five times now, for example. Over time you get to know these people and recognize their "style" of playing - not to mention the knowledge and skills they have (or lack - which, by the way, isn't a concern in Will's case).

    Also, it's always exciting when there's a new player on the scene. For one thing, it means fresh blood. (Heh.) But for another, it means the game is growing - and that's the goal we should all have.


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