This is what happens when I play chess with my brother and he’s playing white. Except not really.

I learned how to play both chess and scrabble when I was little, but in both cases, I didn’t play a lot and I didn’t really bother to learn anything about the strategy until a few years ago. My interest in acquiring skill in strategy games has been fueled in part by sibling rivalry. I discovered I like scrabble when I noticed that I almost invariably win when playing with family members. Since taking up internet scrabble, I have come to the discouraging realization that I’m actually not so great, but I guess that’s not so terrible since I’m actually comparing myself to a few unusual individuals who take scrabble even more seriously than I do. When it comes to chess, I tend to lose to my brother, but it is very important to me that at some point, that changes.  I’m better at scrabble than I am at chess, which is probably because I’ve always loved to read and write, so I’m used to thinking about words. However, despite what certain people have insisted, scrabble isn’t really all about vocabulary and spelling. (If it was, I’d be really horrible at it) It also isn’t purely a game of luck. There is definitely such a thing as scrabble strategy, even if it is a bit different from chess strategy.

This is what it looks like when I play against myself and cheat

I don’t really mean things like trying to get your biggest scoring letters on double-letter or triple-letter spaces, or putting your word up against another word so that you spell some additional little words. Those things are pretty obvious; calling that strategy would be like saying that it’s strategical in chess not to put your queen on a certain square if your opponent already has a piece aimed there. The real strategy of scrabble involves things like knowing when it’s beneficial to play a long word that will open up lots of possible moves and when it’s to your advantage to keep the game position closed, or knowing when you’d better stay away from the triple word score space because you’ll be dead if your opponent manages to use it. Since you can’t see your opponent’s tiles, a lot of the strategy in scrabble involves guesswork, estimation, and a sense of which risky move is least dangerous. In that way, it’s very different from chess, where you can see exactly what your opponent is working with, and if you can’t see what he’s planning, that’s your fault. That’s one of the main differences between the two games; scrabble does have an element of chance that isn’t there in chess.

Of course, the biggest differences between scrabble and chess are the differences in the boards and the pieces themselves. Scrabble is simpler than chess because everything moves in the same way, that is, in straight lines. Diagonals are irrelevant. Essentially, every move is like a rook move. Also, chess games start at the edges and move into the center, while scrabble starts in the center and expands outward. Therefore, in chess you want to control the center of the board, and in scrabble you want to control the spaces around the edge. Another spatial difference is that in scrabble, both players have the same access to the same squares. Neither player has more control over any certain part of the board than the opponent does, and that is very obviously not true in chess.

I was really, really proud of this at the time

Related to the spatial differences between the two games is the fact that the chronology of the position in a scrabble game and chess game are opposite. The scrabble board fills up and becomes more cluttered as the game proceeds, whereas a chess position becomes simpler and less crowded towards the end of the game. The pieces you’re playing with are the pieces on the board, and it’s the ones off the board that are used up and out of the game. In scrabble, you’re playing with the pieces that are in your hand. Once a piece is set on the board, it’s done moving and it’s there for good. There’s nothing that either player can do about it, even if it’s blocking good moves for both of them. Towards the end of the game, it’s hard to find good moves because there aren’t a lot of places left to put them. In the very end, all of the pieces (or all but a couple) are on the board. In chess, it’s at the beginning of the game when all of the pieces are on the board and most of them are blocking each other’s paths.

Some of the basic strategical ideas in chess and scrabble are the same, though. You have the advantage if you can restrict and block your opponent but retain freedom of movement for yourself. (Of course, that goal is accomplished in very different ways, because, as previously mentioned, scrabble allows either player to make any move in any part of the board) In both games, you have to rethink and revise your strategic plans depending upon what pieces you have. (Although, in chess, your opponent knows what pieces you have, and in scrabble, he doesn’t) Both chess and scrabble require you to pay attention to your defensive and your offensive choices. Sometimes, you have to make a decision about whether to attack or defend, and sometimes, you can manage to do both with one move.  In either game, there are stupid moves and good moves, and then there are the really clever moves that practically clinch the game even if they happen pretty early. The fun of playing and the enjoyment of winning come from those moments when you do something greatly awesome and you realize that your brain totally has things under control.

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