Scrabble at Asian Games? India's first wordplay club wants to make it a reality
A former corporate executive wants to make Scrabble more than just child's play.
In 2015, Bhatia, along with a few others, introduced India’s first Scrabble League - Wordaholix (in association with the Scrabble Association of India), to revolutionise the way it was played.
“The overwhelming response has since turned the event into an annual tournament held over three days,” says Bhatia.
“The number of participants have doubled over the last four years.
“Players from 16-75 including students, IAS Officers, IIT/IIM alumni, doctors, lawyers, CAs, teachers,” he adds.
In an e-mail interaction, Bhatia talks about why India needs to take Scrabble seriously, and reveals some tricks to ace the game.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q. Could you trace the evolution of Wordaholix Scrabble League?
Scrabble was invented by Alfred Mosher Butts in 1948, and has been a family favourite for generations worldwide. It is not just a great vocabulary-expanding educational tool,but it also enables lateral thinking.
Wordaholix gave a twist to this individual-player game and turned it into a League Championship to promote it nationally and have regional teams participating - like IPL or Kabaddi League for the mind.
Q. What made you leave a successful corporate career and start this?
It all started over 15 years back when a family friend introduced my wife Gurneet, sons and me to the game. Since then she and her partner Mimi have been teaching Scrabble to young students and preparing them for competitions through Wordaholix.
After playing at home for a couple of years, it became my passion. I finally took the plunge, making it my work, and started playing competitive Scrabble in tournaments across India.
Eventually, we all invested time and money behind this mind sport to create awareness and train participants for the World Youth Scrabble Championships who have been representing India since 2013. Our goal is to train Indian children to win the World Youth Scrabble Championship.
Q. Bridge has been inducted into the Asian Games. And there have been stunning Indian performances. Do you think Scrabble, too, has a chance to make it to international sporting events?
Absolutely! Globally, Scrabble associations are trying to get accreditations from their respective Sports Ministries. We, too, have filed an application, so that India can have its own Olympic/Asian Games Champion in addition to the World Championships being held across the world.
Indians, by nature, are competitive, and innately strong in English, Math and Logic, which is why we find competitive Scrabble simpler.
In fact, India-born Akshay Bhandarkar, who resides in Bahrain, is the reigning World Champion.
Q. Scrabble is known to be good for memory. What are the other health benefits of the game?
Studies have shown that a game of Scrabble can do wonderful things for the brain and memory, while also promoting feel-good emotions, reducing blood pressure and the chances of falling ill.
Board games help children develop logic and reasoning skills, improve critical thinking, spatial reasoning and attention skills.
In adults, it is said to reduce the risk of cognitive decline, such as those associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Q. Tips and tricks to ace the game?
In Scrabble, it’s not important to know the definition of a word; what matters is that you know the word exists. This is why so many players memorise word lists – like the ‘two- and three-Letter Word lists’.
There are various other lists too, like the ‘Top 1000 seven-letter words’ list and those with vowel-heavy and consonant-heavy words.
But experienced Scrabble players know there’s more to the game than an expansive vocabulary. An effective player should also be able to quickly find words amidst a jumble of letters.
It’s important to practise the art of anagramming - the ability to form a word by rearranging a sequence of letters.
Strategy also plays an important part in the game. You need to be quick to access the advantage of playing a particular word, and how it can impact the opponent’s game.
At times, it may be a good strategy to sacrifice your turn and exchange your bad rack of tiles, rather than settle for lesser points and be stuck with a rack that could adversely impact your next move.
Q. In a time of scant attention span (for kids and adults alike) how can Scrabble be made an engaging affair?
The first thing is to create awareness about the mind sport from a young age. Schools need to encourage students to train and participate in inter-school Scrabble competitions. This will be a huge push for the sport.
In Pakistan, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Malaysia the game is already encouraged at the school level.