Begin at the Beginning

E I O P V W Y

A E I I O O R

C D E G G R T

A E K N N O S

A D D E E R X

Those are 5 racks that I have just taken at random from a bag of tiles. The only thing that was not random was that I decided not to include any rack with a blank.

The idea is to discuss real life type situations when it is you turn to go first. There is no agenda with me deciding what words I want to talk about. It is just whatever letters I pulled out of the bag.

In some cases the best play might be a moot point. The highest scoring move might not be the best option. It could be better to score a bit less, but keep a nicer combination of letters.

Even when you have decided on the best word to play there is a decision about where to play it because exposing vowels next to the double letter scores can sometimes be expensive if your opponent has the J, Q, X or Z

If the rack is bad enough the best play might be to change, but then you have to decide which letters you will exchange and what you will keep. So go back to those 7 random racks and decide what you think is the best play. Circle the letter you will put on the centre square of the board so that you know how it will be placed. I will highlight the central square letter on my suggested answers.

The suggested answers are about to come up so go back and decide your play on each of those racks before you scroll down any further.

ANSWERS - (Or at least what I think the answers should be)

The 1st rack has a clear best answer:

VIEWY Scores 36 points and leaves: OP

Obviously the same score can be obtained by putting the V in the middle of the board. The I doesn’t look particularly dangerous there so the same word placed there is the 2nd best play. Other reasonable plays are:

YOWIE Scores 30 points and leaves PV

PIOYE Scores 26 points and leaves VW

Not only do these not score as much but drawing to OP is much better than drawing to PV or VW

The 2nd rack is one of those bunches of vowels we all see from time to time. If you are going to play at all the only practical play is:

OORIE Scores 12 points and leaves AI

Much better than starting with the O in the middle of the board because that second O next to the double letter score will be expensive if your opponent has the J, X or Z. However since AI isn’t a terrific leave and it only scores 12 these two options are probably just as good:

Change AIIOO and keep ER

Change AIOO and keep EIR

The 3rd rack has too many consonants and there are no words longer than 4 letters. It would be silly to leave ourselves with the double G, so words like CRED and CERT are bad ideas. That just leaves:

TEGG Scores 12 points and leaves CDR

DREG Scores 12 points and leave CGT

GERT Scores 10 points and leaves CDG

TEGG is an easy winner because the leave CDR looks so much better than the other two options. It feels like you might play a word beginning with CR or DR next time. On the other hand CGT and CDG both look clunky. There is one cunning addendum here. If you played GERT because you knew it didn’t take an S and you were hoping to trap your opponent into challenging it and then falsely pluralising it then your strategy has a lot of merit.

The 4th rack has a lot of promise, but you can't get the K on the double letter score without using the S. We don't want to do that, so the best play is:

KON Scores 14 points and leaves AENS

That is a great leave. With AENS you would certainly hope for a bingo chance to come your way soon. Other plays are definitely inferior, but next best are

OAKEN Scores 18 points and leaves NS

OAKEN Scores 20 points and leaves NS

SNOEK Scores 28 points and leaves AN

SNOEK is better than SNEAK because your opponent might get a good score with the Y for SNEAKY or extend it to SNEAKIER for 36 points. Also, congratulations if you knew SNOEK, because before writing this, I did not.

The 5th rack was interesting in that the only way to get the X onto the double letter square was this very nice play:

EXEDRA Scores 44 points and leaves D

If you didn’t know that one before then at least you know what to call a curved bench in a recess now! The X is such a useful scoring letter that if you didn’t know that word it would be better to keep it and hope for a good opportunity next time. One way is to set yourself up and hope that you might be the one to get to use it.

DARED Scores 18 points and leaves EX

Is a better play than:

DREAD Scores 18 points and leaves EX

Because with DARED your opponent might hurt you with ZE / ZO for 45 points but you would at least be able to fire a return shot of 46 for EX / ZEX. By contrast DREAD does not expose a vowel, but your opponent has the first chance to play DREADERS, DREADEST, DREADFUL or DREADING. If you want to avoid exposing a vowel then:

AREDD Scores 18 points and leaves EX

Is definitely a better play than DREAD

I hope you enjoyed this discussion on 5 random racks. Let me know if you think it is worth doing something like this again.

Happy Scrabbling

Patrick

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