How Nigeria got so good at winning at Scrabble – Quartz Africa
It’s 2019 and the Nigeria Scrabble National Team has won the English Scrabble Players Association World Championship. [WESPAC] title for the third time. Since the creation of WESPAC in 1991, no other African country has won the championship, until Nigeria in 2015, and then again in 2017.
In the final held in Goa, India, 30 countries were represented with Nigeria with 11 players and officials. Two Nigerians were placed in the top 10 of the competition, while others were placed in the top 30. Nigeria’s Scrabble team coach Prince Anthony Ikolo also won the Indian International tournament title. Scrabble Open.
Nigerian and Nigerian Scrabble players have experienced a meteoric rise in recent years. After finishing 11th in Malaysia in 2009 and third in Mumbai in 2007, Wellington Jighere defeated Briton Lewis Mackay in the final to become the first Nigerian and African Scrabble World Champion. Inside the continent, in 2018, Moses Peter won the 2018 African Scrabble Champion in Kiriyangi, Kenya, giving Nigeria the individual and national trophies for the 12th consecutive time.
Even though English is the official language of Nigeria, as a former British colony, the West African country has over 200 local languages ââand 400 spoken dialects. It is not clear that Nigeria would dominate on the world stage in an English-based competition.
There are over 4,000 players at over 100 Scrabble clubs scattered across Nigeria, Ikolo says. âWe have clubs formed in lounges with only seven nationally recognized players, down to all club players,â he said. In the early 1990s, the Nigerian central government recognized scrabble as a sport. Unlike many other governments in Africa, there is an infrastructure for players and coaches on government payroll and competitions funded by grants.
But while there is some government and philanthropic support for the game, much of it has waned in recent years, says Ikolo. âScrabble competitions these days are sponsored by wealthy Nigerians, a few companies and sometimes Scrabble clubs,â he says.
Febisola Olanipekun, cybersecurity analyst in Lagos, stumbled upon Scrabble in her third year of college. After watching and playing with the varsity team, she ended up winning two gold and two silver medals at the Nigerian Private University Games in Delta State. But she thinks her victory was a fluke. âI entered the team and won because I knew the words and read the dictionary. Scrabble is more than that. You have to be technical about your gameplay and your opponent â.
Observers have argued that Nigerian players have managed to dominate tournaments with a strategy of playing shorter words even when longer words are available. It’s a tactic that has seen 13 Nigerians make the top 50 in the world. In his 2015 final with Lewis Mackay, Jighere’s winning word for 36 points was the five letter felt.
While some longtime Scrabble players have called this strategy defensive, Ikolo rejects the idea. âThe most important thing is that I protect my house, and then I am able to decide how to put pressure on my opponent,â he said. “Nigerians will take on any challenge, even the players they know and love.” Olanipekun explains that due to the quality of Scrabble players in the country, players need to be intentional when it comes to gameplay and therefore adapting to a “defensive approach” makes sense.
Today, younger and younger players are getting into Scrabble. A few schools are even starting to include Scrabble in their curriculum, as parents embrace games like Scrabble and chess as âintelligence boostersâ.
Olukayode Omoyenim, an engineer based in Lagos, believes that due to the ease of access to games like Scrabble, there is little reliance on a defined system to understand the game. “With little money and a dictionary, in a few months you will become good at Scrabble, âhe says. Omoyeni, whose daughters won prizes in Lagos for chess, explains that Scrabble, like chess, is a game but also a hobby. âOn Saturdays I played Scrabble and chess with my daughters, just for fun. But I know they build associations that strengthen their intelligence.
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