Meet the Forest Park Scrabble Scholar

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It might be a New Year, but for most of us, staying home is our daily routine. Containment has made board games more popular. Chess is experiencing a resurgence, but I’m focusing on another intellectually stimulating game: Scrabble. It’s because I play monthly matches against Forest Park Scrabble scholar Tom Legge.

Tom discovered Scrabble at the age of 8. He started playing his mother, who let him win at first, until Tom started to beat her fair and square. He continued his career in Scrabble, playing frequently at Knox College, then joined Scrabble clubs and competed in tournaments. He met a whole host of eccentrics and Mensa members. Not that all serious Scrabble players are fools. Barrett Jones, who played center for Alabama, was a top player.

Most of these Scrabble tournaments were held in Chicago, but Tom also traveled to Michigan and Massachusetts to participate. Competitive Scrabble is like competitive chess. There is a clock that each player hits and they have 22 and a half minutes to complete a game. I used 22 and a half minutes to go around.

When not playing, Tom has studied a large number of Scrabble books and competes at a high level against his computer. He’s not the only one who loves the game. One third of American households have a game of Scrabble. There are over 4000 Scrabble clubs in 121 countries.

Tom later became manager of a Scrabble club on the North Side. He set up the commissions and ruled on disputes and disputes. In 2012 he moved to Forest Park and played Scrabble in the library, but that didn’t give him the competitive solution he was looking for.

Tom and I bumped into each other at Shanahan’s, who became our “friendly speaker” for Scrabble games. Most nights I was devastated by Tom’s play. He has already laid down four 7-letter words – known as “bingos” – in one part. I scored four lifetime bingos.

He scored over 600 points in a game. I’m lucky to have 300 points, but Tom swears I beat him twice one night. The secret to its success is its use of 2 letter words. There is a list of 107 such words that serious Scrabble players can memorize. He is also very adept at using the four letters “s” and two “blanks” to form plurals. Although he is a recognized “word freak”, Tom considers Scrabble primarily to be a mathematical game.

He targets high value boxes, while preventing his opponent from using them. Like the rest of us mere mortals, he puts letters away in his tray to form words, or to find prefixes and suffixes. He looks for comparatives and superlatives to extend the words. He recently played the “fiercest” against me for 70 points.

Scrabble may be a brain game, but there is an element of luck in the design of the letters. The “big four” are Z, Q, J and X. Using the Q was like getting stuck with the queen of spades in your hearts. This was before the discovery of U-less “q” words like qi, the “life force” in traditional Chinese medicine.

Sorry, if I get too “inside baseball” about Scrabble. But to paraphrase a certain baseball player, “Scrabble has been very, very good for me.” A Scrabble victory at the library landed me a job as an ESL tutor for five years. This led to a three-year full-time job teaching ESL students.

I look forward to the return of game nights at the library. Tom said he would be available to help form a competitive Scrabble club. The only question is who wants to play a guy who has already asked “whodunit?” “


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