Scrabble enthusiasts battle it out at the 2021 world championship

In a game of Scrabble, you do the best you can with the tiles you draw. At the ongoing international Scrabble tournament which commenced on November 20, eight contestants from India are pitting their vocabulary against 120 players from more than 40 countries.

Known as the World English-Language Scrabble Players Association Championship (WESPAC), it is the first time the tournament has gone online, due to COVID-19-imposed travel restrictions in many countries. “As this board game is popular in most English-speaking nations, each country, based on its historical performance, is given a quota for the number of people they can nominate. This quota increases over time and India has moved up from the initial one seat to four. This year the Indian contingent has been allotted four wildcard spots as well,” says Sudhir Kamath, president, Scrabble Association of India (SAI).

The championship is a biennial event that began in 1991 and India’s first entrant, Mohan Chunkath who participated in 1999, is an entrant in this edition as well. “This is the first time I will be playing a serious tournament online, even though I have been engaging with other gamers in the online format way before the pandemic — there is a dearth of serious Scrabble enthusiasts or a club in most cities,” rues Chennai-based Mohan, 65, a retired IAS officer.

However, Mohan, who is a five-time holder of the National Champion title, says many youngsters have taken to the game in recent times. Two of the four wildcards allotted to India were granted to preteens — Madhav Gopal Kamath (11) from Delhi and Suyash Manchali (12) from Bengaluru — who are among the youngest players to have participated in a WESPAC event.

Scrabble enthusiasts battle it out at the 2021 world championship

Both boys developed a passion for the game watching the adults in their family. The lack of a Scrabble club or group in either of their schools, has not dulled their enthusiasm.

Though there is a youth tournament for those under 18 and a senior citizens’ one for those above 55, at the world championships there is no age classification — all entrants will face off with each other at least once.

“This is the first time I will be playing a main event online against other adults and I am a bit nervous,” says Madhav Gopal Kamath, a class VI student at Sanskriti School in Delhi. Madhav, who came second at the U-18 championship this August, has been competing online and with his father to prepare for the event.

Suyash Manchali is nervous too, though he has participated in the World Youth Cup twice. Now a class VII student of MES Kishore Kendra School in Bengaluru, Suyash says, “I was seven years old and I saw my mother was fascinated with these small squares with both alphabets and numbers that you could count. She is the one who taught me to play.”

The Indian team at WESPAC 2021 will be led by reigning national champion Sherwin Rodrigues from Mumbai, and includes Udayan Grover from Pune, Mohan Chunkath from Chennai, and Nakul Prabhu from Mumbai as well as wildcard holders Sanjoy Gupta and Suyash Manchali from Bengaluru, Kala Ganesh from Mumbai and Madhav Gopal Kamath from Delhi.

“All participants will play 32 games each, squaring off with a different opponent every time. A system of totalling scored points and winning margins determines the ranking of each player. The top 20 move on to the finals — a knockout stage featuring the top eight players,” says Sudhir.

The tournament will conclude on December 5 and is being held online every weekend.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2022 4:54:20 AM |

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