A Way With Words
Jack Peters ’20 Won a National Scrabble Championship
Jack Peters ’20 is a typical sports-loving student with an exceptional accomplishment; he is the 2017 champion of the division three North American Scrabble Championships.
Though most people consider Scrabble to be a casual if slightly dated board game, for Peters it has been a passion that has taken over his life.
Growing up, Peters, who lived in London in his youth but now lives in Concord, Massachusetts, began casually playing Scrabble at the age of seven with his mother and grandmother. “They used to beat me all the time,” he said, although now he has his fair share of wins against his family.
As he gained skills from playing at home, Peters entered a few local competitions at the ages of eight and nine. After these competitions he took a 10-year hiatus from competing.
It was not until 2015, with the encouragement of his uncle, that he began to compete in national competitions. The competitions are “pretty intense,” he admitted. “You’re in a giant room with hundreds of other people, but it’s very quiet aside from the noise of the game.” Learning to perform under pressure, he went on to claim the division champion title.
When he’s not playing with words, Peters enjoys watching and participating in all sports, but especially baseball and football. Though Scrabble and sports may appear to be vastly different, his knowledge of strategy on the field helps him navigate his strategy on the board. “One of the things about Scrabble that people don’t realize is that there is a wide range of skills and things you have to consider when you’re playing.” He pointed out that one of the most important skills is the ability think critically. On top of having a vast knowledge of words, it is important that a Scrabble player knows how to anticipate upcoming plays in order to, “make a play that would be more conducive to scoring points in the future.”
Obviously, basic memorization is key. “I know all of the two and three letter words,” Peters said, but he acknowledged that he had met players who knew far more words. Knowledge of seven letter words is also essential. Peters explained that, “If you put all 7 letters in a row it’s called a bingo and you get a 50 point bonus.” Therefore, contestants like Peters familiarize themselves with ‘high probability words,’ or words that players have the highest chance of being able to play. One example of this is the word “etesian.”
Despite all his experience playing Scrabble, fellow word lovers may have a chance at victory when competing against Peters in the popular Scrabble-inspired app. Words with Friends. “The board is completely different; it changes everything,” he lamented. “I would have to totally change my thinking to play that.” However, it can be expected that with his knowledge, Peters would wipe the digital board with his Words With Friends competitors. Since there is no outlet for Scrabble on campus though, convincing Peters to take up the Facebook game may be the only chance fellow Scrabble fanatics have for improving their skill while at Brandeis.
After years of practice, Peters explained that his victory at the North American Scrabble Championships was “pretty surreal; I never expected it to happen until it actually happened.” And he has no plans to stop playing. “I want to continue building my rating and getting better,” he said, hoping that that one day he may get matched up with some of the best players in the world.
Next year, Peters will be moving up to division two, and he has plans to compete at next year’s national scrabble competition in Buffalo, New York. Until then, he’ll be doing what he knows best: playing the game of Scrabble.