The Godfather: Petet Corris on Scrabble
‘That’s disgraceful,’ a friend said when I admitted that Heath, my then seven-year-old grandson, could beat me at Scrabble. That was 18 months ago and he continues to beat me. In fact, after 40 or so games the closest I’ve come was a game when there was nothing between us and we agreed, due to some uncertainty about the rules, to call it a tie. He generally wins by a margin of 50 or 60 points, sometimes more, seldom fewer.
Heath comes to stay with us overnight every two weeks and our games occupy about an hour and a half before we trek up to King Street for a meal at the Italian Bowl. Some time back I wondered whether my poor eyesight might be a handicap and Jean bought a vision-impaired version of the game with the counters and the board slots almost twice the size of the standard game. No difference; he creamed me the first time we played with the jumbo board.
When we start we have a Shorter Macquarie Dictionary to hand to arbitrate disputes over the validity of words, and a jelly bean. First to 100 gets the jelly bean; I have won it a couple of times but he gets it anyway because as a diabetic I can’t eat it. Still I try, for bragging rights.
If the Macquarie doesn’t serve because our edition is way out of date, we resort to Jean for a decision or, very occasionally, to the Internet.
Luck plays a part, of course, and it is a fact that in the vast majority of cases Heath draws a lower alphabet letter and thus gets first go and a guaranteed double-word score. Once only, mercifully, he was able to use all of his letters to form the first word, thus adding a bonus of 50 points to his double score. I never recovered from the killer blow.
Although naturally I have a more extensive vocabulary than Heath, I’m seldom able to profit from it. He plays a very cunning, strategic game, organising his letters for possible words if the board shapes a certain way, building a lead and then willing to sacrifice a turn to get a fresh set of letters. He is very good at what is clearly my weakest point – constructing a high score by building two or three words at a time.
The sad fact is that I am a linear thinker, which is why I was poor at draughts, simply unable to learn chess or card games and pathetic at snooker or pool. Heath, on the other hand, thinks outside the box, allows for contingencies and profits by mistakes. He plots to avail himself of triple-word squares.
I challenge and press him with some good scores but he counter-punches well. He, like me, is competitive. As I fall behind, I sometimes have the satisfaction of introducing him to new words and their meanings, but I know that in the fullness of time he will use them against me. He is magnanimous in victory; how he is in defeat I have yet to discover.