GSC: A way with words
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Scrabble enthusiasts from across the region descended on the Etisalat Academy in Mirdiff on Friday to begin the two-day Gulf Scrabble Championships (GSC).
Still going strong in its 22nd year, the GSC attracts a mix of experienced players and emerging talents. This year, 30 players are battling it out for the crown.
“It’s a challenge; it’s one way to fire up those grey cells,” said Soneja, who’s been playing the game since 1993. “In some ways, once you get playing, you find it difficult to stop, so it’s just endless entertainment.”
Scrabble may be considered a hobby for most, but in tournaments the game takes on a new twist. Each turn is timed, special tiles are used and a computer is on standby containing the latest version of the dictionary to settle disputes.
In the end, though, success in the game comes down to quick thinking and a good memory. However, understanding the words that you place on the board isn’t a pre-requisite.
“As far as possible, we try to learn as many words with the meanings while sometimes you just have to recognise words without knowing the meaning,” explained Soneja. “That’s why Scrabble has been taken up in some countries where people don’t speak English and don’t know the meanings. Obviously, it’s a bit easier for someone who is English speaking, and it’s a bit easier to remember the words when you know the meaning. I think our champ is the one who probably knows the most words — his word base is probably three times what you would say normally.”
While some players return year-on-year for the GSC, the transitory nature of populations in this region means experienced hands often leave the circuit to return to their home countries. To combat this, organisers are looking towards the youth.
Soneja said: “A problem we’re trying to remedy is that in the Gulf, people often move back home, so what we’re trying to do is target the schools. It’s really important and kids are really good at Scrabble. So we’re very excited about that because it’s the next generation of Scrabble players. And, of course, it spreads, because they talk to their friends about Scrabble. And teachers are really happy because it’s a good way to apply yourself, and even the competition is a good learning tool.”
The two youngest competitors at the GSC — 15-year-old K. Sudharsan Surya and 12-year-old Sanchit Kapoor — are already avid players despite only recently taking up the game.
“We’ve been playing for about six months and this is our first senior tournament. We got beaten pretty badly in the first games but it’s a learning curve,” said Sudharsan.
This year’s tournament features a prize fund of Dh15,000 and comes to an end today. Khaleej Times, Jashanmal Books and Etisalat Academy are supporting the GSC this year.