When I first started playing competitive scrabble I was a little naïve. I assumed everybody only played words they knew to be acceptable. Scrabble, after all, is a scholarly game It wasn’t long before I found out Scrabble has a dark side: one where people knowingly play words that are no good. One of the frustrating things about tournament scrabble is that so many words in the Official Scrabble Dictionary are obscure and probably never seen anywhere except on a Scrabble board. Unless you know all the words in the dictionary, there will be times when you challenge a word that looks fishy, but turns out to be good. If you lose a challenge, then you lose a turn. In a close game, one lost turn could be the difference between a win and a loss.
I can handle losing because I challenged a word that was good. I get a little cranky, though, when I lose because I don’t challenge a phony word. When I first started playing I would almost never challenge anything. I would just stare at the foreign word, write it down, and look it up later. Then I started notice I was letting a lot of crappy words fly. I was especially caught off guard by old people. You know, those sweet old ladies who pinched your cheeks as a kid. Surely they wouldn’t play fake words. It took me a while to realize they were some of the biggest culprits. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been surprised. When I was a kid they told me if I was good, a fat man would slide down the chimney and give me gifts. I should’ve caught on sooner.
Technically, playing a phony isn’t lying. It’s a legitimate part of the game and is usually not intentional. Sometimes you play a word that seems like it should be acceptable, but then it turns out to be no good. There are those who play words they know aren’t good and just like to gamble. The key is figuring out when to challenge and when not to. I haven’t mastered this art yet, but when I do I’ll be hard to beat.