Nearly 300 international Scrabble enthusiasts gathered in Baltimore on July 23 for the 2022 Scrabble Players Championship, North America’s largest Scrabble competition, eager to earn triple word scores and winner’s titles. I was. But only Montreal’s Michael Fagen took home the trophy.
Despite being the 28th seed in the 42-man division, Fagen returned to Canada as the 31st winner of the prestigious tournament. His words of victory? “LEVIRATES” depicting the custom of a man who has to marry his brother’s widow. It was a tense moment for Fagen. “I actually saw the word right away,” he says. “But I hoped my opponent didn’t block.”
We recently interviewed the King of Scrabble to find out how he got his start playing the game competitively, who taught him to play in the first place, and whether he plans to defend his title next year. I asked him about his future plans. This conversation has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
First, how does it feel to be the 2022 North American Scrabble Champion?
Amazing, thrilling…and incredible. I’m a very good player, but I also knew my department was full of very good players. I never thought I would come so close to winning. I’m glad I put it in the top 10. But to win? I didn’t expect that to happen. I was very surprised.
Let’s go back to the beginning. When did you start playing Scrabble?
When I was about three years old, I started playing with letter magnets on my refrigerator. My parents realized that I wasn’t just putting the letters in random order, they were actually in the same order each time. [for words]Around the same time, I started using Scrabble boards and tiles to write the names of my classmates. Usually it was after my parents played the game and left the board behind.
A few years later, I started playing seriously. My mother helped me when I was casually playing.
When did you become competitive?
At the age of 14, he started playing for the Montreal Scrabble club in Côte Saint-Luc. That was his big turning point. Playing almost every week allowed me to improve quickly and steadily and play against players of all levels. I was hooked.
About two years later, I started playing tournaments. My first game was a local game in Montreal where he had 14 games over the weekend. I have also played in several local tournaments in Kingston and Cornwall. So, At 20, I competed in my first international tournament in Albany. It was a good size with about 100 people. I was one of her lowest rated players, 24 of her 26. From there, my ratings rose nationally.
Let’s talk about North American Scrabble tournaments. How did you prepare for the big event?
It is the largest tournament in all of North America, with 300-500 participants from across Canada, the US and internationally. In the last few years, usually he played 31 games in 5 days (so 7 games each of his first 4 days, plus 3 more on the final day).
To prepare, I probably spent an average of 45 minutes a day studying words, studying games, and analyzing positions leading up to events. Focusing was also important, so I did everything I could at home before going to the tournament. I finished all my chores, put everything away, caught up on work and job applications, so I didn’t have to worry about what was going on at home and was able to fully focus on Scrabble. I feel you helped me.
Heading into the tournament, you were seeded in the bottom half of your division and ranked 28th out of 42 players. Do you think your opponents underestimate you as a competitor?
It is definitely possible. But we’re all really good players, so even if the ratings were a little different, I don’t know how much it affected what my opponents thought of me. They didn’t know my playing style because I hadn’t played before. They probably thought I was really good at the game and so went for it. I’m no psychologist by any means, but there’s a lot of psychology involved in Scrabble that can have a big impact on how you play.
What does that mean?
When you only have a few minutes per turn, there is a lot to think about and it can be difficult. For example, when I’m playing a game, I’m thinking about what to keep on the rack for the next turn. Where on the board is your opponent likely to play and what spots are they likely to leave? increase.
We’re also looking at the shape of the board and whether it’s easy to play bingo using all seven tiles of the rack in one turn. It can be very frustrating when you have bingo in your rack but nowhere on the board to play it. For example, in the first match of the finals, the word “FAINTER” came up, but I couldn’t use it.
By shaping the word “LEVIRATES” we have ensured victory. Get over the moment.
First of all, it’s 9 letters and there are only 7 letters in the rack at a time. It’s very difficult to make a 9 letter word. Because you have to try her 2 characters already on the board.
I actually saw the word immediately after picking a replacement tile the previous turn, but I was hoping my opponent wouldn’t block it. I played like I was there. Luckily, the word still fit, so I knew I had won the game as long as the word was valid.
It was a flashy play, as it’s rare to play a 9-letter word, and even more rare to play two 9-letter words in the same game. In that sense, I’m glad I won. I also feel that players might think I deserved the win because I played better “invisible” as opposed to more obvious plays.
Do you have any goals for other competitions in the future?
yes. My next tournament will probably be the annual tournament in Lake George, NY in October, with maybe 100 people attending. I also hope to win the North American Scrabble Tournament next year and defend my title. I believe it will be held in Las Vegas. Now that I’m famous, I feel like people want me to be there. Do you know.
Do you have any Scrabble tips for someone new to Scrabble or for the average player?
I think the most important thing is to have fun. Of course, there is no obligation to be a top player. You don’t have to spend hours memorizing thousands of words. just have fun.
If you want to get better at your game, learning languages is a great way to do that. Two-letter and his three-letter words are very important because they are used so often. It’s also good to learn 7- and 8-letter words, as well as high-probability words, words that are relatively likely to occur, like “QI.”
You don’t want to alienate new players, but they make mistakes at first. Every situation is new and every game is different. Therefore, it is almost impossible not to make mistakes. And even if you don’t think you made a mistake, that’s the nature of the game.
Montreal’s Michael Fagen is the King of Scrabble
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