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Bhandarkar wins first international scrabble tourney

By Adhitya Suvarna
January 13, 2003 16:18 IST

Reigning national champion Akshay Bhandarkar of Mumbai won the first international scrabble tournament, held at the Juhu Ville-Parle Gymkhana in Mumbai on Sunday.

Bhandarkar won 12 games out the 14 he played, with a spread [margin] of 891 points. He took the lead in his seventh game and maintained it till the end. He played 30 bingo's [seven-letter words] and was assured of the top spot even before he finished his final game.

"It feels fantastic. I could not afford to take any of the games for granted as the calibre was so high and there was tremendous depth. So even though you lost a game, you still knew that you could win against a strong player. To win 12 games out of 14 in any tournament feels really good."

He took home a silver salver, Rs 50,000 and a painting.

Salah Salih from Saudi Arabia finished second, winning 10 games, with a spread of 796 points. The Sudanese math teacher, working in Saudi Arabia, almost pipped Bhandarkar in his three games. The games were high scoring, each averaging more than 400. In the last, each scored three bingo's.

"This is my first visit to India and I am happy that I have won something," Salih said. "I had not expected to win anything here, but now that I have it feels good. Such tournaments should be held regularly as it will boost the popularity of this game in this country."

He took home a sliver salver, Rs 25,000 and also a painting.

Thirteen-year-old Sherwin Rodrigues from Oman was the most disappointed of the lot. He scored ten wins, with a spread of only 431. But running second till the last two rounds he suffered a massive defeat at the hands of Bhandarkar in his final round and knew he had lost out on the second position.

"I had made bingo's twice during the game, but here was no place to keep them. But I am happy I won something. The next time I will definitely do better," Rodrigues said, mustering up a watery smile. He received a silver salver, Rs 12,500 and a painting.

"Sherwin was in a position to win the title. He needed to beat me by 135 points in the last game to tie me on 11 wins and overtake my spread. I eventually won that game by 96 points with words like WHINGES (73 points), WAIVODE (59 points) and AQUAE (36 points). Sherwin's best move was OUTPAINT (73 points), Bhandarkar said.

Mohan Chunkat, IAS officer and the first Indian at the world championship in 1999, and Ralph Lobo of Oman finished fourth and fifth respectively.

The games were played in the Australian King of Hill format. Each participant plays the first 10 games without repeating an opponent. The next four rounds depend a player's standing and spread, which could see him playing the same opponent more than twice.

The national division was open to all, since the top eight players, according to the Mumbai Scrabble Club ratings, and another eight from the qualifying rounds, held on Friday, were playing in the international division. With 16 players missing, it was a tight contest between the rest.

Jose de Abreu from IIT Mumbai won a prize of Rs 5,000 for being the best placed Indian player outside the top 5.

Mumbai's Caroll Pais won the top spot in this category with 9.5 wins and a huge spread of 898 points.

"I am so thrilled. I have never won in this scale and this is a real morale booster for me. I hope this encourages scrabble in India and hope there are more tournaments like this," she said. She took home a prize of Rs 5,000.

Rajeev Antao from Goa came in second with 9 wins and a spread of 794 points.

Young Ramkumar from Hyderabad came in third with 8.5 wins and a spread of 576 points.

"I am absolutely satisfied with the way the whole tournament has happened. We were looking forward to a lovely tournament, but at the end of it, looking at the pleasure written on the faces of the participants is fabulous; we as organisers feel very nice that the people who have come here have gone away happy. We are hoping to have another tournament the next year, in Jan," Anil Mahesh, joint secretary of the Juhu Ville-Parle Gymkhana said.

Charles Corneiro from UAE, speaking on behalf of the international players, while thanking the organisers and the participants said, "It has been quite momentous to see the companies promoting an international tournament, other than cricket. The tournament has exceeded our expectations."

MSC president Varisht Hingorani said, "Relieved and really happy that the tournament has gone off really well, right from the planning stages to the final execution; then seeing the happiness on the faces of the winners, I think it has been a wonderful affair, something that will boost the morale of this club and scrabble in India as a whole."

The other highlight of the weekend tourney were the concrete plans drawn up for the formation of the Scrabble Association of India. The association would be registered in the next few weeks, after which all clubs and tournaments will fall under the purview of the association.

Stressing on this aspect, Bhandarkar said, "It [forming a national scrabble body] is a step in the right direction, as we had been approached by some media groups, which had said that they can sponsor us only if there is a registered body. Once the national body is formed, which is going to be soon, the popularity of the game will increase."

Some unusual words played during the tourney included BLEUATRE, FANIONS, CLABBERS, BIRR, TEGMINA and SILOXANE.

Players from Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Bahrain and the UK also participated.

Scrabble is an internationally recognised board game with 35 million leisure scrabble players in the United States and Canada alone. There are thousands of scrabble clubs throughout the English speaking parts of the world and there are versions in Spanish, Italian, Russian, Hewbrew, French, and even Braille.

The estimated brand value of the scrabble game is over $120 million and growing every day. It was invented by an unemployed American architect, Alfred Butts, in 1932.

The world record for the highest score for a single word is 392 for CAZIQUES, by Karl Khoshnaw of Kurdistan.

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Adhitya Suvarna