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Catalin Caba on the Scrabble Situation in Romania

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Name: Catalin-Eugen CabaPortrait Catalin-Eugen Caba
Age: 40 years old
Country: Iaşi, Romania
Education: Gh. Asachi Technical University of Iaşi, Faculty of Electrical Engineering
Employment: Head of the Department in Smart SA
Scrabble Club: Preventis Iaşi


This is part 2 in our Scrabble interview series with Romanian player Catalin-Eugen Caba. The director of the A.C.S. PREVENTIS in Iaşi is very committed to working with junior players. His primary focus is to teaching pupils in English Scrabble and preparing them for competitive tournaments, as you can read in part 1. He also discussed with us the past and present Scrabble situation in his home country, Romania.


Organizing Scrabble Events

In the first part of our interview with Catalin Caba, we learned more about his local Scrabble work in Iaşi, especially as it concerns his involvement in the Scrabble scholar project. But Caba not only teaches, but also organizes Scrabble events himself. The first problem that arises when setting up tournaments is that there are usually very few competitors who play in the English language. It’s always more difficult in a country where it is hard to find many native English speakers.

“The number of English native players amounts to less than 10 per country. So organizing an annual tournament in such a country is not sustainable year-by-year, as it is in Malta or Israel where there are large contingents of English players. Not to mention the UK or Ireland where there are many Scrabble events.”


In countries like Romania and Germany it’s different. That’s why the organizers of the German and the Romanian Open decided to alternate every year. As a tournament director, Caba was responsible for the Romanian Open in Bucharest in 2012. A year later, he visited the German Open and was able to recruit more and more international players. Now he is looking forward to the next Romanian tournament, which will take place in some months:

“We will be happy to welcome players from all over the world the Transylvanian city of Cluj Napoca (Romania) between 10th and 12th of October. There will be players from the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, the UK, and Germany. We hope more will enter in our tournament as well, since the prices are very good and we await all with love and care, in the spirit of our traditional Romanian hospitality.”


2nd Romanian Open Scrabble Tournament 2014

The 2nd Romanian Open will take place from 10th – 12th October, 2014 at the Grand Hotel Napoca in Cluj-Napoca. It’s been alternating with the German Open every year since 2011. After having held the 2nd German Open last year, it is now Romania’s turn again.

The Scrabble tournament is organized by the Romanian Scrabble Federation with a minimum prize fund of 1,000 €.

Registration will cost about 80 €. More detailed information, such as who to contact for registration, can be find in the official announcement.


It will take a great deal of time to plan and execute the Romanian Open 2014. What Catalin Caba enjoys “just as much as conducting a competition” is taking on the roles of computer operator and tournament director. “My role model is, without a doubt, John Chew and his wonderful techniques for conducting Scrabble tournaments.” This other side of Scrabble also fascinates him and gives Caba a more intense view on the word game:

“It is another way of feeling the Scrabble atmosphere, by observing players gestures and styles, nice words or combinations, but also incredible mistakes or impossible racks, finding the best solutions to unexpected situations that could appear anytime during the games and preparing the most adequate pairing algorithms for having equitable standings.”

For Caba, who is the department head at a company that provides maintenance services for electric high power stations and lines, that means sacrificing a lot of his spare time, but “in the end the biggest satisfaction comes when the tournament has gone well and the players will remember it with pleasure.”


From the Internet Scrabble Club to Issues with Mattel

But Romania is not just a place with up-and-coming Scrabble tournaments, it’s also known for being the home of the Internet Scrabble Club. Catalin Caba has used this for practice, because “they offer a good projection of different levels of play.” In 2000 he even met the creator of the ISC, Carol (real name Florin Gheorghe), and worked with him on the project:

“I remember our meeting in Bucharest, when he was a student there and worked on the early version of ISC. I was amazed, it was something I hadn’t seen before and had to potential to be a power instrument for training and socializing. We talked about some simple principles for tactics in English Scrabble. Later I did a first translation of the manual. Then, after putting it online, I did some advertising without notable results in the beginning.”


Catalin Caba with Scrabble Juniors
Caba with Scrabble Juniors


At first there wasn’t much interaction in the Internet Scrabble Club, though nowadays it is well-attended. Of course playing online is not equal to a real life playing situation, but the “main goal is to try to motivate some of the players to test their skills in live contests, to pass from the virtual to the real Scrabble experience.”

In 2004 a problem with the word game’s European distributor, Mattel, cropped up in relation to Mattel’s attitude towards Romanian Scrabble. The company started to distribute their games in Romania, and these were significantly different from the previous Romanian version, which has existed since the 1980s.

“We had the unpleasant surprise of discovering that the tile distribution was different from how it was in our version introduced in 1983 and multiply that by one million (that’s the number of Scrabble games sold before the rights were claimed). We’re talking about 16 tiles out of 100 with different values or symbols. Since 2004 we have had two sets – one is an official game of the Romanian Scrabble Federation, the other is from Mattel, which is sold as a registered trademark but is not played in the competitions.”


Following this, another legal question entered the picture. The Romanian Scrabble Federation originally owned the domain, which was then claimed by Mattel. For this reason, the National Federation had to change their domain to Unfortunately the original internet address remains unused to this day, just because Mattel insists on owning this domain – without even providing any content there. Catalin Caba regrets the circumstances: “Needless to say, we have repeatedly tried to contact Mattel officials or anyone interested in resolving this unique issue, but all our good intentions were for nothing.”


Caba’s Future Scrabble Aims

Even though Catalin Caba has achieved much with his Scrabble work, we asked him if there is something to look forward to, like a certain tournament or opponent he would like to meet. But he is not interested in this: “Instead, I would love to see some very good Romanian players returning in competitions. It would be nice to see Adrian Tamas, for instance, who is by far our best player in English and who delighted us with so many great results.”

Caba’s future aim is to prepare young Scrabble players for international tournaments and to act more as a referee than a player himself. But nevertheless, there is one opponent he is really keen to meet: world champion Nigel Richards. The Romanian Scrabble enthusiast explains, “and of course I want to beat Nigel, meaning that every win over an expert player is an important morale boost.”


On Scrabble Strategies

As a Scrabble teacher with considerable playing experience, Catalin Caba has several tips for new players. His own strategy includes the combination of studying word lists and solving anagrams. In addition, he can say that he himself has a very good sound memory, that’s why reading the lists out loud helps him to remember the words. On another note, mnemonics don’t work for him, because “I do not have the sense of “feeling” them like an Englishman.” Instead, for example, Caba uses his own little system for remembering three-letter words.

“I started with consonants with a vowel in second place and learned the rest. The system consists of memorizing a short string of letters for every starting consonant, meaningless but easy to remember, at least for me.

For example, let’s take the letter L. First I memorized DG (Dolce & Gabbana if you want), meaning that every word like LvD or LvG is correct, where v ist a vowel – A, E, I, O or U. Then I retained PUSUTUXI. It doesn’t mean anything, but it has a good consonant-vowel alternation for keeping it in mind. Every word like LvP is correct except for LUP*. The same for LvS or LvT. For LvX every word is correct except for LIX*. Then it becomes a little harder. I memorized OVIREBUWYI. Again, nothing concrete. But every word like LvV is correct except for LOV* or LIV*. So only LAV, LEV, LUV are correct. And so on.”


With this system, Caba mixes English words with letter combinations from his native language, which makes it easy for him to remember them. Next to that there is a corpus of books and lists, which help him study. In addition to the OSPD (Official Scrabble Players Dictionary) and The Official Scrabble Brand Word Finder, Caba has found support in some internet tools:

“After connecting to the internet I collected a lot of articles about strategy, tips and tactics, also some interesting analysis of games. Then I discovered the computer applications. Zyzzyva is very good for training anagrams, putting words in the card box, judging challenges, and switching between many dictionaries.”


Stefan Fatsis' "Word Freaks" Working with children, Catalin Caba prefers to use The Scrabble Players Handbook compiled by great Scrabble players like Toh Weibin and edited by Stewart Holden. And of course, his recommendation includes the book of Stefan Fatsis, Word Freaks.

In Caba’s eyes, if you’re a person who enjoys anagrams and solving word puzzles, you should definitely take a chance on the famous word board game: “See Scrabble as a noble mind sport, but also a simple and efficient way to improve your basic vocabulary and grammar knowledge.” Apart from all those tips and tools, the most important principles for climbing the Scrabble mountain are patience and competitive play.

“The only way is to learn new words and observe how they are placed on board. The only way to test your Scrabble skills is in normal play, in competitions.

You win – go on, you lose – go on! Play it as long as you feel good and as long as you feel like it despite the inherent defeats. Enjoy the game!”


We thank Catalin-Eugen Caba for the detailed interview and wish him the best of luck with his Scrabble scholar projects.


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image sources

  • Portrait Catalin-Eugen Caba: © Catalin-Eugen Caba
  • Catalin Caba with Scrabble Juniors: © Catalin-Eugen Caba
  • Stefan Fatsis’ “Word Freaks”: Stefan Fatsis' book,
  • Title Caba on Romanian Scrabble: © Catalin-Eugen Caba