Have you ever dreamt of taking part in one of the big US-American National SCRABBLE Championships (NSC) or even in the World SCRABBLE Championship (WSC)? Well then you probably already know that there is no admission to these without having a special number, your own Elo ratings in Scrabble. “What on earth are Elo ratings?” I hear you ask. Look no further for all the answers to your questions – from what, to why, to how.
What are Elo Ratings?
Elo ratings are used not only in Scrabble, but also in many other competitive multiplayer games and sports like football, baseball, and basketball. Elo ratings were originally invented to pair similarly skilled players in professional chess tournaments.
The deeper logic and numerous calculations of Elo ratings are very technical and may or may not be overwhelming at this point – they definitely are to me. However, the question of how Elo ratings work remains unanswered. So here comes my attempt at explaining the work of a professional physicist in an understandable way.
How Do Elo Ratings Work?
As briefly mentioned above, the Elo rating is a calculation that estimates the skill levels of players in competitive games. What is more, it can predict the outcome of a competitor-vs-competitor game by calculating a win percentage. That makes the rating popular for tournament directors, sponsors, betting agencies, and of course players.
The logic behind it is that every player in the game concerned has a personal Elo rating. This rating is represented by a number that is obtained by adding all wins, losses, and draws played in previous games. The more a player wins, the higher his or her number and Elo rating will be. The more losses there are, the lower the Elo rating is going to be. In other words, the player’s Elo rating rises and drops with the player’s skills and ability to win.
The outcome of the game can be predicted by comparing the ratings of the competing players. For example, if Player A has a distinctively higher rating than his or her opponent, Player B, Player A is more likely to win the game. In this case Player A has a distinctively higher win percentage than Player B.
The Pros and Cons of Elo Ratings in Scrabble
One of the obvious reasons to use Elo ratings in Scrabble is to make coordinating Scrabble tournaments easier. With the help of Elo ratings, players of similar levels can be paired to play against one another. This prevents games of David versus Goliath.
Many Scrabble players like being assessed through Elo ratings, because they provide concrete proof of their Scrabble skills. So Elo ratings can be seen as a way to track one’s progress. If you work hard to make progress and train daily, it is understandable that you might like to be rewarded with an official rating. Elo ratings in Scrabble are also used by a number of players as a motivational tool – the higher your rating is, the more you might feel like an elite player. Another advantage of Elo ratings in Scrabble is the opportunity for players to assess the strength and ability of opponents they will be facing in future tournaments. They know what they may be facing, literally.
However, some Scrabble players find Elo ratings rather intimidating for the same reason – since knowing that the opponent is on the same or an even higher level than oneself can bring pressure and insecurities to the surface. Players get nervous and may play worse than they are theoretically capable of. In that sense, the Elo ratings in Scrabble do not represent the true skills and level of each and every player.
Another discouraging thing about Elo ratings in Scrabble is the fact that your playing skills might remain the same – which is an achievement in and of itself – while your personal Elo rating is decreasing. This is quite common and happens when lower ranked players improve significantly and become better than you. Gaining those extra points means increasing your ratings and ultimately dropping less, improving, and sustaining players.
This makes Elo ratings in Scrabble not so much a satisfying way to rank your personal Scrabble skills, but more a handy tool to help you compare yourself with other Scrabble players. The latter was indeed the original idea behind implementing Elo ratings in Scrabble too. So in the end Elo ratings might not be all that motivational
for many players, but they can successfully represent the current skills of players participating in an official competitive national and international Scrabble league.
How do you get your own Elo ratings in Scrabble?
Are you curious and motivated to get your own official rating in Scrabble? Then here you go:
You can get your own official Scrabble rating by participating in a rated tournament affiliated with the North American SCRABBLE Players Association (NASPA). Information about such tournaments can be found on the NASPA’s tournament calendar. To participate in NASPA-sanctioned tournaments, however, you will have to be a member of the association and pay an annual membership as well as a smaller fee per game played. More information about fees can be found at NASPA’s membership webpage.
Once you are a NASPA member you can enter your first officially rated tournament as a so-called unrated player. Your official Elo Scrabble rating starts to develop with your very first game and will be added onto with every additional NASPA-sanctioned tournament you take part in. If you are curious to see where you would stand in the official Elo ratings for Scrabble and to see if wins and losses from previous unrated tournaments counted, have a look at the NASPA rating calculator.
Or you can take it a step a further and play internationally with WESPA, the World English-Language Scrabble Players Association. You can get your own ranking by playing at one of the WESPA affiliated tournaments. You will, however, have to apply for your own WESPA rating. Once you have been playing for at least two years and played a minimum of fifty games, you can be added to the WESPA ranking among Scrabble icons like Nigel Richards, David Eldar, and Wellington Jighere.
Whatever your choice is, I wish you all the best and lots of fun playing!