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Toh Weibin Scrabble player

An Interview with Toh Weibin – “My Role In The Game Will Probably Shift A Bit”

created on by  in Word Board Games

The world record holder Toh Weibin won the 6th Israeli Scrabble Open that took place from the 21st till 23rd of February this year. Best known for his record score with a rating of 850, the 24-year-old Scrabble player gave us a little insight into his experience in tournaments and what makes Scrabble so fascinating for him.

The Winner of the 6th Israeli Open

In late February the 6th Israeli Open gathered 43 players from 12 different countries at The Caesar Hotel in Tiberias and gave them the chance to up their international ratings once again. German player Brigitte Brath, who we recently interviewed, was among the competitors as well as Singaporean record holder Toh Weibin. In 22 rounds he won 16 ½ games, thus ranking 1st.

The young Scrabble winner, who is a student of economics, currently lives in London and visits the University College in his final year. Considering his young age, Toh Weibin has a formidable Scrabble record. The co-author of “The Scrabble Player’s Handbook” started playing tournaments in 2004. Just three years later Toh won the World Youth Scrabble Championship and in 2012 he set the record for the highest game at the Northern Ireland Scrabble Championship with +850. But how was he first attracted to the famous word board game?

“The Glue That’s Kept Me Coming Back”

After starting to play Scrabble with a group of friends at the age of 14, Toh Weibin began to play more and more regularly under competition conditions. Nevertheless, “that friendly competition has always driven part of my passion,” Toh claims. And finally the Singaporean player got hooked and spent more and more time playing Scrabble.

“I wasn’t always attracted to the game – there was a period of time where I felt other computer games were more interesting! I was hooked on the Internet Scrabble Club (ISC) for a long period of time though, and would spend many hours (perhaps an understatement) just observing the top-rated games and learning words from there. When it came to real life Scrabble, I discovered the sense of community both within my home country and around the international scene, and that’s probably the glue that’s kept me coming back.”
Toh Weibin playing

When asked about his other pursuits, Toh Weibin modestly admits that if there are so-called other hobbies, he doesn’t “have any level of skill worth mentioning in the most of these pursuits.” But even though Scrabble is his “chief” hobby, Toh adheres to the philosophy “to balance [his] life with other pursuits” like travelling, hiking and diving.

The Differences in Playing Around the World

Toh Weibin has played in different countries around the world and is most acutely aware of the differences between his Singaporean home and the UK, his adopted country for study. Apart from the differing player attitudes and the demographic of players, Toh points out what varies when it comes to actually playing:

“One key difference that I noticed between Scrabble in Singapore and in the UK is that many of us Singaporeans like to cram in as many games as possible in a day – I’ve even had overnight Scrabble practice sessions! Food breaks are kept to a minimum, perhaps because it is relatively convenient to obtain it at home. Playing more than four games in an evening for practice in the UK is relatively unheard of, though I’ve done nine in a day before!”

Travelling abroad for Scrabble tournaments usually doesn’t bring you that close to the country itself, though it will broaden your horizons by allowing you to meet all those people from different cultures. So Toh Weibin states that “you may not see a world of differences when you travel for Scrabble, but you will definitely find something interesting and new.”

Time Management and Advice for Young Players

Toh Weibin Scrabble
If you travel a lot for Scrabble, it may seem difficult to juggle play with study or work later. Even Toh doesn’t have a final solution for this time management problem. The formerly number 1 player from Singapore finds that studying always steals time from practicing Scrabble and vice versa: “These things are complementary, though perhaps more subconsciously.”

When asked what advice he would give other young players for tournament preparation Toh wittily answers: “Don’t play Scrabble like I do!” Nevertheless, the most proper way would be to meet with professional competitors:

“I’d advise them to learn from the best, not only in terms of playing strategy but also attitude towards the game. Scrabble is one of the rare competitive activities where you can get access to the elite players fairly easily, and that provides a wealth of learning opportunities to anyone picking up the game.”

On Players and Tournaments – “I don’t think I can stomach so much Scrabble”

Some of those “elite players” have already crossed Toh’s path. He admits to having an “immense level of respect” for them and admires their individual playing habits. Like “David Eldar […] being one of the sharpest players at this peak.” Toh Weibin has already challenged some of the Scrabble players he admires.

“Nigel Richards […] – I admire his philosophy towards the game. Pakorn’s spatial awareness and strategy is phenomenal. Alastair Richards and Adam Logan make quick decisions which turn out to be very strong. I’ve played against all of them save Pakorn. Of course, I think there are interesting people at all levels of Scrabble competition, and certainly many of them are role models in their respective fields.”

Next to some high respective players, Toh has also approached some great Scrabble tournaments like the World Youth Scrabble Championship (WYSC), the World Scrabble Championship (WSC) or several Singaporean and UK tournaments. After that, we asked what great competitions are left for him.

“Quite a few! […] I’ve always wanted to do the iGate (in Bangalore, India) and the Godswill (Akwa Ibom, Nigeria), but never had the opportunity to do either. I hope to join the US Nationals some day to see what Scrabble is like across the pond. And quite a few more – Malta, Pakistan, Romania, but, erm, I don’t think I can stomach so much Scrabble!”

The Aim to Achieve on Scrabble – “Winning is Just the Icing on the Cake”

Previously Toh Weibin played from tournament to tournament, which means he mainly had “a few short-term targets”:

“One of the first was to qualify for my country for the World Youth Scrabble Championships in 2006, which I managed to do by the skin of my teeth. But I take things as they come now. Being able to play the game is a privilege in itself, and winning a game is just the icing on the cake.”

As a student, the world record holder probably has the opportunity to take enough time for practicing and playing Scrabble. But Toh sees that the future might inevitably change some things there, so that “my role in the game will probably shift a bit,” he claims. That doesn’t mean he wants to give up competitions at all. “To remain competing in international tournaments so that I can keep up with the friends I made” will still be important for Toh Weibin.

Next to participating in Scrabble competitions, he can imagine focusing on administrative tasks: “I will help out more in the local association when I get back, and will probably take over the club at the place I’m working at.” Toh also wishes to fill more people with enthusiasm for the famous word board game. “To propagate the game to more players in Singapore and other countries” would be one of his main aims. Another will be “about exploring the educational quality of competitive Scrabble”:

“I don’t think there is much research about it yet but I think it has intrinsic benefits as a word game. These benefits definitely differ from person to person, and I hope to develop resources to yield the best results in each individual.“

What finally became clear in the interview with Toh Weibin is that he is a very ambitioned and enthusiastic Scrabble player. Being interested in various areas of the word game – like the interpersonal, competitive, educational and administrative areas – the young Singaporean player will probably be someone to keep an eye out for in the next few years.

We thank Toh Weibin for the candid interview.

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image sources

  • Toh Weibin playing: Tassos Panajotidis
  • toh weibin by tassos panajotidis: Owned by 1337 UGC GmbH
  • titelbild_tohweibin: Owned by 1337 UGC GmbH