By Gerry Carter
Lewis Mackay from Cambridge UK is a terrific player with a great attitude. He was runner up to Wellington Jighere of Nigeria in the 2015 WESPAC event in Perth that was regarded by most in the Scrabble community as the World Championship for that year.
Taking a Look at an International Scrabble Player
Enjoy our feature at word-grabber in which Gerry Carter will be interviewing the top Scrabble players, the upcoming players, and the movers and shakers in international tournament Scrabble.
We hope their stories will inspire a new generation of players to take up the game and play competitively, whether it is in person at tournaments or online. Who knows, one day we may feature you!
”Learn the Short Scrabble Words!”
Gerry Carter spoke with Lewis about his achievements in Scrabble, his inspiration for playing the game, and of course Scrabble tournaments.
Lewis, who was your inspiration for playing Scrabble?
I started playing Scrabble aged eight or so – my great aunt Liz Barber introduced me to the local club and the tournament scene. She still plays to this day! I was very fortunate to have a variety of club players to compete against in my formative days – I could beat the weaker players and challenge myself against the better ones. Over time, I ‘osmosed’ a lot over the board – I didn’t study much initially, preferring to play. My game only really came on when I studied seriously.
Studying words is a big aspect of playing Scrabble for tournaments. What is your favorite method for learning vocabulary?
Like most other players, I use the cardbox feature in Zyzzyva heavily. I sometimes quiz myself on random nines and tens in that program, just to change things up a bit. I do like words in general, so I’m always on the lookout for interesting ones in publications.
What is your favorite way of practicing Scrabble?
Playing against the computer or solitaire games. I play “If Only” sometimes as well – it’s a variant of Scrabble where you can use one of your tiles as a blank if you can score over 50 in so doing. It’s very good for practicing your bonus finding. I remember spotting QUILLAJA through a J in a game last year.
What advice would you give to new players starting in the game?
Learn the short words! Don’t be afraid to ask better players for advice – we’re generally a friendly bunch, happy to pass on our wisdom unless you’ve just beaten us! Enjoy the game – it’s meant to be fun.
What benefits has playing Scrabble brought to other areas of your life?
I’ve met some great people and made wonderful friends through the game. In addition, it’s taken me places I might not have otherwise visited – Australia in 2015 was brilliant. I have always been pretty focused and dedicated, so aspiring to become a great Scrabble player has honed those instincts too.
The Top Three Achievements in Scrabble Achieved by Lewis
Lewis Mackay said that the top achievement for him is not his runner up finish at the 2015 WESPAC in Perth: “I was so thrilled to do as well as that.” But he thinks winning the BEST (British Elimination Scrabble Tournament) in 2012 was his first achievement, beating Mark Nyman in a best of 19 final is the second. Finally, being part of the winning team at the 2009 Causeway Challenge, along with four other Brits as the International Team A, is the third.
“I am very proud to have won several other majors in the UK as well, including the BMSC and Masters (twice),” he said.
”Winning the World Championship in Scrabble would be great.”
When you go to an important tournament, what are the key things that you try to do before the tournament and especially during it?
Before a tournament, I play a few games against the computer to keep sharp. During it, I try to focus only on the move at hand and not worry about anything else – not easy! If I make a mistake, I try to forget it – again, not easy if it’s cost you the game! Getting plenty of rest is essential too.
What would you like to achieve in the game that you have yet to accomplish?
Having come so close at the past two World Championships, actually winning it would be great! I’ve had a couple of near misses in the UK National Championship, so that would be the other achievement I would like to make.
Is there something that you think could be improved about the way the game is organized?
Unfortunately, Scrabble players are a very petty bunch and don’t like change. It does hinder things, particularly when dealing with potential obsolescence. I think the game would benefit greatly if people were more open-minded about things and were prepared to try new ideas.
Is there a change in the rules or in the makeup of the game that would make it better?
Use five-point penalty challenges as standard in all divisions. Free challenge rapidly becomes irritating – it feels like toy Scrabble.
If there is one thing you could wish for in connection with Scrabble what would it be?
I think some kind of legitimacy with the wider public and the sport/gaming world would be great. Scrabble requires a lot of effort to be successful, plus enormous reserves of mental strength. Most people just view it as a rainy Sunday afternoon game, not realizing what a nuanced and immersive contest it is. My colleagues at work are always interested in how I do, which is nice. However, we should be recognized as some kind of “athletes”.
If you could wish for one “superpower” to give you an advantage in Scrabble what would it be?
Augmenting my brain with an analytical engine would be handy, particularly when I see words and can’t remember if they’re valid!
Lewis’ Favorite Move in a Scrabble Game
The most memorable was MAnDIOCA, against Komol at the end of their round 32 game in Perth: “I couldn’t believe it when he failed to block it! It secured my place in the final when it had appeared to have slipped away.” Lewis is not sure if he has a favorite move so to say. He has played some spectacular ones over the years. In terms of scores, he managed 782 in a club game about four years ago. His best in a tourney game is 719, which included ZETETICS as a nine-timer for 230+5 – my highest move score over the board. I once played TUILZIEs for 284 in an ISC game many years ago – my best ever score for a single move.
”After the WSC 2014 I wanted to quit playing Scrabble tournaments.”
Who is the toughest opponent you have faced and why?
I have played many tough opponents over the years. Nigel is an obvious candidate – I always enjoy the challenge of playing against him, and my record is pretty reasonable. He never gets flustered, just ploughing on like a wave. You have to be on top of your game to avoid drowning! I always seem to struggle against Craig Beevers – he has great word knowledge and tactical awareness. The likes of Komol and Dave Wiegand – two players who will surely win the WSC one day – are also right up there.
What is your biggest mistake or regret when playing this game?
My biggest regret is probably my abysmal performance in the Perth final – I was too aware of everyone watching and froze a bit. I try to forget my mistakes, instead focusing on them as learning opportunities.
Have you ever thought about quitting Scrabble?
I did seriously consider it after the 2014 WSC – I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to do well in big international tournaments and not really managing it. I adopted a more relaxed approach the following year and had plenty of success – not only did I make the final in Perth, but I won the Masters for the second time and some other events.
Who is the person you most admire in Scrabble?
Those are the unsung heroes who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make tournaments run successfully. I’ve done it once myself, and it’s a tiring job! We don’t really recognize them enough, which is shameful.
Do you play any other games apart from Scrabble?
I played chess a lot before I moved to Cambridge – I won my local U18 event the last year I was eligible for it. I played in a local evening league, with some success. I do still follow the goings on of the chess world, but I don’t play over the board any more. There is a club in Cambridge which I haven’t managed to get to yet! I play poker online occasionally for very small stakes. When I go home to Sheffield for Christmas, I usually meet up with some school friends to play cash games.
Trying to learn new Scrabble Words?
For learning new Scrabble Words allowed at international tournaments, just take a look at our other articles about Scrabble and of course use our Scrabble Helper to improve your word knowledge.