Sport on TV: Just because you're clever, that doesn't mean game is in the bag

As you while away those long afternoons with the family over the festive period with bored, sorry, board games, the chances are you opted for Scrabble rather than a chess tournament. It's almost as intellectually challenging but not quite as daunting, and you can watch 'Star Wars' at the same time. And these days it's just as significant, prominent, momentous. The word game's popularity has exploded, detonated, fulminated, with 150 million sets sold worldwide in 31 languages, and Imagine: Scrabble – A Night on the Tiles (BBC1, Tuesday) showed that it is taken equally as seriously as its rather snobbish relative. After all, no less than the Beeb's doyen of the arts, Alan Yentob, was scrabbling around in his sack, occasionally lost for words.

One competitor at the US National Scrabble Championships in Dayton Ohio said: "When you're opponent is down, kick him!" And you're allowed to use as many swear words as you want; they are all permissible on the board if they are on the venerable Word List. Meanwhile, in How To Play Chess (BBC3, Monday), we heard how the grandmaster David Bronstein once took 40 minutes before he made his first move. His opponent thought the Russian was mocking him, and a few choice words would have been understandable.

Scrabble may not have the same gravitas or boast the array of strategies and tactics that chess has, but as Martin Amis said: "People think chess is a test of intelligence. It's not, it's a test of chess ability." One speed chess aficionado claims it's all about seeing "patterns in the board". Scrabble's official Word List, meanwhile, has 267,751 entries to learn, and Britain's Helen Gipson, the world's leading female player, admitted she had just reached the 23,000 mark for learning all the seven and eight-letter words "and there are about 31,000 sevens allowed".

Yentob indulges in some intellectual snobbery about "a world where words themselves have no moral value" because although Gipson knows all these long words, she isn't interested in what they mean. But then she thrashes him in a series of word tests and he becomes caught up in all the mystique (score = 22 points). Yet he has a point; English is not the first language of the reigning world champion, Thailand's Pakorn Nemitrmansuk (score = 20 points. With a name like that, it's no surprise he's the best). Like the speed chess players, he doesn't see the words as words but as pictures.

That seems unfair really, but it shows Scrabble, like chess, is more than just a game. It's about talent, not knowledge, and it's extremely competitive. But it hasn't yet evolved as far as chess, which now has a format called "chess-boxing" in which chess matches are interspersed with bouts of fisticuffs. Now that could come in useful for those languid afternoons with the relatives.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Lead Systems Developer / Software Developer

COMPETITIVE + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A Lead Systems Developer / Sof...

Recruitment Genius: Social Media & Engagement Manager - French or German Speaker

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: The world's leading financial services careers...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Executive - 6 Months Contract

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Digital Marketing Executive...

Guru Careers: Account Manager / Senior Account Manager

40-45K DOE + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Manager / Senior Account Manag...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory