A winning way with rare words: A 15-year-old London schoolboy has become Scrabble's youngest champion

THE WORDS iotas, titi, zonae, gif and amir would not feature much in the average family's game of Christmas Scrabble.

But such delicacies were on offer yesterday as Alan Saldanha, 15, became the youngest winner in the 23-year history of the National Scrabble Championships, held in London. His winning board included 'reasted' (to become rancid), 'harn' (a coarse linen fabric) 'aneriod' (to dispense with the use of liquid) and 'oup' (to bind round with thread or cord).

Alan, from Chelsea, south-west London, finished sitting his nine GCSEs on Thursday and thought that he would be a bit rusty before his contest. But he quickly despatched Karl Khoshnaw, a 38-year-old mathematics lecturer from Manchester, 2-0 in the final.

A scholarship pupil at the City of London School, he has been playing competitively since he was six. Before yesterday he was ranked fourth in the country and is in the British team for the World Championships in New York in August. His mother, Marjory Saldanha, a paediatrican at Charing Cross Hospital, said the family discovered that Alan had an astonishing 'sight vocabulary' when he was two and would point out words on advertising hoardings that he had seen written in magazines.

Alan's opponent learned the game from his landlady in Swindon when he came to Britain, from Kurdish Iraq, 20 years ago to study. Mr Khoshnaw holds the record for the highest single-word score of 392 points for the word Caziques, a South American songbird or an American Indian chief.

He recalled playing Alan two years ago when the new champion was 13. 'I was stuffed,' he admitted, although he gained revenge in a subsequent match.

(Photograph omitted)