Vav, euoi, woofy... what it takes to win at Scrabble


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The Independent Online

A financial advisor from Cheshire celebrated with a night on the tiles yesterday after being crowned the national Scrabble champion.

Those with no knowledge of rare Hawaiian birds, ancient Greek or the Hebrew alphabet, might have looked at the Scrabble board upon which a new champion sealed his victory yesterday with some confusion.

Words such as "euoi" – a cry of impassioned rapture, "vav" – the sixth letter in the Hebrew alphabet, and "Ou" – a bird on the brink of extinction, were laid down at the UK national Scrabble championships, leaving a board populated almost entirely of words that would lead a lexicographer to reach for their dictionary.

After an hours-long battle, it was a financial advisor from Cheshire who was named the victor. Wayne Kelly, 37, triumphed at the final of the annual competition in London after defeating more than 300 contestants.

Was it Mr Kelly's vastly superior vocabulary that led him to victory, or some indefinable talent? An indication of the answer was given by Mr Kelly shortly after his win, when he admitted that he was "not 100 per cent sure" whether one of his highest scoring words – "caromel" (to turn into caramel, 69 points) – actually existed. Luckily for him, it did.

Intelligent guesswork is not uncommon among top level Scrabble players, according to the game's makers. "They don't have to know what the word means, they just have to know it exists," said a spokeswoman for Mattel. "Some spend a lot of time going through the dictionary, others are good at guessing." She added: "It's always a gamble. But at the highest levels of scrabble you don't very often see mistakes because they know the words."

Mr Kelly was the favourite to win as he faced an unknown entity in the form of Gary Oliver, from Southampton, who has entered relatively few tournaments. Mr Kelly said: "I was really up against it for most of the competition. There were some tough games," he said.

His victory last night came after a number of near misses in previous years when he failed to reach the final. "I really didn't want to settle for second place again," he said. "I am so happy to have won."