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Asian Players Win Big in English Word Game 'Scrabble'

Scrabble player Tengku Ariff Shah (R) and his coach Ganesh Asirvatham practice before the WESPA Youth Cup 2019 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, November 30, 2019. (Reuters/Lim Huey Teng)
Scrabble player Tengku Ariff Shah (R) and his coach Ganesh Asirvatham practice before the WESPA Youth Cup 2019 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, November 30, 2019. (Reuters/Lim Huey Teng)
Asian Players Win Big in English Word Game 'Scrabble'
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One of the most popular board games in the United States is now becoming very popular across parts of Asia.

Young people from countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Pakistan have taken up the game and are winning Scrabble tournaments.

Tengku Ariff Shah is a teenager who can spell more English words than most native English speakers. He says he may not know what every word means, but that is not important.

“It’s a puzzle. It stimulates my mind,” he told the Reuters news agency recently.

Ariff says he loves unusual words. In a recent tournament, he played the word “S-E-N-V-Y,” an old word for mustard plants or seeds. He says one day he would love to get the letters to play “C-W-T-C-H-I-N-G” -- a Welsh word for cuddling.

For those who haven’t heard of Scrabble …

Scrabble is a board game played with small, square pieces called tiles. Every tile has a letter on it. Players get seven tiles to start with and then take turns making words.

Each tile is worth a certain number of points. When all the tiles are placed on the board, the players add up their points. The player with the most points wins.

The building designer Alfred M. Butts is said to have invented the game in the 1930s. At the time, he called it Criss Cross Words. Later, the game was redesigned and renamed Scrabble and its popularity grew.

Scrabble tournaments have been held in the United States since at least the 1970s.

However, the last three youth Scrabble champions have come from Asia. The last three adult champions have come from New Zealand, Australia and Britain.

The popularity of Scrabble in Asia has not gone unnoticed by governments. Many officials in Asian countries support after-school Scrabble clubs for young people to build English language skills. Many parents see it as a fun way for kids to learn.

Malaysia’s Ganesh Asirvatham is currently the top-ranked adult player. He says Scrabble is becoming “a development tool in Asia, a continent of more than 2,000 languages.”

He told reporters that “Asian players are conquering the Scrabble world.”

Some say Scrabble became more popular in Asia after a world-famous player moved there 20 years ago. New Zealander Nigel Richards is a five-time world Scrabble champion. He is widely considered the game’s greatest player.

In 2015 and 2018, Richards even won Scrabble’s French tournament although he cannot speak French. He studied the French dictionary for nine weeks.

The winner of this year’s Scrabble youth tournament -- Thailand’s Tarin Pairor -- calls Richards one of his Scrabble heroes. The teen once beat Richards during a tournament in India.

Tarin told Reuters, “Everyone wants to be world champion at least once.”

“Even if I get world champion,” he said, “I don’t think I would ever stop playing.”

For Voice of America Learning English, I’m Anna Matteo.

Reuters news agency reported this story. Anna Matteo adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.


Words in This Story

teenager n. a person aged between 13 and 19 years.

tournament n. a series of contests played for a championship

puzzle n. a question or problem that requires thought, skill, or cleverness to be answered or solved

stimulate v. to cause or encourage (something) to happen or develop: to make (a person) excited or interested in something

cuddle v. to hold close for warmth or comfort or in affection

conquer v. to gain control of (a problem or difficulty) through great effort