W-I-N-N-I-N-G: 11 points.
That sort of mundane word won’t win you a Scrabble tournament, so UC Davis graduate students Daniel Moglen and Phillip Seitzer must have really mined their vocabularies to finish first and second, respectively, in the fourth division of this year’s National Scrabble Competition.
Both Moglen and Seitzer are members of the Unofficial Scrabble Club of Davis.
Moglen, the winner, took home $1,500 in prize money as well as a plaque and some Scrabble art. Seitzer, the runner-up, collected a $700 prize.
The competition took place over five days, July 19-24 in Las Vegas. The Davis pair faced each other five times throughout the 31-game tournament, including three times on the final day. Seitzer came into the last day in first place, but Moglen pulled into the lead during the first of their three games.
“I was kind of disappointed,” said Seitzer, a Ph.D. candidate in biomedical engineering, “but it was OK. Daniel played really well and was a great competitor. I’m really glad he won.”
Moglen, a Ph.D. candidate in linguistics, described himself as “overjoyed” to have won the tournament.
“It felt really good to have won,” Moglen said. “It felt like a culmination.”
Both players noted the exhausting nature of the tournament, in which contestants played seven to eight hours of Scrabble each day over the course of almost a week.
“I was really glad to be done,” Seitzer said. “I was physically and mentally tired and ready to go home.”
For both graduate students, it was their first time participating in the National Scrabble Competition, although both had experience playing in other Scrabble tournaments. Having a close destination such as Las Vegas was an attraction, along with the fact that members of the Unofficial Davis Scrabble Club would go as a group.
“Really, what made me want to go is the fact that there was a group of us going,” Moglen said. Five members of the Davis Scrabble Club took part in the tournament, and three others came and watched.
An official Scrabble tournament is “nothing like movie-room Scrabble,” Moglen noted.
In official competitions, he said, every game is timed, and one thing a player must consider is how to use time wisely. Some plays might take a few minutes, he added, but you lose points if you go over your time limit.
Moglen also said the tournament helped him realize how important the end of each game is.
“The decisions you make in the endgame can really decide the outcome of the game,” he explained.
Seitzer discussed various programs that Scrabble players use to prepare for official tournaments. Zyzzyva is a computer program that helps with anagramming, or the ability to find all the words that can be made from a group of letters.
Quackle is a computer program that helps with the visual and spatial aspect of Scrabble, including board positions and the importance of considering what tiles are left in the bag.
Moglen said he has been playing Scrabble since the age of 7, when his father and older brother introduced him to the game. Seitzer got involved in the hobby when he moved to Davis in 2009 and was introduced to the Unofficial Davis Scrabble Club.
“For me it’s not about the thrill of winning,” Moglen said, “it’s about sitting down and playing a really good game.”
Moglen also invited anyone in the Davis area who is interested in Scrabble to come check out the club, which meets on Wednesday evenings during the Picnic in the Park celebration in Davis’ Central Park. Players gather on the patio close to Third and B streets. Look for a dark green table or tables covered in Scrabble boards.
“It’s a really good group of people,” Moglen said, “and we all motivate ourselves to get better.”