Chennaiites Dabble In Scrabble

On the occasion of International Scrabble Day on April 13, Naveena Vijayan meets a scrabble group in the city, besides talking to other enthusiasts

Published: 12th April 2014 07:43 AM  |   Last Updated: 12th April 2014 07:43 AM   |  A+A-


India’s number four in Scrabble, Ranganathan Chakravarthy leads us into a small room, in his bungalow, in Gandhi Nagar. A long table consumes most of the scant space, while a few chairs rest higgledy piggledy against a backdrop of a small blackboard. This is where Chennai’s best scrabble players gather every Saturday.

A few minutes into entering the room, Ranganathan is already drawing tiles from a bag like a conjuror taking rabbits from a hat. He spreads them across the board and asks us to form a word. Hot with shame, we give up and delve more into the topic of the club which he currently heads.

Formed in 1998, also the year when Ranganathan played his first tournament in Anna University, the Scrabble club had 15 members. Now, it has just five regulars, with three who have stuck along right from the beginning. Newbies came for a game or two, got demotivated after a couple of games and left. “Their ego is hurt, and they never return. They should know that an MA Literature alone doesn’t help,” he says.

So what does? “A beginner should practise for four hours a day for at least three years to become a champion,” he says. And that’s not all. To break down the mind, you need to first breakdown the body. “Stamina is important. It’s eight games for eight hours, a day. If you don’t have a strong back, you are finished,” says Ranganathan, who is already gearing up for a tournament in Goa this month end and the Nationals in Mumbai later.

He recalls his first tournament in 1998, when he had studied all three-letter and seven-letter words, and even downloaded a list of 1,000 words from Yahoo search that had just begun then. His vocabulary includes a few eccentric words like Qanat, Oomiak, Kumbakonam, Mem Saheb, and Ha — all from the dictionary.

Having participated in two world championships — US in 2001 and Bombay in 2007 — Ranganathan knows what the standard of the game is worldwide. “UK has a big chain of scrabble clubs and US National Championships record 600 players — almost ten times bigger than India’s, which stands at 70!” he says. “Also, we don’t have a structure. Scrabble players across India don’t even meet and play regularly,” he says.

Ranganathan seems to have a bee in his bonnet about popularising the game here. He wants to collaborate with more players across the city, and probably introduce the game in schools, especially among kids aged  eight to 14. “If Thailand, which is not even an English speaking country, can have world champions. Why not us?” he asks.


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