Last modified on 25 November 2014, at 00:25

Scrabble/Endgame

The following gives techniques and strategies that expert players often employ during the endgame. They are especially crucial in close endgames, where any mistake can lead to a loss of the game.

Tile trackingEdit

Tile tracking is the process of crossing off which tiles have been played throughout the course of the game. Most tournament players who track use a pre-printed tracking sheet, containing all 100 tiles. While some view tracking as cheating and similar to "counting cards," this practice is allowed and encouraged in tournament play. Tournaments allow players to bring their own pre-printed tracking sheets; some tournaments even provide their own.

The advantages of tracking are:

  • Knowledge of your opponent's rack when the bag is empty
  • Knowledge of the tile distribution mid-game (e.g. whether the bag is vowel-heavy or consonant-heavy)
  • Stronger endgame play

Disadvantages of tracking are:

  • Tracking takes some time to get used to. One has to remember to track every single move correctly -- a mistake in tracking can lead to poor endgame play.
  • Tracking can take away time from the game that can be used for other tasks (finding plays, etc.).

When learning to track, some players start by tracking only the power tiles (S's, blanks, JKQXZ) and the four U's.

Knowledge of your opponent's rack can easily influence gameplay in close endgames. For example, if you know that your opponent has a V that can play at only one spot, then block it.

Q-stickingEdit

Q-sticking occurs when you or your opponent is stuck with an unplayable Q, and as a result, the other player gains 20 points from an unplayed Q if he plays out. In close endgames, if you know that your opponent holds the Q, and that playing the Q could easily determine victory, you should always try to determine where he could play it. If he can play it in two spots that cannot both be blocked, do not waste effort trying to Q-stick your opponent. However, if you are able to block all of his Q plays, then do so if this gives you a winning advantage.

Passing your turnEdit

On occasional circumstances, it so happens that there are 8 unseen tiles, one of which is a Q. However, the Q is unplayable, so whoever has it will likely lose the game. In this case, it may be a good idea to pass your turn, so that if the opponent makes any play, he will be stuck with the Q. Note that one must be extremely careful when doing so, since any mis-tracking or overlooked Q spot could lead to devastating results.

Note that Q-sticking could be applied to any tile, such as a J, Z, or any tile that cannot easily play on the board.

Endgame strategiesEdit

Most of these strategies are best implemented in close endgames:

  • It is generally a good idea to leave one or two tiles in the bag, as opposed to emptying it. Emptying the bag gives your opponent full knowledge of your rack, which could give you a disadvantage if your opponent blocks your best play. Additionally, if your opponent plays a bingo, you will have an additional turn if one tile is in the bag.
  • If there are only a few tiles in the bag while it is your turn, cross off your own tiles and record the 8 or 9 "unseen" tiles (it is a good idea to conceal it so that your opponent can't determine your rack). Using some basic probability and combinatorics, assuming your opponent has an equal chance of holding each tile, you can figure out which tile combinations give you the best chance of winning. Suppose you have IORSUVW with ACFILJORU unseen. The only sure way to win is to play a bingo with the S in the 6th or 7th position (VROUWS loses). The W was played for 9 points, with the intent of drawing the A for VARIOUS with 1/9 probability, but post-game simulation showed that playing off VW for 13 is more likely to win, since it combines with AC (CURIOSA, CARIOUS), AR (OURARIS), CR (CIRROUS), CU (CURIOUS), FO (FURIOSO), and FU (FURIOUS). There are six winning two-tile combinations out of \textstyle \binom{9}{2} = 36 total, resulting in a roughly 1/6 chance of winning, assuming all two-tile combinations are equally likely and the opponent is unable to block.
  • If your opponent has an unplayable tile, the "slow-play" strategy works best -- play off your tiles one-by-one with the intent of maximizing score, while making sure your opponent cannot play his tile.
  • You usually want to find the fastest way to play out, or at least a sequence of moves that gives you the best point spread. In close endgames, it can take several minutes to analyze many different move sequences, so in a timed game, leaving several minutes on your game clock for the endgame is a good idea.
  • Remember to always challenge the out play (unless you are 100% sure it is valid). There is no penalty for losing the challenge on an out play.

Example EndgameEdit

Consider the following position, which occurred in a TWL club game (note: PIEROGIS*). The endgame shows how tile tracking and careful endgame play can turn a losing position into a forced win.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O
1
WS
T1
  
V4
A1
R1
N1
I1
S1
H4
  
LS
C3
  
WS
2   
O1
B3
E1
  
LS
     
O1
O1
T1
  
L1

WS
  
3
S1
P3
A1
N1
     
V4
O1
X8
     
G2
O1
     
4
A1
  
R1
I1
F4
     
LS
        
U1
N1
  
LS
5
I1
     
N1
U1
              
B3
Y4
E1
     
6
L1

LS
D2
E1
R1
M3
        
LS
A1
  
R1

LS
  
7
I1
  
LS
  
Z10
  
F4
  
A1
A1
L1
  
LS
     
8
N1
     
P3
I1
E1
R1
O1
G2
I1
S1

LS
     
WS
9
G
  
LS
  
E1
  
E1
  
LS
        
LS
     
10   
LS
  
T1
R1
U1
E1
D2
  
LS
        
LS
  
11            
WS
L1
           
WS
           
12
LS
  
D2
I1
Q10
U1
A1
T1
        
WS
     
LS
13   
W4
O1
        
M3
A1
C3
        
WS
     
14   
Y4
A1
G2
  
H4
I1
E1
  
LS
        
WS
  
15
K5
E1
T1
O1
N1
E1
S1

WS
        
LS
     
WS

You: 347, Opp: 387, Your rack: DEEIJT?

From tile tracking, you know that your opponent has a W.

If you look carefully, the only places the W can play are (O)W H3 and W(AG) I6. Both of these plays win for the opponent, so you either want to score 50-60 points to secure a win, or block both spots without giving an opening spot. This is a TWL game (otherwise, J(AI)lED/J(A)# for 56 wins by 1). There are no other high scoring plays, so we will try to block the opponent's out plays. There are no extensions of BYE that prevent the opponent from playing out (DE(BYE) or iN(BYE) do not block (O)W). However, there are a few winning plays through the O on H3, all of them using the blank: (O)xID, (O)bIT, (O)TIc, (O)DIc, (O)mIT. Typically, the blank should not be used for such a low score, but this is a rare exception since there are no other winning plays. (O)TIc H3 4 was played.

After (O)TIc, you can "slow-play" the other tiles and win by 10:

(O)TIc H3 +4 351

JE(E) 9C +23 374

ED J13 +15 389

2*W +8 397, Final score 397-387.