How Poker and Scrabble Are Very Much Alike

Posted by Ellis Shuman, September 15, 2014

scrabble and pokerMany years ago, I used to compete in Scrabble tournaments. What exactly is a Scrabble tournament? It’s basically a bracketed one-on-one Scrabble competition. The winners of each game advance towards a final match, where the overall winner of the tournament is determined.

At the time, I also belonged to a Scrabble club, which met every week for three intense matches, played one after the other. There were leagues for beginners and intermediate players, and an elite league for the best Scrabble players of all. Scores were recorded, with win-lose ratios and average scores. Statistics listed the best games and the highest-scoring words played. Players in each league competed to earn the right to advance to the next league. The pace of these club games was so fast that my mind couldn’t keep up.

In many ways, it takes the same skills to be a winning Scrabble player as those that are needed to be a winning poker player.


Play simply to enjoy, or play to win

Both Scrabble and Poker can be played recreationally, making moves/bets based simply on the tiles/cards that come your way, with little long-term strategy. If you receive a “Q”, you’ll form the next available word that you can make with that letter. If you are dealt “Q T”, you’ll make a bet based on those two cards.

For many players, playing Scrabble and/or Poker is simply a hobby – a game that is played with friends on an occasional basis, with a “whatever happens” attitude about winning (or losing). The important thing is the companionship, exercising the brain a bit, and nothing more than that.

But for others, as I noted in the Scrabble club, playing the games is all about who comes out ahead, and scoring/winning as much as possible.

Winning games regularly requires exercising the brain. Winning in competitive Scrabble matches, like winning in competitive Poker games, requires players to think one, two, even three steps ahead. This is very much the same sort of strategy employed by cunning chess players, with the exception that in chess, there is nothing hidden from view. In Scrabble, you need to consider the board and make educated assumptions what your opponent is holding. You need to consider the odds (what is the likelihood that my opponent has a “Z”?). You need to employ strategy (what can I do that will put my opponent at a disadvantage).

scrabble and poker


To win you need a killer instinct

Every player can do this from time to time, but to be a winning player, in either game, you need to have a killer instinct somewhere in your personality. You’re in the game to win, and you will do everything possible to win each and every match/game.

In Scrabble, the killer instinct will lead you to form the highest possible scores with your tiles, and to block Triple Word Score spaces from your opponent. In Poker, the killer instinct will result in bluffing your opponent out of the betting. There are many other examples of moves/bets which you will undertake only if you are an aggressive player, going for the kill.

Players who are good in strategy games often have the ability to excel in more than one discipline. Poker player and author Bob Ciaffone is a Life Master in chess. Jennifer Shahade is a womens’ chess chamption and a leading poker player. Gus Hansen, Stu Ungar, Dan Harrington, Tom McEvoy, Erik Seidel, and Phil Laak all were successful backgammon players before turning to poker.

Who will be the first poker champion to have begun his career as a killer Scrabble player?

What games did you play before you began to play poker? Comment and let us know!



Further Reading:  

Titan Poker Benefits
Get Amazing Benefits by Signing Up

Poker and the Bible

texas hold'em

Texas Hold'em Poker Guide

poker better than sex

Why Poker Is Better than Sex


Previous articles by Ellis Shuman:

A Lot More Blood than Aces

The Moneymaker Effect and How It Changed Poker

Dutch Boyd Goes on Poker Tilt with His New Book

Poker Success of the Poet's Son

Poker and Philosophy: Thinking Your Way to Better Poker

The Wolf of Online Processing

The Greatest Poker Songs of All Time

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