To get really good at Scrabble, you have to play a lot of Scrabble.
Thats the winning strategy from Kevin Bowerman and Raymond Gao, eighth-graders at Smith Middle School in Chapel Hill who as a team won the 2013 National School Scrabble Championship this month.
Kevin estimated that he plays about 10 to 15 hours of Scrabble a week, mostly online and much more in the weeks leading up to the national tournament, held in Washington, D.C. Raymond plays a little every night, adding up to maybe seven hours a week, he said, including weekly play with a local Scrabble club on Sundays.
The boys became friends in fourth grade and discovered Scrabble together.
We just decided to go to Scrabble Club one day and we just fell in love with the game, Kevin said.
Kevin said its the strategic challenge that keeps him playing, as well as the ever-present chance for glory.
Even the best players in the world dont know every word in the dictionary, he said, so you could always know more.
Raymond enjoys the satisfaction that comes from a successful turn.
What I like about it is theres lots of chances to make really good plays, and when you make one you feel really accomplished, he said.
The competition at the national tournament, which paired up teams of students in grades 4-8 for 10 games over two days, was intense, Raymond and Kevin said, but friendly.
The game is just fun overall, unless you get too into if youre making the right play or not, Kevin explained. I tend to try to think about it a lot, but not overthink it.
In a Scrabble team, two people are doing the thinking, often communicating by scribbled-down notes or, as with Kevin and Raymond, whispers.
In their team, Kevin is the one picking words to play from the teams seven letters and scouting placement on the board, while Raymond is making sure hes not missing anything and handling scorekeeping and the game clock.
Sometimes, the boys admitted, they disagree on the best word or placement, but with a 25-minute time limit per turn, and a 60-minute limit per game, theyve learned to work out their differences pretty quickly and move on.
After the 10-game main tournament, Kevin and Raymonds accumulated points put them in the top two, so they sat down for the championship game, which determined the tournament winner.
The last game went by really fast, Raymond said. As soon as it was over, I was like, Oh my gosh, were national champions! I was really surprised.
The boys won $10,000 to split and plenty of bragging rights, which theyll get to display for a national late-night TV audience Thursday on ABCs Jimmy Kimmel Live show.
Theyre getting flown to Los Angeles for the show, which traditionally has had the school tournament champs go head-to-head against Kimmel in a 250-point game of Scrabble.
Will the boys go easy on Kimmel, seeing as how hes a celebrity and their host for the evening?
Kevin laughed at the question, then answered: No.
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