Penang Interstate Scrabble Tournament 2006

Reported by Aaron Chong

The Penang Interstate Scrabble Tournament, held at the Seberang Perai Penang State Library on the 1st of April, was organized by the Penang Public Library Corporation, Island College of Technology and not to mention, the Penang Scrabble Club. Eight schools from the island and the mainland joined the event, and each school had sent in more than one team to liven up the competition consisting of six rounds of scrabbling mania. Team NOCTURNE of Peng Hwa Girl's School and TERRORBUNNIES of Chung Ling High School, led by Ong Suanne and Loh Vern Sern respectively, were the favorites to win the under-16 category. Both teams had to play with each other in the first two rounds.

For the first time, a four-player format was introduced in the tournament to make up the deficit of Scrabble sets. Pairings were based on the King of the Hill (with repeats) format.

Teams of four would have their players labeled as A, B, C and D. Players A and B from one school would play against players A and B of another school while C and D would be playing against another C and D. The game would be played by four sides and the scores and spread would be calculated by comparing A's score with A, and so on. For instance, if A from school A obtained 200 points while A from school B obtained 150 points at the end of the game, A from school A would receive one winning point and a positive 50 spread, while A from school A would receive no winning point and a negative 50 spread. Credits should be given to John Lam for deciding upon the format and designing a Microsoft Excel program to tabulate the results.

Despite having the tournament to be held on April Fool's Day, everyone sat down in their tables and concentrate in their game of Scrabble, figuring out the best moves to outsmart their opponent, and there were no pranks being pulled off. However, there was no denying about witnessing appalling phonies that were played on the board, mostly by beginners who had not played in a serious tournament before. There were the 4-lettered QUAS, HIME, ERIT, ZEAT, VATE, DEEF, YAIL and REET, the longer ones OVAQUA, CODAL, REDAB, LOIGO, BENDE and SHEATS, and the bingos, LANCOVE, ICONING and OOZINGS. Even with the 2 and 3 letter wordlists in their disposal, OL and NI had been carelessly laid on the board and were remained unchallenged.

In a round-3 game between team NOCTURNE from Peng Hwa and Chung Ling High School B, Ong Suanne and Charmaine Cheah played phonies against Andrew Yap and Ooi Jian Rong where Ong Suanne kept her mouth shut. Charmaine unintentionally played FEWS and VIAD while Suanne shamelessly hooked an S for DEI to form DEIS in order to play HOISTED. DEI (plural for DEUS, Greek for god) and FEW (an adjective) were some of the three letter words, along with the aforementioned QUA (another adjective), that cannot be back-hooked with an S.

In the same round, an 11-letter word was played in a game between under-18 teams SILVERBELLS from Convent Butterworth and QUADS from Convent Greenlane. The word was REFORMATION, which was at first an extension of FORM to FORMATION, sacrificing the blank but touching the triple word square, and then later RE was added in front of FORMATION. Nevertheless, the game also showcased awkward phonies such as ZIH, PNICE, CROWE, TRIMED and VOOT.

There were also bingos that had been missed by the students. One girl played KILL from KILLED? whereas she could had played SKILLED, with the blank denoting an S. Considering bingos that end with the ING suffix could have made GRUELING and REVISING to be played on the board. Some of the missed bingos, nevertheless, were unconventional. FALUIE? with a floating T could yield FAUTEUIL. Others were LEASURE, SEELIER or LEERIES, SHAKOES and KOSHERS.

Between round 1 and round 2, I asked Suanne for a quickie to exhibit to everyone about how total Scrabble was played. Students and runners crowded around our table as they watched in awe when bingos were produced rapidly. Suanne played ARBITER, then I jeered at her for forgetting its anagram, RAREBIT. I played TREADING, and then I couldn't play DELAINE or ALIENED. I got the blanks and with each of them, I played ONESELF and DHOURRA. Once again, Suanne got away with a stinker, YEX.

After that we had our second game, but it had to be stopped just after Suanne played UNBINDS since round 2 was about to begin.

As the tournament, I noticed the phonies were lessening and students started to be brave enough to challenge words. There were a couple of staircase boards that had been produced in rounds 4 and 5, which was not surprising since they could only refer to their 2 and 3 letter wordlists. One of those games had tiles forming an imperfect V.        

Despite having a 1-2 lead against other teams, Hamid Khan teams FINAL DESTINATION and FLYING DAGGERS had to face NOCTURNE and TERRORBUNNIES respectively in round 5. Suanne, undoubtedly the best player in the tournament, made Foong Yin Yee and Ang Lye Boon of the SMK Hamid Khan team FINAL DESTINATION to challenge her words: VITTA, TIRR and ANISEED.

After round 5, John Lam announced the current standings. In the under-18 category, team INVOKER from Bukit Mertajam High School, consisting of brother and sister, Yeoh Sue Jane and Yeoh Eiu Jyn, Lew Yao Long and Lenard Lee, were confirmed the winners for garnering 19.5 points and 1755 spread. This meant that every member of INVOKER had never lost a game and only had one draw. Teams TUN SYED C of BM Science School, SKYLINE of Convent Butterworth, PROVOKER of BM High School and QUADS of Convent Greenlane were neck on neck and any of them could be second and third after the sixth round.

Things got interesting in the under-16 category. NOCTURNE had garnered 14 wins and a spread of 1032. FINAL DESTINATION and TERRORBUNNIES however were not far behind, each team having 13 wins but their spread was less than a half of NOCTURNE's spread. NOCTURNE would have to obtain 3 wins from FINAL DESTINATION to proclaim themselves as champions even if TERRORBUNNIES obtained a four-flat from FLYING DAGGERS, their next opponent.

Once again, Suanne stunned her opponents with KASHERS and OLID, but it was nail-biting as her other teammates, Charmaine Cheah, and Hooi Lai Cheng and H'ng Hsieh Zhen at the other table were struggling with their opponents. Suanne and Charmaine obtained their wins from Yin Yee and Lye Boon respectively. They went to see how their comrades were doing and they were relieved when Hsieh Zhen beat Sandor Tan. Jeshua Yeoh beat Lai Cheng but he could've earned more points and spread by finishing out with GREASES, GREASED, GREASER, DRAGEES and many other possibilities. Members of TERRORBUNNIES beat each of their opponents from FLYING DAGGERS, obtaining 4 winning points and got the same value of total wins as NOCTURNE. Their spread, however, was 889 points short.

In the under-18 division, INVOKER once again whitewashed their opponents TUN SYED C, garnering overall 23.5 wins and a superior 2311 spread. PROVOKER managed to catch up with INVOKER by beating SKYLINE 3-1 to get 2nd place with 13.5 wins and 729 spread while QUADS were excited to know that they manage to claim 3rd place by beating their schoolmates of team KKDS 3-1.

The day ended with the launching of the Penang State Library Scrabble Corner by the VIP Yang Berbahagia Dato Dr Toh Kin Woon, followed by the prize giving ceremony. There were smiles on every student's faces, especially the winners who received Scrabble boards, trophies and gold rimmed certificates as their rewards. The students, nonetheless, were exposed to the serious side of Scrabble and hopefully more Penang schools would be interested to participate in such tournaments.

John Lam, who had been working hard in tabulating the results said, "It's a good sign that the schools send in more than one time. Probably more schools would participate and in the very near future, this tournament would become a big thing."   

Team NOCTURNE and team INVOKER would be eligible to represent Penang in the Interstate Scrabble Champions at Berjaya Times Square, Kuala Lumpur from the 27th to 28th of May 2006. Students could also play as individuals in the National School Championships held at Genting Highlands in August, a tournament most probably for students to qualify to be a Malaysian representative for the World Youth Championships.