Nottingham in August is set to be the focus for most of the globe when it comes to Scrabble as the MSA World (and Junior World) Scrabble Championships kicks off at the The Old Museum, Nottingham Conference Centre, Nottingham Trent University from August 19.
The first World Championships took place in London, 1991, and the city has since hosted the event on three further occasions. The UK has also been the home of three World Scrabble Champions (Mark Nyman, Craig Beevers and Brett Smitheram), whilst New Zealand’s Nigel Richards is a three time World Champion (the only player to do so).
Picking a winner in these events is never easy at the best of times - this year’s winner will have played a minimum of 42 games (including having to win quarter finals, semi and a grand final round of games). That hasn’t stopped us from seeking the opinions from across the globe as part of this preview for the events!
The 24 round Junior World Scrabble Championship runs from August 19, concluding before the MSA WSC, and with a prominent youth scene, it is not surprising that Pakistan players have been considered to be in the mix at this event.
As Tariq Pervez observes “The excitement among the Pakistani players is almost uncontrollable. We have prepared a very large team especially for the JWSC which is always the favorite tournament for us as a vast majority of our players are very young.
As a team leader, I'm determined to be a role model to all the players and support them. My instruction to them has always been to play fairly and and show good sportsmen spirit.”
The contingent heading to Nottingham is sizeable, and it means Pakistan has representatives in all categories. In Tariq’s view, he sees the likely winners in some of the player categories to be:
Under 10 Monis Khan (defending champion from 2016)
Under 12 Imaad Ali (defending champion from 2016 )
Under 14 Hasham Hadi Khan (defending champion from 2016)
Under 16 Sohaib Sanaullah ( the new national champion of Pakistan)
Under 18 Abdullah Abbasi (runner up 2016, and coming off a runner-up in the recent Pakistan Championship).
Overall, although Tariq has picked previous World Youth Champion Moiz Ullah Baig to win the JWSC (due to “his vast experience. He has played several world events in different parts of the world and has beaten some of the top players in the world“), he does note that the top ranked player (the USA’s Matthew O’Connor) goes in as the favorite on paper.
O’Connor is also the favorite for the 2014 WSC runner-up Chris Lipe: as he notes “I've known Matthew O'Connor since he was playing scrabble at age six, barely able to reach the board and the clock from his chair. Moiz Ullah and Abdullah Abbassi are going to be formidable opponents, but Matthew is really booked up. It should be exciting!”
The JWSC concludes on August 21.
The tension from the 2016 MSI WSC in Lille as Brett Smitheram takes on Lewis Mackay
Looking to the MSA WSC, the options for picking a winner opens up ever more slightly. Tipping against certain players was fraught with some danger, as MSA’s Daniel Stembridge found out last year (as he says: “I certainly won’t be placing any bets this year – I learned my lesson the hard way last time.”)
Indeed, Tariq Pervez observes that defending champion Brett Smitheram “will be defending his title aggressively”. The World Number 3 is a popular choice to go back to back: South Africa’s Trevor Hovelmeier has included him in his trio of possible winners.
The other two players in that trio are familiar names on the WSC Honour Board: Richards and Nyman.
As Tariq says, “Nigel Richards starts every tournament as THE favorite and it is considered an upset if he doesn't win. He is therefore the safest bet.” WESPA Chairman Elie Dangoor is also among those who believe Nigel can go all the way but would depend on how the quarters and semis end up. As does Karen Richards.
Nicky Huitson predicts the final will be a battle between the World Numbers 1 and 3 stating she would be “happy to see either win because I'm in awe of a) their word power and b) their strategy”
2014 Runner Up Chris Lipe gave a preview of what a possible quarter final grouping may include, declaring “there's the stalwarts, Brett, Nigel, Mark, Wellington. I'd pick some of the Pakistani contingent to make the knockouts -- Waseem, Moiz Ullah (who was so close to the quarterfinals in Lille). Joel is always a threat; my countrymen Dave Koenig and Jason Keller are going to be well prepared.” before going on to tip a back to back victory for Brett Smitheram.
Of the other players in the field, it would be difficult to rule out the World Number 2, David Eldar, from featuring somewhere near the top (as Tariq says, he “has been playing awesome scrabble of late and has a very good chance to win) whilst the UK’s Natalie Zolty has included another name into the mix by observing “Several names spring to mind and once through to the final eight, it's a bit of a lottery where luck plays a significant part. I'm going to put my money on a betting man who is on great form and has the temperament to go all the way - Austin Shin.”
If the Collins NASC Champion indeed makes a late entry into the tournament, he will have at least one player believing he can become the new World Champ.
Other names mentioned include Pakistani Number 1 Waseem Khatri, 2015 WESPAC Champion Wellington Jighere with one prediction for a previous runner-up to go one better this time around (as MSA’s Daniel Stembridge observed “Who else in this year’s field would prove such a worthy champion? There is one name that springs to my mind immediately… Happy tiles, Chris Lipe”)
There are two things for sure: there is no certainty in who will be the 2017 World Champion and, those who do not end up in the final will not be denied the chance for more tournament Scrabble as the British MatchPlay Scrabble Championship will kick off down the road as the MSA WSC draws to a close.
You can check out the details of the MSA WSC here.
For the BMSC, which is also WESPA rated, you can find all the info here.