With the appointments to the WESPA Executive Committee of Eric Kinderman, Nick Ivanovski (both at the BGM in Nairobi), and Lewis Mackay (appointed via the ABSP in 2018), there has been some change to the profile of the Committee.
Whilst the three players may well be familiar to some in the Scrabble community already, we caught up with all three to allow everyone to get to know a bit about each of them
All three entered the scene at different times. Lewis, the highest ranked of the three, started playing aged eight and entered his first tournament in 1996. Nick’s first foray into tournaments was in 1982, aged 10 and played at a time when he was the youngest player by a number of years.
Eric remembers his earlier experiences; “When I moved to Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 2001, I finally joined a club. Soon after, there was a tournament in town, so I decided to enter. I have never looked back. I remember a member of our club playing MARTITE*, as he was a geologist. Obviously, it was no good. That night I wrote down every word ending in –ITE, and then went on to compile my own lists. I think my first 5 lists were -ITE, -ATE, -INE, -IA and -OID. When I think of getting involved in competitions, I always think of this.”
With many different reasons for liking Scrabble, it is not unexpected that the reasons for playing on would reflect the many dimensions of the game.
For Eric, it is the aim to reach the upper echelons of the game: “I have beaten players who have won the World Scrabble Championship and North American Scrabble Championship, and several players in the top 50, but I want my rating to be in the top 50. It is not enough to beat these players once in a while.”
But it is more than that; “I love travelling the world to play tournaments, making new friends, seeing old friends and feed the buzz of playing tournament Scrabble at the highest level.”
Lewis explains “ I enjoy the challenge of pitting my wits against the best in the world. Scrabble is a very creative game - as well as finding suitable words, you have to assess the possibilities of both your rack and what your opponent might do. There is also a strong mathematical element to the game, which appeals to me greatly. The general public tend to perceive the game negatively, but it’s a subtle and nuanced game. I think there could be a market for Scrabble if it is publicised correctly.”
The theme of publicity and growth is key for Nick. “Whilst I started early, there was a period of time where I had stopped playing competition… social media, and specifically Facebook, helped reignite my love for the game. There are many players who just play on social media and miss out on what is really great about the tournament scene”.
Being married with a young child has kept Nick away from international play, with some interstate travel through each year to get some Scrabble in away from his home state, but the opportunity that social media brings, allows him to engage with global tournaments regularly. “For me, the idea that I can keep up to date with the world’s best and enjoy the highest quality aspects of the sport is a concept I would hope I am not alone in. It would be wonderful to help publicise the game and share everything that makes competitive Scrabble engaging and exciting.”
On the other hand, neither Lewis nor Eric are strangers to international travel for Scrabble. As Eric observes, “I think it is all about the friendships. I love that I have developed friendships with people from all over the world. Pretty much, if a fellow Scrabbler* is into football as much as I am, it is highly likely we will be friends for life. I live overseas, so playing in Scrabble tournaments all over the world is a natural consequence. If I go home, there is now a good (Collins) Scrabble scene, but it just wouldn’t be the same as playing in tournaments overseas.”
What makes their favorite international Scrabble location? For Lewis, it would be WESPAC in 2015. “Aside from the fact that I did so well in the tournament, it was very enjoyable because there were plenty of tourism opportunities in the city, the food and drink were excellent throughout the trip, and the locals were very welcoming. I also enjoyed Lille the following year for much the same reasons, although I did not have any opportunity for tourism.”
Tourism also comes into it for Eric as well. “I want to say the UK, but I haven’t played there enough, since it always seems like the dates to play the big tournaments there never work for various reasons. I would have to say I love going to tournaments in Asia. Thailand would head that list, since I have been to many Princess and King’s Cups. I have a fondness for Thailand, as my family’s recent 6-week vacation in Koh Samui this summer can be entered as evidence. Also, I always get a warm feeling from the people, the weather is consistent, I can always find the footy and the food is fantastic.”
Combining everything that the trio enjoy about Scrabble, what would be their ideal Scrabble event? The themes of top players, prize pool, streaming and tourism all play a part.
Lewis says “It would be a WSC or other big international event played where most of the top players could attend. We would play for a substantial prize pool over 40 games or so, with multiple live streams for the top few games.”.
Eric goes on to add “have as many of the top players in the world playing in the event, so the prize money would have to be mouthwatering. If we are speaking about ideal, then there would be no shortage of sponsors. Would it be bad to have 300-400 people in an Open?”
Nick continues “the host nation would have plenty of media outlets attend and open the event to spectators: once the curiosity factor sinks in, you get a good chance of attracting more people to tournaments. One of my earliest memories of tournaments was the number of people allowed in to spectate. It has dissipated over time so it would be fascinating to see if we can resurrect the concept of a crowd”.
As to where… for Lewis, it would be “in a city that offers tourism aplenty with great food and drink”. Eric suggests “it shall be played in rural Lancashire, with alternating Liverpool matches and Phish shows as evening entertainment.”
Nick adds “my preference is biased to Melbourne, for obvious reasons… but I agree with Eric that you need access to good football too - and the Hammers must be involved”.
Nick has been on WESPA committees prior to his election, having been - and continuing to be - Chair of Promotions for WESPA. He juggles this with managing the WESPA website content, the Facebook page for his home state in Scrabble and managing two domestic online Scrabble leagues.
His first WESPA rated tournament was in 2012.
Eric’s first WESPA rated tournament was in 2009, and this year’s UK Open Warm Up was his 30th on the circuit. He is married, with 6-year-old twins. “I’m not sure if Sarah fully understands my passion/addiction, but she gets it on most levels. I am an English teacher, so it is not a stretch to see how much I love words. She knows how competitive I am, as well. It used to be sports, but now it is Scrabble. In the end, I think she approves.”
Lewis is the highest ranked of the three players, having reached top 5 in the world previously and when asked for his memorable game, includes Game 32 at WESPAC in Perth. When asked for his tips to improve one's Scrabble game he says “Analysing my own games, and that of other players, is a great way to improve. However, it takes strength of character to do this and a certain amount of honesty - being confronted with mistakes you’ve made can be disheartening. I owe a great deal to the creators of both Quackle and Zyzzyva - those pieces of software have spurred me on to heights greater than I thought I could achieve.”
He’s also commentated on games in live streams, an area which has had growing interest in the Scrabble world.
We conclude with his observations on this relatively new (for Scrabble) feature: “Commentating on games is good fun. I’ve been told by a few people that they enjoyed my commentary and found it enlightening. However, it’s tough to pitch it to a novice audience - the people who watch these streams are already tournament players. If we want to package it for casual viewers, we need to make it accessible. It would be good to have one person (a more casual player) asking another (an expert) to explain a position and what a player is thinking. Explanatory graphics and boxes explaining the lingo of the game (like they used to do on the World Poker Tour broadcasts) would be useful to add after a stream has ended.”
Interviews, with thanks to Eric Kinderman, Nick Ivanovski and Lewis Mackay