Records tumble at Northern Ireland Scrabble Championship 2012

Even prior to the remarkable events of January 21st, the Northern Ireland Scrabble Championship had been shaping up to be a high quality tournament. In its sixth year, the Belfast tourney comprised 15 rounds and featured an array of star players including the world number one, Brett Smitheram and number seven, Paul Gallen. However on the first day itself, the show was stolen by 21 year old Toh Weibin, who smashed the world records for highest score and spread in his 5th round game against Rik Kennedy, scoring 850 to his opponent's 259. Read more about the man now being dubbed "Mr. 850" here.

Weibin capped off the tournament by finishing 4th overall as Paul Gallen won with a 12-3 record, closely followed by Kevin McMahon and Stewart Holden on 11 wins. Stewart provided WESPA with a first hand report on the championship:

Six years ago when this event started it wasn't even rated by the ABSP, just a small "local" event mainly for players travelling up from Republic of Ireland. The size and strength of the field has improved year by year, the event is now rated by RISPA, ABSP and WESPA and we knew from the outset that 2012 was going to be the moment that Scrabble on this wee green island finally made the headlines. Of course we couldn't have predicted everything that was going to happen! Six players who had competed at the WSC in Poland (including those finishing 5th, 8th and 12th), the current WESPA ratings number one and 12 of the top 16 in Ireland meant that this was by far the best field ever seen on Irish soil and the quality of words seen on the adjudication screens reflected this.

The trophies

Of course the weekend was dominated by Toh Weibin's staggering 850pt game against local man Rik Kennedy, himself no pushover having finished 17th at the WSC in 2009. It was an honour to be present when such an event occurred (and to have it played on our own board) and it is hard not to see the records set lasting for a very long time.... although in this crazy game, who can tell what lies around the next corner. Rik was magnanimous in the face of such a shock and he even recovered to achieve a positive spread by the end of the tournament. Congratulation to Weibin who is a thoroughly nice guy and deserves all the fame and glory his "Mr 850" title will bring. The game log and GCG file will follow in due course, but meanwhile there are photos of the board and the scoresheets available all over Facebook.

Players at the Northern Ireland Championship

I can't say how proud I am of the fact that the four members of the All Ireland team from the recent Four Nations event finished in the top five placings. Together we battled a tidal wave of talent from eight different countries and emerged entirely dominant; something that would have been unthinkable five years ago and a great sign of how Scrabble in Ireland has improved dramatically in recent years; I feel this weekend has finally put us "on the map".

The winners Pictures provided by Stewart Holden

In the end the tournament came down to a head-to-head between Paul Gallen (NI) and Kevin McMahon (ROI), with the former emerging victorious for the 4th time in 6 years. Oh and Paul's first bonus in that crucial deciding game? It came from the letters ABEEITUX and was very familiar to Mr Toh sitting opposite me on the board nextdoor. You couldn't make it up.

January 2012