The ABSP Masters: A Preview

WESPA Report

On the weekend of June 17, Yarnfield will host 16 of the UK’s top Scrabble players in one of that country’s premier events on the Scrabble calendar.

The ABSP Masters is recognized as one of the nation's "majors" with the ABSP website describing it as “an elite invitational event for the 16 best players in the UK” and is traditionally a round robin event.

This year is a milestone year, for 2017 will mark 25 years since the first Masters event took place.

The 1992 event was won by Di Dennis: in the years since, the winners list has featured some of the World’s best players, including previous World Champions, Mark Nyman (5 time winner), Craig Beevers and Brett Smitheram to name just three. The reigning Masters Champion is Allan Simmons, who has previously won the event in 2007 and 1994. His victory in 2007 featured in the excellent book “Scrabble: Play Like A Champion” which is a great resource for students of the game.

This year’s Top 16 taking part (in rating order) are:

Allan Simmons
Lewis Mackay
David Webb
Neil Scott
Phil Robertshaw
Piotr Andronowski
Paul Allan
Wayne Kelly
Rik Kennedy
Andy Goodwin
Elie Dangoor
Jack Anscomb
Rafal Dominiczak
Robert Richland
Calum Edwards
Chris Cummins

Three of these players (Robert Richland, Jack Anscomb and Chris Cummins) are making their Masters debut whilst Paul Allan, Calum Edwards and Piotr Andronowski are returning to the event this year.

To gain an insight into the event, we asked some of the players to share their thoughts on the eve of the Masters.

Although it does feature the nation’s best, two players noted other aspects of the tournament amongst the intensity. Wayne Kelly observed “The ABSP Masters is an intense event but is actually one of the more laidback events on the calendar. There is a great camaraderie between competitors”. Phil Robertshaw concurs. “(The) standard is so high, yet with only 16 players there's a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere surrounding it”

The returning Champion, Allan Simmons, sees the Masters as “an event where you know every move by every opponent is likely to be of some quality so sometimes you have to occasionally take managed risks to get an advantage. I must have taken a few risks that paid off last year."

It is an event where predicting the winner can be difficult, as Phil Robertshaw explains “Anyone, no matter how good they are, can suffer a run of defeats and equally there is always at least one player who defies the ratings”. Elie Dangoor noted of his own performances “I've had mixed fortunes at the Masters. In 2014 I came 2nd, whereas last year I came last. I think a lot of it is down to form, and small margins count a lot”. When asked, Allan Simmons singles out “the likes of on-form David Webb and Lewis Mackay (as) the strongest”.

Indeed David Webb’s recent tournament performances coming into the event would support this: victories in Israel and Germany before coming runner-up in Malta (defending his 2016 victory) signal some strong Scrabble form leading up to the event. Meanwhile, 2015 WESPAC runner-up Lewis Mackay can point to a 2nd at the Bristol Easter Championship and featuring in the top fifth of a highly rated field in Niagara Falls in his lead up to the event.

Whenever you bring top calibre players from across any country, you can always look forward to some brilliant displays of Scrabble and we await what transpires: as Phil Robertshaw so rightly observes “It's a prestigious tournament to win because there are no easy games - you have to outperform top class players.”

You can follow all the action online at Centrestar.

Photos: 2014 ABSP player group portrait (left), 2015 ABSP group portrait (right)