If you like watching other people be really good at word games, then a most exciting time of the year is upon you. On Aug. 9, the National Scrabble Championships will begin in Buffalo, N.Y., and won’t conclude until a player is deemed supreme.
To celebrate this annual battle of the tiles, TIME reached out to top players and asked them what secrets they might share with the masses. Here’s what they said.
“Players of all levels should try to keep their thoughts two turns ahead.”
This nugget comes from John Chew, co-president of the North American Scrabble Players Association. Each play, he says, should lead to a player being ahead in points not after the current turn but after the following one.
“Look for common prefixes and suffixes.”
Separating out groups or pairs of letters often found at the beginning or end of words can help you make sense of what’s left, says Chris Cree, also co-president of the Association. Take a scramble of letters like: EGINRTY. Throw the -ING suffix on the right, place the RE- prefix on the left, he says, and you’ve got RETYING all straightened out.
If you’re serious about playing Scrabble, top female player Robin Pollock Daniel says that hitting the books is the way to go. This not only helps you spot sanctioned words, she says, but helps you brilliantly challenge missteps among your opponents. Studying, for instance, is likely the only way you’re to learn that M-B-A-Q-A-N-G-A (a style of jazz-influenced popular music) or Q-U-I-N-Z-H-E-E (a snow shelter) are both totally allowed. The latter, incidentally, is among new words just added to the official Scrabble dictionary.
“Learn from people who play better than you.”
True Scrabble players, Daniel says, have learned how to check their egos at the church basement door. Studying other people’s games, in person, and online, is one of the best ways to make your own game better.
“Play different word games—don’t just play Scrabble over and over!”
Fully exercise your nerd muscles with a round of Boggle, Quiddler or Word Yahtzee, says Will Anderson, currently ranked #6 among Scrabble players in North America. You can even use your Scrabble tiles to play another game, like Pirate Scrabble, a.k.a. Anagrams, a.k.a Grabscrab.
“Stop, look some more.”
When you find a word you want to play, Daniel says, don’t be rash and throw it down all willy-nilly-like. Reset your brain box and see if you can find another word. “Sometimes it will be your original choice,” she says, “but more often than not, you’ll find something superior.”
This is an edition of Wednesday Words, a weekly feature on language. For the previous post, click here.