Sean Wrona

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Scrabble-by-Mail:

I joined the Mensa Scrabble-by-Mail Special Interest Group in January 1994 when I was eight years old. I was the youngest player in the history of the group, breaking the record of Robert Slaven, a future five-time Jeopardy! champion, who joined the same group when he was twelve many years earlier. I never belonged to Mensa and still do not, but my mom did and belonged to this group, and the group allows non-Mensan members. I would frequently open my mom's games when they came in the mail and make plays for her. After a few instances when I found better plays than she did, she got annoyed and suggested maybe I should join the group myself, so I did. I was not too good in my first few years, but by the time I was in ninth grade, I was regularly able to compete with and beat the group's best players. I beat 1986 Florida Scrabble champion Dick Lazaro (the then-ratings compiler and #1 player in the group) six times in seven games and was one of the top ten players in the group by the time I mostly stopped playing at the end of high school to focus on college. One of the main reasons for my rapid improvement in the group was no doubt my becoming statistician of the group in October 1999 when I was in ninth grade. I expanded the statistics column turning what was usually a 5 or 6 page bimonthly column into 20 pages, adding several new data and analyses that had not been covered before, including winning streaks, upsets, detailed analyses of games, high-scoring non-bingo plays, and the "SIG championship" for which I determined the best players in each game series (the Scrabble-by-Mail group has a new game series in which all players play using the same letters in the same order usually every four months). Reviewing, analyzing, and commentating on several of the top players' games helped myself considerably. At my peak, I was sixth in the group against players who were almost all thirty or more years older than I was (I am now ranked fourth and peaked in third place.) What makes this accomplishment somewhat less impressive is that all the top players including me used Franklin Electronic Scrabble Dictionaries to find words. This would not be helpful in closed-book Scrabble games or tournaments, but strategic considerations were still important, so I did at least develop a solid strategic sense. More recently, I replaced Lazaro as ratings compiler for the group and have resumed my statistician post albeit with less intense columns than the ones I wrote in my childhood.

Tournament Scrabble:

I have long been interested in the idea of playing in Scrabble tournaments since I heard about them in the Scrabble-by-Mail group (the group's greatest player when I joined was Bob Lipton, who was one of the best tournament Scrabble players in the world in the mid-'90s, so discussions of tournaments in correspondence were frequent). Other noteworthy members of the group were Peter Morris, the first World Scrabble Champion, Chuck Armstrong, winner of more American tournaments than any other player in history, Jere Guin, coauthor of the original Wordbook, Doug Hoylman, who won six American Crossword Puzzle Tournaments and two Facts in Five championships, Slaven, as well as John Luebkemann, Luise Shafritz, and Ken Clark, who are also long-time tournament experts. By tournament standards, I just recently moved into the expert ranks with a win at Webster, NY in only my second tournament using the Collins Scrabble Dictionary. I have beaten many expert players on the Internet Scrabble Club, most notably Will Anderson, teenage prodigy Mack Meller, and Noah Walton, who all presently have ratings exceeding 2000. At the first-ever tournament held in Syracuse in March 2013, I defeated then-top 50 North American player Ben Schoenbrun live en route to finishing in 2nd place (less than two months later, Schoenbrun had one of the best tournament performances of the decade, going an undefeated 14-0 in Webster, NY and breaking into the top ten in the ratings). I also finished 2nd in the September 2013 Syracuse tournament and finished 8-8 in a strong top division in Poughkeepsie including two past champions (I beat neither of them but did beat Stefan Rau twice in that tournament, probably the best player I have beaten live.) In the July 2014 Whitesboro, NY tournament, I split games with nine-time Jeopardy! champion Jason Keller who is also a perennial top 100 player. I am presently rated at 1585 in the American TWL dictionary (234th in North America) and 1706 in the Collins dictionary after my Webster win (68th in North America.) Since the North American Scrabble Players Association ranks players based on their highest rating in either dictionary, my rating is tied for 150th in North America, tied for 18th in New York State, and 2nd in Syracuse. My own cross-tables profile is here. Despite that board vision (seeing all my options) is generally my biggest weakness at Scrabble, I have made a handful of brilliant finds, playing FLOTILLAS using two blanks through TI in a June 2013 Syracuse tournament game, playing CREPITANT through RE in a March 2014 Whitesboro tournament, and playing BROADENED through ED and making five overlaps in an online 3-minute 'blitz' game with perennial top 50 player Nigel Peltier, the only play that ensured me the win. I have made several attempts at in-depth statistical analysis of Scrabble tournaments, including attempting to invent a ratings system solely based on points spread rather than wins and losses and attempting to measure luck in Scrabble, but neither of these were very successful. As with many of my other hobbies, I am on hiatus from Scrabble tournaments at the moment as they had stopped being fun for me for a variety of reasons.