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. I never belonged to Mensa, but my mom did and belonged to this group. I would frequently open her 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. Non-Mensans were allowed to join by then. 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. More recently, I have returned to the group, replacing Lazaro as ratings compiler. 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 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. In 2014, I returned to my statistician post.

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 in the mid-'90s one of the best tournament Scrabble players in the world, 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, Robert Slaven, a five-time Jeopardy! champion, as well as John Luebkemann, Luise Shafritz, and Ken Clark, who are also long-time tournament experts. By tournament standards, I am a high-level intermediate player and considered by many experts to be one of the next players to reach an expert rating of 1600, but I have beaten many expert players on the Internet Scrabble Club, most notably Will Anderson, teenage prodigy Mack Meller, and Noah Walton, who are all presently ranked in the top ten. 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. My first appearance in the National Scrabble Championship in Buffalo in 2014 was a bust, however. I was expected by many experts to be an outside contender to win Division 2 there and I only finished 51st. I am presently rated at 1537, which makes me the 324th highest-rated player in North America, 31st in New York State, and 2nd in Syracuse. My own cross-tables profile is here. I am particularly renowned for being a wildly inconsistent player, as at my best, I truly play much better than the majority of players in my ratings range would do, but at my worst, I also play much worse, because while my strategy and word knowledge are fairly consistent (though I still make many errors at both of those), my ability to automatically see all my possible candidate plays is seemingly much weaker than other high intermediates. Despite my rather weak board vision, 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.