13 Obscure Scrabble Rules Serious Players Need to Know
If you want to up your game and start thinking—and playing!—like a tournament player, make sure you’re familiar with these lesser-known Scrabble rules.
Every product is independently selected by our editors. If you buy something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Scrabble rule: Tournament players use glossy tiles
The tile sets you buy at your local store likely have engraved letters, which aren’t legal in tournament play. “Players could braille the letters or at least know when they are drawing a blank,” says David Koenig, who has played tournament Scrabble since 2002 and is ranked in the top ten players in North America. Tournament-legal tiles have letters that can’t be identified by touch, and players must hold the bag above eye level when drawing tiles. Besides Scrabble, these are the classic board games you should own.
Scrabble rule: Keep your rack balanced
“Most people mistakenly think a good vocabulary is needed,” says Richard Silberg, who has been playing in Scrabble tournaments for decades. “Actually, the skill is trying to score well and balance your rack.” Balancing means saving a mix of vowels and consonants on your rack that can help you score well on your next turn. Silberg gives this example: “If you have “ACKRSTU,” you could play ‘track,’ ‘truck,’ or ‘struck.’” His advice is to play “truck,” as “the ‘A’ is much more desirable than the ‘U’, and keeping the ‘S’ is usually worth giving up a few points.”
Scrabble rule: Know the difference between Double Challenge vs Dingle Challenge
Your opponent may challenge your word before the next play, and if it’s found to be unacceptable, you take your tiles back and lose your turn. Under the Double Challenge in North America, Israel, and New Zealand, the challenger loses his turn if the word turns out to be valid. Scrabble games played elsewhere follow the Dingle Challenge Scrabble rule: the first incorrect challenge is not penalized, but subsequent errors result in the challenger losing a turn.
Scrabble rule: Some foreign words are accepted
According to the official Scrabble rules, “all words labeled as a part of speech” are allowed, including those listed as “archaic, obsolete, colloquial, and slang.” Foreign words are permitted as long as they appear in English dictionaries. However, proper nouns, abbreviations, stand-alone prefixes and suffixes, and words requiring a hyphen or an apostrophe are not accepted words. To come out victorious while still following all of these Scrabble rules, brush up on these uncommon English words before your next Scrabble game.
Scrabble rule: Special rules apply for tournament challenges
In international tournaments, if a challenged word is valid, the challenger does not lose a turn. Instead, the challenged player earns five extra points, explains Koenig. “This penalty is, of course, much less drastic than losing a turn, so players will challenge more frequently,” he says.
Scrabble rule: Know the most important Scrabble word
According to Koenig, the most important word to know in Scrabble is “qi,” a Chinese word for “life force.” Rather than holding out for a “U” or waiting to use a “Q” in a big play, something beginners tend to do, Koenig recommends getting rid of it quickly with a play like “qi” so it doesn’t clog your rack. And if you also have an “S,” “qi” can be made plural for extra points. Brush up on these other unusual new words in the Scrabble dictionary.
Scrabble rule: Don’t even think about “coffee-housing”
During tournament or club play, refrain from making small talk or even cracking your knuckles while your opponent is taking a turn. “Coffee-housing,” or trying to distract or mislead the other player, is considered unethical in Scrabble rules and is strictly forbidden. Unless you are challenging a play or questioning the score, it’s best to simply stay quiet.
Scrabble rule: Competitive Scrabble is timed
“Competitive games tend to be a lot faster than the Scrabble you might play at home with the family,” says Koenig. That’s because each player only gets 25 minutes to make all of their moves—and chess clocks are used to keep time. Each side typically makes 11 to 13 moves in a tournament game, which equals about two minutes per play. Exceed your allotted time and you’re penalized ten points for each minute over 25. Find out 15 little-known facts about your favorite games.
Scrabble rule: Two-letter words can help in a pinch
Deliberately playing just one or two letters so you can play a high-scoring word on your next turn is called “fishing” or “dumping,” although sometimes you just may not have any other moves. There are 101 two-letter words that can be played, and many of them easily turn into three-letter words. Here are a few to get started: jo, ka, ki, ex, xi, xu, za.