Most people play Scrabble and always focus on forming a word based upon the tiles on their rack without thinking much about the next turn. This is a perfectly fine strategy for living room Scrabble, but is a hindrance to becoming a better Scrabble player. It is always important to plan ahead.
One of the nice features of Scrabble is that if you don’t like your rack or part of it you can use a turn to swap out select tiles. This is simply done by placing the discard tiles on the table face down and drawing an equal number of tiles from the bag onto your rack. While this might seem like the waste of a turn, maintaining a good rack is critical to Scrabble success. Note that you can only exchange tiles if there are at least 7 tiles left in the bag.
So what is a bad rack? Pretty much anything that makes you sit and scratch your head while thinking you have no decent moves. While on some levels this might reflect a lack of word knowledge, it often is because the rack is poorly balanced. While exchanging is one method to attempt to rebalance a rack, it does cost you a turn. With more experience and knowledge, you can transition from a bad rack to a good rack.
So what is a good rack? Lots of things can make for a good rack – most obvious is if you have a nice bingo just sitting there – think AEINRST, which has quite a few possible bingo words. Clearly you want a have the right balance between vowels and consonants. 2-3 vowels and 4-5 consonants is probably a good mix. However, it is not necessary to despair if you have just one vowel. If you can use another vowel on the board and play off a couple consonants, your rack will probably improve. However, having limited vowels is better than having limited consonants, since there are many opportunities to play off consonants and keep scoring points. A rack full of vowels is just worth 7 points. Hence, good players find ways to play off vowels, also known as vowel dumps. A vowel dump is simply a word is composed almost entirely of vowels, perhaps one consonant – could be on your rack or perhaps even already on the board. After two letter words, the first vowel dump to learn is EAU. This is a good way to play off a U, especially if the Q has already been played. You might not want to discard a U, especially if the Q is still out.
Some other common 5-letter vowel dumps:
Here are list of common 4-letter vowel dumps:
What else makes for a good rack? If you have a good mix between vowels and consonants, another good aspect of a rack is diversity. In general, you actually don’t want to have two of the same tile (unless it is an S or a blank). Another time could be at the very end of the game if you know the other guy has the Q and you have all the remaining Us. When playing off the tiles on your rack if you have EEA and some consonants, you want to play at least one of your Es and not just your A. While it is important to see what other tiles you have, a good rule of thumb is to avoid duplicates. For the typical player trying to form 4 or 5 letter words, duplicate tiles simply reduce the possible letter combinations that you can create.
The goal of rack management is to slowly set yourself up for scoring bingos. A good Scrabble player can hit 2, 3, and even 4 bingos in a single game. As I mentioned in an early article, the best bingo stem is TISANE, so you should think about managing your rack to create those letters by playing off the other letters. But you might now be asking – “Shouldn’t I be scoring as many points as possible all the way through?” Yes and no. In some ways, the point value of a tile corresponds to its worth and in some ways it does not. An S is worth 1 point and the all powerful blank scores no points. However, there are some rules of thumb for using these tiles. You shouldn’t just willy-nilly use an S to score 9 points or blank because it makes a nice 5 letter word. I’ve heard that an S should only played if it results in a score of at least 10 points higher than your second best option. A blank should only be played if you can score an additional 25 points. My personal view is that blanks should only be used to score bingos or a similarly high valued word – around 40-60 points. I also find the S to be extremely valuable for setting up bingos. I think the 10 point rule of thumb might even be low.
So in some ways Scrabble is like billiards or pool, it is always important to think about the leave when making a play. This will set you up for success on your next turn. Best of luck!!!