MONEYBALL COMES TO SCRABBLE. I have used the term “moneyball” to refer to the use of data and statistical analysis in baseball and other sports. (The term was coined by Michael Lewis in his book MONEYBALL). This article in the Wall Street Journal (May 19) by Drew Hinshaw and Joe Parkinson tells about the use of computer simulations by Nigerians to overturn the received wisdom about Scrabble strategy. The new strategy contributed to a victory for Nigerian Wellington Jighere in last November’s World Championship of Scrabble.
The received wisdom in Scrabble has been you win by making long, high scoring words. The new strategy developed by the computers is that you should play short words—unless you can score a 50 point bonus (a “bingo”) for using all 7 of your letters. One disadvantage of long words is that every extra letter on the board provides an opening for an opponent to score a bonus by making a bingo. Rather than get extra points from making a 6 letter word rather than a 5 letter word, it is better to keep your best letters (such as those which are useful for bingos, like E,D, or an I-N-G combination) for a later round.