Counting Cards and Scrabble

  • Posted on: 22 July 2015
  • By: davis

Nigel Richards is a legend among the Scrabble community. He employs the same approach to language that a card counter applies to a deck of cards. There are constants - numbers and symbols on the cards, text shapes on the scrabble pieces. The board is always the same in Scrabble - rules vary in Blackjack. 

What I found interesting was the discussion on HackerNews about his style of play. Nigel doesn't know French, and he can't speak a lick of it beyond "Bonjour." He's just memorized random combinations of characters, essentially. Some people were quite annoyed with this, arguing that Nigel should have to define the French words (i.e. have a degree of familiarity with them in any context other than their literal spelling). But that's an obtuse way to trying to place a limit on human creativity. Scrabble programmers have known this for years - scrabble is a game of dictionary brute forcing, and mathematical theory to maximize point values from the board. 

But that doesn't make it very fun to play against your cousin who's memorized all of the two and three letter words in the Official Scrabble Dictionary and runs circles around you.

It's not fun to get dropkicked by someone who plays the game. And so there are people who will always bemoan someone who's perceived to be playing outside the "spirit" of the game.

Which brings me to card counting.