The top 30 players in the GCC will battle it out over the course of more than 250 games this weekend at the Etisalat Academy in Mirdiff for the coveted title, a clear sign that scrabble is growing in popularity in the Middle East, as is evident from the ongoing success of the annual Gulf Scrabble Championships (GSC), which is now in its 22nd year.
While many consider the board game a leisurely indoor pastime on a hot day, there are well over 4000 competitive clubs around the world. Some even make a living out of it. Nigel Richards of New Zealand, the current world number one, has earned over Dh600,000 in prize money in tournaments held in various countries, including Dh75,000 for winning the 2011 World Scrabble Championships (WSC) in Poland sponsored by the game’s manufacturers Mattel.
The UAE too has its share of promising players — there’s Mohammad Sulaiman who has won the last two GSCs and ranked 23rd in Poland, earning the UAE a second seat for the 2013 WSC.
In addition to the older professionals, thanks to a successful ongoing youth programme, many UAE youngsters have taken to tournament play, including 12-year-old Sanchit Kapoor, who was part of the first UAE team at the 2011 World Youth Scrabble Championships (WYSC) in Malaysia and will be making his senior debut at the GSC this year.
It’s heartening to note that commercial businesses are now involved with the game, with Jashanmal Books, Khaleej Times and Etisalat Academy supporting both GSCs held in Dubai so far. According to Nikhil Soneja, GSC organiser, the tournament would not have been possible without this backing. “We are very grateful to our sponsors for helping grow this tournament from strength to strength. Many pledged their support for this year’s event immediately after the last one.
A number of people — adults and children alike — are keen on sharpening their word skills and mental dexterity; we hope that such platforms provide them with an opportunity to interact with like-minded people”. The GSC this year will see Dh15,000 worth of prizes awarded. The two-day event will end in a presentation ceremony with sponsors on the afternoon of July 14.
The tourney is also the only internationally recognised Scrabble competition in the Arab world, so each game’s outcome will influence world rankings.