HughPickens.com writes: On July 20, Nigel Richards won the French-language world Scrabble championship. Richards does not speak a word of French. "He doesn't speak French at all, he just learnt the words," says Liz Fagerlund. "He won't know what they mean, wouldn't be able to carry out a conversation in French I wouldn't think." Richards reportedly memorized an entire French dictionary in the two months leading up to the competition. For living-room players, Scrabble is a test of vocabularies but for world-class players, it's about cold memorization and mathematical probabilities which is why top player are often computer programmers or mathematicians, not poets or novelists. Think of the dictionary as a giant rulebook of valid text strings not as a compendium of the beauty and complexity of the English language. A good competitive player will have memorized a sizeable chunk of the 83,667 words that are two letters to eight letters long. Great players will know a lot of the 29,150 nine-letter words as well.
To the uninitiated, a scrabble game played by top players looks like they had played in Martian. Here's a taste: In a single game in last year's Nationals, Richards played the following words: zarf (a metal holder for a coffee cup), waddy (to strike with a thick club), hulloed (to hallo, to shout), sajous (a capuchin, a monkey), qi (the vital force in Chinese thought), flyboats (a small, fast boat), trigo (wheat) and threaper (one that threaps, disputes). Richards has a photographic memory and is known for his uncanny gift for constructing impossible words by stringing his letters through tiles already on the board. "He is probably the best Scrabble player in the world at this point," says John D. Williams, Jr.. "He's got the entire dictionary memorized. He's pretty much a Scrabble machine, if such a thing exists." So, really, how does he do it? As Richards said in an interview posted on YouTube, "I'm not sure there is a secret. It's just a matter of learning the words." All 178,691 of them.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.