Friday February 25, 2011
Youths to the fore in scrabble contest
By KAREN RICHARDS
Young stars shine at Astar challenge.
I WAS privileged to witness the biggest gathering of school and university students to contest the annual Astar Scrabble Challenge International which was held at Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, from Feb 12-13.
Three hundred students competed for prizes worth over RM24,000. Sixty-two were university students. This is the third event, and each year the numbers double, boding well for the future of competitive Scrabble in Malaysia and worldwide.
Visiting players were from Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam and Australia. Many teachers brought only one or two students this year, but vowed to return next year with a busload. Hopefully the organisers are prepared for a big group, and can accommodate them within the university residences.
In my role as chairperson of the Youth Committee of Wespa (World English-language Scrabble Players Association), I coach and support young players worldwide.
When Wespa started focusing on youth Scrabble, there was only one country which had thousands of competent young players – Thailand. Now Malaysia is putting itself on the map, with such large gatherings of young Scrabble aficionados.
The two most recent World Youth Scrabble Champions hail from Malaysia (Ong Suanne 2009, Ker Jen Ho 2010). The Malaysian team outperformed all others at WYSC2010, with four players finishing in the top 10. It is events such as this Astar tournament which prepare and inspire more young players to take Scrabble seriously, and aim to represent their country in international events such as the World Youth Scrabble Championship (WYSC) and WSC (World Scrabble Championship). ASCI’s motto says it all: “Vocabulary at its best”.
In a field dominated by males, only two ladies took their places in the top 20 of each group – Amery Seow (Penang) finished 10th in the intervarsity event, and Cheong Yi Hua (Malaysia) finished third in the interschool event.
Cheong Yi Hua represented Malaysia at the fifth World Youth Scrabble Championship held in Manila last December. Aged 12, she received the award for the youngest player to finish in the top 25. Yi Hua shared a little about her Scrabble journey. Her primary school teacher introduced her to Scrabble when she was aged seven or eight, but she did not compete until 2009 when she was 11.
I asked what she enjoyed about playing Scrabble, and she told me that it increased her vocabulary, and that she has made friends from all over the world, playing in tournaments in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines. She sometimes plays on ISC (Internet Scrabble Club, an interactive, online Scrabble application) and uses Zyzzyva (free-download software) to study some high-probability Scrabble words.
Thus I am not surprised that she is winning games against players four years older than her. Her best game of the tournament scored 612, and included DOTINGS (92), AURATED (78) and QUARRIES (208). She also scored 111 for TAJINES in another game. Although no records were kept for high words, QUARRIES was probably the best score achieved by anyone at the tournament. It was a “triple-triple” (from one red square to another, ie multiple by 9) – as large a score for one word as some players scored in a whole game!
The youngest player was Keeran Bathmanaban, aged nine. In this, his first tournament, he won 4.5 games out of 12 and finished ahead of one-quarter of the field.
I asked him why he started playing Scrabble. Firstly he gave me the politically-correct response: “I wanted to make myself more intelligent.” Then he broke out in an engaging grin, and explained that his 14-year-old brother, Kuhan, had started attending Scrabble competitions, and he felt left out.
(Kuhan won 7 games, and finished in the top third of the field at this tournament). Because his primary school does not have a Scrabble club, he attends the club at a nearby secondary school, SMK Sg Pelek, where he is trained by older students.
His response when I asked what he enjoyed most about Scrabble was a sentiment shared by thousands of competitive players worldwide, of all ages: “making bingoes”. (A “bingo” or “bonus” is where all 7 letters are played, scoring an additional 50 points.)
He proceeded to list some of the bingoes he played in this tournament – RETURNS, CEREALS, SPYINGS. Unlike the older players, Keeran has not yet started a formal programme of studying additional words specifically for Scrabble.
However, this Year Three student already has a wide vocabulary, which he is putting to good use.
These are the top 20 finishers in each event:
1. Toh Weibin (Singapore);
2. Hubert Wee (Singapore);
3. Pichai Limprasert (Thailand);
4. Lim Li Wei (Singapore);
5. Goutham Jayaraman (Singapore);
6. Thacha Koowirat (Thailand);
7. Chang Ching Wei (Malaysia);
8. Gan Yi En (Malaysia);
9. Alvin Lau Yuen Ann (Malaysia);
10. Amery Seow (Malaysia);
11. Amirul Amin (Malaysia);
12. Mohd Khairi Zulkarnain (Malaysia); 13. Julius Wilson (Indonesia);
14. Khoo Beng Way (Malaysia);
15. Liew Kian Boon (Singapore);
16. Alastair Richards (Australia);
17. Markus Loke Qi En (Malaysia);
18. Suma Handi Winata (Indonesia);
19. Nut Treeponsuk (Thailand);
20. Nathaniel Quek Xin Er (Singapore);
1. Preedee Khonthanarat (Thailand);
2. Scott Chung Chin Wei (Malaysia);
3. Cheong Yi Hua (Malaysia);
4. Vinnith Ramamurti (Malaysia);
5. Marcus Chia Shan Wei (Singapore);
6. Darren Tan Jing Yuan (Singapore);
7. Toh Jie Min (Singapore);
8. Arunan Sethu (Malaysia);
9. Mohd Lukman Aidid (Malaysia);
10. Tham Jun Li (Malaysia);
11. Benjamin Choo Jia Zheng (Malaysia);
12. Arvinran Rajendran (Malaysia);
13. Fadlan Satria (Indonesia);
14. Cheong Yi Wei (Malaysia);
15. Ignatius Wong (Malaysia);
16. Devan Nolin Bangga Karnindo (Indonesia);
17. Melvin Ong Rahmat Ong (Malaysia);
18. Ahmad Hazlami Fikri (Malaysia);
19. Wan Mohd Azril (Malaysia);
20. Nik Mohd Syamil (Malaysia);
Toh Weibin (Singapore), winner of the inter-varsity event, was World Youth Scrabble Champion in 2007. Preedee Khongthanarat (Thailand), winner of the interschool event, finished second in WYSC 2010, and 4th in WYSC 2009. He won the prestigious Princess Cup – with a prize money of US$4,000 – in Thailand last November.
These young players are two of the best in the world, and deserving of their wins. Their presence at this event reinforces the fact that Astar has established a reputation for running a world-class tournament.