As John observed, competitive Scrabble takes a great deal of mental strength to excel at the game. Serious Scrabble players spend at least five hours a day revising words, learning new words, reading and paying attention to the best on the international Scrabble circuit.
“It’s not an Olympic sport, but it should be,” she said recently during an interview at Newsday’s, Chacon Street, Port-of-Spain office. But for her, the more important thing, is that the local Ministry of Sport respects the game and takes it seriously.
Since John and her late husband Robin formed the Trinidad and Tobago Scrabble Association in 1985, the visibility of the players has increased and the community of competitive Scrabblers has mushroomed across the country. She has been there from the early days of the national Scrabble tournaments and also lobbied to have crucial government support for the game.
“It’s important that we get the support of the State, but it would be nice to have more public support,” she said, pointing to the work which still needs to be done to convince people that Scrabble is more than just a game.
But there is no shortage of players for the annual tournaments which are organised by the association. In addition to the open tournaments, the school tournaments are popular and are well supported.
Though she is a seasoned campaigner on the Scrabble circuit, winning national tournaments and ranking among the top players, this year was the first time John has won in the Master’s category. As a result of the win, John and the other top two players in the tournament — Leslie Charles and Anthony Modeste — will represent the country at the World English-Language Scrabble Players Association (WESPA) Championship 2015 to be held in Perth, Australia in November.
John had a great run during the three-day tournament. She started shaky on the first day, winning only five of her eight games and was barely in the top half at the close of the first day. But she fought back on day two, winning seven of the eight games, and led the points table at the close of play.
Reflecting on the tournament she said, “I have come second before, never first, and this year I decided that I was going to come first. I was preparing a month in advance and I went in with a certain level of confidence.”
Asked what her strategy is going in, John said preparation. But according to her, with a stroke of luck newcomers to Scrabble could blaze a trail to victory leaving seasoned players in the dust. However, to play the game at a high level requires intense preparation.
For every player preparation strategies differ, but John has over the years employed an effective strategy, which includes revision of the Scrabble words and strengthening her vocabulary. This, she said, is critical to her game.
“But there is something else...I don’t like being disturbed when I’m playing because I could lose focus,” she said. John’s interest in Scrabble started 32 years ago when she started playing at home with her sisters and she later met her husband who was equally passionate. When she speaks about the game, her face lights up.
She has a Scrabble board, which she competes with since 1985, and is overly protective of it.
“I love this game and I spend at few hours every day focusing on how to get better,” she said. She will soon start her preparation for the tournament in Perth.