Book Review – The Times Scrabble Workout by Allan Simmons

This is a rather overdue review – I’ve delayed posting this for maybe 3 months, and Allan Simmons has already released a new book , which I will certainly be getting, hopefully at the Causeway. Anyway…

I was glad to receive an autographed copy of this from the WSC last year from Cheah. In Singapore, one of the only decent books you can probably find about Scrabble in good bookstores is Word Freak, which itself is pretty focussed on the American scene. The rest that I’ve seen lying around on the shelves rely on American/ outdated dictionaries, which, honestly, are not very useful to the budding player wanting to have a good start to the game.

Though most workouts this book includes come from published columns from The Times in 2005-2006, author Allan Simmons did take care to update the puzzles where necessary, to reflect and accommodate the changed wordlist. As such, all workouts here are relevant to the current Collins list, however like many other books of the past, it will become less useful once a major dictionary update is out.

The workouts, 92 in total, consist of text on the left and a Scrabble board arrangement on the right. The passage on the left usually starts off by describing interesting word patterns (e.g. compound words) or situations that one might face in a competitive game of Scrabble. There are usually mini-workouts given within the passage, which may or may not require the board on the left. These workouts are usually solved within the passage. Towards the end of the passage, a comparatively more difficult challenge is given – the solution to this being found on the next page, with the next workout.

Despite being written by an expert Scrabble player (not forgetting the fact that the boards chosen were mostly from his game history), this book has some value for all players, and I figure it will still be a worthwhile purchase even after the dictionary update. A lot of effort has been put into each of the columns, making this book readable for both fresh players and experienced players. The workouts offer many ways of thinking about strategy, most of them from the author’s personal view. This is refreshingly edifying – new players will be able to grasp the fundamentals of the game (there is a rules section prior to the workouts so I guess that would help the complete newbie to Scrabble) and experienced players will see their own strategy challenged by Allan Simmons’ expert viewpoint. Personally, I did disagree with him on a couple of points in the book – but I have to admit I was schooled in the art of board vision, which is rather important throughout the whole book!

One thing rather notable (and also a drawback for many) about tournament Scrabble is the requirement to deal with words which most will only use in a game of Scrabble. However, this book cleanly avoids this problem. Most (if not all) of the words that the reader will be challenged to find are found in common parlance; this means the workouts can be completed by players unfamiliar with the dictionary. The reader will be informed if he may not have heard of the word beforehand, so he will know what to expect. Of course, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t any words to learn here – obscure words like PALIKAR do appear in the board setups, but aren’t part of the puzzle.

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in playing better Scrabble. This makes good reading especially for people who do not have continuous stretches of time to read a book – each workout usually takes about 5-10 minutes and can be spaced out over a period of time.

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