Scrabble | January 18, 2008 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Living - January 18, 2008


by Jordan M. Doronila

Words can have meaning - or they can have points. Ask any Scrabble player.

A simple word formation starting with "shodden" and "deal" can add "ax" for a combined five words: shodden, deal, axe, ha and ox. Plus it uses the 8-point letter "x." These words could add to a Scrabble player's score, sealing a victory to win thousands of dollars in a competitive tournament.

But money isn't the reason Linda Stolow, 64, teaches competitive Scrabble to seniors in Danville. She wants their brains to be sharp; she also revels in exposing them to the complexities and possibilities of word combinations.

"It's training your brain not to do the same old pattern," said Stolow, who co-owns the Small Fry Shoppe on Railroad Avenue in Danville. "You have an infinite amount of words."

Scrabble is a word game where players score points by forming words from individual lettered tiles on a game board; the words are formed across and down in a crossword fashion. Stolow, a certified Scrabble player, started teaching Scrabble at the Veterans Memorial Building twice a month in October. The next Scrabble meeting is at the veterans' hall on Jan. 29, from 1:30-3 p.m.

"People can drop in," she said. "We're a pretty flexible class."

Four to more than 20 have attended Stolow's Scrabble workshops. And seniors give positive feedback.

"I enjoy the game very much," said Burt Bogardus at a class last week. "I have always enjoyed words. I'll be here next time."

"I used to play with my husband," said Mona Tauchar. "I love it. I love anagrams, crosswords. I play with a lot words I never heard of."

Stolow teaches Scrabble rookies the game's basic rules and strategies. Some of them include keeping score, studying 2- and 3-letter words, dictionary words, and maximizing letter points. She said some good habits are holding the letter bag over the board while picking seven tiles to play, so you can't see what's inside.

She also urged players to use letters to create as many words as possible on the board and not be content with just one.

"You've got to see cross connections," Stolow said. "That's what makes your mind work."

Stolow also tells her students that they can play in competitive Scrabble tournaments where they can win prizes, and they can play online with people from all over the globe and at all hours of the day or night.

Stolow started playing Scrabble with her mother at the age of 11 when they were living in Boston. She would play when she was done with her homework and after supper.

"It was my thrill," she said. "I did it for many years."

However, there was a period of time when high school academics took her away from the game. Her concentration was focused on Latin, English, math, Greek history and the classics at Boston Latin School, the oldest public school in America known for its rigorous academic program.

"It's a tough academic experience," she said.

Upon graduating, she moved to California and attended UC San Diego, attaining a double-major in sociology and writing.

"I came here and became more laidback," she said. "I was looking for someplace warm. It was time to get out of Boston."

Although she left Massachusetts, she kept returning to Scrabble. She played in Scrabble tournaments in Washington, D.C., San Diego and Portland. She discovered that there were Scrabble clubs in Boca Rotan in Florida and Brighton and Lexington in Massachusetts. She said her highest rating was around 1600. "Experts" are above 1800, and "super players" are above 2000.

She said right now she doesn't want to channel all her energy into studying and playing in tourneys.

"Some of these people study for hours and hours," she said. "I don't have the time."

Stolow noted that to be at a high level in Scrabble, one needs to spend an extraordinary amount of time in preparation - just like an athlete.

She said she is aiming to teach competitive Scrabble to seniors at least twice a month. She said Scrabble is what she knows and she wants to share it with others. She describes her teaching as "intimate."

"One has to love the game and love to teach," she said. "I'm very one-on-one. It's my goal to make sure they have fun and exercise their brain."

"I enjoy getting people interested," she added.

Friendships form in tournaments when players compare each other's notes after games.

"Anybody can participate," Stolow said. "It's a game for all ages."