A Coldingham Scrabble consultant is preparing to take on the best in the nation at this weekend’s National Scrabble Championship in Cardiff.
Allan Simmons will take on 58 other top players after qualifying in first place from the Scottish regionals.
Allan has been competing at major tournaments for the last 30 years, and he was crowned national champion in 2008.
As well as playing the game, Allan has become one of the country’s leading Scrabble consultants.
He has created puzzles for The Daily Express, The Telegraph, and The Times.
“That was the big one,” he says. “To get a puzzle on to the pages of The Times was great for me. To see it there, next to the chess and the bridge problems, was just such a thrill. I put together the puzzle diagrams as well, and I think I’m right in saying that I’m the only person in the world to do that.”
He also put his vocabulary skills to good use in the mid-80s,as ‘word consultant’ to the TV quiz Countdown.
Allan’s love-affair with the game began at school, when a friend suggested that he might enjoy the game, given his interest in chess and bridge.
“I immediately took to it,” he says now, “I really liked the aspects of probability involved.
“Setting out your first words of the game is like the first moves in chess.
“It’s also like bridge in that you can use the probability of letters appearing to your advantage.”
But as you might expect, vocabulary is key to victory on the tiles. “That also appealed to me,” Allan continues, “ because I thought it was great to go through the dictionary and learn all these words.
“This was back in the day when you could play by post against people all over the world. It wasn’t like nowadays with the apps and things on everybody’s machines, telling you the best words to play.
“Of course, playing by post, you could use the dictionary as much as you wanted without the other person knowing, but that was kind of the point. It was great training, really.
And with the constant creation of new words comes a challenge for Scrabbble players - what is allowed?
Allan sits on the Dictionary Committee of the World English Scrabble Players Association, and helps review the official word list every five or six years.
“We have to decide which new coinages are going to stay around, and which will fade away,” he says.
“Of course, because of the nature of the game, we tend to concentrate on two letter words, and seven letter words, which get a 50 point bonus.”