Scrabble is one of America’s favorite board games.
But at its highest levels, Scrabble is almost a completely different game than the one you play around the living room table on family game night.
I would know: I’m a card-carrying member of the North American Scrabble Players Association, playing in several Scrabble tournaments a year around the country. I’ve competed in two Scrabble national championships, and according to my ranking, I’m one of the top 20 players in New York City.
‘Bingos’ are the biggest difference
The biggest difference between expert-level Scrabble and casual play is the length of the words.
You might be aware that in Scrabble, if you manage to use all seven of your tiles in one play, it earns you a bonus of 50 points.
That’s called a “bingo,” in Scrabble lingo. And while inexperienced players might go their whole lives without playing a bingo, competitive players count on getting two to three bingos per game.
Getting the 50-point bonus that comes with a bingo is one of the keys to a sky-high Scrabble score— after all, the top players in North America average more than 425 points a game.
But actually finding a seven-letter word out of a pool of random letters is easier said than done. Luckily, there is a trick you can employ to help you find bingos and boost your score to new heights.
Here’s how to find words out of random letters
It can be a daunting task to look at seven random letters and try to rearrange them into a valid word.
The best place to start is by trying to pick out any common prefixes and suffixes you see among your letters. Think of combinations that frequently come at the beginning of words, like RE-, UN-, and OUT-, and combinations that frequently end them, like -ED, -ING, -ER, and -EST.
Once you find a prefix or suffix, you can try to build the rest of your letters around it.
For example, imagine you’re looking at the letters CGILNRU. That’s an intimidating rack:
But if you manage to spot the -ING within those letters, your task becomes significantly easier. Now, all you have to do is make a four-letter verb out of CLRU, and you’re on way to scoring 70-plus points.
Similarly, you can use common prefixes and suffixes to find the bingos in this seven-letter string:
By finding familiar chunks like DE-, -ED, and -ERS, you’ll be on your way to finding bingos like PRAISED, ASPIRED, DESPAIR, and DIAPERS.
The next step is strategize your game around bingos
So now you know the most basic secret to unscrambling a word. But finding a bingo isn’t enough — to unlock seriously high scores, you’ll have to put yourself in a position to get bingo-friendly letters.
Expert Scrabble players strategize around maximizing their odds of playing a bingo. When choosing a word to play, they don’t just consider how many points it scores, but what letters it leaves them with and how those letters will affect their ability to score points on future turns.
A good rule of thumb is to hold on to the letters of the word RETAINS — those seven letters combine especially well with other letters and turn up in thousands of bingos. Other good letters for bingos include D, C, H, and P.
On the other hand, clunky letters like B, W, or J drastically reduce your chances of playing a bingo, so it’s generally a good idea to use those letters as soon as you draw them.
For example, you won’t find any bingos in the following rack …
… but thinking ahead, it would be smart to play a word like JAW, which would offload your least bingo-prone tiles and let you keep valuable combos like RE-, -ERS, and -EST for the next turn.
Decisions like that one are critical to success in Scrabble at any level. Becoming a top-ranked expert might take a bit more practice, but at the very least, learning how to find a bingo can make you the MVP of your next game night.