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French and Duplicate SCRABBLE®

The following description is quoted, with minor editing, from Steve Goldberg of the Jerusalem SCRABBLE® Club, with his permission. This is from an e-mail message Steve sent to CGP on 7-Jun-98.

Some time ago, I stumbled across a French SCRABBLE® web site at http://www.multimania.com/bulat/scrabble/clubs/federations.html, (which is now a broken link) and was surprised to see a club listing for Jerusalem (there is also a Quebec French Scrabble® site at http://www.fqjr.qc.ca/scrabble, which is now a broken link). A couple of phone calls later and I was invited to attend a session.

The most interesting and striking feature of the club was the fact that they play "duplicate" Scrabble®, as in France, Quebec, Belgium, and other French speaking/playing countries - including those in Africa. I've heard of French duplicate play (mostly from the Scrabble® FAQ and occasional e-mail) but never really understood how it is played. They were equally surprised that our English club didn't play duplicate.

There were about a dozen players present, each with their own French duplicate Scrabble® set. Such a set includes two boards: one regular board of the type we are familiar with, and another board on which to place all the letters face-up in an easy to use order (instead of a bag). Each player sits at a table by himself with his own board. There are no racks. Each tile has four pegs descending from its corners to anchor them in each of the boards, which are perforated with appropriate holes to in order to hold the tiles steady. The 'director' has a preprinted list of the tile-drawing order (similar to that used by Scrabble® by mail) and starts the game by announcing the first seven letters drawn. Each player takes the 7 letters announced from the 'bag' board and tries to make the highest scoring play possible, within a 3-minute time limit, at the end of which they hand in their suggestions on a small piece of paper. The 'winning' (highest scoring) play is announced and all 'play' the word on each of their boards, with each player scoring their *individual* suggested plays. There is also a huge 'main' board hung on the front wall showing the current board status, with large paper letters being pegged on it as play progresses. The 'rack' is then refilled to 7 letters, according to the above list.

This continues, with all players playing an identical board, until the bag is exhausted. The player with the highest total score from the individual plays wins.

I don't know exactly what happens when someone suggests a phony (the suggestions are looked up by the director to check their validity) as well as other technical details - I was there only for a short time. However, each game takes about 2.5 hours to complete!

I was told by the players that this way of playing eliminates the luck factor (like in duplicate bridge), but what a price to pay! There is absolutely no strategy involved or other 'niceties' such as bluffing with phonies (as in North America). Each turn involves only finding the highest scoring play. The letter values are quite similar to those of English Scrabble® with a notable exception of the W, which is worth 10 points. The Z is worth 8.

The standard French Scrabble® dictionary was Larousse's "L'officiel du Scrabble" (ODS), 2nd edition, but the players informed me that a new edition came out in July, 1998, which replaced it as the official dictionary.

The club members also told me they play (duplicate) Scrabble® by mail with their confreres in France.

A bientot!

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