Yiddish Hits Scrabble Board

By Jeri Zeder

Published August 07, 2008, issue of August 15, 2008.
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Yiddish: It gives you an excellent advantage in Scrabble.

Nigel Richards is living proof. A New Zealand native now residing in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Richards won the 2008 National Scrabble Championship held July 25 through July 29 in Orlando, Fla., after 28 rounds of play. The 30-something security engineer got a great assist from Yiddish in the form of a rarely played word: “shuln.” The prize: $25,000.

“It was a good strategic play trying to keep the board closed and not let Brian [Cappelletto, his opponent] score,” said John D. Williams, executive director of the National Scrabble Association.

In the nail-biting final round, Cappelletto, who hails from Chicago, opened with “enow” for 14 points. Richards immediately pulled ahead with “libido.” On his third turn, Cappelletto “bingo’ed” (won 50 extra points for using all his letters) with “serrying,” grabbing the lead. But then Richards bingo’ed with “penates” on his ninth turn, bringing his score to 370. Cappelletto put down “bather.” Tie score. But for his next hand, he drew a frustrating A-A-A-E-I-U-U. Richards held the remaining tiles: D-L-N-U. With the H in “bather” lined up just below the S in “penates,” Richards pounced, laying U-L-N to spell “shuln,” plural of shul, or synagogue, for 16 points and a score of 397. On his next turn, Richards played out his hand, placing D on the end of “innerve.” Final score: Richards 412, Cappelletto 401.

Ranging in age from 11 to 90, and coming from all over the world, 660 other players also participated in the championship tournament.

A surprising number of Yiddish, Hebrew and Yinglish words are officially kosher for Scrabble, including shlep, shlub, shlumpy, shmaltz, shmo and our personal favorite, shmooze.


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