The Rise of Scrabble in Pakistan

Pakistan Scrabble Team

Pakistan Scrabble Team.

Posted on behalf of Javeria Salman (Posted here for the purpose of creating awareness about these young champions and the game in Pakistan)

Pakistan is among the countries where the literacy rate is not even close to satisfactory. However in the field of sports the green and white flag is waving high due to the champions in various fields. Cricket, Hockey, Squash and Snooker are the areas where Pakistan has excelled. There is a lot of potential in other sports too but unfortunately it is not recognized.

I started off with the literacy rate to make a point that there are a few sports which need a sharp mind and more importantly a better knowledge of a foreign language (English) – which is not necessary in Cricket, Hockey etc. All in all, a better student will surely be a better player of this very game, which is called Scrabble.

Keeping in view the above mentioned facts, would one imagine that Pakistan had been doing very well in Scrabble? The answer would be ‘No’ but this perception is far from reality, Pakistan have been performing impressively not only locally but at international competitions also. Very much like all other games, the progress at the grass-root is imperative and when it comes to Scrabble, this base is also well covered and the recently concluded World Youth Scrabble Championship (WYSC) in Birmingham is the testimony to it. The Pakistani team finished 3rd in the competition. Before narrating the journey to Birmingham and the team’s performance at the event let me enlighten you about Pakistan’s previous demonstrations in the WYSC. The green team participated for the first time in 2010 and finished 8th but climbed to the 5th rank in the following competition in 2011 (Both events were held in Malaysia). This gradual improvement continued this time around as well.

The Pakistani team, comprising of seven kids and our chaperons, Tariq Pervaiz, left for WYSC 2012 in the early hours of December 4th. With smiles on our faces and butterflies in our stomachs, we looked back one last time at our families and all, before going into the departure lounge, each perhaps wondering what would be the reception when we land a week later. Nervous beyond measure, we tried to lighten the mood by cracking lame jokes and making fun of each other.

The instant we landed, we were freezing popsicles. It was so cold that we could barely feel our hands and noses. But soon we were sweating, thanks to Tariq uncle. He made us go the wrong way in the huge Heathrow Airport and made us retrace our steps back to the point which we had passed just minutes ago. Moments later we were on a coach, making our way towards Birmingham, where we arrive after a few tiring hours. It took us quite a while to check in and soon we were in our warm beds. We decided to take a little night jaunt and have dinner, and were rewarded with a light shower that made us freeze up all over again.

The next day was kind of exciting. We met up with Karen Richards (Chairperson-World Youth Scrabble Championship) and Alastair Richards (Australia’s number one player and hot favourite for the world title) who gave us a few tips on how to improve our game. We also met some players from different countries and played few warm-up matches to familiarize ourselves with them. It was quite a hectic day and we ended up sleeping like logs and waking up a bit late. We had a warm-up tournament which went quite well and Arham Abidi, one of the team members, ended up winning it, which was quite a feat considering the fact that players like Alastair Richards and Steve Perry (president of the Association of British Scrabble Players) were also competing. Another feather in our cap was Muhammad Jahanzaib Khan, also a member of our team, winning the award for the high word.

With the day drawing to a close, our nerves started getting strained. We were all freaking out by the fact that WYSC was just one day away. I don’t believe any of us was able to eat or sleep properly. At least I wasn’t.

My nerves were close to fraying.  The 7th of December dawned bright and clear, even the sun was out, which was quite a miracle. A few of us had tried cramming the night before but gave it up as a lost cause. We firmly vowed to give our best and play with sportsmanship. The matches were due to start a bit late, around 2:00 p.m., therefore we decided to have lunch as well. We tried to have fun and we cracked jokes to ease off, and I believe the idea went well.

WSYC Participants.

WSYC Participants.

We started off quite well and two of the players managed to remain in the top ten, with the rest of us not far behind. The best part was that one of our members in the top ten was a girl, Javeria Mirza, and that too on 3rd place. The other player in the top ten was Muhammad Jahanzaib Khan, on 7th place. The next day was tougher, with ten matches to be played, but once again, Pakistani players were not that far behind. Javeria Mirza was number one for quite a while and was placed 4th with 12 wins out of 17 and a massive spread of +606 at the end of the day. Another player also managed to finish in the top ten at the end of the second day, namely, Javeria Salman at number 8, with 11 wins and a spread of -206. Not far behind were Muhammad Jahanzaib and Yash Gandhi on 14th and 18th respectively.

The third day was the toughest, though with only seven matches to be played. The two players in the top ten needed to win at least four out of the total seven matches to remain there. But unfortunately, they lost a few matches and slipped down. I believe the last matches were the toughest for some Pakistani players. One of the most crucial matches was between me and Javeria Mirza. Whoever won would come out higher while the other would slip down lower. I won that match to finish 14th in the world, highest among the Pakistanis. On the other table, Muhammad Jahanzaib lost to Migara Jayesinghe, a little kid from Sri Lanka to end up at 21st. Had he won he might have finished in the top ten.

Although we didn’t have any player in the top ten, our performance was much better than last year, thanks to the following people, among others:

Mr. Waseem Khatri: Hats off to him! He put in everything and gave us tips the whole year round and was constantly urging us to do this and that.

Mr. Tariq Pervaiz: He put in his precious time and money to go with us naughty brats who teased him a lot throughout the whole trip.

Mr. Inayatullah: He gave us quite a few precious tips. We really missed his lectures in England like the ones he used to give us in Malaysia every night.

We would also like to thank the rest of the members of the Pakistan Scrabble Association for their endless tips and support.

This year’s result made us realize that we are not that far behind and we can do even better than anyone else, and so we have vowed to come back even stronger next year. We just need time and care along with tips, and we would be as good as anyone in the world. Insha Allah, we’ll give our best the next year and will do everything to bring the trophy home!

The writer is Pakistan’s leading Scrabble player and has represented Pakistan in the WYSC.

The blog was first published on the defunct KheloPakistan.com.

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