Erin Kinsella knows her way around a scrabble board.
“I’ve been playing my whole life but really hard core for the past six years,” she said.
Hard core means not only engaging in online scrabble or with family and friends, but also taking part in international scrabble tournaments. The most recent being the five day Canadian Open Scrabble Championships held in Calgary, Oct 14 – 19.
“The first days (of the tournament) are early birds with prizes for highest word score, highest J word, most outrageous phoney word, and so on,” said Kinsella. “The winning phoney word that someone got away with was, titless.”
She added that players are placed into divisions according to their results in previous tournaments. Each player starts at a ranking of 400 and after a successful tournament may get moved up to 500. She is currently ranked at 1080 but said players in the first division can be ranked at 2500 or more.
“Everyone is placed into one of three divisions with three being the least competitive and one being the most competitive,” explained Kinsella. “This was the first time I was ranked too high to play in the third division and was moved up to second.”
She added that each player has 25 minutes to complete the game. “As soon as you play a word, you announce your score and hit your buzzer, just like in chess,” said Kinsella. “If you end up going over time, you lose 10 points for every minute.” Kinsella has never gone over time in a tournament.
Kinsella said that another element to the game is the ‘bingo’. Using all of the letters on your rack at one time earns you a ‘bingo’ as well as 50 extra points added to your score. Players in the first division will sometimes have four or five bingos in one game.
In tournament scrabble, eight games a day are played, four in the morning, break for lunch and four in the afternoon. Kinsella admits by the end of the fifth day she is ready to get home and see her dogs, and then catch up with her online scrabble activity, where she has between 75 and 100 games going at one time.
She completed the Calgary tournament this year by winning 11 games and losing 10. As it was expected that she would only win 8, she also won a trophy for most improved. She laughed it off with ‘everyone gets a trophy’.
Kinsella admits to not being a very social person, but really loves the tournaments.
“It’s great to see people again. You only ever see them at tournaments but it’s wonderful to get connected again,” she said.
Kinsella’s affinity for words comes honestly. Her father is the late W.P. Kinsella, author of the novel Shoeless Joe which was later adapted to the 1989 movie Field of Dreams, starring Kevin Costner.
Kinsella’s favourite book written by her father is The Fencepost Chronicles, which won him the Stephen Leacock award for humour in 1987.
“Every time (as a child) I wanted to know what a word meant my dad would make me look it up in the dictionary,” Kinsella said. “It felt then like Facebook feels today, just takes you down a rabbit hole of information.”
In terms of her father’s scrabble life, Kinsella said her dad was king of the third division and master of the phoney. “Dad won five ‘horses’ ass’ trophies in his life for using the best phoney,” she said.
Kinsella Sr. took Kinsella to her first scrabble tournament in Edmonton in 2011.
When Kinsella Sr’s wife passed away suddenly on Christmas eve 2012, Kinsella decided to move in with him at his home in Yale B.C. to help in taking care of him. From 2013 to 2016 they toured the province of B.C. attending scrabble tournaments together as well as playing scrabble in their home. Kinsella said these were the best three years of her life.
She toured with him until he was no longer well enough to travel. Years of suffering with diabetes had resulted in kidney failure for Kinsella Sr. He passed away on Sept. 16, 2016 in Hope B.C. by assisted suicide.
Written by: Jana Semeniuk
Photo by: Josh Hampel