If you’ve played some recreational Scrabble, you already know most of the rules. The official rules are here. A summary:
You start by each drawing 1 tile from a bag.of letters. Whoever gets closer to the start of the alphabet goes first, and draws 7 tiles. Then the other player draws 7. Play alternates between players. You can either play one or more tiles, or pass. If you pass, you can exchange tiles, from 1 to all 7. When there are fewer than 7 tiles left in the bag, you can’t exchange. Play ends when there are three passes in a row, or when one player is out of tiles and there are no more tiles in the bag. The first play must cover the ‘star’ square at the center of the board.
After you’ve placed your tiles, there must only be words, vertically and horizontally. Scoring depends on the value of the tiles you’ve played and the words you’ve made. Some squares are double or triple letter (where the value of the tile on that square is doubled or tripled) or double or triple word (where that whole word is doubled or tripled). If you use all 7 tiles, you make a “bingo” and get 50 extra points.
The main differences in rules between “living room” Scrabble and official tournament Scrabble is the dictionary used and the use of a clock. The official dictionary depends on where you are playing, see http://www.scrabblepages.com/scrabble/dictionary/. In North America or Thailand, for official tournaments, it’s the “Official Club and Tournament Word List”, which is very much like the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, 4th edition, but includes many words that are “offensive” (curse words, ethnic slurs, and so on) that are not in the OSPD. Elsewhere, the official dictionary is here. For the rest of this article, I will be talking about the OCTWL, as I am more familiar with it
Both of these dictionaries have lots of words that will be unfamiliar, even to those with huge vocabularies. The two letter words are listed in many places, including here, and include AA, QI and ZA.
Virtually all tournament Scrabble players have this list memorized; most have also memorized the three letter words, and a lot of other words, as well, but you don’t need to do so to play.
The clock that is used is similar to a chess clock. It has 2 timers, and when it’s your turn, your time is running. Then, when you play, you push a button and your opponent’s clock starts running. The usual time limit is 25 minutes per person; if you go over, there is a 10 point penalty for each minute.
Scrabble strategy is much more complex than you might imagine, and includes rack balancing (you want similar number of vowels and consonants on your rack), blocking the board if you have a big lead, opening the board if you are behind, and other techniques. Good Scrabble players will often make several bingos in a game, both because they have learned a great many words (especially 7 letter words) and because they are experts at balancing their racks.
It’s also important to be able to spot places to put words. That’s one reason you really need to know the two letter words.
Where to go from here? Well, in North America, tournaments are run by the National Scrabble Association, their website is www2.scrabble-assoc.com/.
A book that captures a lot of the feel of high level tournament Scrabble is Word Freak, by Stefan Fatsis. A good book on strategy is Everything Scrabble by Joe Edley. There are also books of Scrabble puzzles, the first volume is available here. At higher levels, there are specialty word books, but you probably want to wait on those.
Scrabble tournaments are divided by skill level, so you won’t be facing champions at your first (or second or third) events. Tournaments can be a lot of fun. There’s also club play, see the NSA site for clubs in various places.