In the cutthroat world of competitive Scrabble, Moore resident Matthew Hodge is the top player from Oklahoma, currently ranked 32nd in the country. He's been playing official tournaments for eight years, but none in his own hometown.
"There hasn't been a tournament in Oklahoma City in over two decades," Hodge said.
So he started one. The inaugural SoonerScramble Scrabble tournament will see 60 players lay tiles to lay waste to one another, Saturday and Sunday at the Hampton Inn & Suites in Bricktown.
He got the idea after traveling to tourneys in Texas and Missouri, where fellow players would say to him, "You even have a club there?"
"Oklahoma's kind of this desolate wasteland of Scrabble, at least in their minds," said Hodge, a doctoral student in philosophy at the University of Oklahoma. "I thought Bricktown is such a cool area. It breaks the stereotypes of what people think Oklahoma is going to be like, so I really wanted to showcase the city. I think people are surprised at how strong Scrabble is in Oklahoma. We have some really good players."
More than two-thirds of those slated to compete this weekend are from out-of-state. While the event is not open to the public, the regular meetings of the Central Oklahoma Scrabble Club are. Hodge is co-director of the organization, which meets 3 to 9 p.m. every Thursday and alternating Sundays at IHOP, 2 W. Interstate 240 Service Road, for informal, come-and-go play.
ALL SKILL LEVELS
At any given meeting, approximately 10 active members attend. He said while the club is small, he wishes it were bigger, no matter a player's skill level.
"There's two different things that draw people to the game," he said. "People assume because I play Scrabble that I'm a big word guy, but really, the top players you'll find are a lot less interested in the words and a lot more interested in the sort of chess-match aspect of the game " the strategy and the math behind it.
"The more recreational players are crossword people. They love to read, they're wordy. There really is kind of a division within our community."
While it's estimated a Scrabble set can be found in one out of every three American homes, it's finding life online as well, in knockoffs such as Facebook's Lexulous or Yahoo!'s Literati. Hodge said it's a challenge getting those desktop players to come play in person.
"Even though I know there are hundreds of thousands of people logged in, it really hasn't turned into people coming to clubs," he said. "That's one of the challenges in trying to translate this interest that you know exists."
Personally, he can't stand online play " not only for its impersonal nature, but the worry that one's opponent may be cheating. After all, he's earned his bragging rights.
"To be an expert, you really have to know pretty much the entire dictionary," Hodge said. "I mean, I've done it, but it's a ridiculous task in retrospect. But, you know, what are you gonna do?"