Chagti started playing Scrabble to help improve her language skills. She began by playing with her mother and then she entered a Scrabble tournament. At age 12. “I lost spectacularly,” she says with a smile. “I wanted to do better so I decided to start playing online.”
So she joined the International Scrabble Club, which soon had the budding word maven battling Scrabble players from all over the world. She estimates she played Internet Scrabble for about two hours every day after she returned home from school. She also started playing in Scrabble tournaments right after that. In her first year competing, Chagti placed third in the Delhi State Championships, and the next year she placed first.
However, the Scrabble she plays is not the relaxed home pastime of no time limits and endless arguments about whether “limn” is a word. For example, the Internet games she plays are timed and the style is called “blitz” Scrabble. Each player is on a timer, much like the clocks used in chess. All of this prepares elite players like Chagti for tournament games.
Scrabble is played on a board, where two to four players use the game’s 100 tiles to form words either across or down the gridded gameboard. There are 100 tiles used to form words, 98 of which have a single letter of the alphabet with varying point totals attached. The other two tiles are blank and can be used as a substitute for any letter. Commonly used letters such as vowels, are worth one point. Less common letters, such as Q and Z, are worth 10 points.
To get to the World Scrabble Competition, held in a different international city each year, players must come in first or second in their national championship. In her latest international-level competition, right before she returned to Pennsylvania to start the school year, she was the highest ranked female and defeated the Pakistani national champion.
Since coming to Juniata, the media has covered Nitya’s Scrabble abilities. A story on her talents was printed across the coutry by the Associated Press. She also played Scrabble on television versus Joe Murgo, WTAJ-TV weatherman and Juniata parent.
While top-level Scrabble players do try to gain an edge in competition, player behavior is generally exemplary compared to other sports. For example, a top player would never knowingly try to pass off a word, a practice Scrabblers call “playing a phony.” “There is no trash talking, that would be considered rude,” she explains. She does have a favorite word or two to play in games. Here’s one: caziques, which means either “tribal chief” or a tropical bird species.