Montreal Scrabble champion picks up $10,000 prize at Las Vegas tournament

A Montreal Scrabble player picked up the top $10,000 prize at a Las Vegas tournament after a “ferocious” best-of-five series on Wednesday.

“I was somewhat in a state of shock,” said 29-year-old Joshua Sokol, who picked up the title in game five of the NASPA annual Scrabble Players Championship. “I just was trying to contain myself and to just finish the game.”

On the path to his eventual win, Sokol played a series of unusual words, including “patinaed,” which describes the corrosive green layer that forms on copper, like on the Statue of Liberty.

Sokol also played “veratrin,” a poisonous mixture of alkaloids formerly used in medicine, “alexia,” a neurological condition which renders patients unable to read, and “crostino,” which is a small piece of savoury toast.

“It’s like solving a puzzle every turn,” Sokol told CTV, explaining what it feels like to find complex and uncommon words during a game. “It feels like you found the missing piece.”

Sokol has been playing high-level Scrabble for nearly two decades. He says he took to it as a child before he hit double digits, and that his newly-learned abilities made for quick, and frustrating, losses for his family members.

“It was my parents’ favourite board game,” he said, adding he spent hours “word-surfing” to expand his arsenal on the board.

“I didn’t care what the words meant. I didn’t care to use them in sentences,” he said. “I just cared that they scored me points and got me closer to victory.”

When he was 10, his mother took him to the Montreal Scrabble Club to train with more advanced players. “The rest is history,” he said.

Walking in that room was a big step up from the kitchen-table games he had gotten used to at home.

“There were a few younger players, but not as young as me,” said Sokol, who described the community as being made up of “mostly retired” players. Long-time club manager and storied memoir-writer Bernard Gotlieb took him under his wing and showed him how to play for real. After that, Sokol started to win.

“The first time I ever won in a challenge, which is when you call your opponents play off of the board, because it’s not a word,” he recounted, “my opponent played ‘HH’ as a two letter word. I knew my two letter words.”

He was right, and the challenge made for one of his first victories at the club. “I was just in a state of pure elation,” he said.

These days, he’s a self-described “Scrabble influencer,” with hundreds of gameplay videos posted on YouTube.

He says he plans to hold classes for new players and grow Montreal’s Scrabble community. He also wants to spend more time on his online videos.

When asked if he has any advice for new players, he encouraged people to spend time learning their two-letter words, such as “it,” “ax,” and “qi” — a word common in Chinese philosophy, meaning energy.

“Spread the word and spread the words,” he said. 

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