Interview with a Scrabble Expert

Today I am interviewing Marty Gabriel, who is also my husband.

What are your favorite words?

I’ve noticed a partiality towards words that start with B and also contain a U. Shortly after I’d studied all of the acceptable 7 and 8 letter words, I played BOUGHPOT and BUDDLEIA in tourneys, drawing an unsuccessful challenge each time. I also took great delight in playing BUSHPIG recently and I’d love to play BUSHTIT someday; I really enjoy just saying that word!

My family nicknamed me “Butch” when I was just a baby and my immediate family and my relatives still address me by that nickname, though my lovely wife’s pet name for me is Zebu. Interestingly, the nicknames have one thing in common – yeah, a B and a U.

Tell us about the vinegar.

My vinegar addiction became public when Scott Petersen filmed a segment of Scrabylon, his award winning documentary, at the 2002 National Scrabble Championship in San Diego during which I swigged vinegar straight from the bottle and touted its power to facilitate my playing ability and freak out my opponents.  For some reason I’ve always craved the stuff; I used to eat mustard sandwiches and ring boloney saturated with a strong vinegar solution as a child. I’ve been dubbed “Vinegar Man” at Subway because of the copious amount of vinegar I get on my sandwich. I instruct new workers, “Squeeze the bottle HARD for ten to fifteen seconds. I’ll tell you when to stop.” FYI, I’m a red wine vinegar guy.

Do you consider yourself more or less competitive than Bobby Knight?

Interesting comparison; I guess I should feel thankful that Attila the Hun did not come to mind. Actually my father has been a huge Bobby Knight fan. They’re both from the “When I tell you to jump, you say ‘How high?’” school of thought. I’ve admired Knight’s preparation, attention to detail, determination, and success, but I became disenchanted after reading A Season on the Brink and by some of his subsequent misbehavior and arrogance. I’d like to think I share more of his positive traits than his negative ones. I like to play games where score is kept. And I like to know my statistics and my ranking, either officially or unofficially. I enjoy competing to try to achieve goals I’ve set for myself. One of my favorite competitions is playing “speed pool” on my 8 and a half foot Olhausen table. It’s just me against the clock. I enjoy trying to improve on my personal records for average time, running the table, games without scratches, etc., etc. Club and tourney Scrabble or a game versus my spouse involve complex, anxiety-inducing social interactions, as do tennis, bowling, writing and many of my other activities. Yet I certainly relish being in the arena. And I can be very assertive and appropriately aggressive while competing

Why did it take you so long to marry your lovely spouse? Is this slowness evident in other areas of your life?

Emotional intimacy and emotional commitment were scary things for me for a long, long time. Much of this was probably due to the way I was raised, but my maternal grandfather waited until he was in his late forties to get married and start a family. He was of Spartan heritage and had a series of unbelievable adventures before settling down. I think I identified with him quite a bit.

Of course, I am slow to do all sorts of things, so perhaps this is just my nature. I eat slowly, I read slowly, I play Scrabble slowly. I am habitually a double-checker, often a triple-checker, and sometimes a quadruple-checker. A decision as important as getting married was not one that I would allow myself to be pressured or rushed into making. I ended up coming to it as I’ve always entered a body of water, be it pool, sea, or ocean – one step at a time…slowly…slowly.

What top-ranked Scrabble player have you beaten the most often?

I’ve beaten most of the players who have won the World Scrabble Championship and I’ve beaten most of the players who have won the North American Scrabble Championship, which probably shows that I’ve been playing competitively for a rather long time as much as anything. But the player I’ve beaten the most has to be Brian Cappelletto, who has won both of those titles. I was blessed to win my first three games against Brian at a Chicago area club in 1998, and we became friends and played regular sessions after that. I think he won something like 23 of the first 25 games we played outside of the club, and he went on to win the NSC, which was held in Chicago later that year. I also was his practice partner leading up to the WSC that he won in Las Vegas in 2001. I like to think that I helped him be well prepared for those events – probably helped build up his confidence if nothing else :) Brian is a very idealistic guy and a very good sport and I was really fortunate to have such a great mentor and Scrabble role model. In recent years, I’ve been lucky enough to win 3 of 7 games against Nigel Richards, the best player ever.

Who’s your Scrabble daddy? (And for those of us not in the know, what is a Scrabble daddy?)

One’s Scrabble daddy is the player to whom one has lost the most rating points. In my case, Sam Kantimathi has that distinction, which seems wrong on multiple levels. Perhaps my problem is that I allow myself to be distracted by his giant score sheet, which some contend could shelter a small family. Or perhaps I am stunned by the array of colored markers he keeps at his disposal. Or maybe it’s the ubiquitousness of his name and web address on the Scrabble equipment spread all over the table. Or wait, maybe that’s really the reason; we almost always use HIS equipment.

Do you ever anagram when you’re making love to your wife? Be honest, now.

I cannot recall, Senator, uh, Daiva. When the endorphins start hoppin’ I lose sense of space and time and drift off into a Fantasia-like wonderland. Such bliss clouds my short-term memory.

Do you have favorite anagrams?

One of the first threesomes I ever encountered (Oh, come on, pull your head out of the covers!) was INCLUDES/UNSLICED/NUCLIDES. I liked the way the words made a coherent expression when placed in verb/adjective/noun order. I learned early on that it was useful to learn all of the anagrams of a word as soon as you learn the word, and I’ve always endeavored to make coherent combinations, which facilitates memory and recall. (Learning definitions helps as well.)




3 thoughts on “Interview with a Scrabble Expert

  1. The real reason I am your scrabble daddy is that I am a freakishly good player! :) Thanks Deiva for a great article and Marty for the tough competition you have given me o et the years. Above all, thank you both for your invaluable friendship!

    BTW, I have some serious vision issues that have deteriorated recently.

    Your buddy,

    Sam Kantimathi

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