ORLANDO, Fla. – He is magnetic. In a room of nearly 700 Scrabble aficionados, the smallest person in the room loomed the largest.

Competitors went out of their way to greet 11-year-old Bradley Robbins, the youngest person at the National Scrabble Championship being played through Tuesday at Universal Orlando’s Royal Pacific Resort.

They shook his hand, they patted him on the shoulder, and they made sure he knew his way around the elaborate maze of Scrabble boards.

Then, several competitors sat with Robbins at a Scrabble board and realized they were dealing with a pint-sized, precocious word assassin.

“When I got my first computer last summer, there was a free Scrabble game on it and I started playing,” Robbins said. “Then I got involved in more competitions and it just took off. I love words, and I love playing.”

Robbins and his fellow competitors will play 28 games of Scrabble during a four-day span. They compete in six divisions based on scores at qualifying tournaments, and the top-level champion will take home a $25,000 prize.

After four games, Robbins was in first place and held a sizable lead in the lowest division at the competition.

Phil Robbins, Bradley’s father, said his son counted down the days to the Scrabble championship and couldn’t wait to meet his heroes.

“He went right up and introduced himself to Mike Baron, who wrote a pretty famous Scrabble workbook,” Phil Robbins said. “He was so happy. To him, it’s like meeting Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan.”

Bradley Robbins has faced his idol in online Scrabble games, picking up two wins in 24 showdowns.

“I had no idea he was an 11-year-old when I played him online, so it was pretty surprising to meet him,” said Baron, a 55-year-old Scrabble veteran from Corrales, N.M.

Baron is passionate about the power of Scrabble and its ability to unite a diverse group of people.

In 1988, Baron met his future wife at a Scrabble competition.

“I proposed to her on a Scrabble board and it was my best play ever,” he said. “Fortunately, she didn’t challenge it. She said yes.”

Scrabble has brought Baron love and money, but he said the game is special because it forces people to adapt.

Every game is different, with a new array of letters that can stump even the most prolific wordsmiths.

“It’s a metaphor for life,” he said. “You don’t have control over everything you’re dealt, but you do the best you can with what you’ve got.”

For Nadine Jacobson, that means never letting a handicap get in the way. Jacobson is blind and competes using Braille tiles. She learned the game when she was a fifth-grader at a school for the blind in Minnesota. It is her third national championship.

“It’s a wonderful competition for blind people because you’re not really at a disadvantage,” said Jacobson, who lives in Edina, Minn. “This is about more brains than brawn.”

The competitors find time to trade jokes and often end their days in the players’ lounge, where they unwind from several intense rounds of Scrabble with … another game of Scrabble.



WORD PLAY

Five competitors at the National Scrabble Competition being played this weekend in Orlando shared their favorite words:

-muzjiks

Definition: a Russian peasant.

“Muzjiks is one of my favorites because it would score a lot of points, and I don’t think a lot of people know it. I hope I get to use it soon.” -14-year-old Vimalan Raviraj of Mississauga, Ontario

-outpreen

Definition: to surpass in preening.

“I’ve been in so many competitions that I can’t really think of a favorite, but I did score a lot of points off of outpreen.” -15-year-old Sam Rosin of Bernardsville, N.J.

-retaxing

Definition: the act of imposing an additional tax.

“The best word I’ve used in competition is retaxing. It was a triple-word score, and I got 266 points for it.” -11-year-old Bradley Robbins of Windham, N.H.

-ionizers

Definition: An object that separate or changes an object into ions.

“Ionizers is a very pedestrian word, but I was thrilled with it because of the way it worked out for me on the board during a game. It ended up scoring 284 points for me.” -58-year-old Mike Baron of Corrales, N.M.

-ibex

Definition: any of several wild goats of the genus Capra inhabiting mountainous regions of Eurasia and North Africa and having long, recurved horns.

“One time I got to use ibex, which isn’t a long word, but it’s a nice short one. It was worth about 110 points, which is pretty good.” -55-year-old Nadine Jacobson of Edina, Minn.



(c) 2008, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.).

Visit the Sentinel on the World Wide Web at http://www.orlandosentinel.com/.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-07-26-08 2106EDT


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.