Bringing chaos to order in seven small tiles

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Scott Jenkins

Salisbury Post

GOLD HILL — Matthew Hopkins started arranging Scrabble tiles when he was between 2 and 3 years old. It was one of the ways his parents, Glenn and Vivian Hopkins, taught him to read.

He really got into the word game only about a year ago, though, after getting a new set for his birthday.

It hasn’t taken him long to master the game.

Hopkins finished fourth in his division at the Scrabble Showdown in Charlotte over the weekend, playing in his first tournament and going up against seasoned competitors from across the nation.

“I actually thought I was going to do about that well,” he said Monday. “But it wouldn’t surprise me if I didn’t. You’ve got to have the luck of the tiles as well as board knowledge.”

Hopkins knows the board. And, even more importantly, he knows a ton of words. He’s memorized all the two-, three- and four-letter words from the official tournament list and a lot of the more obscure six- and seven-letter words.

“I’ve worn this thing out studying it,” he said.

Hopkins, 23, is an East Rowan High School graduate who started for the school’s Quiz Bowl team all four years.

He used to play Scrabble “solitaire” at E.H. Montgomery General Store here and take on anyone who wandered in and wanted to challenge him. But local resident Diane Williams became his first regular partner, and the two still play at least twice a week, Hopkins said.

Williams also helped him prepare for the tournament after finding out about it six months ago, he said.

One of the things he likes best about the game is taking those seven small tiles and bringing order to their chaos.

“I think it’s the challenge to create words,” he said. “Even sometimes for me, it’s creating words that other people haven’t seen before.”

Part of the challenge in Charlotte was that playing a friendly game in Gold Hill or a CD-ROM match on the computer does not cause the same stress as sitting across the board from an experienced tournament player, he said.

Still, Hopkins won four straight matches before a two-hour lunch break broke his momentum. He lost the first game after lunch.

One of the highlights of the tournament was beating an opponent 503-to-281 while scoring three bingos, a move in which a player uses all seven tiles and earns 50 points on top of the word score.

Another high point came after the tournament ended. After losing by a couple of hundred points to the player who finished first in his 22-player division, Hopkins challenged the man to a grudge match and won by 17 points.

“I told my mom I wasn’t going to leave until I had beaten him,” he said. “I avenged all my losses, except one.”

Hopkins accomplished another goal at the tournament, making friends and meeting new people to play against. He also won a raffle for an expensive Scrabble set, which he’s saving for his next match against Williams.

The two have been trying to form a Scrabble club, but without much luck so far, Hopkins said. Anyone interested in forming a Scrabble club can call Williams at 704-279-6731.