Pakistan’s scrabble players have proved time and again that they are a force to be reckoned with in the international arena and Syed Imaad Ali’s title win in the (WESPA) World Scrabble Youth Cup only takes the vision forward.
The 15-year-old Imaad lifted the trophy for the second time as the world youth champion. Earlier, back in 2019, he even won the juniors world title. His success at the international level shows the work of a community that he is a part of.
The last two World Youth Cups took place virtually and were hosted by Pakistan. For Imaad, the title wins, first in 2018, and now in 2021 mean that his resolve is stronger than before to improve at the game.
“I had a good championship. I enjoyed it. The competition was good, it wasn’t too close, but it was good for me,” Imaad told The Express Tribune.
He won the championship with nine wins out of 13 games in the final, with a spread of 330. India’s Madhav Gopal Kamath, 10, became the first Indian to finish amongst the top-three when he took the second place with nine wins, but marginally lost out on the spread. The third spot was won by Napat Vatjanurathorn of Thailand who was the best player of the last edition of the Team Event Youth Tournament. Napatwon eight games.
The 11th grader said that to prepare for the event he trained with his coaches for two months and the hard work paid off, while he is looking to participate in the World Championship now.
“Imaad has been playing scrabble since he was young as the game was introduced to him in school. The Pakistan Scrabble Association (PAS) had worked to get to the schools for the grassroots development and from there onwards he has been playing competitive scrabble for the last five years when he won the inter-school event in 2015.
Imaad’s prowess on the tiles on the board showed prominently last year when he won the PSA National Championship and that is the tournament he feels is his favourite win.
“I did win the national championship last year, yes, and it was the toughest and most memorable for because I won against much more experienced and skilled players like Waseem Khatri,” said Imaad.
He added that his goal is to win the world championship with seniors now.
But Imaad has the experience to talk about the difference between a virtual championship like the last two editions of World Youth Cup and going to the events too.
He became the first Pakistani last weekend to win the event twice, but he feels he is looking forward to playing the championships while facing his opponents in the near future now.
The PSA had offered WESPA that they can develop the technology to play the events online, although previously the online events were not reliable as there was a chance for the players to cheat. However, with the development of technology from PSA players and the overall stagnation in the activity since 2020, the scrabble community was pushed to look for solutions and hold events in a better way to facilitate the players with international standard competitions.
“I feel that when we are playing while facing our opponent, it is much more useful. We can deduce what their next move is when we are facing them, so I miss that. Meanwhile, when we go to events, we get to meet new people and players and that is always helpful and good,” said Imaad.
On the other hand he feels one of his strengths to win the championships have been his temperament as he does not lose hope easily and he tends to keep his calm under pressure.
“I think my strength is that I can handle the pressure,” said the BVS School student.
He added that his favourite player is Pakistan’s first Youth Champion Moiz Baig, who won the title in 2013 for Pakistan.
“Moiz, although he doesn’t play anymore, but he has been my favourite player in scrabble,” said Imaad.
In the event Pakistan’s Hasham Hadi Khan clinched the fourth spot by winning seven of his 13 games and is the only Pakistani player to have finished in the top 10. Pakistan also won the team prize and this is the third time that Pakistan won this title. President of Pakistan Scrabble Association and the Owner of Quetta Gladiators, Nadeem Omar distributed the prizes amongst the winners.
Developing the technology from ground up
Like Hasham shinning bright on the competition front, two Pakistani youth players Wali Muhammad and Hassan Hadi Khan developed the technology for the event that has benefitted the youth players and WESPA greatly.
“So the technology was developed by Pakistani youth players, especially Wali Muhammad and Hassan Hadi Khan. Luckily we have a large team of experts who can implement the policy and [protocols]. We have about 15 to 16 players who can work diligently through computers, through software and special cameras to monitor every player very closely. If any player tries to cheat they get caught and we did catch few players last year and they got expelled. This year they knew they can get caught so nobody tried to play any tricks and the tournament went very smoothly,” explained the PSA Director Youth Program and the man behind pushing the scope for the players Tariq Pervez.
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