KARACHI: Mbaqanga, qi, xu, qui, quixotic, axolotl, tzigane, and nartji, may sound alien to most people who speak English, but they are actually the highestscoring words when it comes to the legendary game of Scrabble.
Ask any of the aspiring champions who gathered at the Beach Luxury hotel for the eighth ranking championship round on Sunday. After a gruelling face-off, S. Wajid Iqbal pushed the 21-year old champion Waseem Khatri to second position from the 32 Master players in the pool. Twenty-one year old Waseem Khatri is today known as the local champion and represented Pakistan internationally last year.
“He is a fine example for the prejudice that Scrabble is only for those who know English,” commented Tariq Pervez, one of the members of the managing committee.
The game defies the notion that only people whose mother tongue is English can master the language. “We made history in 2007 by coming to the world seventh position in the International Scrabble world cup when Mohammad Sulaiman ranked 20th out of 30,” said Javaid Iqbal, the vice president of the Pakistan Scrabble Association that organised the event.
Similarly, the word ‘Computerization’ made a world record when it was spread across the Scrabble board by a leading player from Pakistan Malka Ishtiaq Chishti. Her husband, Ishtiaq Chishti, is fondly referred to as ‘Baba Scrabble’ as he is one of the oldest players in the world. “I have been playing for more than 45 years and was the oldest player in 2003 when I represented Pakistan at the age of 69,” he told The Express Tribune.
Chishti has nearly 300 trophies to his credit and yet he feels that the game is about skills and vocabulary. “For any other game the skills learnt are limited to that game alone, but the skills learnt in Scrabble can be used across the board,” he said. Small wonder then that players come from all sorts of backgrounds - banking, engineering, medicine, music.
“No two boards will ever be the same,” said Mohammad Sulaiman. “It is one of the best indoor games.” For founding PSA member Maria Soares, the game is also a good way to bust stress. “You can take it all out on the board!” she said. The PSA took the sport to Lahore, but found few serious players and ended up closing there. “We went ten years ago,” said Javaid. “Now almost all the participation is from Karachi.”
“Until 2004, Scrabble was known by only a few top schools in Karachi,” said Tariq Pervez, the former PSA secretary. “But we observed that the other kids were doing far better so we made it a point to introduce it to other schools in areas such as North Nazimabad.”
Today there is a database of 300 schools across the city with nearly 300 students taking part in the local championship at the school level. Some schools even have their own clubs. “Mama Parsi, St Joseph’s, St Patrick’s and St Michael’s are the most consistent with the game now,” he said.
The world cup of Scrabble is held every two years in Pakistan. The Pakistan Scrabble Association prepares for it in 24 monthly tournaments, selecting the top 8 and then finally the top two for the international participation.
Also, this year’s National Scrabble Championship will be held on May 31. Members meet every Friday at the Beach Luxury to practice and hold the championship’s monthly competitions after which the scores are updated. It is a shame, though, that the word ‘Pakistan’ can’t be used on the board.
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