How to Bluff in Scrabble

Why, yes, of course "quinch" is a real word. How could you doubt this face?
Why, yes, of course "quinch" is a real word. How could you doubt this face?
Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock

My seven-tile Scrabble rack offered no easy answers. Although it was a pleasing mix of vowels and consonants, I came up empty as I mentally thumbed through a cerebral Rolodex of seven-letter words. It was nearly the last move of the game, and I knew I needed a bingo bonus -- 50 extra points for playing all seven tiles -- to secure a win. I'd been memorizing word lists and studying other players' performances for days. And that's when it hit me.

C-A-R-N-A-E-T. I snapped the seven letters into place on the board and calmly waited for a reaction. My opponent simply moved on to the next play, and I knew that without a challenge to the word's authenticity, I had this game in the bag.

I'd pulled off a bluff.

Earlier that week, I'd read of two eighth-grade students who took home a National School Scrabble Championship trophy after bluffing their way to a win. What was their 87-point game-changer? A word nearly identical to the one I'd just played: "Carnate," which the boys believed to be a completely made-up word [source: Toronto Star]. (It's actually an antiquated, descriptive form of "carnal.") If my opponent had challenged the word as a fake but it turned out to be real, he would have lost a turn. It wasn't a risk he was willing to take, and my gamble paid off.

Although certain games, such as poker, are known for bluffing, Scrabble doesn't usually come to mind. Even so, the ability to bluff can be just as important to the outcome of the game. Think of it as friendly, but persistent, psychological warfare. The more you get into your opponent's head, shake his confidence or undermine his decision-making skills, the more likely you are to gain the upper hand. In serious gaming circles, this is known as a tilt.

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