UAE's talented trio to play in World Youth Scrabble tournament

Three youngsters from the UAE will be competing this weekend at the sixth annual World Youth Scrabble Championship in Birmingham, England. 

Sanchit Kapoor, 12, will be competing in the 7th annual World Youth Scrabble Championships with two other UAE teammates in Birmingham, UK from December 7th-9th. Kapoor is seen here practicing with his teammates at the Tea Junction Cafe in Oud Metha. Jeff Topping / The National
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DUBAI // Sanchit Kapoor may not know the meaning of words such as Doth, Qophs and Fuzee, but the 12-year-old can confidently use them to give even the most seasoned Scrabble players a run for their money.

The Dubai Modern High School pupil is one of three youngsters from the UAE who will be competing this weekend at the sixth annual World Youth Scrabble Championship in Birmingham, England.

Along with 83 other competitors from 13 countries - including the US, Australia, Malaysia and Pakistan - the trio will take part in 24 25-minute matches in the hope of ranking among the top 10.

Last night, Sanchit joined his teammates - Navya Zaveri, 14, from Indian High School, and Shiksha Rout, 15, also from Dubai Modern High School - for the last of their regular practice sessions.

"It used to be about just having fun but now the stress is on to win it," said Sanchit.

He is not new to the competition circuit. In last year's youth championship - the first time the UAE had sent a delegation to the games - he ranked 53rd.

Sanchit also played at the Gulf Scrabble Championship earlier this year.

"Playing there was a good experience because I was playing against competitors as old as 40 and above," he said. "Age does not really matter. It's the moves you play and the skills you gain in the process.

"I mean, look at the youth championship winner from last year - he was 11 years old and won."

Nikhil Soneja, a member of the UAE Scrabble Club and the organiser of the Gulf Championships, has been following the children's progress and mentoring them.

The first lesson in competitive Scrabble, he said, was to unlearn home rules.

"When playing at home, people make up their own rules," he said. "So we had to get them used to international rules.

"For example, if they suspect a word someone else has played is incorrect, what is the process of challenging it?

"Also, when playing competitively, you have to keep track of the score. The biggest challenge is playing with a chess clock."

The children were also taught to think one or two moves ahead to improve their future scoring possibilities.

They spent hours memorising lists of high-probability words - particularly words that use all of their tiles to earn a 50-point bonus.

Mr Soneja said Sanchit seemed determined to make it to the top this year.

"Sanchit did very well at the Gulf tournament and got exposed to playing against adults," he said. "That was a big acid test."

For Navya, who has been practising for an hour a day to get ahead in the game, the goal is slightly less ambitious. "Surely, top 40 is manageable," he said.

And Shiksha, the only girl on the team, has come out of her shell since she started playing Scrabble.

"She is a very shy girl, but her interaction with different people through the game is making her confident," said her mum, Lekha Rout.

Wherever she places this weekend, she'll already have reaped the rewards.