The inflexions of Czech Scrabble

01-12-2004

Czech Scrabble fans say that it can change your life. The game, where you put together words with tiles, can easily grow into an obsession. The best Czech Scrabble players tested their vocabulary last weekend at the 11th Scrabble Championship of the Czech Republic.

To be honest I did feel a bit jealous while watching other journalists competing with Jaromir Nohavica at the Press Conference last Friday. The Czech Champion from the year 1997 and famous songwriter, lyricist and poet is the patron of all Czech Scrabble players.

The best 32 - 6 women and 26 men competed for the title of 11th Champion at the weekend in Prague. Jaromir Nohavica seemed to be in a good form, beating all the journalists but he only came 25th over all. The new Champion is Michal Sikora who was 15th last year.

The Czech language is agonisingly complex, with no less than 39 different letters, seven different cases, three genders, various different accents and numerous prefixes, suffixes and mutations. Initially the Czech version of Scrabble was played in the same way as English, with just the basic forms of words. The rules have now been changed and players can use all different inflexions. And Czech has some other curious features. Under the rules of Czech grammar, CH - pronounced as in the Scottish word "loch" - is treated as one letter, but Czech Scrabble departs from the usual strict rule: it is two letters, just as in English. The letters Q and W are so rare in Czech that they are not included at all. Here's Iveta Vondratova from the Scrabble Club 'Kalisnici', who was also one of the referees:

"On Wednesday before the Championship Prague's Scrabble clubs were crowded with players taking their last chance to play. Some of them were memorising dictionaries others just relaxed. It depends on their ambitions."

Scrabble fans are particularly proud of the new Czech Scrabble dictionary which should finally sort out any arguments about the legitimacy of words. Iveta Vondratova:

"The dictionary is changed every year. There are always some mistakes that have to be corrected. It has to be improved but at least it exists and it is really helpful. In the past referees had to check a doubtful word in ten dictionaries before deciding. The electronic dictionary is now the only source. Even if there is a mistake and a word is not in it, it won't be accepted."

Scrabble has been growing more popular ever since 1993 when the Czech version of the game was created. The first Championship was organised the very next year and in 1997 its fans established the Czech Scrabble Association.

The average age at this year's Championship was 36 and the great majority of players were male. But according to Jaromir Nohavica Scrabble is a great game for people of all ages and genders. While chess players frown, Scrabble fans smile and have fun. And there's also the element of chance. You can learn all the words in the dictionary starting with G and then you most likely won't get a single tile with the letter!

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