Scrabble is a pretty familiar game to many of us. We’ve either played it, seen other people play it or heard it mentioned in passing. It’s a fun game but some people take it quite seriously and that’s a good thing, otherwise our nation wouldn’t be home to the World No.1 Scrabble player!
Yes, you heard it right – WORLD NO. 1!!! Ganesh Asirvatham, 40 from Klang, Selangor is the No. 1 Scrabble player according to the World English Language Scrabble Players Association (Wespa).
Taking part in 2007’s World Scrabble Championship which took place in Mumbai, India, Ganesh finished as the second runner-up but his achievements go beyond that as he is a former Guinness World Record holder for the most Scrabble opponents played simultaneously by one challenger. He secured the spot in 2007 when he played against 25 people, winning 21 out of 25 games.
Ganesh told The Star, “I had no idea (then) that there was competitive Scrabble in Malaysia and even a World Scrabble Championship”.
Ganesh spent his young days playing with board games such as Scrabble and Monopoly much like other kids born in the 80s. However, Ganesh is not your average Scrabble player – at age 11, he finished third in the YMCA youth championship’s competitive Scrabble.
This was only the beginning for him as he proved himself to be a prodigy in the Scrabble world. He became the top junior player in the country from the age of 13 to 19. He was even given the moniker ‘Ganesh Express’ by the late StarTwo Scrabble columnist Leonard Wong due to his ability to play really fast and also his large stature (at the time) according to Ganesh himself.
He was then taken under the wing of Malaysian national Scrabble champion Raja Fuadin Abdullah at the age of 16 when his family moved closer to the home of Abdullah. At the age of 20, Ganesh became one of the Asian competitors who represented Malaysia in the World Scrabble Championship in Australia.
In 2003, he graduated with a degree in Linguistics from Universiti Putra Malaysia in Serdang, Selangor. Needless to say, his vast vocabulary was crucial to his success as a Scrabble player. He said, “At my peak, I used to play at least 20 hours a week, either with another person or with the computer but more time was spent in word study. It’s absolutely crucial to be certain of the words that are valid, and this sureness only comes with hours of intense memorization and the use of specialized software to help recall”.
Beyond Scrabble, Ganesh has travelled across various nations after retiring from the competitive scene in 2008, having backpacked through South-East Asia and India while undertaking his Masters in Linguistics before moving to the corporate sector. He also spent some time in Somalia as an English language teacher.
He returned to play competitive Scrabble in 2017 and it looks like the future is looking bright for him. Ganesh emerged as champion in a tournament in Penang where 30 of the world’s top players competed.
Ganesh is now all geared up to represent Malaysia in the World English Language Scrabble Players Association in Goa, India from Oct 16-20 this year. He will be facing a tough competitor, Nigel Richards, one of the best Scrabble players ever who is currently ranked just below Ganesh as the World’s No.2 Scrabble player according to Wespa rankings.
He admits that Scrabble is a pretty competitive game however and that it may not be for everyone – “We go to sleep dreaming of big plays and recondite words that will elicit gasps of amazement. Across the board, relationships are paused as literal carnage ensues with words that have been played to excoriate an opponent. No quarter is given and none is asked.”
Ganesh’s accomplishment has definitely sparked an interest among many Malaysians, both young and old to take up Scrabble not only for the sheer love of words but also as a competitive game! In that case, it wouldn’t be surprising if stores in Malaysia start running out of Scrabble sets.
*Featured Image sourced from Star2.com