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Leon Fernandes

[photo] Already a worldly SCRABBLE® player, Leon Fernandes is one of the youngest and most outstanding upcoming players on the tournament scene. This 12-year-old, 8th grader, who has been playing for half of his life, even competed in the prestigious National SCRABBLE® Championships (NSC) held in Chicago this past August. With a total of 20 wins (out of 31), he placed 7th in the fourth division and earned $250 for his efforts. Tack on his most recent first-place finish in division two at a club tournament and Leon's rating is now 1250. Not bad for a kid who hates vegetables.

Born and raised in Oman, Leon's family relocated to the Western Canadian province of Alberta almost two years ago. Since Leon's parents, both players themselves, had involved Leon in their SCRABBLE® club play in Oman, it was only natural that soon after the relocation, they all started playing at Calgary's SCRABBLE® Club #374, directed by Siri Tillekeratne <siri@home.com>. At the club, Leon has the opportunity to play a number of top experts, including Albert Hahn, who recently placed second in the Canadian SCRABBLE® Championships. In a recent game against Hahn, Leon lost by only one point!

Leon, who plays 15-20 games per week, mostly against the Hasbro CD-ROM SCRABBLE® computer game, finds that studying helps him improve his strategy. In a recent game, he beat the computer with a double-double, eight-letter bingo: HIJACKED for 150 points. Since the NSC happened to fall during his summer break from school, in the weeks leading up to the competition, Leon studied three to four hours a day. He doesn't have as much time to study SCRABBLE® during the school year, but these days is concentrating on learning his seven- and eight-letter-words.

Waking up in the morning is Leon's greatest daily challenge, but once he makes it to John XXIII Junior High School, math is the subject that most captivates him. Naturally fluent in English, Leon learned Urdu while in the Middle East and is now working on acquiring French language skills.

Leon's mother, Nifa, is a coordinator at a center that helps people deal with dependencies, and his father, Louis, works as a chartered accountant (CA) in Oman and Pakistan. Louis is working toward becoming a CA in Canada so that he won't have to spend so much time away from his family. It doesn't take long to detect the pattern in the names of the Fernandes siblings. See if you can figure it out: Leon; Lynn, age 11; Lyndon, age 8; and Laurin, age 5.

According to Nifa, there is a commitment to game play in the Fernandes household, which is a great experience for the whole family. At any time there may be chess or bridge or SCRABBLE® being played across a table or on a computer screen. While Leon's 150-point play may be impressive, his father, who is currently president of the SCRABBLE® league in Oman, recently played SWINGERS for 167 points in a tournament where he placed second.

Nifa says, "I'm very proud of Leon. He is doing great. We hope he passes on the skill to the other kids." Not as competitive as either her husband or her son, she laughingly worries about the next NSC where she might be forced to choose between cheering for her husband or her son.

As the interview was winding up I asked Leon to anagram AEONRST. In under five seconds, he told me the three seven-letter anagrams and even spelled them for good measure. Test yourself!

His celebrity already increasing, Leon and several of his SCRABBLE® club members were featured on an recent morning news program aired in Calgary-area. His next tournament falls on December 13 in Calgary. Leon tells me, with all confidence that he expects to do well. As a post-tournament treat, I predict the family will go out for dinner that evening and enjoy one of Leon's favorites: pizza covered in pepperoni, hold the veggies.

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