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Back to NSC 2002 Live Coverage: Profiles

NSC 2002 Player Profile: Stefan Fatsis

Congratulations to our new National Champion, Joel Sherman!

See also: video clip 1 (2 MB), video clip 2 (2 MB). (video courtesy Roger Cullman)

See how this player is doing at the WSC.

You wouldn't be wrong to congratulate Stefan on his new baby, but you might have to specify which baby--his professional baby, the paperback release of Word Freak: Hearthbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive SCRABBLE® Players (Penguin, 2002)--or the personal baby, Chloe, born to him and Melissa Block, in early July.

Stefan took a year off from his day job, writing about sports and the sports business for The Wall Street Journal, to write Word Freak. He immersed himself in the world of competitive SCRABBLE®, getting to know the players, the words, and the obsessions as he played in more than 40 tournaments. What began as a project about those SCRABBLE® players evolved into a story about we SCRABBLE® players, with Stefan sharing his progression from a green newcomer to the ranks of expert-level players. In the process, he illuminated some of the competitive scene's more colorful players including Joe Edley, Matt Graham, Marlon Hill, Lester Schonbrun, and Joel Sherman (GI Joel to those who know about his infamous gastro intestinal system!). All of these players and nearly everyone else mentioned in Word Freak can be spotted this week in the San Diego Concourse at the NSC.

Though it wasn't nearly as exciting as studying word lists all day, Stefan eventually had to return to work and this last year was jam-packed with both good and bad. The hardcover version of Word Freak (Houghton-Mifflin, 2001) made the New York Times bestseller list, he went on book tours, got engaged then married, started a family, and lost his office to the September 11th attack. The Journal's building was diagonally across from the World Trade Center, and suffered so much structural damage that he and his colleagues only moved back into the building two weeks ago.

As he traveled around the country promoting the book, Stefan was amazed and flattered by the support he received from SCRABBLE® players. He says, "That's the beauty of the game--you've got a friend in every city. Mike Weepie won the prize for farthest traveled to listen to me read. He drove from Cedar Rapids, IA, to Madison, WI,--six hours--and back again. That was a terrifically fun evening, largely because we played a few games afterward. (Mike's still smarting that I beat him.)

"In Boston, the bookstore made anagram banners and we played demonstration games for the uninitiated. In Berkeley, CA, Lester Schonbrun was a great sport as I read from the chapter about him. In London, I was a guest on an hour-long BBC radio show broadcast around the world. (The host said their audience was 35 million people.) A gang of us went out to dinner after a reading in Los Angeles. The club in Washington, D.C., held its regular session during my reading. Everyone made me feel welcome and accepted and loved. What a thrill!"

Another highlight was when C-SPAN's Book Notes turned up unannounced to tape his reading in New York City. That show still get replayed on the program every so often.

Once the new parents decided to make it a family trip and bring 6-week-old Chloe to the NSC, Stefan had to choose which division to play in. He says, "I could have played in 1, 2, or 3. That's because my rating was above 1700 at the beginning of the year, but now is down to 1634 after two lousy tournaments (Danbury and Boston). I ruled out Division 1 because I'm not 'booked up.' So I'll play Division 2. I have been studying whenever I get a free half hour (mostly on the subway). I've been reviewing the fours and high-probability sevens and eights, and I was studying the fives this morning."

Word Freak fans will notice two main differences in the paperback edition: a short postscript and a snazzy new cover. The letters in Word Freak are "die-cut" SCRABBLE® tiles, which can be read through holes in the cover. And, when it's flipped open, the page beneath is full of tiles. Even Stefan agrees that "it's a knockout cover."

Close listeners to National Public Radio may already be familiar with Stefan: every Friday, he does a segment about sports on the show All Things Considered. Baseball fans might want to check out Stefan's first book, Wild and Outside: How a Renegade Minor League Revived the Spirit of Baseball in America's Heartland.

Stefan's media appearances abound. Last week he appeared on CNBC's Power Lunch and during the NSC, he's scheduled to appear on three San Diego-based television stations: he will appear Sunday, August 18, at 8:45 am on UPN affiliate KUSI (with NSA executive director John Williams); Monday, August 19, at 7:00 am on CBS affiliate KFMB (Channel 8); and Tuesday, August 20, between 7am and 8am on Fox affiliate XETZ. To see him in person and get an autographed copy of the book, he'll be giving a book reading at Warwicks in La Jolla, CA, Tuesday, August 20, at 7:30 pm.

This just in: Stefan has completed a lengthy piece for National Public Radio's Morning Edition on Alfred Butts and SCRABBLE®. It is slated to run on Monday, August 19, just after 6:30 am and then again just after 8:30 am EST. He says the piece is part of a NPR series on the creating of America.

Rumors of Word Freak: The Movie are still floating around. Curtis Hanson, director ofLA Confidential and Wonder Boys, has the rights to the book.

Halfway through a three month leave from the Journal to care for his baby, Stefan says, it's been "wonderful (if predictably exhausting). Aside from diapering and dancing and rocking, we've been taking walks in the park. A wonderful reprieve from work."

HASBRO is the owner of the registered SCRABBLE® trademark in the United States and Canada. © 2002 HASBRO. All rights reserved. "SCRABBLE® Brand Crossword Game" is the proper way to refer to this unique group of word games and related properties marketed by HASBRO. "SCRABBLE®" is not a generic term. To use it as such is not only misleading but also does injustice to the company responsible for the trademark's longtime popularity. All we ask is that when you mean SCRABBLE® Brand Crossword Game, you say so. 

The SCRABBLE® trademark is owned by J.W. Spear and Sons, PLC, a subsidiary of Mattel, Inc. outside of the United States and Canada. 

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