2003 Canadian SCRABBLE Championship Player Profile: Albert Hahn
For most, SCRABBLE® is a board game. For Albert Hahn, it is an excuse to travel. His love of the game has encouraged him to attend tournaments in places as near and far as Las Vegas, NV, and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, simply to watch others play SCRABBLE®.
To attend and play in the 2003 Canadian National SCRABBLE® Championship, Calgary-based Hahn spent five days driving 2,150 miles. Why drive and not fly? To play SCRABBLE® in three provinces on the journey East of course!
He and fellow club member Mike Ryan left their homes in Calgary, Alberta, to pick up George McCauley in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Club players in that city met and played an evening of SCRABBLE® before seeing them off to their next SCRABBLE® adventure. Then the trio stopped in Winnipeg to join club director Dave Huebert who called together a night of game play in honor of the visiting players. On day 5, the trio landed in Toronto in time for the Wednesday night meeting of the Toronto SCRABBLE® club. The day before the Nationals included a stop by the Mississauga SCRABBLE® club.
When he isn't traveling to tournaments, Albert drives a 3-ton truck hauling upwards to 18,000 pounds of finished lumber from lumberyards to construction projects. Before taking up truck driving, which coincided with the launch of his competitive SCRABBLE® interest, Albert was a stand-up comic. He still works on jokes and contemplates a return to the stage, but there is always a tournament calling his name to draw away his interest.
Albert is a study in contrasts. By far the tallest player at this tournament, he is also one of its shyest and most quiet. Self-defined as "lacking the confidence to stand up for [him]self," all that evaporates over the board when he's able to find words like CROJIKS (a 150-point double-double play), PIGWEEDS (played to the S), and OUGUIYA (a word he's played several times to "clean up his rack").
Five years ago, it all came down to one word: DICTATOR. If Hahn had found that word toward the end of game 5 of the finals, he might very well have been the 1998 Canadian SCRABBLE® Champion. Even making the finals was a big deal for the relative newcomer to top-level play. Placing 2nd shocked no one more than Hahn himself: "I'd only been playing competitively for about four years then. And, I'll admit to a bit of luck toward the end of that tournament." In the last eight games Hahn played, he picked all 16 blanks, including all the blanks in the best-of-five finals against McGill music professor Joel Wapnick, the event's winner. He admits, "I had all ten blanks in our games. Five games, ten blanks, and still I couldn't beat Joel. He's a great player."
This is Hahn's third CNSC. After placing 2nd in 1998, he earned a 4th in 2000. When asked if he'll be a top finisher this year, Hahn cites his spate of bad luck and admits that he expects to see Dean Saldanha do well. Vancouver-based, Saldanha is an up and coming 20-year-old who comes from a family of strong players. His parents and both younger sisters participate in tournament SCRABBLE®. Happy for another road trip, Hahn has traveled to Vancouver to play with Dean on several occasions.
Hahn is a member of the Calgary SCRABBLE® club #374, which meets on Thursday evenings for three rounds of games versus opponents pre-selected by the SCRABBLE® Ladder. The better a player plays one week, the stronger opponents he or she will play the following week. Albert, normally in the top ladder, admits to a spate of bad luck as of late, is currently in the third ladder of the 35-40 players who attend the club weekly.
Calgary is a real hotbed of SCRABBLE® enthusiasts; in addition to the formal club meeting, players meet unofficially on Saturdays and Mondays, too. Though the club may not be Canada's largest (that honor belongs to the Toronto club), it is arguably its most active with 14 tournaments hosted per year. And Hahn plays in all of them, winning three in the past year.
Being a top SCRABBLE® player, in a way, is a happy accident for Hahn. "I started studying so that I could one day be competitive with the 1400-rated players in our Calgary club, and before I knew it, I'd gained 1,000 rating points on my initial 800 rating!"
So, how did Hahn get this good? Well, it wasn't from studying word lists. He laughs and admits that his idiosyncratic way of studying includes reading a lot, currently about history, and looking up words he encounters in the text. A recent new word discovery: ERGOTISM. Unlike with most players, when I ask him what it means, he actually knows and launches into a heartfelt definition, "It is a sickness brought on by eating bread from fungus-tainted wheat that has killed many over the centuries--up to 30,000 at once."
Since rote memorization clearly isn't the key to Hahn's success, I asked him what other study methods he employs. He admitted, "Well, I read the dictionary. I like the Official SCRABBLE® Players Dictionary, 3rd Edition because words come alive with their meanings."
Although Hahn missed qualifying for the 2003 Canadian World SCRABBLE® Championship team, he didn't let it deter his attendance and he flew to Kuala Lumpur to cheer on the North American players. Understandably, the highlight of his trip was playing in the 53-player Worlds early bird tournament where he placed 12th, one spot ahead of 21-year-old Thai phenom Panupol Sujjayakorn, who went on to win this year's WSC title.
He claims to play for fun and anything else, such as success, is a delightful byproduct. For example, he admits that the only anamonic (a shortcut for remembering words) he can remember is that the letters in TORIES plus any letter in A BUNCH OF OLD GRUMPS can be anagrammed to form a bingo.
So, following his "have fun first" mandate, in addition to playing at the Nationals this weekend, Hahn plans to catch another showing of Mamma Mia in downtown Toronto. A fan of musical theater, he's seen the show in New York and Toronto (twice already!).
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