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Rack Management

Introduction to Rack Management

In Scrabble, and by extension in Lexulous and Words with Friends, there are three main focus areas for improving your game:

  1. Word Knowledge
  2. Board Management
  3. Rack Management
This article will focus on the third point: Rack Management. While playing the best word possible is often a great strategy in word games, one should still consider what tiles are left on the rack. It is hard to score a lot of points from dreck. By always playing your best tiles, you will eventually have a bad rack.

What is a Bad Rack?

It is easy to intuitively recognize a bad rack simply by looking at and not being able to find any meaningful plays. However, from an analytical perspective, it is possible to put some additional thoughts around what that rack might look like. The following principles can be used to suggest you need to play in a way to improve your rack:

  1. Ratio of Vowels - the overall word games have a pretty constant ratio of vowels (including y and blank) to total tiles that ranges from 44% (Words with Friends) to 47%(Lexulous). This means that you should have 2-4 vowels on your rack. One vowel would make for a bad rack and 4 or more would start causing problems as well.
  2. Low scoring tiles - it is hard to score a lot of points if all your tiles are worth just 1 point each. In Scrabble, a whopping 68 tiles (68% of total) are worth just 1 point, while in Lexulous it is 53 tiles (60% of total), and just 56 tiles (54% of total) in Words with Friends. Note that you don't want all high scoring tiles because that then means that you probably don't have any vowels - see point 1.
  3. Duplicate Letters - having more than one tile of the same letter (with the obvious exception of the blank tiles) makes the game very hard. From a probabilistic view, you simply have fewer letter combinations to potentially form words. In Scrabble, as in life, diversity is good.

Transforming a Bad Rack

Often it is easy to play off of a bad rack and hopefully acquire better tiles. If you have too many vowels, play off some vowel dumps - EAU is a popular word to know. There are several other longer vowel dumps, including words like ADIEU and others.

For low scoring tiles, one just needs to work their way through them. By smart plays and thinking about multipliers you can still often score decent points. I have at many times scored 5-10x the points on my tiles by playing 1-2 1 point tiles.

Duplicate letter is a little tougher. In doing the mathematics of whether a word is good you should overweight the benefits of playing off one of the duplicates. I would accept a slightly lower (a few points) score to get rid of one of two duplicates, especially vowels.

The final fail stop is to swap tiles on your rack, one needs to think carefully about doing this since the lost turn is a large disadvantage. However, for truly egregious racks, this might be the only solution.

Copyright 2013 BattleLine Games LLC.