The team of Scrabble players who represented Israel in Glasgow, 2012: L – R: Omri Rozencrantz, Maureen Hoch, Evan Cohen, Raz Naot.
Maureen Hoch, a mathematician and an international Scrabble player
Maureen Hoch greeted me at the open door of her charming home in Raanana and introduced me to a world of words I never knew existed in Israel. She and her husband, Jack, have lived here for 35 years. She has a broad Scottish accent - there is no need to ask her where she comes from.
The road that Maureen has travelled has been a varied and interesting one. Her beginnings as a teacher of mathematics were the springboard that propelled her into a most fulfilling career and many stimulating interests. In her late forties she yearned for further study and completed her doctorate in mathematics education. At the same time, to nurture her interest in the English language, she did a course in English editing at Beit Berl. Not happy to return to full-time teaching, she looked around for another position. Today she works for Matach – The Center for Educational Technology - where teaching materials are developed, mathematical text books are created and teachers are trained in new methods. It is an interesting and challenging position which she thoroughly enjoys. Maureen has an amazing ability to organize her time, which is fortunate as she has a very busy schedule.
And what of her leisure interests?
Her name may well be familiar to readers of ESRA MAGAZINE – she has assisted Pat Zuckerman for many years now in creating the challenging crossword puzzles that appear in each edition.
Maureen started playing Scrabble at a club in Herzliya. When it closed down, she started a Scrabble club in Raanana. She organized tournaments – “Scrabble by the Sea” – advertised throughout Israel. Players came to join in the fun from as far as Haifa, Jerusalem, Tiberias and Eilat. Unfortunately, the Raanana club didn’t survive and for many years Maureen didn’t play. She was working part-time and studying for her doctorate, and free time was shared with her husband Jack, sometimes playing bridge and always enjoying time with their three growing sons.
However, Maureen kept alive her interest in Scrabble and now plays regularly at the very active Tel Aviv Scrabble club. There is also a club in Jerusalem which is said to be the largest Scrabble club in the world. The Jerusalem club follows the American Scrabble Dictionary, which keeps them out of international tournaments. The Tel Aviv club uses the Collins International Dictionary of Scrabble Words, a large and heavy tome of lists of words, not a conventional dictionary but the textbook for international competitions.
Maureen explained that the major differences between casual Scrabble games, with which most English speakers are familiar, and the competitive version which is subject to control by international rules including time restrictions, and is a serious and strategic game.
Israeli players participate in many international competitions. In addition, Israel holds an annual Open Tournament which attracts serious players. The next one, the fifth Open Israel Tournament, is due to be held in Tiberias in February 2013. Maureen is a keen participant in all the events. In all the tournaments the game is played in English, and it is interesting to observe that many non-native English speakers are Scrabble champions.
Malta is a popular destination for Israeli Scrabble players. There is a large English community there and it is reasonably accessible. The Israeli players have an excellent rapport with the Maltese Scrabble Club. Numerous tournaments are organized in the UK. This year Malta and Israel were invited to play in a domestic team tournament in Scotland. Maureen secured a place in the Israeli team, and jumped at the opportunity as the competition was held in her home town of Glasgow. The team consisted of Maureen, Omri Rosenkrantz, Even Cohen and Raz Naot (also a mathematics teacher). Six countries were represented, and the Israeli team did better than expected, coming fifth. One of the team, Evan Cohen, who runs the Tel Aviv club and the Israeli Open, came seventh overall.
All tournaments are strictly controlled and are run under the auspices and rules of WESPA (World English Language Scrabble Players Association). There is a tournament director, an official timer similar to a chess clock for each pair of players, and an itinerary which is strictly adhered to, allowing 25 minutes per person per game. Scoring is done on computers today. There is a large and impressive computer screen for spectators and players to check on their progress. Usually tournaments are over a weekend and about 22 to 24 games are played during that time. The scoring chart is an integral part of the fun, and the progress of each participant changes with every result that comes in. The complicated but very effective scoreboard was created by a brilliant mathematician from Toronto.
International games can be followed on the Internet – this game has truly come into its own on an international scale.
It does appear that a mathematical mind handles the strategic nature of the game well, and a large vocabulary is an essential ingredient for success. And although some expert players would deny it, luck plays its inimitable part in every game.
Anyone interested in playing Scrabble in Israel can find details on the website at http://www.scrabble.org.il/.