Consider us the "Mean" Gene Okerlund of Scrabble. We talked this week with Dallas-based gamer Chris Cree, who psyched himself up for August's National Scrabble Championship with a growling, groaning pregame interview that would make even the Hulkster shudder.
OK, not exactly. The 57-year-old Cree is an affable guy who patiently answered our silly questions regarding his upcoming bid at the national championship. Ranked in the 99th percentile and with seven Texas state championships under his belt, Cree's average score ranges between 390 and 417, according to cross-tables.com, the consummate resource for professional Scrabble-ing. While he admits that Scrabble tournaments are fiercely competitive, they are also where he has met a number of friends (his "archrivals") and who he calls "THE woman," his wife Carla. Cree makes his 20th appearance at the Nationals from August 11 through 15 in Orlando, and while he is proud of his illustrious career, he hopes to finally round it out with a suiting, and yet unrequited, national championship.
But, before you take a gander at our conversation, here's a glossary of terms for reference:
BLOWZIER - (of a woman) course, untidy, red-faced
BOULEVERSEMENT - an inversion, esp. a violent one; an upset or upheaval
YTTERBIUM - chemical element of atomic number 70, a silvery-white metal of the lanthanide series
WINNING - a trance-like state induced through the ingestion of tiger blood and the truculent Cree's 2012 strategy
Are you the type of person who loves words? Or, do you just see letters/words for their point value? Both. I have loved what words convey and the phonetical aspect of words since I was a little boy. Words like "bouleversement" impact me for what they convey. Words like "ytterbium" impact me for their structure.
Do you have a favorite word? Duh. Winning!
If you recall, what is the highest scoring single play you've ever made? If I recall???? BLOWZIER - 329 points. I had the rack BEIRWZ with a blank and thought, "If my opponent were to stick an O in the third position up there (the third spot in between 2 Triple Word Score squares, I will have a pretty big play. Opponent obliged by playing OBLIGED. It took longer to add it up than to play it. 3+0 (for the blank designated as an L) + 1 + 4 + 20 (Z hit Double Letter square) + 1 + 1 + 1 = 31 X 3 = 93 X 3 (again!) = 279 + 50 for using all of my letters = 329.
How competitive are tournaments at this level? Do you have an archrival? Tournament are extremely competitive. That is why we are there. This is the one thing I do better than any other thing and I am among the very best in the world to do so and I like to continue to prove that week in, week out, year in, year out. It is quite gratifying overall, though certainly fraught with disappointments.
I have a number of rivals and archrivals. Two people come to mind. They are champions in their own right and we have been competing for 30 years or more; Dr. Mike Baron from Albuquerque, New Mexico and Darrell Day, who moved here from Kansas about 30 years ago. Mike performed the wedding ceremony for my wife, Carla, and me. Darrell was at my home yesterday, along with some other locals, getting in some games.
Do you still love SCRABBLE, or is it more like a job at this level? I still love it ... and hate it. The best saying I ever saw about golf carries over to Scrabble for me; "(Scrabble) is a lot like love; if you don't take it seriously, it isn't any fun. If you do take it seriously, it'll break your heart."
Do you have a training ritual a la Rocky? Have a Micky Goldmill? Funny you mention "Rocky". I do start playing all of the Rocky training parts and get psyched up watching that and cranking up the music starting about 2 weeks before the big enchilada. I have 2 "Mickey's", sports psychologists Donald Kalkstein and Robert Neff.
We're told that you've made appearances at "19 Nationals, the Worlds, the SCRABBLE Superstars and All Stars." Is this your year to bring home the top spot? I have as good a chance as anyone. I am as well prepared as I have been in a few years. I read a great quote by Rick Carlisle after the Mavericks won their championship that the players had had tremendous success, but until winning the title, were unfulfilled. My Scrabble career has been very successful with 81 tournament victories, but as of yet, is unfulfilled as I have not won the National Championship.
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In the press release, you're quoted as saying that SCRABBLE is a "lifestyle and passion for our group." Do you play every single day? I try to either play or study every day even if just for 30 minutes. Karen Cortell Reisman, author of "Relatively Speaking", teaches speakers that the brain is like a sieve. One needs to keep processing information or the sieve effect takes over. But, you can study too much, too, as the brain can only take in so much at one time. I equate that to fertilizing the yard then watering too much. Soon, the fertilizer just runs off into the street. An hour per day in addition to playing is ideal for me. This keeps words in my "fore-memory" where I can better recognize the combinations of letters and process them quickly.
Has Scrabble ever created a rift in you personal life? Yes, I started playing seriously in 1980 and my wife of 2 years really never grasped the passion that I had for the game. I met THE woman for me on tour 7 years ago. I married within the species, as they say. She is a top player in her own right. I asked her if Scrabble has ever caused a rift between us. She said, "Only when I beat you!!" She is right!
Do you ever tell people it is your "first time to play" before cleaning up during a casual game? (I'm imagining a seedy joint outside of town full of SCRABBLE sharks). I only did something like that one time. About 15 years ago a friend of mine told me there was this cocky guy who, every Saturday and Sunday at the apartment complex pool, set up his board with his dictionary on hand and beat all comers. I showed up one day and just said, "Can I play?" It wasn't pretty.
Now, as copresident of the North American SCRABBLE Players Association, I am more interested in recruiting, so I would never do that.