- Title: Young Malaysian wordsmith is the "puzzling" future of Scrabble
- Date: 20th December 2019
- Summary: ARIFF HOLDING UP HIS PHONE (SOUNDBITE) (English) MALAYSIAN YOUTH SCRABBLE PLAYER, TENGKU ARIFF SHAH TENGKU SHAHRIR SAYING: "Well, when I was a lot younger, my dad got sort of a junior type of scrabble, one for toddlers. And at one point he saw that I had quite an interest in words, so he signed me up for one competition, but later he knew that it was actually an international competition, the ASCI -- ASTAR Scrabble Challenge International for 2013." ARIFF SITTING MALAYSIAN FLAG ON TENGKU ARIFF SHAH'S SHIRT (SOUNDBITE) (English) MALAYSIAN YOUTH SCRABBLE PLAYER, TENGKU ARIFF SHAH TENGKU SHAHRIR SAYING: "Honestly world champion would be a bit of a longshot since the Thais and the Pakistanis spend who knows how long on training, and they've reached such a high level that it's quite difficult for us Malaysians to catch up. But then one of my goals is to actually get into top 10 in the World Youth Scrabble Championship and this year I'd already gotten top 20, so that's quite close." (LEFT) WORLD NUMBER ONE SCRABBLE PLAYER, GANESH ASIRVATHAM, COACHING ARIFF LETTER TILES ON SCRABBLE BOARD SPELLING OUT: "MURVA" / "OVINE" GANESH COACHING ARIFF GANESH LOOKING ON LETTER TILES ON SCRABBLE BOARD (SOUNDBITE) (English) WORLD NUMBER ONE SCRABBLE PLAYER, GANESH ASIRVATHAM, SAYING: "Previously, it (world scrabble championship location) was always between the UK and U.S., but because of our passion, our commitment and the fact that we have many players who were very, very strong, they actually had the world championship in Malaysia. I think that tells you the commitment given by then Mattel, the game owners. That they saw that actually Asia was the hub for Scrabble, and within Asia, Malaysia was the center or lynchpin when it came to promotion and activities around the region." VARIOUS OF GANESH AND ARRIF PLAYING HAND ARRANGING LETTER TILES SCRABBLE BOARD BEING SPUN AROUND (SOUNDBITE) (English) WORLD NUMBER ONE SCRABBLE PLAYER, GANESH ASIRVATHAM, SAYING: "I want to see, I want to see another Malaysian youth becoming the world youth scrabble champion. The last time we had someone was Ong Suanne, from Penang, many many years ago. Since then, we haven't been fortunate. And myself and the association, along with Mattel, we've been working very hard and very closely with one another to see if we can cultivate a champion for the future." SCRABBLE COMPETITION IN PROGRESS TILES ON SCRABBLE BOARD YOUTH PLAYERS FROM PAKISTAN AND THAILAND COMPETING TILES ON RACK THAI PLAYER LOOKING ON TILES BEING PUT ON BOARD, BOARD SPINNING AROUND
- Embargoed: 3rd January 2020 02:11
- Keywords: Asia Malaysia Pakistan Thailand scrabble world champion young talents
- Location: KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA
- City: KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA
- Country: Malaysia
- Topics: Human Interest / Brights / Odd News,Society/Social Issues
- Reuters ID: LVA003BAS39S7
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Malaysian teenage Scrabble protege Tengku Ariff Shah Tengku Shahrir knows more English words than most adults in the Western world, but he doesn't always know what they mean.
In a recent world championship for young players, Ariff was turning the competitive Scrabble scene on its head by using a combination of probability, maths and memory to defeat opponents whose first language is English.
While it is no surprise that traditionally the criss-cross word game has been dominated by players from the English-speaking world, in the junior ranks, teenagers from countries where the first language is not English like Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Pakistan are gaining prominence.
These young players see tile points and bonus squares as more of a geometric challenge than a test of vocabulary.
"It's a puzzle, it stimulates my mind," 15-year-old Ariff told Reuters in Kuala Lumpur, where he was competing in the WESPA (World English Language Scrabble Players Association) Youth Cup.
Ariff first started playing at age nine when his father bought a junior Scrabble set for him. He was hooked after participating in his first competition that same year. Ariff steadily built up his word skills and when he was 12, he became champion in the under-12 category which was the competition that ignited his interest in the first place.
It's unclear how large the vocabulary of the young wordsmith is. But there is a bucket list of words that he is paying particular attention to, hoping to play them one day, including "CWTCHING", a Welsh word for cuddling.
The game is experiencing a surge in popularity in Asia with governments funding after-school Scrabble clubs to build English language skills, while parents increasingly see it as a fun way for kids to learn.
"Asia was the hub for Scrabble, and within Asia, Malaysia was the center or lynchpin when it came to promotion and activities around the region," said Malaysia's Ganesh Asirvatham, ranked Scrabble's adult world number one player by WESPA.
Asirvatham is also the coach for Ariff and on a recent practice session, the first words played by the the two opponents were "MURVA" a type of plant cultivated for its fibre and "OVINE" - meaning to resemble a sheep.
Malaysia's hopes for a continued winning streak in Scrabble are resting on the young shoulders of players like Ariff, said Asirvatham.
"Myself and the association, along with Mattel, we've been working very hard and very closely with one another to see if we can cultivate a champion for the future."
But for Ariff, who is well aware of stiff competition from other Asian powerhouses like Thailand and Pakistan, has a more modest goal of entering the top 10 at the WESPA Youth Cup in the future. This year he made it to the top 20.
(Production: Ebrahim Harris, Travis Teo)
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