Belfast Telegraph

Word that spelt disaster for world's top Scrabble player - tremelo

By Anne Madden

New Northern Ireland Scrabble champion Brett Smitheram (left), from London, with former champ, Belfast man Paul Gallen stewart holden

IT wasn’t exactly a red letter day as the world number one Scrabble player from Belfast had his crown threatened by a word wizard from London yesterday.

Three-times Northern Ireland Scrabble champ Paul Gallen was left shaking after losing his Northern Ireland crown yesterday when former UK champion Brett Smitheram streaked ahead with the word ‘tremolo’ in the penultimate game of the local tournament.

The word, which is a musical term, was the turning point in the championship and saw the 31-year-old topple the reigning champion.

Both players had 10 wins and threes losses in the marathon 13 games played over the weekend at the Beechlawn House Hotel, in Dunmurry.

But as Paul explained, he was left scrabbling by the point difference: “Brett finished on a 735-points spread and mine was 355 points, so I needed to win the last game by 199 to beat him, which was an uphill task.”

However, the 24-year-old solicitor is confident of retaining his world number one ranking, gained after competing in Malaysia last month.

“I came fourth in the Causeway championship in Malaysia, which pushed me to number one in the rankings,” Paul said.

“I’ve won the Northern Ireland championship for the last three years, so I can’t be greedy, but this shouldn’t scupper my world ranking.”

A total of 27 players from as far away as Australia took part in the Northern Ireland tournament which is open to anyone and attracts top players.

It has only been running five years but has already established a reputation as one of the most difficult tournaments.

It was against the youngest competitor, Alistair Richards (18), who had flown all the way from Australia, that Brett played the killer word ‘tremolo’.

He used all seven letters in his rack and so gained a 50-point bonus to take the driving seat in the game.

“I’ve won the British championship but haven’t won in Ireland before so I was really pleased,” Brett said.

“The tournament is a friendly environment so there was no animosity about me winning — besides the champion had won the last three years in a row.”

The pair are set to face each other at the World Scrabble Championships later this year, which are expected to take place in Poland.

Paul established himself as a word wizard when he was crowned 2006 Champion of Champions on popular TV gameshow, Countdown.

“After I won Countdown, I couldn’t go any further with it so I decided to move into Scrabble,” he said.

The Northern Ireland Scrabble Players Association is hoping Banbridge teenager Eoin Monaghan, who was last year’s Countdown runner-up, will follow in Paul’s footsteps.

The association had invited him to the weekend tournament but the 14-year-old was unable to attend.

“Eoin would be super at Scrabble — a great prospect for the future,” added Paul.

“It’s a very enjoyable game and taking part in tournaments I get to see a bit of the world.

“There are a couple of big money events but it is nothing like poker!”


The word game Scrabble was created in 1938 in the USA by architect Alfred Mosher Butts. Today it is sold in 121 countries in 29 different languages with 150 million sets sold. The tagline of the American TV show of the game was: ‘Every man dies; not every man truly Scrabbles.’

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