Financial planner David Pearl, 28, never thought he would make it to the final round of the National Scrabble Assn. tournament in Chicago when he started playing the game in local competitions only one year ago.
But after spelling words including "obeah" for 98 points and "ixia" when he was stuck with too many vowels and winning three challenges of the word "otic," he won first place and $1,045.
The honors came after he played 33 games over five days in a division of about 130 players from the United States and Canada. There were more than 500 competitors altogether, only a handful younger than 30. He was the only player out of half a dozen from Orange County to win money.
"There are memory tricks, like memorizing certain six- and seven-letter words, which is fun," Pearl said. "I don't even know what half of the words mean."
Pearl said he studies the official Scrabble dictionary, which contains 100,000 words, and other word lists, but the game also requires "a mathematical or scientific mind," he said.
Pearl started playing Scrabble seriously in weekly games at an IHOP on Beach Boulevard. Before that, his father, a bridge tournament player, tried to get him into that game. But Pearl said he found Scrabble more intellectual.
"It's a wonderful hobby," he said, "that anyone can pick up pretty quickly, unlike bridge or chess."