2023 North American School Scrabble Championship Rules


Elementary- and middle-school students (Championship Division) play in teams of two. High-school students (High School Division) play one against one. (The word “team” is used in these rules to denote one side of a game in either division.)

All teams in the Championship Division play eight games followed by a one-game championship final between the top two finishers. All players in the High School Division play eight games followed by a one-game championship final between the top two finishers.

The games are timed with digital clocks, which will be provided. Each team has a total of 25 minutes per game in which to make all of its plays before incurring an overtime penalty.

At the start of the tournament, competitors are seeded based on ratings from the North American Scrabble Players Association, if applicable. After the first game, competitors are paired with other teams that have similar win-loss records.

The official lexicon for the event is the NASPA School Word List 2020 (NSWL2020).


Confirm that there are 100 tiles before beginning. Order of play (first and second) is determined in advance by computer. The team going first draws seven tiles from the bag and places them on its rack. Then the second team does the same. Once the first team has viewed a tile, its clock is started by the opponent.

Game Play

  1. The first team combines two or more tiles to form a word and places the word on the board to read either across or down with one letter on the center (star) square. The center square doubles the score for the first word.
  2. A team completes a turn by announcing the score and pressing its side of the timer. The team records its score for the turn and its new cumulative score and then draws as many new tiles as played, always keeping seven tiles on its rack (unless the bag is empty).
  3. Play alternates between teams. Each team, in turn, adds one or more tiles to those already played to form new words. Diagonal words are not permitted. All tiles played in a turn must be placed in one row, across or down on the board, to form one complete word. If, at the same time, they touch other tiles in adjacent rows, they must form complete words, crossword fashion, with all such tiles. A team gets full credit for all words formed or modified during a turn.
  4. New words may be formed by:
  • Adding one or more letters to a word or letters already on the board.
  • Placing a word at right angles to a word already on the board. The new word must use one of the letters already on the board or must add a letter to it.
  • Placing a complete word parallel to a word already played so that adjacent letters also form complete words.
  1. No tiles may be shifted after the clock has been pressed.

The Blanks

  1. The two blank tiles may be used as any letter. When playing a blank, the team must circle on the tally slip the corresponding letter represented by the blank before pressing the timer to end its turn. The blank remains that letter for the rest of the game.

Exchanging Tiles

  1. A team may use a turn to exchange all or some of the tiles in its rack. To do this, the team announces how many tiles it will exchange, places the discarded tile(s) facedown, and presses the timer to end its turn.

After pressing the clock, the team draws the same number of tiles from the bag and then mixes the discarded tiles with those in the bag. Tiles cannot be exchanged if there are fewer than seven tiles in the bag; if this occurs a penalty applies, and the player(s) must call for the director.

  1. A team may pass its turn at any time without exchanging any tiles by saying “pass.” The team receives no score for this turn.

Challenging a Play

  1. The NASPA School Word List 2020 (NSWL2020) is used to adjudicate challenges.
  2. Any play may be challenged after the playing team has hit its clock to begin the other team’s turn. If a team wants to consider challenging a play before actually doing so, one of its players must announce “hold” before its opponents have drawn any new tiles. Competitors must allow five seconds after announcing their score before drawing replacement tiles.
  3. When a hold occurs, the challenger cannot draw new tiles for 15 seconds. After this time, the challenger can draw new tiles but must keep them separate from its other tiles until the other team decides to challenge the play or withdraws the hold.

After one minute, if a challenge has not been issued and the clock stopped, the hold is automatically withdrawn, and the play can no longer be challenged.

  1. To challenge the play, the challenger stops the clock and says “challenge.” The challenger then writes on the tally slip any or all of the words formed on that turn. Only the words written down will be used to determine the result of the challenge.

All players walk to the nearest computer challenge station. Following the on-screen instructions, the challengers type in the word or words being challenged. All words being challenged must be entered at the same time. When both teams have verified the spelling of the challenged word(s) as typed on the screen, the team being challenged hits the “Tab” button. The adjudication of the challenge appears on the screen.

  1. If at least one word is found unacceptable, the team being challenged takes back its tiles and loses that turn. If all of the words challenged are acceptable, the challenger loses their turn. There is no penalty for challenging the final play of the game. It is strongly advised that BOTH players on a team agree to challenge. This will help minimize careless challenges.


  1. Both teams are required to record each team’s score. The team making a play must record its turn and cumulative score after a play is announced and before drawing new tiles. Teams should record their opponent’s cumulative score before making their own play.

It is recommended that teams check the score announced by their opponents for accuracy.

It is also recommended that teams check the score with their opponents periodically to ensure accuracy and agreement. Teams can do this during their own turn. Either team may correct a score or addition before the game ends.

Games may not be recounted after completion.

  1. The value of each letter is indicated by a number at the bottom of the tile. The value of the blank is always zero.
  2. The score for each turn is the sum of the letter values in each word formed or modified on that turn, plus the additional points obtained from placing tiles on premium squares.
  3. A double letter square (DLS) doubles the value of a letter placed on it; a triple letter square (TLS) triples the letter value. The score for an entire word is doubled when one of its tiles is placed on a double word square (DWS); it is tripled when one of its tiles is placed on a triple word square (TWS). Include premiums for double or triple letter values, if any, before doubling or tripling the word score.

Letter and word premiums count only on the turn in which they are played. On later turns, tiles already played on premium squares count at face value. When a blank tile is played on a DWS or TWS square, the value of the word is doubled or tripled, even though the blank itself has no score value.

  1. When two or more words are formed in the same play, each is scored. The common letter is counted for each word, and the full premium value, if any, is awarded for both.
  2. Any team that plays all seven of its tiles on a turn scores a premium of 50 points after totaling the score for the turn. This play is commonly called a “bingo.”

Using the Clock

  1. The clock has two digital timers, each set to an initial readout of “25:00”. As time is used, the timers count downuntil they reach “00:00”. At that point, all of a team’s time has been used. After that, the team enters an overtime period with a reduction of 10 points for each minute, or partial minute, that it uses. The time during this period counts up and is always shown with a negative sign in front of it.

Each side of the clock has a button that, when pressed, starts running the other team’s timer. A team is only allowed to press the button on its side. Pressing the button officially ends a team’s turn, and no changes to the play can be made after that point. There is a middle button on the clock, which can be pressed to stop the timer for both sides. This is only done when there is a scoring disagreement, a challenge, a question that requires a director to resolve or when the game ends.

Ending the Game

  1. The game ends when all tiles have been drawn and one team uses its last letter; or when all possible plays have been made; or when there are six successive scores of zero resulting from passes, exchanges, or challenges and the cumulative game score is not zero-zero; or when the round officially ends.
  2. No game may continue after the Director at the podium ends the round. All games will end after 55 minutes regardless of whether teams have completed all possible turns. Additionally, if one team exceeds 10 minutes of overtime, the game ends in an automatic loss for that team.

The Director will periodically announce the time remaining in a game. Once the official end of the round is announced, the team that is not currently taking its turn should press the middle button to stop the clock. Once the clock has been stopped, no tiles can be placed on the board. Neither side may touch the clock again until after both scorecards have been signed.

  1. If a team makes its play and the end of the game is announced by the Director, the team must still draw its replacement tiles. Each team must end the game with full racks unless there are no tiles left in the bag to be drawn. In this case, each team subtracts the total of its unplayed tiles from its score.
  2. If a team uses all of its tiles and the bag is empty, the sum of the other team’s unplayed tiles is doubled and added to the opponent’s score.
  3. The team with the highest score wins the game. In case of a tie, both teams earn 1/2 of a win. The differential between the winning and losing score, known as spread, is limited to a maximum amount per game. In Rounds 1 and 2, this limit is 100 points. In Rounds 3 and 4, it is 150 points. In Round 5 and all subsequent rounds, it is 250 points. These adjustments apply in both the Championship and High School divisions. They are made automatically by computer; players do not need to calculate them.

Additional Regulations

  1. Unless a waiver is granted by the Director, both players on a team must be present for a game to begin. At the start of each round, the Director will start a clock. The game will be forfeited if the team fails to arrive 15 minutes after the round begins, with the opposing team earning a win and 50 points added to its cumulative spread. The forfeiting team is awarded a loss and -50 points of spread.
  2. Always hold the tile bag at eye level or above and avert the eyes when drawing tiles. A player may be disqualified from drawing additional tiles for his/her team if the Director determines that he/she has violated this rule.
  3. Never pronounce, discuss, or define any word(s) played out loud during the game.
  4. Never return any tiles to the bag unless you are exchanging letters on your turn. If you have drawn too many tiles, raise your hand and ask for assistance; an overdraw penalty will be applied.
  5. Tile tracking is allowed. Players may use the tile tracking sheet provided at the tournament or their own version showing the same information.
  6. The use of cellphones, computers, or other electronic equipment, or any printed materials that may assist with play, is prohibited.
  7. Cellphones must be turned off in the tournament room. To avoid any confusion, it is recommended that players leave their phones with a parent, guardian, coach, or other person who is not in the room.
  8. Headphones or earbuds—wired or wireless—are not permitted in the tournament room.
  9. Never communicate with anyone during a game except a teammate, opponent, or event staff.
  10. Never speak in an abusive, offensive, or confrontational tone to your opponent and do not tell them what they can or cannot do. Whenever there is any question or concern, a team should raise a hand and ask to speak with the Director.
  11. If a player must leave the playing area during a game, they may do so only AFTER making a play, starting the opposing team’s clock, and recording the cumulative score. The team with a missing player should not draw new tiles.

If the opposing team makes its play while the player is absent, it starts the clock and records the cumulative score but does not draw tiles. When the absent player returns, the clock should be paused. The clock will be started when the team with the returned player draws its first new tile. That team then has five seconds to hold or challenge the opponent’s play.

  1. All players must remain at the table until the signed results slip has been reviewed and validated by event staff. No other players, coaches, parents, or other persons may approach the game table until the slip has been validated by staff.
  2. Punishment for violation of these rules, including penalty points, forfeits, and disqualification, may be assessed at the discretion of the Director.

Winning the Tournament

The top two finishers qualify to play in a one-game championship final. If multiple teams have the same number of wins, standings order is determined based on cumulative spread. A team’s spread is calculated as explained in Rule 25. For example, if a team wins its first game by 40 points and loses its next game by 10 points, its spread after two games is +30.

Important Note

Final decisions on all rulings are at the discretion of the 2023 North American School Scrabble Championship Director and staff.