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Casual tournament

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While NASPA's main interest is competitive SCRABBLE play, our members and directors are often involved in less formal play, to help promote the game and recruit potential members for their clubs and tournaments. At some point, most of us will be asked to help run a casual tournament. Here are some questions to guide you in planning a successful event. For a more in-depth look at what's involved in running a competitive event, see our tournament checklist.

What is the purpose of the event?
Fun, publicity, fundraising, some combination of the above?
Do players need to preregister, or can they drop in to play?
If you are trying to fundraise a lot of money, organize a structured tournament with prizes for overall performance, or make sure that you can fill a room or meet catering commitments, preregistration is a good idea.
Do you have enough equipment to play?
Ideally, you need well-lit, relatively quiet space with tables that are at least 30" across, appropriate chairs, a floor surface where dropped equipment won't get lost, as well of course as boards, racks, tiles, scoresheets or scrap paper, pens/pencils, and if playing seriously game clocks, tile bags and word adjudication software such as Zyzzyva. If you don’t have easy access to enough playing equipment, ask your local club director, or order from the NASPA Store.
Do you have enough staff to run the event?
If you're used to running a competitive event with a 50:1 player-to-staff ratio, you may be surprised at how much more demanding casual players are due to their lack of familiarity with procedures or rules. For a casual event, a 10:1 ratio for adult players and a 5:1 ratio for child players is better. Again, if you are short on staff, try working with your local club, which are usually full of people willing to help out at SCRABBLE events, especially if the cause is right.
Are you charging an entry fee?
If you need to pay for your playing space, prizes or other expenses, or are trying to fundraise, then you'll need to collect money.
How seriously are people going to be playing?
Tournament players are used to two-player games played according to tournament rules in silent, sterile conditions. People may have more fun playing three- or four-player games with access to food, drink and word lists during play (possibly in exchange for a fundraising donation). If you think you're going to have a mix of serious and casual players, you have to be careful about how you design your event: separate them into different divisions if possible, and make sure that serious players don't ruin the fun for the casual ones.
Are you giving out prizes?
You will always attract more players by giving out prizes, no matter what the scale or purpose of your event. It's important though to keep prizes appropriate for your event: if you give away prizes that are too big or desirable though, you invite collusion, cheating, and professional players.
What are you awarding prizes for?
In a competitive tournament, you would usually have prizes for first place, second place, etc., or for high-scoring word or game, or more arcane categories easily computable by tournament management software. Players would typically play several rounds, then be ranked according to wins, losses and spread (the total amount by which they have outscored their opponents). In a casual event, you may just want to give out a prize each round (if you even have more than one round), or for specific achievements (making a play scoring at least 40 points, making a seven-letter play, finishing a game first, making a word that fits a certain theme). Be careful to make sure that the tournament structure ensures that the prizes don't all go to the same person. On a technical note, if you are awarding prizes for game scores and not everyone is playing with the same number of players in each game, be sure to prorate scores for fairness.
How are you keeping track of results?
In a competitive tournament, you might use tournament management software (e.g., TSH). In a casual event, especially one that only lasts one round, or where people are dropping in and out all the time, it may be easier just to keep track of results on a spreadsheet, or not to keep track of results at all if you're not awarding prizes for first place. Competitive tournaments use very specialized reporting forms for results; their use in casual events tends to be counterproductive because it takes too long to explain their correct use to everyone: it's better just to give out scoresheets and have players turn them in at the end if you need them to.
What rules are players going to play by?
Tournament players have their official rules, which only govern 2-player play. If playing with more then two, remember that if a player uses his/her last tile and it can't be replenished, he/she collects everyone else's remaining tile values, and everyone subtracts their own tile values. You may also want to decide that everyone gets the same number of turns (so play may continue after one player is out), or that there's an overall time limit to the game (so that you can get everyone to play another game).