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Tournament checklist

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This tournament checklist was originally written by John Chew around the year 2000, and has been revised since the transition from the NSA to NASPA.

How to Direct a SCRABBLE Tournament

This document covers everything you need to have and do to run a successful SCRABBLE® tournament. If there’s anything missing, please contact John Chew.

The AGA has a much more detailed guide to running Go tournaments, which is worth reading even for SCRABBLE directors.


Two Months Before

At this point, you should have:

  • chosen a date (check for conflict with local events, religious holidays)
  • applied to have your tournament sanctioned by the Tournament Committee; you should really do this as early as you can to alert other local directors so they can work around your scheduled event (there is an absolute 6-week minimum notice requirement for booking an ORT)
  • decided on a schedule (how many 65-minute rounds, how many 7- or 8-round days, start times, breaks)
  • chosen a tournament structure (round-robin or Swiss)
  • decided how much entry fees will be, and what percentage will be returned as prizes (percentages range widely, typically between 50–100%)
  • printed and distributed tournament flyers
  • booked your venue and inspected it to make sure it is suitable
  • recruited your key staff
  • set up a tournament website, including a copy of your flyer and a list of registrants, and (optionally) asked cross-tables to advertise it.

If possible, you should get all of these done as early as twelve months before the date of the tournament.

One Month Before

At this point, you should have:

  • recruited all of your staff
  • sourced a word judge laptop and software
  • chosen tournament management software and tried a few dry runs including unusual situations
  • had a planning meeting with your staff to make sure that everyone knows what they’re doing
  • decided on color-coding for divisions
  • decided on a prize structure
  • decided on a catering menu
  • drawn up a draft budget
  • ordered any noncash prizes that require shipping

One Week Before

At this point, you should have:

  • bought any nonperishable catering supplies
  • bought any noncash prizes
  • obtained all the other supplies that you will need for the event
  • confirmed with your venue and have an emergency contact phone number for your liaison
  • alerted local media
  • announced that registration is closed, except possibly to a player willing to come as an alternate and gamble on playing for free if the numbers would otherwise be odd, or to additional pairs of players if you still have room

One Day Before

At this point, you should have:

  • moved anything that you can to the venue, if it’s secure
  • double-checked everything in this document
  • had your Rules Adjudicator reread the tournament rules
  • had your Pairings Officer set up tournament data files
  • chosen your wardrobe: your most comfortable shoes and layers of clothing to deal with air conditioning or excessive heat and alternately sitting at a computer for long periods and running the length of a tournament room
  • checked for any local circumstances that might affect the ability of players to reach your tournament site: inclement weather, road closures, parades, transit strikes
  • caught up on your sleep

One Hour Before

At this point, you should have:

  • the venue completely set up for the tournament: signage and wall-charts posted, tables and chairs in place, staff table laid out, coffee going for early arrivals
  • be ready to start registration, with nametags and scorecards laid out in alphabetical order ready for players to pick up


It’s good to allow an hour for registration for every hundred registrants. The registrars should check people off on their registration lists and collect any fees owing. They should ask players to pick up their nametag and scorecard. As soon as all the players for each division are present, the pairings officer should be informed.

Opening Ceremony

You should:

  • Thank the players for coming
  • Introduce all your staff
  • Remind players of the schedule
  • Tell players what they should do after each round


See the tsh user’s guide.

For tournaments with a two-player final round, see also the somewhat obsolete Pairing Two-Victor Tournaments.

During the Tournament

  • Prepare cash prize envelopes

Closing Ceremony

You should:

  • Thank the players for coming
  • Thank all your staff by name.
  • Give out prizes from lowest division to highest.
  • Announce your next tournament, invite people to come back.
  • Photograph the division winners.

After the Tournament

You should:

  • Tear down the venue, if necessary
  • Post results to CGP
  • E-file ratings data
  • Check budget
  • Have a follow-up meeting to decide what to improve next time
  • Relax

What You Need


Here is a list of typical categories that you may need to account for.

  • Revenue
    • Entry fees
    • Commuter fees
    • Donations
    • Donations in kind
  • Expenses
    • Catering
    • Donations
    • Equipment Rental
    • Participation Fee
    • Petty Cash
    • Prizes
    • Staff
    • Supplies
    • Venue


If your venue has a catering service, you will probably have to use it. If not, try to get local players to help out. Offer to reimburse them for their expenses, don’t forget to thank them at the closing ceremony.

All through the event you will need:

  • Water service
  • Tea and coffee
  • light snacks

At the start of the day, you will need:

  • Tea and coffee
  • Orange juice
  • pastries

If you can, provide a good lunch for players. A surprising number of players judge tournaments on the food offered, and for many it will be the only time when they can relax and socialize.

Most tournaments do not provide dinner, but if your venue offers you a good deal, it’s certainly worth passing it on to your players. Make sure the menu includes options for players of different dietary needs, including at least vegetarian and kosher.


A reasonable calculation for cash prizes is: 30% of entry fees to the winner of each division, 15% to the runner-up, and another 15% divided among lower-ranked players with the smallest prize being equal to the entry fee. In a large division, use a 30%/10%/10% split instead and give 10% in class prizes to players seeded in the bottom half. In either of these schemes, you could pay prizes to approximately the top quarter of the field.

Some tournaments offer as little as 40-50% prize return on entry fees, especially if their venue or catering expenses are higher than usual; others offer as much as 100% or even several hundred percent, if they can find generous sponsorship. You should budget carefully to see what you can afford, advertise the percentage return, and stick to it.

The NASPA Store offers quantity discounts to NASPA directors wanting to purchase merchandise for use as prizes. Offer these and other noncash prizes as additional place prizes, special category prizes (high word, high/low win, theme words, early bird, door, etc.)


You need staff to fill the following positions. Some people may have more than one job, except as noted.

You need at least one who is not the emcee, as registration for latecomers may overlap with announcements. At least two is a very good idea, to speed processing at busy times. If you have more than 100 players, have at least one registrar for every 50 players, divided if possible according to player divisions.
One person per room, to make announcements and generally keep order. Should be able to speak clearly and concisely.
Rules Adjudicator
At least one for every 200 players. Should be very familiar with the rules. If your players are litigious or inexperienced, one adjudicator for every 100 players is a better ratio. If you are playing in more than one room, you need either one adjudicator for each room, or a runner to summon an adjudicator from each room that has none.
Data Entry Person
One data entry person for every 200 players. Should preferably have experience, must be able to touch-type numbers quickly and with at least 99.95% accuracy.
Pairings Officer
One for every 200 players. Should be qualified to do pairings by hand, in case of an emergency. Is often the same as data entry person.
One person, to keep prizes organized and hand them to the emcee during the prize ceremony. Cannot be the emcee. Should be able to keep a list of items in the right order under pressure.
Catering Coordinator
If you are doing your own catering and don’t have to book it through your venue, one person should be in charge of soliciting contributions from local players, and for making sure that food and drink are put out at appropriate times. Should be able to charm a man into cooking.


You need to obtain the following miscellaneous supplies:

  • adhesive tape, adhesive putty or pushpins for posting printouts
  • baskets/trays for slips and stickers (one per table)
  • blank letter-size paper (at least ten sheets per division per round)
  • cash prize envelopes (one per prize, with some extra)
  • in-box for result slips (one per data entry person)
  • nametags (one per player and staff member, with some extra)
  • paper clips, stapler, staples
  • power strip/bar and/or extension cord, in case nearest outlet is too far or not working
  • spare clock(s), tiles, racks, boards
  • spare printer cartridge (one)
  • word judge laptops, one per 40 players and at least one per room

You might find the following items useful:

  • iPhones or iPod Touches for valet score entry at a paperless tournament, if using tsh
  • laptops and monitors/projectors for displaying electronic scoreboards at a paperless tournament, if using tsh
  • walkie-talkies for staff, if you have more than one room

You no longer need the following items:

  • in-box for Contestant Scorecards (CSCs): they no longer have any official standing, so players should not be turning them in.

You need to bring the following information and documents:

  • tournament flyer
  • venue contract
  • emergency contact numbers for venue liaison and your staff

You need copies of the following documents available:

You need to print the following documents, much of which are available at my supplies page or at [NASPA’s forms page].

  • Combined blank designation/challenge/result slips (tally sheets), colour-coded by division (0.55 per player per round)
  • Contestant scorecards (one per player) colour-coded by division with a few extra. On card stock if possible.
  • Instructions to players on how to fill out forms (one of each per division)
  • Prize sign-up sheets (high win, high play, etc.)
  • Registration list (one per registrar) listing each player by division, and indicating whether they have paid their entry fee and whether their NSA membership is current.
  • One-game tracking/scoresheets (1/3 per player per round)
  • Prize chart for emcee and Vanna’s reference (2)
  • Three-game tracking/scoresheets (1/10 per player per round)

If you are using wall-charts, you will also need:

  • Wall-charts, one per division
  • Wall-chart stickers, colour-coded by type (0.6 W, 0.6 L, 0.01 T per player per round, 2 B per round)


  • Suitable areas to post printed results: you may need permission to post paper on walls, or obtain easels instead
  • Good lighting (bright but no glare)
  • Good ventilation and climate control (players will heat up the room over the course of the day)
  • Accessibility to the handicapped
  • Table space: a Scrabble board measures 24 inches diagonally, and needs space at either end for tile racks, a space to the side to fit a clock and tile bag, and space for a letter-sized scoresheet. It is possible to squeeze this all onto a 30 inch by 30 inch square board, but then players will start stacking extra equipment on the floor, resulting in a tripping hazard. The best tables to use are rectangular banquet tables, either 6 feet long or 8 feet, which can comfortably accommodate four players at two games (or squeeze in a third on an 8-foot table). Tables that are significantly wider than 30 inches may not accommodate short players or players with short reach; a 36 by 36 inch square table will only work for larger players, while a 36-inch round table may work for all players, as long as the board is placed off-center. Tables should be high enough to accommodate wheelchair players (in a pinch, they can be elevated on books or stacks of paper). Some venues offer 18 inch by 6 foot tables; putting these together is a poor substitute for a 30 inch by 6 foot table, because the reach is too far, and the table surface uneven down the middle. Allow for at least one six-foot table for every two staff members, located as close to the exit as is possible; one table for every word judge laptop (may be colocated with staff tables); additional tables may be required for scoreboards.
  • Chairs: each player needs at least one chair. Extra chairs are helpful for: game annotators, keeping player possessions off the floor, stacking chairs to provide extra height for short players. Chairs should be sturdy, not prone to collapsing, comfortable, and of an appropriate height compared to the table.
  • Aisle space: each player must be able to move to the word judge station without disturbing other players during a game, and staff must be able to reach each game without disturbing players. Three feet is enough space for players to walk in single file; four feet for wheelchairs to operate in single file; five feet is required for a wheelchair to rotate; six feet for players to walk side by side or pass each other in opposite directions. Able players will take about 1.5 feet of clearance back from their tables when seated, so when there is an aisle only at one end of the table, there should be at least 1.5 + 3 + 1.5 = 6 feet between rows; or just 1.5 + 1.5 = 3 feet when there are aisles at both ends. If scoreboards are in the room, allow space for half the players to observe them at any one time. On travel days, or days when players can be expected to carry bulky outerwear, allow extra space for storage. Allow extra space at exits to prevent congestion.
  • Overall space requirements: if seating able players at standard 30 inch by 6 foot rectangular banquet tables with aisles at each end of each table, you need a minimum of (1.5 + 2.5 + 1.5) × (1.5 + 6 + 1.5) = 49.5 square feet per table, or 12.5 square feet per player, averaged over a large space (not taking into account extra aisles at the edge of the room); and a maximum of (3 + 2.5 + 3) × (3 + 6 + 3) = 102 square feet per table, or 25 square feet per player. If you are trying to squeeze players into close to the minimum space requirement, draw up a floor plan to make sure that tables and aisles will fit the shape of the room.
    • Example (20 players): six (including one table for staff) standard 30 inch by 6 foot rectangular tables placed in a 2 × 3 grid could be arranged as follows:
      • (3 + 6 + 3 + 6 + 3) × (3 + 2.5 + 3 + 2.5 + 3 + 2.5 + 3) = 21 × 19.5 = 409.5 square feet with three aisles, tightly spaced
      • (6 + 6 + 6 + 6 + 6) × (6 + 2.5 + 9 + 2.5 + 9 + 2.5 + 6) = 30 × 35 = 1,050 square feet with three aisles, loosely spaced
      • (6 + 3 + 6) × (3 + 2.5 + 6 + 2.5 + 6 + 2.5 + 3) = 15 × 25.5 = 382.5 square feet with one central aisle, tightly spaced
      • (6 + 6 + 6) × (6 + 2.5 + 9 + 2.5 + 9 + 2.5 + 6) = 18 × 37.5 = 675 square feet with one central aisle, loosely spaced
      • (3 + 2.5 + 6 + 2.5 + 3) × (3 + 6 + 6 + 6 + 3) = 17 × 24 = 408 square feet with tables oriented parallel to three aisles and no space between ends of tables, tightly spaced
      • (6 + 2.5 + 9 + 2.5 + 6) × (6 + 6 + 6 + 6 + 6) = 26 × 30 = 780 square feet with tables oriented parallel to three aisles and no space between ends of tables, otherwise loosely spaced
    • If you’re working backward from the rectangular dimensions of a potential venue, after checking for obstructions that may reduce the effective dimensions, try orientation tables first one way, then the other. For each orientation, calculate how many tables will fit into a grid. For example, if you have a 20-foot length, you can fit two 6-foot tables leaving 8 feet for aisle space, but you can't fit three 6-foot tables; alternately, 20 feet fits three 2.5-foot table widths and six 1.5-foot chair clearances, with a tight 3.5 feet left over for one aisle.
  • A designated place for other tournament directors to display flyers
  • Designated areas for vendors, if any
  • Electrical outlet(s) near staff table
  • Internet access if you’re providing web coverage