The Nationals are WESPA Rated

Long time readers from our site may recall our profile article posted at a time when New Zealand announced its hosting of the annual Seniors Championship.

New Zealand, as a Scrabble nation, has produced a number of great players who have graced the world stage but, as the article stated, the gap of hosting an internationally rated event outside the Trans Tasman series against Australia was about to be rectified.

That was in 2017, and, since then, NZ has gone on to host a Christmas in July event last year.

2019, however, features the exciting news that two of the premier events on the NZ calendar will be making their debut on the WESPA calendar.

The NZ Masters is an invitational event normally held at Easter and is restricted to the top 24 NZ ranked available players, as at the previous 31 December.

The NZ National Scrabble Championship is an open entry tournament and is played on the Queen's Birthday weekend (the first weekend in June). This year marks the 40th time this event has been run.

Howard Warner (10 time NZ National Champion) observed of the first ever nationals: "{they] were held in Tauranga in 1980, attracting 80 competitors. It was a mere four games, and the title was decided on the highest points total of the best three games. Controversially, was won by someone who had only played two games (averaged out to give her the third) because she had to attend a wedding!"

It's always been held in June, and aside from the first ever event, has been run over two days. The number of games has expanded to 11 all the way to 15, which is the way it has been since 2000, always in a round robin format over a number of grades.

This year, in line with the new WESPA rating status, it has expanded to three days and 22 games, working under a double round robin format.

2017 National Champion Joanne Craig

2018 National Champion Dylan Early

This year, the venue for the NZ Nationals is Wellington, a venue Howard Warner describes as "New Zealand’s geographical, political and cultural centre. Dubbed by a leading tourism magazine as “the coolest little capital in the world”, [it is the] home of ‘Wellywood’ – Peter Jackson’s studios and Weta Workshops’ film special-effects empire.

"The Wellington Bridge Club is on the edge of the CBD, next door to legendary author Katherine Mansfield’s childhood home and just up the road from parliament. It’s a spacious, well-equipped venue. And there is plenty of accommodation in the area."

For Aussies wanting to make the trip over, Wellington is a 3hr 40 minute flight from Sydney and about 4hrs from Melbourne/Brisbane. There is typically at least one flight out a day to Wellington from these cities (usually more from Sydney and Melbourne).

To the event itself, and two names dominate the honour board: Howard Warner has won it 10 times with Jeff Grant (who had missed the first ever held but never missed one since) having won it 16 times.

The 2019 title is not an easy one to pick with a number of form players in the running.

Dylan Early (from South Africa and recently settled in NZ) is the current Champion, having won it at his first attempt. Later in 2018, he went on to win the individual title at the Trans Tasman Challenge. The previous winner, Joanne Craig, has taken out the title a number of times as well.

Then, there is Alastair Richards, formerly from Australia and now living in Auckland, where he works as a surgeon. Lyres Freeth, now married to Alastair, is looking to win her first Nationals (Howard Warner noting she has been close several times).

And this is before you add in both Warner and Grant.

Asked for his thoughts on the title, and Howard reckons "the smart money is on Alastair – unless his namesake Nigel Richards makes a surprise appearance. Or any other as-yet-unconfirmed overseas visitor?"

We cannot wait to see how this pans out.

Photos published with thanks to Joanne Craig and Lyres Freeth. Additional text supplied with thanks to Howard Warner