Beyond the Triple- Triple.
If you already know enough about Words with Friends (WWF) to not set up your opponent to play a Triple Letter – Triple Word combination, this strategy guide is for you. Let’s get beyond the basic defensive strategy tips that abound on the internet.
You have to balance several factors in each play. You would like to score as many points as possible that turn. You would like to limit your opponent’s options. You would like to leave yourself with a good tray for next turn. Maybe you would even like to leave the board playable for you (e.g. If you hold the Q, maybe you leave an I next to TL. Another basic tactical point that you can find anywhere – know the 2-letter words.)
How do you balance all these factors?
I start with one basic premise, one fundamental strategy – tile control. Use as many tiles as possible. Like time on the clock in American football, tiles are the life-blood of WWF. (In a 2011 playoff game against the NY Jets, the Pittsburgh Steelers held onto the ball for over 10 minutes, in a single scoring drive.) Similarly in WWF (and in Scrabble), if you consistently play 5, 6, or 7 letters, you will use up all the oxygen of the game, severely limiting your opponent’s options. (That being said, you do want to be careful about surrendering Triple-Triples, Double-Doubles, and even simple TWs.) It’s a balancing act.
So, all other factors being equal, I prefer to make a longer word, rather than a shorter one.
The second factor is the maximum number of points that you can make in a turn. For a moment, forget all considerations except scoring as many points as possible on that turn. Figure it out. Say it is 27 points. You do not necessarily make that play. But use it as a point of reference. Can you make a 24-point word that uses up two additional tiles? Can you make a 23-point word that leaves your tray in a much better position for next time? And so forth. Think of the point differential between your ‘maximum possible word’ and your ‘best strategic word’ as a cost. Are you willing to ‘pay’ so many points for the better strategic option?
Bingos not only get a 35-point bonus, but also, by definition, use up seven letters. Thus they are desirable from a “ball control” perspective, as well as the 35 point bonus. But Bingos don’t just happen. They usually result from tray management. Briefly, if you want to score a Bingo, you you to manage your tray toward one of the letter combinations that offer many options for seven-letter words. The key word “RESTRAINED” is what I usually aim for. There is a whole Scrabble-based strategy around so-called “Bingo stems,” which you can search for further information. In short, common letters, especially the multi-purpose S, R, D, and E, are good. An even balance of consonants and vowels is good. Generally, I try to avoid two of any one letters, with the possible exception of two Es. (Your mileage may vary, but I find it surprisingly easier to use a mix of single letters.)
So, throughout the game, in each turn, you want to consider your various objectives (build a good tray, keep a ‘safe’ board, etc.). Consider which plays would further which goals, and how much those plays will ‘cost’ you. For example, if I am holding R,E,S,T,A,M,Y, and it’s fairly early in the game, and the board is fairly open, with 2 or 3 or more Bingo-able places, then I’d like to play the M,Y. Fine, but what’s the maximum point play I could make that turn? How many points can I get if I play just the M,Y? And what is the difference? What is the “point cost?”
You are most likely to be able to score a Bingo early to midway through a game. Late in the game, when the board is all cramped, you’ll find there’s no room for Bingos, and you must change your strategy appropriately, and value tray-management a little less in your point-cost calculation.
The Option Play
As I alluded to early on, much of the “defense, defense, defense” advice on the internet is overdone. It also makes for boring games. When considering various plays, do not overlook “option plays,” where you open up two Triple Word opportunities: one for your opponent, one for you. If you look at a WWF board, you will see that a play along the second row (or column), a Double-Double, where you cover two Double Words, will open up two Triple Words. Aside from the point value of the Double-Double, I don’t hesitate to play where I open up two distinct TWs or two other potentially high-scoring positions. If I can make my desired play right now, and the offensive possibilities in the next two moves (one by my opponent, one by me) are even, then I’ll gladly take that chance.
The End Game
As the number of unplayed tiles dwindles, other factors come in to play. First, it’s easy to see if any of the Big Five (Z,Q,J,X,K) have been played. And, the better track you can keep of played letters, the better. It’s an easy search to find out how many of each letter there are in WWF. I also recall that there are five of the letter S.
If it’s late in the game, and the Q is still unplayed, then you must not leave an I or a U in a playable situation.
As the end of the game approaches, it is triply important to use your high-value letters. It’s obvious that if you get stuck with the Z, you are docked 10 points and your opponent is credited with 10 points. But that’s incomplete. If you play the Z, then you get (at least) 10 points, and then you are not docked the 10 for getting stuck with it, and your opponent does not get his 10 points. If my explanation of the math is poor, work it out for yourself. The swing, the total point differential, between playing a letter and getting stuck with it is three times the value of the letter. So, late in the game, when there are 20 or fewer letters left, be sure to play your high value letters, even if you can’t place them on a DL, DW, TL, or TW.
From the above, it’s really worthwhile to go out first. In any reasonably close game, whoever goes out usually wins. Once again, tray management comes into play. Think ahead to the point in the game where there are no more tiles in the bank, and you have 5 left to play. Are you holding (for example) Y,H,M,U,I? Or something like R,A,N,S,E? Thus, as the game wears on, look ahead to the end, and, to the extent possible, use up those hard-to-play letters. Obviously, once there are no more tiles to draw, it’s too late.
When there are less than 10 unplayed tiles, it’s worth figuring out what the “leave” will be. Most plays consist of 3 or 4 letters. Ideally, your opponent draws the last unplayed letters, filling his tray back up to seven, permitting you to make a 4+ letter play, setting you up to go out in the following turn. So, back up from that ideal situation. If there are 6 letters left in the bank, and it’s your turn, maybe a short word in better. On the other hand, if you use up all 6, then your opponent is set up to go out ahead of you.
You can even plan specific words. Suppose you have the only remaining S (and that both blanks have been played.) Then, in that case, only you will be able to play that S on the end of certain words on the board. If you were holding, for example, W,E,R,T,Y,A,S … then you could tentatively plan on playing ‘WARTS’ on that spot where only you could play the S.
Good luck; just don’t share this with any of my regular WWF opponents. 🙂