Last year, professional scrabble player Wellington Jighere made Nigeria and Africa proud when he became the first African to win the World Scrabble Championship, defeating England’s Lewis MacKay in 4 straight wins.
Joy Ehonwa had 10 questions for the talented scrabble player whose greatest strength, according to Nigerian Scrabble Federation President Suleiman Gora, is humility.
How did your professional scrabble career begin? Is it what you’ve always wanted to do?
I can’t say that playing scrabble was something I had always wanted to do. It was more like something I was good at that I decided to grow in especially as I had to rely on tournament wins for sustenance in my university days. My scrabble career started in 2002 when I ran into some friends in our then neighbourhood in Warri who were tournament players. They played me, saw a lot of promise and informed me about the next tournament. I never looked back after then.
When you first started out, did you think you would succeed at this magnitude?
No and yes. No, because as at when I started out, I wasn’t even aware of “this level” in the first place. Yes, because I had always risen above the competition in every field I’d made up my mind to engage my mental faculties. The major milestone was in 2007 after participating in the World Scrabble Championship (WSC) as a first time competitor and finishing in 3rd place. It occurred to me that if I’d only trim off a few rough edges, I’d rule the world of scrabble one day.
How do you prepare for a competition?
Preparation for competitions is a pretty tedious process of systematic study and practice. Over the years, I have done quite a lot of experimentation and as such one can say that my understanding of the game and how best to handle different “game situations” is much more sophisticated than the average person out there can imagine. My experiments, especially in the area of fatigue management, are pretty much novel in a field like ours.
Who do you look up to or consider a mentor in your life?
In the game of scrabble, the only person I look up to is Nigel Richards of New Zealand. I rate him as the most successful sportsman alive. He has set so high a bar for performance that breaking just one of his records, such as having won the WSC a record three times, would be extremely fulfilling for me. In other areas of life, my mentor is our Daddy in Nigerian Scrabble, Brig. Gen. Gold Eburu Rtrd. He is the most benevolent soul you’d ever meet. I can only hope to have a heart that’s half as large as his one day.
What do you enjoy most about playing scrabble professionally?
Playing scrabble professionally is a very taxing endeavour. As such you can agree with me when I say there’s little left to enjoy except for the aftermath of winning major championships. For me, scrabble is strictly business. If you want to talk about a game I enjoy playing, then we’d be talking about chess. It is when I’m playing chess that I really get lost in sublime enjoyment which is why I have refused to develop my chess to a competitive level because at a competitive level, it stops being fun. It becomes all business. I have scrabble for that.
What do you consider to be the most challenging aspect of professional scrabble?
Overcoming the element of chance to maintain consistency in performance. If left to chance, especially in the midst of so many equally great players, one can hardly ever garner sufficient wins in a tourney to emerge tops. This means you have to sweat to win games that you’d ordinarily have no business winning.
How would you describe your ideal woman?
Someone who understands that it takes a team to live a successful life. A woman who’d stand by her man through the vicissitudes of life as her man would stand by her. That, to me, is more important than looks or even brains.
Which book(s) you are reading now?
It’s been long since I actually read a book, but I generally enjoy reading books that can motivate one to lead a more purposeful life.
What tips or advice would you offer a parent looking to groom a World Scrabble Champion like yourself?
Start early. Scrabble academies for youngsters are increasingly becoming common. Plus there are a lot of proficient Scrabble Masters all over the country that you can approach to coach your child. Irrespective of where you’re based in the country, you can contact me on Facebook and I’d hook you up at an affordable fee.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
Within the next five years, I plan on winning the WSC at least one more time. Away from the playing arena, I intend to make monumental impact not just on my country but the African continent at large through the instrumentality of my foundation (the Wellington Foundation for Scrabble and Mind Development in Africa).