Immerse yourself in the captivating world of “Word Wizards,” a documentary that delves deep into the heart of competitive Scrabble.

Journey to Belleville, Ontario, where the Canadian Scrabble Classic unfolds, revealing the intense, strategic battles that go beyond mere wordplay.

This film invites you into the lives of passionate players, whose stories of dedication, camaraderie, and personal triumph illuminate the rich tapestry of this unique community.

From the adrenaline of competition to the profound friendships formed across the board, “Word Wizards” explores the spellbinding allure of Scrabble, where every letter counts in the quest for victory and self-discovery.

Join us on this extraordinary adventure, and discover what it truly means to be a part of the world of competitive Scrabble.

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Featuring:

Christine Cardinal

Christine Cardinal - Word Wizards

Christine Cardinal, from Montreal, has been a competitive Scrabble player for over 20 years, finding her tribe in the Scrabble community after discovering the book Word Freak. She emphasizes the importance of community and welcoming newcomers, understanding that first impressions are crucial, especially in a community with many introverts. Christine is passionate about the diversity and inclusivity within the Scrabble community, appreciating how it unites people from various backgrounds through their shared love for the game. Her involvement extends to organizing events that foster social interaction and community building. Inspired by Stefan Fatsis’s influence and his book, Christine has contributed to the community by starting a school Scrabble club, aiming to provide a nurturing environment for young and diverse minds. She believes in the power of Scrabble to offer a sense of belonging and accomplishment, especially to those who may not find it in other social circles or activities.

Joshua Castellano

Joshua Castellano, hailing from Vienna, Virginia, has dedicated 14 years to mastering Scrabble, guided by his father’s footsteps, a seasoned tournament player. His journey into competitive Scrabble began with a curiosity for two-letter words, the foundational “glue” of the game. Joshua’s strategic focus includes mastering high-scoring short words and probable bingos, aiming for the 50-point bonus that comes with using all seven tiles on the rack. Beyond specific strategies, he emphasizes consistent study, learning from mistakes, and engaging with top players as keys to improvement, rather than relying on innate talent. Despite the luck factor inherent in Scrabble, Joshua’s approach is rooted in continuous self-improvement rather than singular victories. His commitment extends to traveling extensively for tournaments, balancing passion with practicality. Joshua views Scrabble as a unique blend of skill and chance, emphasizing long-term progress over immediate results and finds that while Scrabble skills may not directly translate to other life areas, the discipline of memorization and improvement mindset are valuable takeaways.

Michael Fagen

Michael Fagan, a Scrabble enthusiast from Montreal, Quebec, discovered his passion for the game at an early age, starting in family games and advancing to local club participation by age 14. With his first tournament in 2011 and U.S. competition debut in 2015, Fagan’s analytical mind, honed through a love for numbers and spatial awareness, found a perfect outlet in Scrabble. His early talent was evident from childhood moments of creative word play with fridge magnets and Scrabble tiles, showing an innate ability for pattern recognition and a love for words. Fagan’s preparation for tournaments leans less on rote memorization and more on strategic analysis using tools like Crackle and reviewing online games, aiming to optimize his play and outmaneuver opponents. Despite a slow start in a recent tournament, his determination and skill have previously led him to a national championship victory, surprising even himself with his prowess. Fagan emphasizes luck, strategy, and making the best possible play each turn as key components to competing with top-tier players, underscoring the unpredictable and challenging nature of high-level Scrabble competition.

Josh Greenway

Josh Greenway, a Toronto-based Scrabble enthusiast, has elevated the game from a hobby to a cornerstone of his life, merging passion with community. Discovering Scrabble through the bestselling book “Word Freak,” Josh ventured into the local Toronto club, embarking on a journey that spanned over 15 years of playing and organizing tournaments. With a deep appreciation for words and strategy, Josh’s engagement goes beyond competition; he’s instrumental in fostering a vibrant, inclusive Scrabble community. His work, alongside his partner Kieran O’Connor, focuses on creating enjoyable experiences for players of all levels, emphasizing the game’s potential for connection and intellectual growth. As someone who benefits personally and professionally from his involvement, Josh’s commitment to Scrabble is a testament to the game’s enduring appeal and its capacity to build bridges across diverse groups, fostering friendships and a sense of belonging.

Jason Keller

Jason Keller, a 9-time Jeopardy champion from Princeton, New Jersey, has woven his passion for competitive puzzles into a successful 15-year Scrabble career. Inspired by Stefan Fatsis’s Word Freak during graduate school, Keller transitioned from dominating four-handed Scrabble games among friends to excelling in official tournaments. His strategic prowess, honed through quiz bowl competitions and a keen interest in crossword puzzles, naturally extended to Scrabble, emphasizing the importance of wordplay, anagrams, and quick calculations. Keller’s disciplined approach involves consistent word study and game review, focusing on process rather than outcomes to maintain composure against competitive fields. His journey is not just about personal achievement but also celebrates the vibrant Scrabble community, camaraderie, and the unique opportunities to connect and travel. Keller’s story is a testament to the intellectual thrill and deep communal bonds fostered by Scrabble, underpinned by his remarkable success in Jeopardy, illustrating a lifelong commitment to the pursuit of knowledge and competitive excellence.

Joey Mallick

Joey Mallick, from South Portland, Maine, has competed in Scrabble for 28 years, amassing over 5,000 tournament games. His initial interest in Scrabble stemmed from a love for words and numbers, deepening upon discovering its competitive side. Mallick values the camaraderie within the Scrabble community, enjoying the shared experiences and strategic discussions. Mallick emphasizes no secrets to success at the expert level, aside from continuous learning and adapting to updates in the Scrabble lexicon. He advises newcomers interested in competitive Scrabble to use online tutorials and analyze past games to improve their skills. Mallick’s approach to Scrabble—combining preparation, adaptability, and community engagement—showcases the game’s complexity and the dedication required to excel in it.

Heather McCall

Heather McCall, originally from Toronto’s suburbs, was drawn to Scrabble from a young age, playing with her mother through high school and university. After graduation, seeking community and competition, she joined the Toronto Scrabble Club at 22. Her early experience was marked by the warm welcome of an eclectic group of intelligent individuals, offering her support and guidance in the game. Unlike many players focused on memorizing extensive word lists, Heather gravitated towards strategic aspects of Scrabble, like board management and offensive versus defensive play. She acknowledges her enjoyment in strategy over word study. Heather’s personal life intertwined with Scrabble when she reconnected with the club and met Crayne Stanier, her now-partner, amid a transitional phase in her life.Their friendship blossomed into romance and together, they share a love for games, trivia, and competitive spirit, even incorporating Scrabble into their daily routine via an app, symbolizing their shared passions and dynamic relationship.

Kieran O’Connor

Kieran O’Connor, hailing from Syracuse, New York, transitioned from a supportive parent to a pivotal figure in the competitive Scrabble community. His journey began 16 years ago when his son, Matthew, a top-level player, started competing at the age of eight. Kieran initially lent a hand at local tournaments in Albany, New York, eventually leading the organization of these events after the passing of a key figure in the Scrabble community. His technical expertise and love for the game have seen him evolve into the data guru of tournaments, handling the electronic aspects and ensuring smooth operations behind the scenes. Beyond the competitive edge, Kieran cherishes the camaraderie and social gatherings that tournaments foster, highlighting the inclusive and skill-based nature of the Scrabble community. His commitment extends to nurturing the next generation of players through school programs and major events like the North American Scrabble Championship, underscoring his integral role in both the logistical and social fabric of this unique competitive world.

Matthew O’Connor

Matthew O’Connor is a distinguished competitive Scrabble player, whose journey began with childhood games against his mother and evolved under the influence of his father, who ran local tournaments. Known for his strategic depth and analytical approach, Matthew harnesses programs like Zyzzyva for study and emphasizes the game’s mix of perfect and imperfect information. His commitment to Scrabble is driven by its intellectual challenge, the camaraderie among players, and a desire to ascend the rankings. Respected in the competitive circuit, he admires peers like Matthew Tunnicliffe, Jason Keller, and friend Josh Castellano. Beyond Scrabble, Matthew’s strategic mindset extends to poker and sports betting, though he finds unique intellectual fulfillment in Scrabble’s strategic nuances. His meticulous approach to preparation and game review highlights his passion and dedication, making him a formidable and respected figure in the Scrabble community.

Max Panitch

Max Panitch, hailing from Toronto, has been a competitive Scrabble player since 2001, initially drawn to the game through family games and later seeking it out as a solace during a period of boredom and depression. He attributes his initial attraction to the spatial element of Scrabble, likening it to a sport, but his interest evolved to encompass the linguistic aspect, appreciating the challenge of learning and recognizing a vast array of words. To prepare for tournaments, Panitch dedicates hours daily to studying words through flashcards, a method he believes significantly contributes to his success in the game. He suggests that his strengths as a player lie in spatial awareness and an extensive vocabulary, which help him discern potential words on the board. Panitch views the Scrabble community as friendly and like-minded, with the game fostering connections among players who share a deep passion for wordplay. His approach to improvement involves analyzing past games with computer assistance, identifying missed opportunities and mistakes, thereby constantly expanding his vocabulary and refining his strategy.

Crayne Stanier

Crayne Stanier, a musician from Toronto with a deep-seated passion for word games, stumbled upon the Scrabble community through a Facebook app, reigniting his childhood enjoyment of Scrabble and Boggle. His exceptional skill quickly became apparent during a casual game night, leading him to competitive play within the club scene. Scrabble not only rekindled Stanier’s love for strategic wordplay but also facilitated a significant personal connection with Heather, highlighting a new, meaningful chapter in his life. Despite recognizing the intense dedication required for top-tier Scrabble success—encompassing constant study, strategy, and adaptation to changing word lists—Stanier values the game for its social bonds, intellectual challenge, and the life lessons it imparts, such as strategy, patience, and sportsmanship, enriching his life beyond the board.

Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes, from Cambridge, Ontario, and originally from England, has been playing club Scrabble since 1996. Drawn to the game for his love of games and a positive early experience at a local club, Sykes has seen variable success in tournaments due to Scrabble’s unpredictable nature. Despite being considered an underdog, he’s had a strong performance in recent tournaments, attributing his success partly to luck. Sykes emphasizes the role of skill and strategy, particularly in managing the game’s end phase and calculating moves based on remaining tiles, akin to chess. He admires players like Joey Mallick for their exceptional word knowledge and strategic acumen, noting the importance of assessing risk and making optimal plays. Challenges and phonies play strategic roles, with Sykes taking risks based on game circumstances. 

Matthew Tunnicliffe

Matthew Tunnicliffe, from Ottawa, Canada, has been playing Scrabble tournaments since 2006 and casually since childhood. He attributes Ottawa’s strength as a Scrabble hub to the competitive spirit among players, likening it to an “arms race” that pushes everyone to improve. Tunnicliffe is drawn to Scrabble’s blend of strategy and vocabulary, finding satisfaction in applying studied words to win games. He values tournaments for the opportunity to compete against top players from different regions, emphasizing the diverse strategies and playstyles encountered. Against strong strategists like Matthew O’Connor, Tunnicliffe notes the importance of word knowledge and quick play. Tunnicliffe cherishes the Scrabble community’s diversity and shared passion, despite initial perceptions of it being an older person’s hobby. Looking ahead, he aims for larger achievements beyond single tournament wins, targeting the North American championship in Indiana as a significant goal.