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Chicago Scrabble Club: Defining the Game From 'Quezales' to 'Quixotry'

By Justin Breen | December 6, 2013 7:39am
 The Chicago Scrabble Club, which has about 20 members, meets about once a month in Lakeview.
Chicago Scrabble Club
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LAKEVIEW — "Reequips" is defined as "to provide with new equipment," but it has an entirely different meaning to Doug Lundquist.

"That's the best Scrabble word I ever played," the Lakeview resident said, vividly recalling the time he used the word to beat a computer opponent in 2004.

Lundquist scored a personal best 302 points using "reequips," laying it out over two "triple word" spots on the board with the "q" resting on a "double letter" spot. It also led to Lundquist tallying more than 600 points in Scrabble for the first time — a mark he's broken on several occasions since.

Lundquist is the No. 1 Scrabble player in Chicago, according to the North American Scrabble Players Association, the game's governing body. He owns a $150 Scrabble board, which spins like a lazy susan and even has his name plated in gold and black on one end.

 The Chicago Scrabble Club, which has 20 members, meets about once a month in Lakeview.
The Chicago Scrabble Club, which has 20 members, meets about once a month in Lakeview.
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DNAinfo/Justin Breen

The 42-year-old participates in several Scrabble groups in the suburbs, but he said he couldn't find one in the city with tough opponents, so he founded Chicago Scrabble Club about six months ago. The club, which has 20 members, including six women, meets once a month in restaurants throughout Lakeview. The sessions last several hours, and games finish somewhat rapidly because each player has a 25-minute time limit.

"New members are welcome, and everyone is encouraged to come out and try, but there's a good chance their weaknesses with be revealed to them," said Lundquist, a teacher and researcher in Web analytics at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Five of the club's members met Thursday night at Noodles and Company, 3419 N. Southport Ave., which Uptown's Al Helfgott said has "good food and alcohol, which is part of the reason I joined this club."

But the game is also serious business for Helfgott, 53, a 30-year Scrabble veteran who has had several games with six "Bingos" — when a player uses all seven of his tiles and receives bonus points.

"I'm waiting for that lucky time when I hit seven Bingos," he said. "I've had a seventh Bingo on my rack one time, but there was nowhere to put it on the board."

Helfgott also scored a 713 on Feb. 7, 2002 — one of the few times a Chicagoan has broken the 700 threshold. "Holy crap!" was the response of Lundquist (best game: 630) when Helfgott proudly announced his highest score ever.

The greatest Scrabble performance by a Chicagoan was Nick Ballard's 792 in 1980, which is 38 points less than the all-time record of 830 from Massachusetts' Michael Cresta, who also set a mark in that game with the 365-point word "quixotry."

Chicago Scrabble Club's Dan Terkell, of Uptown, pulled off no small feat when stringing together "quezales" — the plural form of a tropical bird with golden-green or scarlet plumage — for 275 points 15 years ago.

Terkell, 68, who graduated from Lake View High School and Northwestern University's Downtown campus, started his Scrabble adventures three decades ago when his girlfriend at the time was "very into the game."

"She got me involved, but once I started beating her regularly, she lost interest," said Terkell, a budget analyst. "We eventually went our separate ways, but it wasn't because of Scrabble."

Terkell said Scrabble is a "great cerebral exercise," and the club's youngest member, 20-year-old Daniel Figueredo, couldn't agree more. Figueredo, a native of Garanhuns, Brazil, is a junior computer science major at Loyola University Chicago, earning a full-ride scholarship through the Science Without Borders program.

The Edgewater resident said Scrabble has not only helped him learn English, but it's increased his confidence. He's also won two Scrabble tournaments — one in Lincoln Park, the other in Elmhurst — over the last two months.

"Sometimes I break 500, but the people I'm playing against in this club are an inspiration," Figueredo said. "I want to play like them someday."

Figueredo started his Thursday night showings with a close loss to Tom Kowalik of Pilsen. Kowalik, 38, picked up the game eight years ago at first "to fill a void in my life." The game isn't quite an obsession for Kowalik, but it's pretty close. Next month, he and his girlfriend, Erica Moore, also an avid player, will venture to New Orleans for the Third Annual Crescent City Cup Scrabble Tournament at the Hyatt Regency.

"Who in their right mind would want to go to a city like New Orleans and play Scrabble inside a hotel for three days?" Kowalik asked, obviously knowing the answer.

Kowalik's all-time favorite word played is "spaceman" because it earned him 120 points, but also because "it's just a cool word." He appreciates that most of the Chicago Scrabble Club members are "quirky, dorky and eclectic" like him.

"The weirder, the better," he said.

And he's also thankful that there's a club for people who are truly passionate about Scrabble close to home.

"I felt this was needed in the city," he said.