The author competing in the North American Scrabble Championship in 2017.

  • I am a tournament Scrabble player, and people often ask me how they can improve their Scrabble skills.
  • I always tell them the single easiest way to boost your score: memorise the two-letter words.
  • Unusual two-letter words such as qi, aa, and xu can lead to high-scoring plays that will leave your opponents in the dust.

Scrabble is one of the world's most iconic board games, and has delighted players for decades with its blend of language and strategy.

Mastering the game could be a lifelong pursuit, but if all you want to do is impress your friends or defeat your grandma for the first time, there's one easy trick you could learn today that will instantly boost your score by 50 points a game.

First, a little background: I take Scrabble pretty seriously. I play in tournaments around the country — most recently the North American Scrabble Championship in Buffalo — and I'm one of the top players in New York City.

Two-letter words will instantly improve your game

When friends ask me how they can get better at Scrabble, I give them the same answer every time: learn the two-letter words.

Two-letter words are the most critical words to know in the entire dictionary. They're the amino acids of Scrabble, the building blocks that form the basis of high-scoring moves.

There are 105 acceptable two-letter words in the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, ranging from the common (go, he, and my) to the obscure ("oe," defined as a whirlwind specific to the Faroe Islands).

You just have to know what kinds of words are OK

I'd wager that any fluent English speaker is already familiar with 70% of the two-letter words — it just takes a little bit of knowledge about what kinds of words are acceptable to play.

For example, many players aren't aware that slang words are acceptable in the Scrabble dictionary. That means words like ab, yo, and ma and pa are all fair game.

Commonly used interjections are also valid, which means you're welcome to play the words oh, ow, aw, um, and uh. Even the vowel-less "hm," "mm," and "sh" (as in, be quiet!) are all acceptable. These words aren't particularly unusual, but the average Scrabble player might not think to play them, or even consider them actual words.

You're free to play all the notes of the musical scale — that is, do, re, mi, fa, so, la, and ti. Anyone who's seen "The Sound of Music" won't have trouble remembering those.

Perhaps the most unexpected words in the dictionary are the phonetic spellings of the letters of the alphabet. The letter R can be spelled "ar," for example. There's also "ef" for F, as well as el, em, en, es, and ex.

Better yet, you're allowed to play the spellings of Greek letters, like pi, mu, nu, and xi, as well as Hebrew letters such as pe and fe.

Then there's everything else — about 35 words that are legitimately out of the ordinary, and simply have to be memorised. They include some really interesting gems, like "aa" (a Hawaiian term for rough, cindery lava), "gi" (a uniform worn by martial artists), and "xu" (a monetary unit of Vietnam).

And of course, there's the most important word to know in all of Scrabble: Qi, the vital life force in traditional Chinese culture, and one of the few words in the dictionary that has a Q not followed by a U.

Here's how two-letter words lead to massive points

Learning the two-letter words doesn't just add words to your vocabulary. They also allow you to play words parallel to other words, racking up tons of points in the process. 

Check out this scenario from YouTube user freecell1.

Imagine you are looking at this board and you had the letters, B, E, and W to work with.

A beginner player might take the W-E and play WET for 14 points. Not bad!

But if you knew that "bo" was a valid two-letter word (it's an archaic word for friend), you'd suddenly be able to play WEB for 18 points. Even better.

But that's not even close to the top score you can get with those letters. If you know that "wo" (another spelling of woe), "em" (the letter M), and "bi" (a bisexual person) are all valid words, you could cash in those letters for a whopping 39 points!

By simply learning three unusual words, you're able to transform 14 points into 39 in just one move. Two-letter words open the door to these "parallel plays", as they're called, and are the most important words in a Scrabble player's arsenal.

So if you're hellbent on dominating your next family board game night, take some time to look over the full list of two-letter words. It might set you on a journey to becoming the next Scrabble champion, or at the very least, you'll learn some interesting words.

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