An interview with Joel Wapnick
One of Scrabble's true legends talks to the Academy
When the Complete History of Scrabble is finally written, one of the names which will feature very heavily throughout is Joel Wapnick. In a career spanning over 40 years, he really has seen it all, and achieved more than almost anyone who has ever played the game.
World Champion in 1999, runner-up in 1993 and 2001 – Wapnick is one of only two players, the other being Adam Logan, to have won the World Championships, the United States National Scrabble Championships and the Canadian National Scrabble Championships. Now in his 70s, this remarkable man remains one of the favourites at any event he enters. He made the top 8 in Lille 2016 and - if he can make this year’s relocated event in Nottingham as we all hope he can - few will bet against him having another good shot at regaining the world title.
The Academy was delighted when he agreed to take time to answer a few of our questions.
Hi, Joel. Tell us a little about yourself, and what you’re up to at the moment.
I was born in New York City, and raised on Long Island. I spent 37 years teaching at
McGill University in Montreal, and I’m now living in Cleveland Heights, Ohio with
my wife, Varley O'Connor and her Burmese cat, Tadeu. I spend my working
time writing fiction, playing piano, and studying Scrabble.
How long have you been playing, and how do you practice?
My mother introduced me to the game when I was 9. I got serious about it
in 1975. I practice by solving anagrams and rehearing a list of 16,000
What are your favourite things about the game?
The creative aspect.
Any personal Scrabble highlights you’d like to share with us?
Winning the World Championship in 1999 (Melbourne) was great. Best
single move probably was playing EGLOMISE around GLOM for 99 points.
[Joel's 3rd book on Scrabble - a must-read for anyone interested in the game]
What are your other interests and hobbies?
I'm a novelist. I self-published the first one (see joelwapnick.com), and I’m currently
working on a second draft of the second. I won't divulge what it's about
at this point in time.
Which famous person would you like to play against?
Donald Trump (heh). For money.
[Joel with MSI's Dave Brannan after making the quarter-finals in Lille 2016]
You’ve achieved pretty much everything in Scrabble – do you still have any personal ambitions within the game, and what would you like to see in future to help grow the game worldwide?
I'd like to win the World Championship again. In the future I'd like to
see word list unification, and the tournament game divorced from company
Thank you, Joel.
[Title image: courtesy of Roger Cullman - rogercullman.com]