Zelig Leader (ז”ל)


Twenty-five years is a huge hunk of time.  When he won the World Scrabble Championship, Joel Sherman said: “This justifies my life.” While I haven’t reached that level of dedication (thankfully), there have been moments when I felt like that.

One of these moments involves Zev, in one of our five-game playoff series for the A championship.  He was leading 2-0 in games and I was wondering if I was going to suffer the ignominy of a whitewash (at least I’d be through playing him).  Somewhere toward the end of the third game, which he was leading, I spotted KRAAL on my rack — a word I even know the meaning of.  I had a place to play it, and it would bring me close, but, knowing Zev’s end-game, my chances were not brilliant.

Suddenly, it occurs to me that with the blank on my rack, I can play KRAALED.  Now comes the internal debate that we all know so well.  “Can it possibly be good?”  “Will he challenge it?”  “If he challenges it and I’m wrong, the game’s all over.”

I decide to play it.  Incredibly, he doesn’t challenge (Zev told me later that he thought it made sense, and in fact the word was acceptable).   The game is mine — not by much — and I know, with absolute certainty, that the momentum has swung and I will go on to take the next two games.

Which I did.  Of all the playoffs that I have been fortunate enough to participate in, this one stays in my mind, because it has all the elements that make Scrabble such a wonderful partner for a long-term relationship.