Rethinking Games from My Youth

When you’re a kid learning how to play games from adults, you latch on to certain things, depending on your personality and perspective. For me, in Scrabble, it was “Oooooo…7-letter word. Aaah…triple-word score.” I was a nerdy, dictionary-reading kid, so as part of my strategy, I also memorized the “q” words that could be spelled without a “u.” In my circle of family and friends, I was a very good Scrabble player.

Fast forward about 30 years. I started playing Words with Friends online, and one of my pals was whipping my butt. The worst part? He was doing it with plain, old, two-letter words, stacked one on top of the other and attached to another word on the board. It’s kind of embarrassing to admit it, but I’d never considered that as a strategy. I was too mired in the “rules” as I had learned them—or perceived them—as a child. Needless to say, my Scrabble game has greatly improved.

Which leads us to chess. I came home from a friend’s house one day at the tender age of five and surprised my dad with the ability to play chess. I suppose it was impressive at that age. At 47, when you’re still playing like your former, five-year-old self, not too impressive.

Enter I began playing with my Words with Friends pal, and he repeated his butt-whipping performance. That is, until I started taking advantage of the free resources on and went on a 17-game winning streak.

So, here’s my analysis. I know you’re waiting for it. As a child, I learned how to move my pieces and internalized “Don’t let them get your king.” As a result, I was a reactive player. No strategy. I would haphazardly move pieces and when one threatened, I would react. With the help of, I’ve learned to get those power pieces on the board, castle early, set up pieces six moves ahead, and use certain pieces together.

Bobby Fischer: Please, no visitations from the other side. I understand there must be even more than this, but for me this is huge. Let me have my moment of glory.

[Men, look away for a moment. Women of a certain age: If you’re suffering from a fuzzy, perimenopausal brain, you’ll be pleased to know that playing chess has returned me to my former, sharp-minded self. I assume this “therapy” would also be beneficial to women in the postpartum stage, but we all know you don’t have time to brush your teeth, let alone play chess. Men, welcome back.]

Just before I started playing chess again, I caught a movie on Netflix that, no doubt, inspired me to take it up again. Queen to Play is a French movie, starring Kevin Kline and Sandrine Bonnaire, with a bit but tingly performance by Jennifer Beals of Flashdance fame. Totally hot, flirtatious, seductive, and that’s without an ounce of sex. It’s like porn for the intellectual. Sort of. Check out The New York Times review to whet your appetite.

So, do you wrinkle your nose at all properties except Boardwalk and Park Place, or are you a real estate tycoon? Do you play rows of same-color guesses in MasterMind or mix it up from the start? Do you focus on the corners or the middle in Battleship? Let’s discuss.



  1. Richard said,

    July 21, 2012 at 10:26 am

    As a fan of Shakespeare and countless other tragedies, not to mention the glorious, sharp edges of life’s ironies, I can certainly appreciate the feeling of handing your opponent the means by which she can kick your ass. Thank the Lord I’m such a good loser. Good at achieving it as well as dealing with it. 😐

    I’ve played Monopoly with people who covet the dark blue properties, but I’ve always liked those brown properties just after Go. They’re the ideal way to steal £200 a round from your opponents. And cheap, too! 😀

    • July 21, 2012 at 10:37 am

      Awwww, you’re such a good sport. I’m grateful that the internet allows me to play chess and jump up and down like a monkey when I win, with no one the wiser.

    • Yubin said,

      July 22, 2012 at 7:46 pm

      Yup, that’s me. I am the dark blue monopoly. I own Boardwalk. 😛

  2. Paul Anavian said,

    July 21, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    One of the joys of having children is revisiting all the games of my youth. As for Monopoly, I was and still am a Railroad guy. Players may eventually land on Boardwalk and Park Place but they always have to ride the rails.

    • July 21, 2012 at 3:21 pm

      Paul! 🙂 So true about those railroads. You can tell a lot about someone’s personality by how they play monopoly. I always get a good chuckle watching the risk-averse types whose money is mostly hidden under the board and who give a quick, tight-lipped shake of the head when you ask if they’re going to buy the property they just landed on.

  3. Lenore Diane said,

    July 21, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    I love Scrabble. I purchased a Nook Color about a month ago. Every night before I go to sleep, I play Scrabble on my Nook. Color me happy!
    Chess … I’ve never been able to fully grasp the game. My boys (ages 6 and 7) play, and my husband plays, but I do not play.
    We recently pulled out our Othello game. That’s another oldie but goodie. Yep, I love games. And, I appreciate modern technology that enables us to play without having a leaving and breathing person next to us. (smile)

    • July 21, 2012 at 9:40 pm

      Modern technology is great. However, after playing weeks of online chess, I pulled out an actual chess board and played with my son. I was severely challenged with all those 3-D pieces crowding the board and obstructing my view. Note to self: If you ever get good enough to compete, don’t train in a 2-D environment.

  4. July 21, 2012 at 9:13 pm

    Name parts of body with 3 letters. I think there are 12.

  5. lulu said,

    July 21, 2012 at 10:04 pm

    I’m working on Q and X words for Words With Fiends since I seem to always get stuck with those letters. Sad thing is I never have letters to go with them. Maybe I better take up chess and see if I do any better. Always good to have you back.

    • July 22, 2012 at 9:47 am

      Thanks, Linda. Personally, I’m not a fan of “v.” I always seem to get stuck with one near the end of the game. I’m not a big fan of swapping tiles, but I have been known to trade in my junk at the eleventh hour. Of course, if I’m playing against Richard (above), he’ll take all those tiles I thought were useless, make a seven-letter word with a British spelling that I never would have considered, and win the game by one freaking point. 😐

  6. July 22, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    My family were all readers and wordy types and my mother played Boggle for blood. Scrabble was serious business, undertaken only with the most clear intentions to do violence to your opponent. Psyches were at risk, scars were formed. The victors were maniacally triumphant, and the losers abjectly humiliated. Ahh, the good old days. 🙂

    • July 22, 2012 at 4:22 pm

      Love it! I think I may have been born to your parents and sent to live with mine. We played lots of board games but without the blood bath.

  7. July 22, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    My father and I played Monopoly a bunch. Whenever he was losing too badly, he’d call for a “Bank Going out of Business” sale and toss a bunch of money into both our pots. This allowed the game to go on and on, eliminating winners and losers and magnifying the joy of play.

    Plus, with every “sale” the laughter felt abundant. Love this way of living.

    • July 22, 2012 at 6:56 pm

      Kids can play games for hours at a time. I remember when my son was really young, he loved to play the card game War, which sometimes seemed like it would never end. When I reached my limit, I would reverse-cheat whenever we went to war, picking out my lowest value card to display, so he’d win all the cards.

  8. deborahatherton said,

    July 22, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    I’ve never been crazy about strategy games, which is funny, because I love plotting away in real life. I do okay in Scrabble and Monopoly, but just don’t have the patience for chess, or god forbid, Risk. You couldn’t pay me to play Battleship. On the other hand, any of them are better than Charades!

    • Yubin said,

      July 22, 2012 at 7:48 pm

      you should try blitz chess.

      • July 22, 2012 at 8:07 pm

        That’s next on my list. Thanks for stopping by, Yubin. I just checked out your blog. I love your color-coded reading list. 🙂

      • Yubin said,

        July 22, 2012 at 8:50 pm

        Aw, thanks you 🙂

    • July 22, 2012 at 8:06 pm

      You might feel differently about Charades if you saw the insane version of it we played on my writers’ retreat in Virginia Beach. We laughed until we cried.

  9. Huffygirl said,

    July 22, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    Guess I’m missing a lot by not playing these games. I keep thinking I should get the Words with friends app, but if it’s different from Scrabble I may be too old to learn the new tricks.

    • July 23, 2012 at 7:50 am

      It’s the same as Scrabble. The board is laid out differently, but you quickly adjust. And the person who goes first doesn’t automatically get double-word score.

  10. July 23, 2012 at 12:29 am

    I’m totally addicted to Words With Friends, and I’ve gotta say, my strategy has improved a lot since I began playing. Meaning exactly what you wrote: latching onto words to make multiple words. And playing defensively, too. Who knew Scrabble required so much brainpower?!

    • July 23, 2012 at 7:52 am

      The only thing I miss when playing online is the ability to challenge your opponent’s word. I’m also not always in agreement with the dictionary they use.

  11. bronxboy55 said,

    July 23, 2012 at 7:31 am

    I was pretty good at chess until I started studying it. The more books I read, the worse I got. Invariably, I lose my queen to a bishop flying from some dark corner of the board. I must lack diagonal vision.

    Have you seen Searching for Bobby Fischer? I think I’ll watch it tonight. Queen to Play sounds good, too. Thanks, Margaret.

    • July 23, 2012 at 7:56 am

      Maybe you have an intuitive grasp of the game and the studying is cramping your style. I’ve found the information very helpful. I made an exponential leap in my game, and I now am aware of things that I never noticed before. With that said, when I try to read the chess column in the newspaper, it’s like Greek to me.

  12. Ray Colon said,

    July 28, 2012 at 10:49 am

    HI Margaret,

    My family played a lot of board games growing up. We loved it. My children aren’t as into it as we were, but we do enjoy a game night every once in a while.

    I love Scrabble. I’ve been a member of the Internet Scrabble Club since 2005, having played nearly 17,000 games — while winning almost 11,000 :). Pretty nerdy of me, I know. My profile timer is set to 3 minutes per player, so the games go quickly. I suppose that it’s like Words with Friends, but I’ve never tried that.

    I used to be better at chess than I am now. I’m not sure why that is.

    Our other favorites were Monopoly, Life, and believe it or not, Trouble, with that marvelous technological advancement – the Pop-O-Matic!


  13. July 30, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    Games can be a happy return to a simpler time, which is a type of therapy in and of itself, a simple mind exercise, or a compulsion. The microcosm they can create for repeatable life cycle simulation is very interesting too. I enjoyed the post!

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