The Rules for Challenging Words in Scrabble

Whether you’re playing competitive Scrabble at an officially sanctioned tournament or you’re playing with the family around the kitchen table, there’s no more dramatic moment in the Scrabble board game than when someone decides to challenge a word. This often is the moment which decides the outcome of the game.

Since this is also the time when feelings get hurt and reputations are on the line, you need to know the official Hasbro rules for challenging words in Scrabble games, so everyone at the table is on the same page.

The Official Scrabble Rules for Challenging Words

Scrabble Rules for Challenging WordsFirst, let’s get this out of the way: a Scrabble word challenge is perfectly legal. It’s in the Scrabble rule book. So let’s take a look at when you can challenge a word, what happens when you challenge and are proven right, and what happens when you challenge and are proven wrong. That’s one thing you should know–in many Scrabble playing clubs and tournaments, there’s risk in it for you, too.

Double Challenge Rule – Original Scrabble Rules

This rule is still used by some Scrabble players and is analogous to the original Scrabble rules on challenges.

It’s called the “double challenge” because both sides of the question are in jeopardy. If the person who placed the letters loses the challenge (the word is invalid), they must remove their letters from the board and lose their turn. If the person who made the challenge loses (the word is valid), they lose their next turn.

One criticism of this rule is that it encourages bluffing, because many players are loathe to challenge, for fear they’ll be wrong and lose a turn.

Single Challenge Scrabble Rules

In the single challenge game, a player may challenge a word placed on the board at any time, with no penalty for being wrong (if the word is valid). If the word is proven invalid, then the player who placed the letters must take them off the board and return those same letters to their rack, and their turn is noted as a pass on the score tally.

One disadvantage to this rule is there is no disincentive for a player to challenge words they know to be correct, so they can use this rule to garner additional time to think out their next play in timed games (usually in tournaments).

Penalty Challenges

Another option is to assess a set number of points as a penalty in these cases. If a person challenges and their challenge is upheld, the player placing the word loses a set number of points. If the challenger proves wrong, he or she loses that same number of points.

When these rules are in effect, players agree before the game on how many points the penalty is worth. These points might either be deducted from the score of the person losing the challenge (certainly used in games with 3 or more players), or given to the person winning the challenge. Often in tournaments, the tournament organizers will decide what the penalty challenge points as a standard throughout the tournament.

In many ways, this rule splits the difference between the single challenge and double challenge rules. A person might be less likely to challenge, fearing they will lose points, so that bluffing might become a little more likely than single challenge Scrabble.

At the same time, while a person is unlikely to challenge in order to stall for time with the penalty points enforced, they might occasionally calculate that the loss of 5 or 10 points is worth the infraction. While this makes either less likely, some criticize this rule as “falling between two chairs”.

When Should You Challenge?

There’s actually a strategy to challenging in Scrabble. Especially if there is a penalty for challenging, it’s not something you want to do all the time.

Think about it. If your opponent places a word that you think is suspect, but you aren’t absolutely certain about, you should analyze to see if he/she has better word choices with those letters (or word close to those letters). If so, you might be better off letting the letters sit on the board and not risking the penalty, figuring your opponent is always leaving points on the table.

Online Challenges

This problem is less likely in Internet Scrabble, because sites often use automatic verification software to assure that any word played is actually legal according to the website’s Scrabble dictionary. Since no one accepted by the software would be invalid, there is no need for a Scrabble challenge. At the same time, this might lead players to keep placing doubtful words until one is accepted–though many Scrabble games online are timed. As you can see, there are many ways (though perhaps no perfect one) for resolving Scrabble challenges.

While that gets around the problem of murky challenge rules in most forms of electronic Scrabble, it pays to know your Scrabble challenge rules if you are considering playing in a tournament. There are times when you’ll face an opponent who tries to bluff to hit on that huge score.

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