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The ex-footballer who learnt to choose his words carefully

Irineu Gonsalves used to play football at the state level. He now owns his own pharmacy in Verna, a village in south Goa. His passion, however, lies elsewhere — in his love for words; a passion that drove him to become this year’s national Scrabble champion. The fifty-three-old tells us about what it’s like to get into a battle of words with professionals. Excerpts from the interview:


Illustration/ Amit Bandre

Your earliest association with the game...?
I am a voracious reader. Solving crosswords helped a lot. I also have a passion for writing and write columns for two Goan publications. I have been playing serious Scrabble for almost a decade, now. I started playing Scrabble around the early ’90s. Scrabble caught my attention when a group of word enthusiasts conducted tournaments in Goa, and I won most of them. Between 1990 and 2000, I only played living-room Scrabble, but the desire to consolidate my word power never waned.

Do you practice every day?
I practice a lot — I put in around four to five hours every day. It helps that Goa has good Scrabble players. On weekends, we play around 10 competitive games.

What’s it like to participate in a Scrabble championship?
I’ve been participating in the championship for the last decade and it’s been an amazing journey. In the last few years, the competition has been getting tougher. ┬áThe final day was played in the King-of-the-Hill format, which means repeats are allowed. At the beginning of the final day, Sherwin Rodrigues, the third-time national champion, had 14 wins and I had 12 wins. We played four games straight, and I beat him all four times. I finished with 18 wins out of 24 games.

Are there any shortcuts or strategies to winning?
There are no shortcuts, but there are certain techniques. You can’t win against players of Sherwin’s (Rodrigues) caliber, if you are not technically sound. He has amazing word power, and his spotting of scoring chances is also very good. Beating him back-to-back gave me immense satisfaction.

Tell us about life when you’re not playing Scrabble?
I am a businessman. I have my own manufacturing unit for detergents and deodorants; I also have a pharmacy in my village, Verna. I am a former state football player and have played for famous clubs in Goa, including the Salgaocar Sports Club and Vasco Sports Club.

The auto-correct generation that can’t spell
A recent survey commissioned by Mencap, a UK-based charity, to mark the launch of its Spellathon competition, found that technology has created an auto-correct generation unable to spell common words like ‘necessary’ and ‘separate’. Only one in five adults of the 2,000 surveyed, was able to answer all five questions correctly. 65% respondents failed to spell ‘necessary’, while 33% struggled with spelling ‘definitely’ and ‘separate’. Respondents also admitted to the over reliance on spell checks and auto-correct functions.

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