Not many people can say they’ve appeared on a late night talk show. Even fewer can say they’ve beat Jimmy Kimmel at Scrabble on his own show. Even rarer? Doing it at age 11. Zachary Ansell has those bragging rights.
But it comes as no surprise. After all, Ansell, a second-year student considering majors in the classics and computer science at Case Western Reserve University, discovered his talent for playing Scrabble when he was only 8 years old. He now ranks competitively as one of the top 100 players in the United States.
Initially intrigued by Stefan Fatsis’ book Word Freak, he joined his local Scrabble club in Los Angeles. Recognizing his talent, Ansell started to enter small competitions in California.
“As soon as I read Word Freak, I knew I had a talent for rearranging letters to form words, which is also known as anagramming,” he said. “I’ve improved a lot over the years through practice.”
Balancing school and Scrabble
Competing in national tournaments for the past decade, Ansell has worked diligently to grow his word-building skills. He typically spends an hour each day playing an array of word-related games. In preparation for tournaments, he focuses on learning new words and anagramming them from scrambled letters.
As a college student, Ansell divides his time between studying classics and preparing for his next tournaments, which usually are held during school breaks. In 2023, he competed in Princeton, Lake George, Dublin, Ohio, and the North American SCRABBLE® Championship in Las Vegas—his favorite place to visit.
Over the years, there is one word that was particularly memorable for Ansell:creating a 13-letter domination by extending “eventual” to “eventualities.”
Ansell is proud of his in-game and overarching accomplishments.
“My highest scoring play was ‘furziest’ for 311 points in an online Scrabble game,” he said. “That heavily contributed to my score of 707 points, by far my highest single-game score ever.”
Being a three-time winner of the North American School Scrabble Championship—twice in middle school and once in high school—is his proudest overall achievement.
In 2024, Ansell plans to continue growing in his trade.
“My main goal is to achieve an Elo Score rating of 2,000, which only 13 players currently have,” Ansell said. “My current ratings across various organizations are in the 1,800-1,900 range, ranking me about 50th among all active players in North America.”