Mauro Pratesi sits in his house amidst heaps of children’s toys, comics and trading cards. Over stuffed shelves bulge with newspaper clippings about Arsenal Football and books. On the wall behind him is a scorecard drawn by his youngest daughter, Natasha, entitled “Super Scrabble.” For him there are only two competing priorities in this world. “Provided it doesn’t clash with the Arsenal, we’ve got a pretty Scrabble centred life.”
Despite his zeal for football, he claims he was too useless to play as a child. “I was the worst of the worse so they just always put me in goal. But funny enough I liked the position, probably because they wore green jerseys and my favorite color is green.”
Luckily for Mauro he has had more success with his other passion. His soft voice becomes animated and matter of fact when he speaks about the Sunday Drives he organizes as chairman of the London Scrabble League who are celebrating their 40th anniversary this year.
He proudly shows me the statistics he keeps of every drive. He rattles off terms like “bonus”, “challenge”, “highest spread”, “highest win” and examples of allowable two letter words “q-i” “k-i” “u-t.” In a nasal voice he mimics sceptical spectators: “Oh they’re just made up words for Scrabble” and defiantly answers himself “They’re not. They’re real words. They have real meanings and they are in a real dictionary.”
But knowing the meanings to words isn’t the key to Scrabble. Mauro’s highest scoring word “chaffers” earned him 221 points. “I’d no idea what it meant. Still don’t. I’m just amazed it was there.”
In fact, Mauro says his English is terrible. The single child of Italian immigrants, he spoke only Italian until he started school. “My mum and dad only spoke to me in Italian so how I picked up English I do not know.”
Still, he says that speaking Italian doesn’t help his Scrabble skills. He played combination Italian and English Scrabble with his mum in college, but credits Scrabble whiz Michael Goldman’s book Play Better Scrabble for revolutionizing his tactics. Memorizing word combinations and playing practice games are what Mauro says will improve your game. “Because I’ve learned so many words, I virtually play the right move without even thinking.”
His advice must be sound because his is a Scrabble family. His eldest daughter finished 9th in the World Youth Scrabble Championship last year and is currently number one in her age group in the UK. His wife Diane has reached expert status with the Association of British Scrabble Players. Chuckling shyly he tells me that he even met his wife while playing Scrabble. “We saw each other at a Sunday Drive and then later at a League evening and then one thing led to another and that was it.”
Perhaps the success is in the initiation. He proudly points out that every other player starts with a horizontal word, but his family all begin by going up and down.
But these days Mauro works behind the scenes instead of in front of the letter tiles. He started keying in results and adjudicating at tournaments about 30 years ago. From then he has adjudicated at every level from club to national. “I’m one of the rare ones who don’t mind not playing I just concentrate on organizing to make sure everyone else enjoys it.”
The only thing separating the position of tournament chair from his youthful days as goalkeeper is the green jersey. But he seems to feel pretty at home in the Scrabble world. A self-proclaimed loner growing up, Mauro says he didn’t really have any ambitions. “I used to invent games when I was younger, make up my own board games and rules. I stayed myself in my own room and amused myself in making games. I’m just a born game player.”