Hey everyone, I’m Austin Shin. I don’t particularly like talking about myself. But as I’m here to stay, I feel that an introductory post is in order. So let me begin with the Austin Shin – The Early Years.

First of all, who is Austin Shin? I’m currently ranked in the world’s top 15 and within the top 5 in North America. I am the only player in history to have won National Scrabble Championship titles in the UK and US (both in 2017). I was runner-up at the 2006 World Youth Championship. Placed 3rd in the World Scrabble Championships in 2017 and won over 60 tournament titles worldwide. I’ve traveled worldwide to play in the biggest and most prestigious Scrabble tournaments on the planet. Competing in Thailand, Australia, Nigeria, England, US, Canada, and Malaysia… all on at least two occasions and many other countries that I’ve competed in that one time. Therefore, I feel like I’m in an excellent position to share my experiences and exciting stories from my Scrabble trips abroad.

I hope to teach you how to improve your Scrabble game. Provide insight into game analysis, explain move selection, and share ways to boost your scores in those many tricky Scrabble Go modes in my blog posts. So please feel free to drop a comment or ask a question on any of my posts in the Scrabble forum. I may end up writing some unique blog posts to answer them!

Austin Shin – The Early Years

Let’s start from the very beginning. I was born and raised in Milton Keynes, England, and I was introduced to Scrabble by my father when I was five years old. I was hooked from the start. My family recall times when I would jump out of bed set up the Scrabble board on the floor, and start playing with a dictionary beside me. Not like I remember that now, of course! I’ve always had a natural knack for spelling and math, so these elements as a 5-6-year-old were not a problem for me at that time.

I always played against my father, and I quickly improved and started beating him with regularity. To help me improve further, he took me to the weekly Aylesbury Scrabble Club located about 20 minutes away from my home. I just turned seven years old. There were seasoned tournament Scrabble players in attendance with many decades of experience, and I was there to learn the ropes. On my first day, I played against a lady rated about 1200 and was the second strongest player at the club. For scale, the highest-rated players in the world are over 1900, and beginner level is around 500. It was fair to say that I was immediately thrown in the deep end, and it was an instant litmus test. I ended up playing two games that night, both against her, and I went 1-1 (win-loss record). As you can imagine, a seven-year-old rookie that turns up to a Scrabble club for the first time and beats a seasoned tournament player would turn some heads. But at the time, I was playing the game that I loved, utterly oblivious to what was going on around me.

It was only when I got home that the club’s best player told my father that I already had the ability to play in an officially sanctioned tournament. But, unfortunately, there are no youth or school Scrabble events in the UK, so what she meant was that I was ready to test my talent in adult competition.

My father wanted to make sure I was fully ready before playing in an in-person tournament. As I said, counting the move scores, keeping scores on paper, and learning new words were not a problem. However, I needed guidance in terms of which words to learn first, improving my strategy and skills against better players, and understanding the nuances of in-person competition. These nuances include playing with a 25-minute timer per player for the entire game. Getting into good habits to keep score and picking tiles from the tile bag above eye level. Remembering the protocol for challenging your opponent’s words and knowing the official tournament rules.


A year later, I played in my first official ABSP (Association of British Scrabble Players) rated tournament. From what I remember, it was a big one-day tournament with about 150 players, all packed into a room in Swindon, ready to play five games of tournament Scrabble. I’m not sure at the time that I was even aware that there were six divisions separated by ability. Still, the consensus between my father and clubmates was to immediately place me straight into division 2, with players rated in the 1250-1500 range and in the same division as the two strongest players at my club. And yes, this was my very first tournament against adults as an eight-year-old. Usually, unrated players would be placed in the very bottom division, but they had other ideas clearly.

Admittedly, I don’t remember a great deal about the day itself, as this was in March 1998, so it happened a long time ago. Nevertheless, I beat a player rated 1450, and I ended the day with a respectable record of 2-3 and a spread of -43, finishing 18th out of 28 players.

Buoyed by a successful outing, I continued my rookie year playing in more tournaments across the country. However, just two months after my first tournament, I was already competing in my fourth tournament in Pinner, London. This was a tournament of three divisions and about 80 players in total. I eventually won division 3 with a perfect 6-0 record.

Other notable occurrences happened in my rookie year as an eight-year-old: 

  • I finished the year rated about 1300.
  • I had played in my first multi-day tournament of 11 games over an entire weekend in my hometown.
  • In one tournament, I was playing Harrow’s mayoress in North London. She was an older lady, and I played a very rude word against her, but I can’t tell you what it was. No, really, I can’t.
Me as an 8 year old; picture taken for an article written in the UK Daily Mail newspaper.

Almost a year from my tournament debut, I won a division 2 event in Melton Mowbray with a 5-0 record. At that same event the following year, I was rated high enough to play in my first ever division 1 tournament. A sign of things to come as my rating steadily increased and pushed through the 1400 and 1500 rating barriers. In July 2001, I won my last ever division 2 tournament and never played in division 2 ever again.

December 2001 was also notable because, merely days after my 12th birthday, I had become a Guinness World Record holder! Fellow UK tournament Scrabble player and blitz player Chris Hawkins and I beat an existing world record for scoring the most combined points playing Scrabble over a 24 hour period and was played in a shopping mall in Peterborough as we raised money for charity. In August 2002, we succeeded in further breaking our record by scoring a combined total of 162,171 points over a day’s worth of play. A world record that stood for about a decade. This world record was also published in the 2004 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records.

My name in the Guinness Book of World Records 2004.

Speaking of setting records in 2002, Melton Mowbray was the backdrop for my first ever division 1 tournament win. I became the youngest ever UK division 1 tournament winner at 12 years and four months old, an ABSP record that still stands today.

Winning my first UK-rated division 1 title in Melton Mowbray, 2002

By 2004, I had added three more tournament titles, my rating was approaching 1800, and I was beginning to travel abroad to play Scrabble internationally. However, the trials and tribulations of international Scrabble will wait for another day. I have plenty of funny, compelling, and bizarre stories to tell, as I have traveled abroad almost every year since then to compete in at least one international tournament!

But for now, that’s how I started making the ascent from a small child playing at home to hitting the big lights of the international tournaments over the space of a decade… as a slightly bigger child.

Thanks for reading Austin Shin – The Early Years; if you’ve got this far – I’ll be looking to share my knowledge with you very soon!

Twitter and Instagram: @austinho9

For more information on sanctioned Scrabble tournaments and clubs in the UK and how you can start your very own Scrabble tournament career, please visit the ABSP website at www.absp.org.uk


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