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Scrabble-rouser title

Dave Wiegand ’95 and his wordy road
to championship

By Johannah Raney Ladd ’95

Wheaties, it turns out, is not the breakfast of champions.The morning buffet at the hotel in Kuala Lumpur, where the 2003 World Scrabble Championship is being held, offers the unofficial Malaysian national dish nasi lemak—coconut rice with chicken curry, cucumber, dried anchovies, boiled egg, and spicy sauce. In deference to Western palates, there is also toast and beef sausage.

Dave Wiegand ’95 chooses toast and one disappointing cup of coffee. “I don’t want to lose focus or have any distractions,” he says later in a telephone interview. “I try to eat right, stay away from alcohol, but I usually have a lot of coffee.” Far from the caffeine haven of the Pacific Northwest, Wiegand relies on Coke for the duration of the tournament.

By day, Dave Wiegand is part owner of a successful mortgage underwriting company in Portland. He and his wife, Chris, have “an amazing but sometimes vociferous two-year-old” named Samantha. But in his spare time, which has diminished now that he’s a family man, Wiegand is a competitive Scrabble star. Most notably, during his junior year at Reed in 1994 he placed second in the National Scrabble Championship. In the 2000 Nationals he was one excruciatingly close game from beating the reigning champion, a moment memorialized in the Scrabble book Word Freak.

Now Wiegand has traveled 8,000 miles from Oregon to Malaysia to compete in “the Worlds,” as he refers to the event. To overcome jet lag, he arrived in Kuala Lumpur several days before the competition began. After a weekend of sightseeing and fêtes—savoring twelve-course Chinese feasts, touring the world’s largest pewter factory, and gaping heavenwards at the Petronas Towers, one of the tallest buildings in existence—he prepares himself for the possibility of another superlative: becoming Scrabble’s world champion.

“Coming in second in the Nationals put me on everyone’s radar. I was considered one of the top players, and people expected me to start winning everything. But I haven’t really duplicated that yet, so I guess it’s still ahead of me.”

Wiegand plays the kind of Scrabble you and I will never know. He ranks as an expert with a rating of 1991. Scrabble ratings are based on the chess ranking system, on a scale from 500 to over 2000. Points are gained with a win or by beating a higher-rated opponent, and lost with a forfeit. Only four American players are better than Wiegand, with the top player rated at 2013.

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Reed Magazine February 2004