New Zealand's only blind Scrabble player competes in national championship

New Zealand's best Scrabble players are battling it out in Wellington on Friday and among them is the country's only blind scrabble player.  

Olivia En is completely blind and passionate about Scrabble.

Using braille tiles, she's been competing for 20 years. 

"It's like a little bit of lotto every time you put your hand in the bag it's exciting you think am I going to get that blank, that S or the perfect combo," En says.

With a trusty companion at her feet and specialised braille equipment at her fingertips, En is one of the top 24 scrabble players in New Zealand. 

"The board has braille on it to tell me which squares are the premium squares, so which squares have double words, stuff like that. Then I have a little braille tablet to the side here which I use like a writing pad," En says.

She's up against the likes of Howard Warner, the current national champion.

"It's very much a numbers game, there's is a lot of strategy involved, probability, theory things like that, the language aspect is almost secondary," Warner says.

And clubs are trying to attract younger players.

"It's a fantastic game for youth, particularly from an educational point of view," Warner says.

"It's an ageing demographic so we need to inject some new blood into the game, especially competing against computer games," the 2021 Scrabble Masters Champion Dylan Early says.

But this game is a lot more interactive.

"It's always fun and it's nice meeting other people and playing with people. Every turn is different, you can go from getting two points to 120 points," one player said.

And there are some tricks to getting them.

"One way is to use hooks," a player said. "So for example putting Y on triple letter score we get 12, 24, 25, 28,31,32,33."

While scrabble players are declining globally, COVID has been good for the game. 

"Lot of people played Scrabble in lockdown with their housemates and family, we've seen a lot of people coming along and joining the club," Wellington Scrabble Club owner Claire Wall says. 

A trend they're hoping will continue post-pandemic.