Presumably you would trade in tiles if you thought you would get in one turn, after trading, more than what you'll get in the next two turns without trading.

But then, maybe you should make defensive plays even in some of those situations?

5 Answers 5


Yes, most definitely. A good write up on exchange strategy can be found in Joe Edley's book Everything Scrabble, pg. 89 and following. Tournament players do exchange significantly less than they did when Everything Scrabble was first written, since the recent (well, not that recent any more, 2006) addition of QI and ZA to the official Scrabble lexicon have made moves like exchanging only Q less favorable statistically. However, good players will also know when it is right to "fish," that is, make a nearly worthless play to get rid of certain tiles in order to greatly increase their probability of bingoing on the next turn.

A great way to get some idea of the frequency with which championship players exchange is to look at some of the games from board 1 of the most recent National Scrabble Championships; all of the games are online in turn by turn form here. Many of the words in these games will be unfamiliar, but if you want an idea of what great Scrabble players do, that would be the best place to start.

Also, you should note that the best frequency with which players should exchange is going to depend on how large Scrabble word knowledge is (which is almost completely unrelated to your vocabulary). In other words, based on the words that you know, how soon will you be able to turn your rack into a bingo rack? If you can't see yourself doing that in the next two or three turns assuming average draws, then you should probably exchange.

The other time to exchange is if any legal play would make your rack worse. For instance, if your opening rack is AEINQST, your best play by far is exch Q. Doing so will give you a 95.7% chance of having a bingo on your rack the next turn, and probably even greater than that of bingoing, depending on what your opponent plays.

  • 2
    The link is dead. Well, it's a list of links to games' individual pages, but those pages are all 403 Forbidden.
    – msh210
    Commented Feb 27, 2014 at 22:20
  • Would that be the infamous G.I. Joe? Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 4:03
  • @glenviewjeff No, G.I. Joel (Sherman) is a different person from Joe Edley. Commented Apr 17, 2014 at 13:53
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    "For instance, if your opening rack is AEINQST, your best play by far is exch Q." I'm not sure if this is obviously the "best play by far". Personally I would play QI — 22 points, a mildly defensive move, a still very-good leave of AENST, and a turn of two tiles. I'd love to hear though what the top players think.
    – user21608
    Commented Sep 8, 2017 at 4:53
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    According to simulations done by Quackle, 8G QI 22 has a 66.5% chance of winning; exch Q only 60.5%. Even 8G QAT 24 has a 63.8% chance of winning. However, one rack where Quackle considers the best play (on an empty board) to be a fishing play is AEIILNT, where Quackle's best is exch I.
    – Rosie F
    Commented Nov 26, 2017 at 8:56

It's definitely situational, and I wouldn't call myself "great", but I have traded in tiles before, for a number of reasons --

  1. I'm behind, and I have a hand full of either all vowels or all consonants (usually all consonants)
  2. I'm one letter away from a bingo, and I've calculated that I have a good chance of drawing that letter.

For me, using or blocking a triple-word-score tile trumps swapping in tiles, but if I have a really bad hand, swapping tiles is always an option, especially if I can't block the triple-word or worse, even use low-point tiles on it.

From the tournament reports I have read (or the article "830! How a carpenter got the highest Scrabble score ever", trading in tiles is a not-uncommon occurrence if you think you can get a better word out of it, especially a bingo. In fact, according to the article:

Cresta then traded in all seven of his tiles in the hope of getting more-playable letters, not an unusual move.

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    It should be noted that neither player in this game that you've referenced has a NASPA rating above 900. While most living-room Scrabble players would consider these two to be "good," they are certainly not great by the standards of Scrabble tournament play. (The game even included a phony 3 letter word, which is generally a major indicator of mediocre Scrabble play). Also, many of the examples of exchanges in this game are not very good ones. The full NASPA write up of the 830 game can be found here Commented Nov 2, 2010 at 12:52
  • @David Hollman -- true; I mostly included the article because it was the first article I had bookmarked that mentioned swapping tiles. I'll admit, the game referenced, while interesting, is certainly an anomaly. Commented Nov 2, 2010 at 12:57

Something that no other answer seems to have touched upon, that I feel like is worth mentioning, is that playing tiles moves the game closer to its conclusion, whereas swapping tiles slows down the progress of the game. Playing a six-letter word like EUOUAE for fewer than 10 points may just be inferior than swapping them, if your opponent is ahead and you need to catch up.

An additional thought that arises naturally from this, is that if you're worried about your opponent scoring a bingo against you and gaining an unassailable lead, it may be better to leave a tightly-locked-up board as it is while you sculpt your hand. Opening things up with a mediocre move that doesn't do much for your score, but gives your opponent room to play out his rank, could prove a serious tactical error.


Yes, you bet. Read some of the books - Word Freak is a fun one. If you aren't going for bingos, you should be - if you can't get play the tiles in your hand that are keeping from getting a bingo, dump 'em.


An important thing to consider in Scrabble, and one not often thought of in beginner play, is the value of the tiles left in your hand. Playing one letter and getting 4 points, while leaving TISANE in your hand is worth much more than playing neat for 12 points and leaving a random tile, and IS. That is because the leave value of TISANE (which leads to the most number of bingo draws) is enormous.

Similarly, and getting to your question, if you could play one tile for 10 points, but get stuck with QKGHLV, the proper play would be to trade out most, if not all of your tiles. (If you have a vowel, keeping the L or the H might be fine). So if the value of your play is less than the negative value of your hand, then trading is a better option than playing.

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