Nigeria is the nation of the word finder: The Scrabble Stars – Panorama

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By Christian Putsch October 12, 2018 – 15:53 ​​clock Scrabble is more than just a game. In Nigeria at least. 32 of the 100 best players come from the African country. That's because people talk a lot there.
Wellington Jighere at a game of Scrabble in Lagos. From the fabric bag over his eyes he draws new letters

Photo: Putsch

Lagos – As a meeting place, the Scrabble ace has proposed a small tournament in a nondescript convention center on the outskirts of Lagos. At 30 small tables players sit in the glaring neon light of a conference room opposite. Who wins at the end of the day, gets the equivalent of 180 euros and may participate in the next championship. Wellington Jighere, Africa's first World Champion in the game, has long since qualified for them. The 35-year-old loves the Scrabble atmosphere, the concentrated silence that is otherwise in vain in the mega-city of Lagos. Broken only by clicking the letters. It is the quiet soundtrack of his life.

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Here he is a superstar. A television team has come to interview him. Players speak to him, ask for advice. Three years ago, Jiggerere was the first African ever to win the World Cup title and prize money of around 8,500 euros in Australia, and now has celebrity status. An enormous achievement, especially since he had arrived just before the first game. The host country almost refused him a visa – a recurring problem for Nigerian scrabble players at international tournaments.
The President personally congratulates on success Just hours after his triumph, Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari personally called and congratulated, and a few weeks later he and his team-mates, the winners of the team standings, were officially honored by the politician at a reception in the presidential villa. For in Scrabble, Scrabble is not just a board game, but one of 30 state-sponsored sports. The most successful in the country. Of the top 100 players in the English word world rankings, Nigeria currently represents 32, more than any other nation.
On the edge of the room, Jighere talks about his passion, his voice lowered, so nobody gets disturbed during the third round of the day. "This is a mentally insanely strenuous sport that only works with a lot of work," he says. "That keeps me focused otherwise. But sometimes you give your best and lose anyway. You can never be sure how in real life. I like that. "A coincidence is not the success of the Nigerians. Scrabble has been popular since British colonial times and is used in many schools and universities. The association is represented in all 36 states. As part of national sports funding, the government is paying coaches and administrators. Jighere visits his first coach, ex-General Gold Eburu, who lives on the outskirts of Lagos in a nondescript house. "Scrabble was mainly distributed in the 1960s by people who had spent time in Europe," he says. "When I joined the army in 1972, we had a curfew in the evening. We've played Scrabble forever to get rid of boredom. "The 68-year-old is one of the game's pioneers, playing in the first major tournaments during the 1980s and becoming the first president of the national association in 1989. "Scrabble is now part of our identity, it's a fantastic brain teaser." Far more notable than government support is the private involvement of the players. "Many tournaments and participation in major international tournaments are only possible because we provide the funds ourselves." In Lagos alone, there are ten privately funded Scrabble academies. Jighere also plans to open a school. Online, he already gives lessons for a fee. 4000 players in Scrabble-Nigeria The enthusiasm for the game has cultural reasons among other things. Nigerian citizens like to talk a lot and often loudly, more than 500 languages ​​are spoken here, English is the most widespread. Nigeria has produced some of the most famous African writers. Add to that a long history of board games in Africa dating back to pre-colonial times. With them, values ​​and cognitive abilities are sometimes conveyed to this day. Jighere was taught Scrabble by his older brother. He financed the study of agribusiness with tournaments. "After that I was too good to hang up the game," says Jighere, who has turned the hobby into a career. At the forefront of the 4000 players in Nigeria, who operate scrabble performance-oriented, you can only survive as a professional, says Wellington Jighere. His training is complicated. Before competitions he plays four to five hours daily against the best in the country. But he also uses a lonely method, which he calls "streaking". To do this, he takes the Collins dictionary, whose words are accepted as letter combinations, and, page by page, erases all the terms he knows. When a new edition comes out, Jighere focuses on the newly added to the lexicon. Five letters lead to success "When I'm good at training, I master around 90 percent of the words," says the player. He is currently not at his best. The planning of his academy costs a lot of time, and he also fought for the preservation of the state's Scrabble funding. Nigeria's economy has been weakening for years, with the government planning a substantial cut in funding. "That's a big threat to our culture," says Jighere. No optimal preparation conditions for the next World Cup, which takes place in England at the end of October. The competition is getting stronger, especially the New Zealander Nigel Richards. The three-time world champion is something of the English scrabble's Roger Federer – and won important tournaments even in the French competition. Without really speaking that language. The man with the photographic memory studied a French dictionary for nine weeks before his first major titles. Jighere knows he only has the chance of a chance against the 51-year-old and other top players if he lives his life fully on Scrabble. An ambitious amateur asks Jighere for a game in the conference room in Lagos. Jighere agrees politely and smiles. Nigerians are known for playing a style of shorter, seven-letter words with high scores. Thus they block the opponent deftly the way for longer words. Significantly, Jighere chose the finale of his World Cup with the five-letter word "felty" (felty). But his strength is that he can change his style at any time, then long foreign words used. "Wellington's greatest strength is his extraordinary calmness," says Nsikan Iyanam, one of the best players in Lagos, "he is inscrutable and always appears the same – regardless of whether he loses or wins." This unsettles many opponents. Correspondingly effortless Jighere wins against his today's challenger. When he draws new letters from the cloth bag, he holds it high above his head. The rules state that you have to be raised above eye level so that you can not cheat. Jighere raises his arms further than anyone else. That is a question of principle.

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