Mike the Scrabble Player Wins Bronze Medal at Chess

by Ismail Sloan

SALONIKA - NOVEMBER 1988 - It was no great surprise that Anatoly Karpov won the gold medal on second board at the World Chess Olympiad in Thessaloniki, Greece. However, eyebrows were raised when an individual known as "Mike the Scrabble Player", with no FIDE rating at all, won the bronze medal.

Mike the Scrabble Player, who is known to a few of his closest personal friends as Michael Senkiewicz, established himself as the world's strongest player of Scrabble at New York's now defunct "flea house" on the corner of Seventh Avenue and 42nd St. some twenty years ago. Along the way, Mike wrote his own personal dictionary of every four and five letter word. Indeed, it was said that Mike knew every word in the dictionary which was useful in Scrabble. However, hardly anyone realized at the time that Mike also knew how to play chess.

Mike was put out of the Scrabble business when the Scrabble company published its own dictionary with a much larger collection of words than could be found in any conventional dictionary. This new dictionary so greatly changed the fundamental character of the game that Mike was forced to start over from scratch. Rather than expend the enormous effort required to memorize the dictionary a second time around, Mike moved on to backgammon. Younger players, armed with computer printouts and data bases of every word in the dictionary, have now taken over Scrabble.

Now, Mike is a professional backgammon player and is regarded by some as one of the five best backgammon players in the world. However, Bill Hook of the British Virgin Islands chess team remembered that Mike knew how to play chess as well.

One wag suggested that Mike had been f_____ so many times at various games at the flea house that he felt that it was time to become a virgin again. Anyway, at first, Mike seemed to regret joining the British Virgin Islands chess team. Half way through the Olympiad, he remarked, "This is too much like work. I won't be doing this again."

Mike lost in the first round to Yilmaz (2345) of Turkey, almost the only rated player he faced. He also lost in the second round to Abdul Rahim of the U.A.E. However, after that inauspicious start, Mike proceeded to win the next six games in a row and scored an incredible 9 out of the final 10. Mike also received the cooperation of his fellow teammates, who managed to score only 30% between them. Mike played 12 games, missing only the match against El Salvador because of illness and one more match when the British Virgin Islands team received a bye. His score of 9 out of 12 gave him 75%, whereas Karpov received 8 out 10 for 80% against somewhat stronger opposition.

Since almost none of his opponents were rated, Mike will now receive a FIDE rating of only 2205. The official statistical printout issued by the tournament committee, which assumes a 2200 rating for his unrated opponents, gives his performance rating as 2412.

Contact address - please send e-mail to the following address: Sloan@ishipress.com