The conventional wisdom has always been that a good Scrabble player is someone with a hefty vocabulary—the kind of person who can drop an eight-letter word you’ve never heard, complete with q’s and z’s to boot. Now, a new class of Scrabble champions are turning that strategy on its head.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Nigeria now has more top-200 Scrabble players than any other country in the world, including current World Champion Wellington Jighere.

Jighere and his fellow Nigerian Scrabble champs are ushering in a new era in competitive play both in who is represented and how the game is being mastered. In brief, their strategy is to play four- and five-letter words, even if longer ones can be played. If that seems crazy to you, let’s break it down.

While there’s certainly an advantage to going big (like when a competitor plays all seven tiles at once, earning a “bingo” worth an extra 50 points), that move also comes with certain handicaps. For one, it gives the person across the board more letter opportunities, as well as making you vulnerable to a bad draw the next time around. Playing shorter words and holding onto adaptable tiles is a safer—and it seems, smarter—bet.

Analytics on millions of simulated games have shown the merits of the short-word strategy and proved faults in the old game plan. Computer programs are also helping players in real-time, helping them to compare their own instincts with that of an app, informing decisions as they go.

While it will take time to see where Scrabble play goes from here, it’s clear that there’re still things to learn about this 78-year-old game, especially as more countries in the developing world (many where it is regarded as a sport) hop on board.

Check out the video above for a play-by-play breakdown of last year’s championship game.

[h/t The Wall Street Journal]

Banner image: iStock.