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New Yorker muscles way to World Scrabble championship

November 24, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ In a competition where the greatest physical effort is lifting a pouch full of small wooden tiles, the word ``flexor″ seems out of place.

But in Monday’s final match of the World Scrabble Championship, the word for a muscle that bends to a body part meant $25,000 for Joel Sherman.

Sherman, a 35-year-old whose independent means enable him to play Scrabble full-time, defeated his friend and practice partner, Matt Graham, a 31-year-old standup comedian, three-games-to-one to win his first world title. Both are from New York City.

With Sherman leading in the fourth game, Graham used all of his seven tiles and put ``flexers″ on the board, a move that would have given him 103 points and a commanding lead.

Instead, two judges agreed when Sherman challenged the word. The incorrect play cost Graham a turn.

Sherman sighed with relief when the judges ruled in his favor. ``I would have tried it,″ he told Graham.

``I’m in too much shock to even smile,″ Sherman said afterward.

When Graham was asked if he intended to use his tournament experiences in his standup act, he quipped: ``Scrabble’s not very funny to me or my audiences,″

Graham picked up $10,000 for his second-place finish.

Among the words used in the finals were ``literati″ and ``argotic,″ the adjective from the word for a specialized vocabulary.

The five-day tournament, which has been played in alternating years since 1991, began with players from 36 countries, including defending champion David Boys, 33, of Canada. Boys had defeated Sherman two years ago in London.

Contestants had 25 minutes to play their tiles and had over 130,000 words to choose from. The number usually is 100,000, but the world championship permits both American and British words.

The Official Scrabble Players’ Dictionary and Chamber’s Dictionary are used for American and British words.

The final match was played in a meeting room at the Mayflower Hotel, while a crowd of about 100 gathered in a downstairs conference room to watch the match on a large video screen.