One Tucson man has his sights set on a w-i-n-n-i-n-g weekend.

Scrabble player extraordinaire Nathan Benedict, 30, will play the first of 31 matches this morning in the National Scrabble Championship in Dallas, each one bringing him a step closer to the $10,000 first prize.

The professional poker player, University of Arizona law-school graduate and word wizard took to the tiles when he was 16 and has racked up over $20,000 in the last eight to nine years playing Scrabble competitively.

The tournament runs through Wednesday, and more than 300 word lovers ranging in age from 12 to 81 are expected to compete.

Here's what Benedict had to say in a phone interview Friday afternoon from Dallas:

Question: How do you get ready for a tournament? Are you reading the dictionary every night or anything like that?

Answer: I have lists of words that I study and there are computer programs that people have made that help you study … I'm sort of in perpetual study mode these days. I'm always kind of learning and reviewing and practicing, sort of how baseball players don't show up out of shape for spring training.

Q: Does being a good poker player help you be a good Scrabble player?

A: There's some basic math that's common to both of them but more particularly, it's more of the game-playing mentality. Most people who are good at one game tend to be good at others as well.

Q: What do you enjoy most about Scrabble vs. other games?

A: There's just a very good combination of skill and luck where the better player certainly has a big advantage but there's enough luck that an upset is possible and anything can happen. It's a new experience every game.

Q: What's the highest scoring word you've ever played?

A: I think in a tournament I played "mesquite" on a triple-triple (two triple-word squares) for nine times the value of the word. I think that was 221 points.

Q: X's and Q's, love 'em or hate 'em?

A: X you love; it's a great tile. Q it depends, usually it's bad, but if you get it at the right time, with the right letters, it can be a good thing.

Follow him online

Track Nathan Benedict's progress through the tournament online at

Contact Veronica Cruz at or 573-4203.